Whether youíre a history buff, a locomotive fan, or simply like trains, youíll find plenty to enjoy with those who share your interest at the Mid-South Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS). With members located throughout Alabama and surrounding states, the Mid-South Chapter provides a gathering place for railroad enthusiasts of all persuasions. Bimonthly meetings feature presentations by noted authorities on both historical and contemporary railroading. Members are also provided opportunities to work on ongoing railroad-related preservation projects.
Established in 2008 as the only regional chapter of the R&LHS serving the middle Southern states, the Mid-South Chapter is situated in one of the most historic railroad locales in the country. No fewer than eight Class I and numerous industrial railroads once served the bustling Birmingham District, and today successor Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads continue to have a vibrant presence throughout the region.
The Mid-South Chapter is headquartered in the former Southern Railway depot at Leeds, Alabama, located 10 miles east of Birmingham at the crossing of the Norfolk Southernís busy main lines to Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia. Meetings are held quarterly with ongoing projects and special "members-only" events offered throughout the year.
Come and join with others who share a passion for trains and railroad history, as we develop a first-class educational exhibit highlighting the colorful railroad legacy of Leeds and the Birmingham railroad district. Membership benefits include informative programs presented by rail historians and subject-matter experts, subscription to the quarterly newsletter The Mid-South Flyer, and opportunities for group outings to historical railroad sites.
Annual membership dues are $50 ($10 chapter and $40 national). An on-line application is available on the R&LHS website at https://www.ribbonrail.com/RLHS/. Any payment from October through December 2021 will be recorded as Year 2022 dues.
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A Brief History of the Mid-South Chapter, R&LHS
By Marvin Clemons
As of September 28, 2020
In the summer of 2009, several events conspired to create what was to become the Mid-South Chapter. Then-R&LHS president Parker Lamb was in Birmingham visiting his old friend and fellow photographer, Frank Ardrey. A mutual friend, Marvin Clemons, invited Parker to present a slide show to a group of local railfans at the restored 1884 Southern Railway depot at nearby Leeds. After presenting to a standing room only crowd in the depotís baggage room, Parker quipped that there were more than enough people in attendance to start a local R&LHS chapter. After some discussion, a vote was taken, and the Mid-South Chapter was born at what was to become its home at Leeds depot.
The new Chapter received its charter in November 2009 and elected its first slate of officers. Marvin Clemons served as the Chapterís first president, with Ron Mele as vice-president and Stanley Burnett as secretary-treasurer. Thirty-two charter members were recruited, with a majority coming from Birmingham and surrounding areas, together with others from across Alabama and neighboring states.
To keep the new membership informed about Chapter activities and educated about local railroad history, the Chapter launched its newsletter, The Mid-South Flyer, with Marvin Clemons serving as editor.
The Chapterís early years were marked by restoration work in the depot agentís office and the creation of displays of railroad artwork and artifacts in the main waiting room. For its bi-monthly programs, the Chapter featured presentations by various railroad historical societies representing Birmingham railroads. To publicize its activities and new member recruiting, the Chapter held an annual open house in conjunction with the John Henry Festival held each year in downtown Leeds.
A highlight of the Chapterís early years came in 2012 when it was honored to host the annual R&LHS convention. The two-day agenda featured bus tours of the Birmingham District, a train ride at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, and multiple presentations by local railroad historians. The Chapter earned high praise from attendees, and, according to reviews, the meeting raised the bar for future R&LHS conventions.
In 2013, the Chapter was part of the R&LHS Friends Campaign to receive donations for a planned exhibit honoring long-time R&LHS member and noted photographer Frank Ardrey. The funds were used to purchase a video monitor showing a montage of Frankís Birmingham photography, surrounded by a selection of professionally mounted and framed black and white photographs featuring some of his most recognizable photographs.
After five years of steady growth, the Chapter entered a new era of leadership under James Lowery and a fresh slate of board members. New Chapter initiatives have included the "Birmingham Mineral Railroad Signs Project" spearheaded by Lowery, with the placing of signs marking locations of the L&Nís Birmingham Mineral Railroadís multiple branches around the Birmingham District. Funding for the project has included the R&LHS Friends Campaign, and contributions by R&LHS members around the United States have been a big part of the success of this project.
In 2019, the Chapter celebrated its 10th anniversary with a variety of programs highlighting the Chapterís first decade. Additional displays of historical photographs from the Leeds area and a restored Birmingham Terminal Station Railway Express wagon were placed in the depot baggage/meeting room, which also serves to educate visitors about the history of the depot and railroads.
To cap off its 10th anniversary celebration, the Chapter supported a regional exhibit at Birminghamís foremost visitor attraction, Vulcan Park and Museum, recognizing Birminghamís iconic Terminal Station. Considered an architectural masterpiece and the grandest railroad station in the Southeast at the time of its construction in 1909, Terminal Station was demolished in 1969 to make way for a failed government building project.
The Vulcan Park and Museum exhibit was based on the book "Great Temple of Travel," the first published history of the station written and edited by Chapter member Marvin Clemons. The exhibit featured a scratch-built O-scale model of the station crafted by Chapter member Gene Clements.
Following the close of the Terminal Station exhibit in January 2020, Vulcan Park and Museum donated the exhibit materials including photographs, posters, and signage to the Chapter for display at the Leeds Depot. In conjunction with the Leeds Historical Society and the City of Leeds, the Chapter is working to establish a permanent exhibit dedicated to Terminal Station. The exhibit centerpiece will be the eight-foot-long Terminal Station model donated by Gene Clements.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chapterís Board of Directors realized that it would be important for the Chapter to stay in touch with its members during the many months when in-person Chapter meetings could not be held. To this end, the Chapter continued to publish its newsletter of historical railroad information. The Chapter also initiated a weekly e-newsletter providing members with historical railroad information and links to related information online that members could access while sheltering at home.
Looking ahead in its second decade, the Mid-South Chapter will continue to strengthen its relationships with the Leeds and Greater Birmingham communities, while offering interesting programs about local and regional railroad history to its members and guests.
© Copyright 2021 Mid-South Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc