Fire destroys historic Mississippi train depot and museum

Published 3:18 pm Monday, May 31, 2021

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McCOMB (AP) — A massive fire wrecked a Mississippi city’s train depot and museum, a beloved restored landmark that dates back to McComb’s founding as a railroad town.

No cause has been immediately determined for the fire that broke out Sunday in the north end of the building in which the museum’s office and archives were housed. McComb Fire Chief Gary McKenzie told the Enterprise-Journal that a rigorous investigation will be done.

“It’s absolutely awful. It’s heartbreaking. To me the depot was not just a building, it was the heart and soul of our city and so many people put so much work into this,” said Ganeath Daniel, a former museum board member and local historian.

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The fire was raging by the time the southbound Amtrak made its scheduled 12:30 p.m. stop Sunday. The newspaper reported the train eventually pulled to the southern end of the station after firefighters managed to sufficiently bat down the flames, and a conductor assisted a single disembarking passenger around the smoky mess as a few passengers boarded.
It’s unclear what effect the fire will have on future Amtrak service.

Firefighters confined most of the flames to the attic by the time the blaze had spread to the southernmost portion of the building — an old freight room that had been converted into a museum where volunteers had worked for two decades to collect and preserve railroad artifacts.

“Rough estimate is that 90% of the artifacts were housed in the south end of the building and could be saved,” McKenzie said.
Still, museum director Ralph Price was stunned by the fire.

“It’s hard enough when it’s your family’s belongings, your family’s history, but when it’s the whole city’s history you can’t separate it,” he told the Enterprise-Journal.

McKenzie said he was optimistic the basic structure could be salvaged.

The museum was formed in 2001 and opened in 2003. It expanded in 2013.

City administrator David Myers said the city owns the depot and has insurance coverage on the building, while the railroad depot museum has coverage on its contents. He said city and museum officials would meet soon to decide about rebuilding.

“I would see the city board making this a priority, along with the folks in the community, especially with this building having the railroad history that it has,” he said. “The city is very proud of this. This took a lot of money. This a like a crown jewel for us.”