Arson that damaged the railroad museum in McComb, Mississippi, on Sunday did not spread to the two historic rail cars that the City of Hammond donated to the museum in 2012.
Supporters of the McComb City Railroad Depot Museum are working to recover and rebuild after arson damaged the historic building, said Executive Director Ralph Price.
Staff from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History visited the site Thursday and viewed the contents still inside the building and the artifacts salvaged by McComb firefighters and kept in storage, Price said.
City police arrested Markez Demont Smith, 20, of McComb, Tuesday on a charge of first degree arson. He allegedly confessed to the crime, saying he was motivated by anger at his mother.
The passenger train is continuing to make stops at McComb despite the damage to the depot, officials said, but people who need handicap access should contact Amtrak.
The fire started on the building’s north side where the museum office was housed. The flames destroyed the Amtrak waiting room in the center of the building and spread to the attic of the building’s southern end, authorities said. Firefighters were able to contain the flames in the attic.
Price said he is encouraged and optimistic after being allowed to get into the site to see the damage.
While the structure of the building was heavily damaged, the greatly relieved museum director said, “Most, if not all, of the artifacts in the southernmost rooms of the building, which is where our museum originated, are intact and can be used again. The beautiful wood benches in our waiting room survived, as well, and have minimum damage.”
The Mississippi Archives team will guide the museum volunteers in how to clean, care for and restore the artifacts, Price said, and museum supporters are rallying. They plan to rebuild.
One volunteer with skills in woodworking and carpentry “has agreed to spearhead the removal and restoration of our oak waiting room benches, our storage and display cabinets, signage, rail equipment and other similar artifacts,” Price said.
Others with skills in photography recovery techniques will help with the process of recovering the photos, framed items, certificates, fabrics, and other fragile materials, he said.
“Fortunately, our antique rail car display is located far enough away from our Depot building that the rail cars did not sustain damage,” he said.
The museum board plans to set up an account at Pike National Bank for donations, he said.
The Illinois Central Railroad constructed the depot in 1901, and it remained an active stop on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans line, sharing space with the museum.
Established in 2001 and opened in 2003, museum was touted as one of the South’s best-preserved collections of railroad history.
Artifacts include model trains, photographs by famed railroad photographer C.W. Witbeck, a display of President Teddy Roosevelt’s trip to McComb in 1911, period railroad attire modeled by mannequins, an engine whistle and authentic railroad sounds, and displays of other railroads that traveled through the area.
The museum was a large tourism attraction in the historic railroad town. Among its visitors were Tangipahoa Parish residents who viewed the artifacts and attended events like the annual Train Days traditionally held in May.