The Foley Railroad Station Historic Depot Museum in Foley, Baldwin County, is a historical museum and local archives that details the town’s importance as a rail and agricultural center in southeastern Alabama. Housed in the former Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad Depot (ca. 1909), the museum includes several exhibits that include various artifacts and memorabilia related to the area’s locomotive history, including a 1,440-square-foot model railroad. The museum is currently owned and operated by the city of Foley with a staff consisting primarily of volunteers from the local Caboose Club of railroad enthusiasts.
Foley Railroad Museum In 1901, Chicago businessman John Burton Foley learned of a large area in south Baldwin County available for purchase while traveling by train to the funeral of Pres. William McKinley. The following year, Foley traveled to the area and purchased as many as 50,000 acres of land before returning to Chicago and forming the Magnolia Land Company to sell off parcels of the land. Foley, needing people to populate the burgeoning town named for him, used his own personal funds to construct a railroad station there in 1905 and even purchased the crossties needed to finish the line. The Bay Minette–Fort Morgan Railway, a branch of the L&N, was the line on which the Foley Railroad Depot was placed. In 1908, the Foley Railroad Depot burned to the ground and was rebuilt the following year. The area was a center of agricultural production of potatoes, corn, gladiolas, and other types of produce, and the depot the hub of the city’s vibrant shipping activity.
In 1971, the L&N Railroad discontinued its services to Foley and the depot was slated for demolition. John Snook, owner of the Gulf Telephone Company, bought the depot for one dollar and moved the whole building to the community of Magnolia Springs five miles west of Foley. There, it was used as a warehouse for the phone company. In 1995, the building was deeded back to the city of Foley and returned to its original location to be used as a museum and local archives.
The Foley Railroad Station Historic Depot Museum consists of three main sections: a museum, a model train exhibit, and the city’s archives. The museum portion includes various exhibits that display model trains, artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia that tell the story of the train depot and the town’s railroad history. Outside of the museum is a full-size train filled with period artifacts as well. In December 2005, the museum completed an annex to house the 24-foot by 60-foot model railroad donated by Alan Goldman of Montgomery, Montgomery County, in 2004. The “O”-gauge model railroad set was constructed by group of local railroad aficionados, the “Caboose Club.” In February 2007, the model train exhibit was opened to the public; it consists of a quarter mile of track, three operating double-track routes, 12 different trains, and several animated sites. It also includes a model of the town of Foley with houses, office buildings, factories, restaurants, and even a drive-in movie theater, all made to represent Foley in the 1950s. Some of these structures were part of the Goldman donation, but others were constructed by the Caboose Club either from kits or from scratch. The third section of the Foley Railroad Depot houses the city’s archives.
The museum is located at 123 East Laurel Avenue at the south end of Heritage Park. It is a significant element in the 250-acre Foley Downtown Historic District that was established by the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 in recognition of distinctive and historic architecture. The Foley Railroad Station Historic Depot Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and admission is free. Outside, the miniature Charles J. Ebert Jr. Memorial Train offers free rides to children. Members of the local Caboose Club take children and their family members on these train rides around Foley’s Heritage Park, also known as John B. Foley Park, where the museum sits. Nearby are the Hotel Magnolia (ca. 1908), the Foley Welcome Center, the Foley Art Center, Holmes Medical Museum, and the public library. Foley lies just north of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and their many attractions.