The relics of Johnson County’s railroading past sit carefully arranged in the small room.

Warning lanterns and signal lights are on shelves. Paintings, photographs and drawings of trains cover the wall.

A general orders board is mounted on the wall, as if any minute a station master might come in and jot down notes about the day’s train schedule.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

An original Western Union self-winding clock, one of the first devices to keep time using a battery, leans against the wall. The timepiece helped ensure all stations were on the same time.

The museum dedicated to the history and heritage of the railroad in Johnson County has been refurbished and reopened to the public. Located inside the Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks & Ice Cream in Franklin, the repository preserves an important part of the county that many people don’t know much, if anything, about.

A community open house Saturday will serve as a celebration for the museum and allow people to explore the artifacts and antiques housed within.

“Today’s youth don’t know what trains did. A train is what brought prosperity to a town. People look at the caboose across the tracks, and they don’t know what it is,” said Craig Smith, who owns Hoosier Cupboard with his wife, Kim. “It’s to teach the kids what the trains did.”

The building housing the museum itself is a piece of railroading history. It was formerly Franklin’s railroad depot, constructed in 1909, and was originally located north of town on Cincinnati Street.

The station was a stop on the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, known as the “Big Four Railroad.” The Franklin stop was closed in the 1960s, and over the years it was the home of the United Way, Johnson County Red Cross and, until 2013, the Franklin Chamber of Commerce.

When the chamber of commerce moved into a new office, the fate of the building was in doubt. That’s when the Smiths stepped forward, purchasing it in an auction and vowing to restore it.

The depot had housed memorabilia and unique items from Franklin’s railroading past. The Smith family — Craig and Kim, as well their children Linden and Cameron — felt strongly that it needed to be open and available to the public.

A large part of their bid was ensuring the museum portion was open again.

“When I bought this, I wrote a letter that I was going to preserve this and let people see it,” Craig Smith said. “Most people have never seen it in here.”

The Smith family moved Hoosier Cupboard into the old depot in early 2016. They restored the structure themselves, with the help of family and friends, reviving the early 1900s look that the building had originally had.

The museum portion was the final piece of the project.

Authentic 20th century lighting — the kind what would have originally been installed in train stations in 1909 — hangs from the ceiling.

The wood floors were polished and restored. A false ceiling was raised to the original level. Traditional moldings and trim were replaced.

“It was just a lot of opening this space back up,” Smith said. “It feels so much bigger.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was restoring the old railway express agency baggage cart from outside the depot back indoors. The Smiths wanted to get it out of the weather, where it was being damaged and into a protective space.

They gave it a fresh coat of green and red paint, replaced the original placard on it and made it the centerpiece of the museum. On its surface is a model of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. train, which regularly passes through downtown Franklin today.

“Preserving this baggage cart was really important to me,” Craig Smith said.

The museum houses a number of artifacts that had been part of the collection previously, as well as pieces added by local collectors and the Smith family.

An old station-master’s desk is polished and set up. Snapshots of the Monon Railroad, which Smith’s grandfather worked on, and the Erie Lackawanna Railway, which Kim Smith’s father worked for, are arranged on the wall.

On a back corner, a framed photograph of the train depot in Rensselaer holds significance for Craig Smith.

“That’s where I fell in love with trains. My dad would take me, and he knew the station master. I’d get to sit there and listen to the radio, talk to trains, things like that,” he said. “That’s where I became enamored with trains, and I passed that on to my son.”

A piece of trim, originally buried behind a wall, was unearthed during the renovations. It’s emblazoned with the lettering “The Big Four,” referring to the former owners of the depot station.

Watercolor paintings of the original depot are included in the collection, as well as authentic advertisements for the railways from the 1940s.

“I tried to include a lot of World War II information on the train, because that’s when it really came into its own — transporting the mail, transporting the troops,” Craig Smith said. “It played a huge role in wartime.”

The museum will be opened at specific times during the week and weekends, though the Smiths are still working out exact hours for when the public can tour. The space also will be available for school field trips and other educational programs, which speaks to the museum’s main purpose, Craig Smith said.

“It’s preserved so that future generations can see it,” he said. “We want people to be able to see it, to be proud of it.”

If you go

Franklin Railroad Museum open house

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks & Ice Cream, 370 E. Jefferson St., Franklin

What: The Smith family, owners of Hoosier Cupboard, have restored the former museum of railroad memorabilia housed in their building, which used to be the city’s railroad depot. People are invited for light refreshments and tours.

How to help with the museum: The Smiths are also looking for railroad enthusiasts who would like to volunteer as guides after the museum is fully open. In addition, anyone with memorabilia that they think would make a good exhibit in the museum should contact the Smiths at 317-346-0608.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.