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50 Years
of Memories

Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village has grown up a lot since 1954





Carnegie Science Center has big things planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Miniature Railroad & Village, including a December 2nd party called Locomotion and the premier of a new documentary about the exhibit. But while its roots as a public display do indeed go back half a century, the Miniature Railroad’s birth took place 25 years earlier, in the Brookville, Pennsylvania home of Charles Bowdish.

Bowdish was a master craftsman and “Miniaturist” who, on Christmas Eve 1920, in honor of his brother’s wedding celebration atthe Bowdish home, set up a miniature railroad display, complete with model buildings of downtown Brookville for guests’ enjoyment. One of the guests asked if he could bring a “few” friends by to see the exhibition—and 600 people showed up! Over the next 25 years, a visit to Bowdish’s miniature village became a regular holiday stop for thousands of people in awe of his handiwork, which grew larger and more complex each year. In 1954, the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Science invited Bowdish to move his village to its North Side building—his proudest moment, Bowdish later reported. At that, a Pittsburgh holiday tradition was born.

Every Pittsburgher remembers something different about the Miniature Railroad & Village. That’s because there’s a piece of just about every Pittsburgh neighborhood, not to mention landmarks from towns throughout western Pennsylvania, nestled inside the 83-foot-long, 30-foot-wide display. The No. 9 Firehouse in Lawrenceville. The Avella Train Station. The Donora Post Office. The Old Stone House in Butler. The Sharon steel mill. St. John’s Church in Old Economy. A one-room school house in Punxsutawney. The McKeesport Watch Tower. The Monongahela Incline.

If we don’t remember a specific place, chances are we recall a favorite moving part. The Miniature Railroad & Village has more than 100 of them. The ferris wheel. The “Mighty Casey” at bat. A man tipping his hat. The old grist mill. The tree swing. The woman washing clothes.

Bowdish continued to contribute to his masterpiece up until his death in 1988. Contributors since then, aside from the staff and volunteers who take such meticulous care of the historic exhibit, included Mayor Tom Murphy. Among the more notable recent additions to the Railroad & Village were last year’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood house and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, a Hill District landmark that tragically burned to the ground in 2004.

Bowdish had his own favorite members of the miniature community he founded: the Blacksmith and Wagon Shop for “Practical Horseshoeing,” the O.H. Wright Lumber and Millwork, and Stoner’s General Store. And in preparation for its official anniversary celebration for the Miniature Railroad, the Science Center asked visitors to talk about their own favorites—or perhaps just share some favorite memories of visiting the display.

More than any one of its parts, people recalled the experience of visiting the magic village with someone they loved.

“ I remember watching the trains as a small boy with my father at Christmastime,” wrote Tim
of Tarentum, “and now, 20 years after his passing, I enjoy bringing my daughter and watching the wonder in her eyes, just like mine.”

Continue the tradition by visiting the Miniature Railroad & Village this holiday season! It’s open
every day during normal Carnegie Science Center hours through the holiday season and into the new year. And if you’d like to be part of the Locomotion celebration on December 2, visit the Science Center website at or call 412.237.3400..

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