Steamtown National Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Steamtown National Historic Site

Steamtown National Historic Site

PARK OVERVIEW

Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania, was originally a private steam-era railroad museum called Steamtown USA that was founded in the early 1960s by millionaire railroad enthusiast F. Nelson Blount. The museum first operated in North Walpole, New Hampshire, before moving to Bellows Falls, Vermont. Due to excess air pollution regulations in Vermont and fighting over the rights to use the state-owned railroad tracks, Steamtown USA moved to Scranton in 1984.

Hoping the new attraction would bring much-needed tourist dollars to the city, the Scranton government and private developers spent $13 million renovating the abandoned Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad railyard in 1983 for the museum’s opening in 1984. Visitation was hoped to be somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 each year, but by 1987 only 60,000 people were coming to the park. The attraction was a flop, and in 1988 Steamtown USA was $2.2 million in debt. All excursions were cancelled that year.

Two years prior, U. S. Congressman Joe McDade of Pennsylvania began working on turning Steamtown USA into a National Historic Site, and with some last-minute politicking, he successfully inserted provisions for its creation into a 1986 appropriations bill, effectively bypassing the National Park Service’s review of the project. The NPS had already rejected the proposal to turn Steamtown USA into a national park when it was in Vermont because it was not an actual site of historical significance, just a collection of steam-era locomotives and cars, and now here it was part of the National Park System with the passing of the appropriations bill.

Over the next decade, millions of dollars were spent renovating the railyard. As detractors have pointed out, there is nothing historically significant about the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railyard, and the fact that very little from its historic mid-1800s to early 1900s time period remained made the project less of a renovation and more of the building of a new railyard from scratch. Visitors were first allowed into the park in 1988, but only the railyard was open. In 1991, the ruins of the 1902 roundhouse—the only structure from the historical railyard that remained standing—was renovated, and a new, 90-foot turntable was installed. The Visitor Center and Museum were completed the next year, and in 1995 the park officially opened to the public at its full capacity. However, yearly visitation has never been much more than what it was in the mid-1980s before Steamtown USA closed as a private entity. In 2023, roughly 60,000 people visited the park.

Steamtown National Historic Site museum and roundhouse building

Steamtown National Historic Site museum and roundhouse building

Despite controversy, Steamtown National Historic Site is still a neat place to visit, and it is one of the most informative railroad museums in the country. It has its collection of historical steam locomotives and railway cars just like every other railroad museum. It offers short train rides and longer excursions to visitors just like every other railroad museum. But what sets it apart is an actual museum, which most local railroad museums do not have, at least not to this extent. In fact, Steamtown has two massive museums, one that covers the history of the railroad and the railroad industry and another that focuses on the technology of the railroad. These museums are so inclusive that a visitor who reads through all the information should be ready for a job on the railroad. So, while Steamtown isn’t technically a historic site, it can be called the Railroad Museum of the United States.

Railroad Technology Museum at Steamtown National Historic Site

Railroad Technology Museum at Steamtown National Historic Site

OPERATING HOURS

The park grounds, visitor center, and museums at Steamtown National Historic Site are typically open daily from 10 AM to 4 PM, except when closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Keep in mind that times can always change, so before heading to the park, be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page.

Short train rides into downtown Scranton are typically given on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays starting in May and continuing through the end of October. There are also train rides during the Christmas season.

Steamtown National Historic Site also offers longer excursions to various destinations in Lackawanna Valley and the Pocono Mountains. The excursions often coincide with local festivals. Participants ride the train to a destination and then get to spend a few hours exploring the town before heading back to Scranton. Season schedules are usually published by late March.

For the current schedule of the train rides, see the National Park Service’s official Train Rides web page for Steamtown National Historic Site.

FEES

There is no fee to visit the grounds or museums at Steamtown National Historic Site, but there are fees for the train rides.

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Visitor Center
allow 30 minutes to a hour

Train Collection
allow 1-2 hours

Railroad History Museum
allow up to 1.5 hours

Railroad Technology Museum
allow up to 1.5 hours

Short Train Rides
allow 1 hour

Excursions
allow 3-6 hours


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Last updated on March 6, 2024
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