New York Central Railroad: Small Stone Station
The museum began its history as a small stone building with only a single ticket agent to assist passengers and answer NYCRR telegraphs. Facing complaints from local business leaders, the Village of Medina petitioned the New York Central to build a larger structure that could meet the demands of the expanding manufacturing village. In 1905, the New York Central tore down the small structure to begin construction on the 300ft freight house that stands today.
Read article from the 1905 Medina Tribune referencing this event.
New York Central Railroad: Freight Depot
Right from the start in 1905, the NYCRR Freight Depot was utilized by the numerous local manufacturing companies; most notably the Heinz Pickle Factory right down the road. In fact, four out of the original twenty-two freight doors were devoted specifically to exporting Medina made pickles. In 1937, Heinz expanded their factory to include a loading dock of their own, however the Freight Depot was still a central point of distribution for regional products for the next three decades.
Village Square Furniture Store
Following the decline of the railroad in 1963, the Freight Depot was sold by the NYCRR to the Thomas and Helen Hickey who at the time owned a thriving furniture shop on Main St, Medina. The Hickeys used the large space as a warehouse for the next four years until consolidating their inventory into the newly opened Village Square Furniture Store. The furniture store saw great success for decades until the Hickeys decided to retire in 1991 after 45 years together in the furniture business. It was then that Marty Phelps, founder of the museum, purchased the building.
The Beginning of Medina Railroad Museum
Marty Phelps had worked for 25 years as a City of Batavia firefighter. He was known to many as “Fireman Marty” as he also created a fire prevention program for school-aged children called “Lives Are Precious”. He presented his program at schools across the state and country in hopes of saving lives and reducing burn related injuries. For over 50 years he dreamed of one day opening a railroad museum where he could share his passion for the railroad.
Seeing an opportunity to fulfill his dream in the 301’ railroad depot, Marty and his family then started a six-year odyssey of long days, sanding and painting inside the building. He put his collection of railroad souvenirs and memorabilia, as well as firefighter helmets and gear into the building and on April 17, 1997, he opened the doors of the museum.
After opening the museum in 1997, the site limped along for five years, draining Phelps’ finances. The 1905 building needed a new roof, a refurbished deck, other repairs and costly insurance. Phelps hoped a federal Housing and Urban Development grant would relieve him of the financial burdens. HUD never came through and the museum building was auctioned off in 2002. Dave Armitage and family then funded the re-acquisition of the property to allow the museum to stabilize and to buy the property back from him and to continue to operate it as a non-profit. The museum expanded the attractions, including numerous excursion rides throughout the year. In 2008, the museum paid off the debt on the building. Marty stayed active as the museum director, typically volunteering 60 hours a week, until the time of his passing in 2017 after a brief illness.
Martin C. Phelps
December 13, 1941-April 25, 2017
Marty was born in Panama Canal Zone, Panama. He was a United States Army veteran having served with the 4th Armored Division; a retired City of Batavia Fireman; 50-year volunteer fireman; Chief of the “Lives Are Precious” Fire & Burn Prevention Program; volunteer youth counselor/advocate for arson-related crimes, burn victims and their families; and was the Creator, Director and Conductor of the Medina Railroad Museum and co-founder of GSME (Genesee Society of Model Engineers). He will be remembered as a loving, caring father and grandfather. His legacy will live on through his family and the Railroad Museum will continue to grow as he always dreamed