– Right When the Gates Open
One of the main reasons I call the city of Savannah “home” is the abundance of history found here. Some is good, some is bad, some is just plain confusing – but we are respectful of it all. It seems that as a people our destination often nullifies our origin and we forget where we began. That is not the case with Savannah. As Savannah residents we are lucky to have many organizations, such as The Coastal Heritage Society, that have stepped up through the years and saved a plethora of old structures that would have otherwise met the inevitable fate of destruction. One of my favorite such places is The Roundhouse Railroad Museum in Savannah.
As a professional photographer I am always chasing the light. For this reason I like to be at the Roundhouse right when the gates open. Morning time at the museum offers a display of shadows that stretch across the yard, and the solitude of the old structures brings an unexpected sense of tranquility. The grounds are so expansive that even when visitation is at its peak, it is easy to feel as if the place is all yours.
As you stand between the historic structures it is not hard to transport oneself to the height of the railroad era – when the train was king. The air is thick with the sounds and smells of the past. The textures and structures are heavy – steel, iron and brick. Yet the space is not intimidating. Quite the contrary it is pleasantly tangible and invites the visitor to explore. Nature has prevailed even in this most industrial of sites, and ferns climb the brick walls as if they were built only for them. Where once a roof covered the ground, now the grass is lush, and the flowers reach skyward.
One of the most unique features of the museum is that most of the trains are still operational. (I know this seems a given.) Unfortunately, these machines are expensive to maintain, so most railroad museums offer a more passive visit. But at the Roundhouse Railroad Museum in Savannah the old steel monsters come to life.
To truly know a steam engine is to see it in operation. As it slowly comes to life, spitting and sweating, you wonder how the beast can be contained. Suddenly, with groans of pain and fits of strength, “It’s alive! Alive!”
The Roundhouse Museum itself is a living, breathing entity preserving our history, building awareness, providing education, and giving back to the community. No matter how many times I visit I am always surprised to discover something new – yet another reason why I will always return.
Bailey Davidson, June 2012