Fire Destroys North Carolina Railroad Museum, Historic Memorabilia

March 18, 2008

An early morning fire on Sunday destroyed a building housing a museum and gift shop at Tweetsie Railroad.

Blowing Rock firefighter Mark Lawrence said the building also housed a concession stand and a first aid area. Lawrence said the 1,300-square-foot building was one of the original depot buildings and had been moved to its present location in 1954.

Lawrence said the building was completely engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived around 4 a.m. Approximately 40 firefighters, including members of the Boone Fire Department, battled the blaze.

No injuries were reported.

The museum stored a big part of the railroad’s history, said Cathy Robbins, who operates the 50-year-old park off U.S. 321 with her husband, Chris, in an interview with The Charlotte Observer.

The fire destroyed timetables, black-and-white photographs and railroad lanterns dating to the 1800s, and also destroyed the initialed boots and leather saddle once owned by the late Fred Kirby.

The gun-toting, singing cowboy was a Charlotte television personality who hosted a kids show in the 1960s. Kirby also portrayed the sheriff of Tweetsie Railroad, and the fire destroyed his classic red shirt with white fringe, his creme-colored Stetson and the leather gun holster he cinched with a shiny silver buckle.

“You can’t put a price on the memorabilia,” Robbins said. “It’s just very sad.”

The Tweetsie Railroad theme park opened in 1957 and has been a popular mountain attraction with its namesake steam train, which makes a scenic three-mile loop through the mountains.

Investigators were on the scene Sunday trying to determine what caused the fire, which Lawrence said was spread through the building by gusty winds and burned quickly because of the age of the building and the nature of construction.

Some awnings and a nearby restroom were damaged.

Information from: The Charlotte Observer,

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