The Mid-Continent Railway Museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the railroad legacy for the educational benefit of the general public. Its primary focus shall be on railroading of the Upper Midwest during the Golden Age of Railroading, 1880-1916.
The Museum adheres to the following principles:
-To collect and preserve rolling stock, structures, and other artifacts that meet the Museum's focus;
-To restore the equipment based upon sound scholarship;
-To operate a demonstration steam passenger train in an historically accurate environment of a turn-of-the-century rural railroad;
-To interpret, through Museum display and educational programs, the history, equipment, skills, and the human facets of the rail industry;
-To maintain a library and archival collections in the interest of promoting historical studies of the industry;
-To hold the Museum's collection in the public trust, ensuring long-term care of historic objects entrusted to its collections.
Mid-Continent is a not-for-profit, membership society. Its members have been the driving force behind its establishment and growth since its inception. Founded in 1959 as the Railway Historical Society of Milwaukee, its sole purpose has been to perpetuate the heritage of steam railroads through the operation and display of authentic railroad equipment. The first attempt to fulfill this mission took place at Hillsboro, Wisconsin, in 1962. But the rules of the rail line owner required the fledgling group to pull its coaches with gas power and leave the steamers for display only.
In 1963 the society purchased 4.2 miles of track from the Chicago & North Western Railroad and moved its operations to North Freedom, Wisconsin. That year society members offered steam train rides under their new name, the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc. The year 2000 marks our 37th season of operation at North Freedom. In 1998, more than 44,000 visitors enjoyed the sights and sounds of railroading as it was done in the early part of this century.
Longtime member Jim Neubauer has compiled a historical timeline of Mid-Continent's development, giving an in-depth presentation of the museum's development from inception to present.
Over the years, the society has added to its collection of rolling stock, laid new track, and constructed shops and display sheds in an effort to create a reputable railroad museum. The members have maintained a very narrow scope in their purpose statement to focus on those railroads that operated in the upper Midwest during what is popularly called the "Golden Age of Railroading." This has given the museum a unique look so that a visitor today feels like they have stepped back in time. It has also helped to keep the museum's limited resources committed to a manageable task versus trying to save everything from everywhere.
The membership roster averages nearly 700 people each year. Volunteer hours have steadily grown as society members continue to impact every aspect of museum work. A board of twelve directors governs museum operations. They in turn supervise a paid staff, who handle the day-to-day business of the museum. And funding is being sought through a federal program to underwrite the cost of adding a curator to the staff; the next major step in securing Mid-Continent's position as a true railroad museum.
Mid-Continent is operated for the benefit of the general public. This primarily means Wisconsin residents. But the guest register shows that it is visited each year by people from around the United States and Canada. This is aided by the museum's proximity to both Baraboo, where the Circus World Museum and the International Crane Foundation are located, and the Wisconsin Dells, a popular tourist destination.
During the 1998 season more than 3,000 students, teachers and adult chaperones rode the rails on the Mid-Continent Railway. At the other end of the age spectrum, the number of senior citizens visiting the museum also increased considerably. Mid-Continent will continue to promote ridership among both groups through discounted fares and special events.