The Southeastern Railway Museum (SEM) occupies a very 35-acre former cotton gin and dry-dock sugar warehouse site in Duluth, in southeast metro Atlanta. Established in 1957, the SEM is one of the Atlanta’s premier museums devoted to railroading history and culture. It has been listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Museum features one of the largest collections of model railroads in the world. The Atlanta Railway Museum also includes the world’s largest model railroading history exhibit, the MetroNorth Museum, and the Kenwood Museum, devoted to the manufacturer of locomotives.
The emphasis of the SEM is on studying the development and growth of the railroads in the Jim Crow south area, along with the significance of race and class in the development of the American railroad system. The exhibits in the museum focus on the six major railroads that operated between the opening of the Atlanta rail road in Jacketsville and the arrival of the end of the Great Depression in Atlanta. The focus of the museum is on studying the impact of the railways on the African-American community in Atlanta and their place in the development of the city and its economy. The railway museum displays life-sized models of rolling stock cars and locomotives, the HO model railway layouts, as well as an interest in the history of the Great Depression in Atlanta, as exhibited in a collection of documents and newspaper clippings from that era. The various periods of railway service in Atlanta are represented by an exhibit focusing on the Midway, Younger Brothers, Atlanta Northern and Atlantic Railway.
There is also a special exhibition on the history of the Atlanta Electric Railway and its historic stations. The exhibits include an Atlanta Electric Railway timetable, a timeline of the development of the electric railway, the history of electric steam locomotives, and photos of power plants and tracks. There are also special programs and lectures given by some local and national leaders in the railway industry. The featured attractions include the Royce Gracie Museum and Gardens, Atlanta History Museum, and the Margaret Mitchell House.
The second type of railway museum is the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Margaret Mitchell House, which are managed by the City of Atlanta. The museum includes a nature center where one can see the many flowers and plants found in the region, while there is also a theatre for children featuring a ballet. For visitors who would like to learn more about plants and gardening, there is a botanical garden and a heritage park where one can find lots of interactive learning and nature programs.
One cannot discuss the railway museum’s influence on the architecture of Atlanta without discussing the Atlanta Roundhouse. Constructed in 1924, it was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is Atlanta’s first major structure of its kind. A tourist can go on a guided tour of the Roundhouse or walk around the grounds, taking in all of the sights and sounds. The roundhouse is located on Peachtree Street, near the intersection of 21st Street.
The third type of railway museum that is present in Atlanta is the Chrysler Museum of Art. Built in 1932, it is an open-air museum that houses thousands of pieces of art. The museum consists of the Chrysler Museum of Art, an exposition space, the Chrysler Museum of Fame, and a model railroad tunnel, which is used to train children as part of the exhibits. Children can have their own trains and visit the model train workshop. There is also a gift shop where one can purchase gifts for anyone who visits the museum.