National Railroad Museum – Green Bay, WI

When you think of one of the first African-American labor unions in the US, what comes to mind?

Trains – specifically porters for those trains. It wasn’t until 1937 that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was organized by A. Philip Randolph. You can learn all about life for the porters when you visit the National Railroad museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

We had just finished a serendipitous two days in nearby Door County. En route to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we drove straight through Green Bay and wanted to see something.This museum popped up on Trip Advisor. What cinched the deal was when someone said, “Great for an hour or two, especially on a rainy day.” It was raining. We had about 90 minutes – no longer. “Let’s do it,” I told my husband.

The main exhibit was “Pullman Porters: From Service to Civil Rights.” What I really enjoyed about this exhibit is that they had voices from previous Pullman porters reminiscing about their own experiences. Some talked about the privilege it was to work for Pullman. Others talked about segregation. The most poignant for me was hearing one retired porter talk about how he was always nicknamed “George” and felt he had no say to correct the passengers.

Since I grew up after the heyday of passenger train travel, I didn’t know that most porters were nicknamed “George”. Although the origin is unknown, many historians think it’s a reference to George Pullman, who owned the Pullman Company. In reaction, there was a Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters “George” in 1914. It would be the equivalent of calling a hotel bellhop “Sonny”. If you want to learn more see this article written by Lawrence Tye for the Alicia Patterson Foundation website.

 

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You can see from the above pictures that passenger train travel was like being were like a “hotel on wheels”. Besides duties of making beds, porters assisted with baggage and other requests from passengers. Somewhat like a flight attendant’s life, it sounds more exciting than it really was. In reality, the porters worked longer hours and for lower pay than most other jobs. The exhibit shows how and why the labor union was started.

 

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Between the trains

Between the trains

The Big Boy

The Big Boy

 

The Aerotrain

The Aerotrain

Other exhibits included the massive, Big Boy locomotive (the largest steam locomotive) and the Aerotrain that was to be a faster train going up to 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the Aerotrain was a bumpy ride so they were short-lived.

 

Also on exhibit was the British made locomotive renamed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and two passenger cars that were used by him during WWII. These had been on loan for a year to a museum in England and just returned a few weeks prior to our visit. Employees were still getting everything ready so we couldn’t tour the inside. However, the trains were impressive from the outside.

The museum also offers 25 minute train rides, but we chose not to do that due to time restraints and the rainy weather.

If you find yourself in Green Bay and are looking for a museum that only takes about an hour, this is the one to see. The prices are reasonable and it is not crowded. For more information, visit www.nationalrrmuseum.org.

 


Natchez Mississippi

Last month, we went to South Louisiana. On the way home, I wanted to explore a bit of Natchez since it has a huge amount of antebellum homes.

View of the Mississippi River from Natchez

View of the Mississippi River from Natchez

 

Natchez Visitors' Center

Natchez Visitors’ Center

Our time was limited and thankfullly, we found the Natchez Vistors’ Center to get an overview of everything. Although it was filled with informative brochures, the most valuable item was the walking (or driving) tour of the historic downtown area and plantation homes.

Rosalie Plantation

Rosalie Plantation

Owned and operated since 1938 by the Mississippi Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Rosalie Plantation was home to Peter and Eliza Little beginning in 1823. Shortly afterwards, the Littles started the Natchez Children’s Home in their house. After they both died in the mid-1850’s, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wilson purchased the property. They too took in orphaned children and deeded it over to one of their charges, Fannie McMurtry. The home remained in Fannie’s family until the last child, Annie Rumble died.

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These two houses were on the driving tour, but we didn’t have a chance to explore them.

Stanton Hall takes up an entire city block.

Stanton Hall takes up an entire city block.

At the northern end of downtown, lies Stanton Hall – built by Irish immigrant and cotton magnate Frederick Stanton at a cost of $83,000 (a fortune back then). Unfortunately, Stanton, who named the house Belfast) died shortly after it was complete in 1859. The Greek Revival mansion housed Union troops in the Civil War and after the family sold it in 1894, it became the Stanton College for Young Ladies. I couldn’t find out how long the college was in existence. However, one of the presidents was Dr. James Rhea Preston, who later became president of Belhaven College in Jackson. The property was purchased and restored in 1938 by the Pilgrimmage Garden Club. Besides offereing daily tours, Stanton Hall is home to the Carriage House Restaurant – famous for its fried chicken and “silver dollar” sized biscuits.

Auburn Plantation

Auburn Plantation

In Duncan Park lies Auburn Plantation, which is said to have influenced the other antebellum houses in the area. No wonder as it was built in 1811 by Levi Weeks for Lyman Harding. Although a transplant from Boston, Harding became the first Attorney General for Mississippi. After his death in 1820, Dr. Steven Duncan purchased it and later added the two symmetrical wings. His descendents resided there until 1911. Although donated to the city of Natchez, the house remained vacant until a group of volunteers banded together in the early 1970’s. Today, visitors can see the restored interior including the impressive non-supported spiral staircase.

Dunleith Plantation is my favorite.

Dunleith Plantation is my favorite.

Since I’m related through marriage to some Dahlgren descendants, I’ve always heard about Dunleith. The original home was called Routhland. When Mary Rough, the original owner’s daughter was widowed, she married Charles Dahlgren. They lived there until a fire destroyed the house. The “new” house was constructed in 1856. After Mary Dahlgren’s death a few years later, it was sold to Alfred Vidal Davis, who renamed it Dunleith. The plantation went through several other changes in ownership and became a bed and breakfast. In 1999, the home was restored when Michael and Joy Worley purchased the 40 acre property. There are eight bedrooms offered in the 9,500 square foot main house. Other bedrooms are located around the courtyard and barn. Additionally, the Castle Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in the original carriage house.

I plan to come back to Natchez to really explore more of this river town. For more information, see the website www.visitnatchez.org.