was successfully added to your cart.

How can my museum get grants?

By March 26, 2018Features

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

Where’s the grant money?
Since the 2012 gutting of the US federal Transportation Enhancement grant program, a huge loss, railway museums have been scrambling to find other funding sources.

Most museums will tell you that their biggest funding needs are for restorations of buildings and rolling stock, and new building construction, so this article will concentrate on those sources. There are other sources that can be tapped for organizational self-examination, staff development, educational programs and archive improvements, but that’s a separate topic. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start.

US Federal resources
From 1992 to 2012 the Transportation Enhancement (TE) program funneled $625 million into American railway preservation projects. Half of that went into projects for railway museums and tourist railroads.

The 2012 reauthorization of the law, dubbed MAP-21, largely gutted the funding for rail preservation. It was a huge blow. Contrary to popular perception, however, it didn’t eliminate this funding resource, although it weakened it considerably. It is still possible to get what is now called a Transportation Alternatives grant. Here is what changed.

Under the old TE law, there were 12 categories for funding projects. Rail preservation qualified for grants under these five:

  • Scenic and historic land acquisitions
  • Historic preservation
  • Rehab/operation of historic transportation facilities
  • Preservation of abandoned rail corridors
  • Establishment of transportation museums

The 2012 MAP-21 legislation renamed TE as Transportation Alternatives (TA) and reduced the available funding by over a third. It also allowed states to forgo TA projects altogether. By eliminating the qualifying category “Establishment of transportation museums”, many applicants, and the state and local committees that review the applications, may think that grants to railway museums are off the table. Actually they’re still possible, because railway preservation still qualifies in two categories:

  • “Historic preservation, rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures and facilities” (Facilities can be interpreted as rolling stock. It has been in the past.).
  • “Preservation of abandoned railway corridors.” (This is mostly used to fund rail trails, but if you run on an abandoned line, give it a try.)

The above language permits museums to still compete for grants to preserve, rehabilitate or operate historic track, buildings and rolling stock. However, elimination of the “Establishment of transportation museums” category makes it harder to fund new museum buildings. In fact, I’m unaware that has happened since 2012, but someone ought to give it a try. The challenge for museums will be to convince grant evaluators that new shops and storage buildings are crucial to the “preservation rehabilitation and operation” of historic rolling stock and other artifacts.

Although getting a grant is harder than before, they are still happening. Here’s the list by state.

Transportation Alternatives Grants      
Project State Year Fed funds  Comments
Opp depot restoration AL 2013 $400,000
Limestone County depot restoration AL 2013 $376,009
Riverside train station IL 2014 $600,362
Beford Milwaukee Road depot restoration IN 2014 $2,144,400
Guthrie Transportation Museum KY 2015 $268,488 building renovation
Midway engine house KY 2015 $193,000 display building for locomotive
Baltimore caboose restoration MD 2015 $60,000 restored outside President Street Station
Ridgely depot restoration MD 2013 $297,000
Natchez depot restoration MS 2013 $250,000
Hocking Valley Scenic RR OH 2016 $520,000 grade crossings and tie replacement
Oli creek & Titusville RR HQ building rehab PA 2013 $46,200
Nicholson depot restoration PA 2014 $821,276
Muddy Creek Forks section house PA 2016 $86,825
Lookout Mountain incline station TN 2014 $159,300
North Bennington depot restoration VT 2014 $62,736
Boones Mill depot restoration VA 2014 $242,219
Amherst depot restoration VA 2013 $618,671
Remington depot restoration VA 2013 $100,832
Blue Ridge Ry tunnel VA 2013 $1,955,143
Southside depot restoration VA 2013 $200,000
North Tazewell depot restoration VA 2015 $323,997
Metaline Falls depot restoration WA 2015 $4,094
Total $9,730,552

Remember that these funding decisions are made either locally or at the state level, and there can be a wide range of interpretations of what qualifies. Find someone at your local transit agency, state DOT, county highway department, city public works department or state parks who has experience with the local TA grant process. You can’t get the money if you don’t apply.

National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund grant programs
Save America’s Treasures.
These are general historic preservation grants. Since 2000, 15 rail preservation projects totaling $4 million have been funded. All appear to require an equal cash match. The projects are supposed to have national significance, but the projects that were funded don’t always seem to rise to that level.

Save America’s Treasures  State  Year  Fed funds
Colfax depot CA 2006 $49,264
Union Pacific dining lodge, W. Yellowstone ID 2005 $394,443
Livingston depot MT 2003 $298,000
Ashland depot WI 2001 $499,000
Artrain MI 2004 $148,152
Ogden Union Station UT 2003 $199,000
D&RGW locomotive 463 NM 2007 $300,000
Cincinnati Union Terminal OH 2003 $250,000
Huntsville depot AL 2001 $75,000
Cheraw & Darlington depot SC 2004 $74,076
Denison Depot Museum OH 2005 $197,221
Martinsburg WV 2000 $500,000
B&O Railroad Museum MD 2008 $500,000
RR Museum of Pennsylvania rolling stock PA 2001 $200,000
Poughkeepsie Bridge NY 2008 $440,000

Preserve America grants (authorized but not currently funded)

The NPS money is allocated to the states, which must contribute a match. The states in turn apportion funds to Certified Local Governments.

Private Sources
A group of private entities specialize in funding railway preservation. In many cases the grants are small, but well worth the effort of applying.

North American Railway Foundation was founded by railway labor interests. Its stated purpose is “to explore, nurture and support railway safety, efficiency and technology and to educate about and preserve the history of railroads.” It has funded a wide variety of museum projects.

Tom E. Dailey Foundation and the John Emery Trust appear to fund every kind of rail project.

BNSF Foundation and Union Pacific Foundation give priority to projects that relate to their railroads and predecessor companies.

TRAINS magazine gives an annual $10,000 grant.

National Railway Historical Society gives grants for all types of preservation projects.

20th Century Electric Railway Foundation funds projects by trolley museums that are members of HeritageRail Alliance.

The Amherst Railway Society gives small grants, mostly to New England institutions, but they’ve funded projects elsewhere.

Historic New England gives $1000 to small to mid-sized heritage organizations

Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation grants range $2500-15,000.

1772 Foundation

The National Coal Heritage Partnership supports community efforts to preserve, interpret and promote coal heritage resources.

State resources
While researching this story, it became clear that most of the programs target historic buildings, not railroad equipment. However, you should be able to make a reasonable case for funding if your project is on the state or federal Register of Historic Sites, or at least is a register nominee. In fact this is a requirement for most grants. That makes sense, because it eliminates any controversy about whether or not the project is historic.

I went through the National Register and found individual listings for 27 locomotives, 30 rail cars and 9 streetcars. Seashore Trolley Museum and Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum have taken it a giant step farther and successfully listed their entire rolling stock collections. I think that’s a model for all museums to follow, so anything you want to restore at least meets the minimum threshold for consideration.

Much more common were the listings of historic railroad structures of all kinds, including bridges and tunnels. In fact, whole shop complexes, yards, and even entire railroads are listed in the Register as Historic Districts, affording them the same status as registered buildings. The entire Durango & Silverton is an example. On the face of it, that even opens the door to funding track work.

Although most of the federal money has dried up, I found 31 states that have some kind of historic preservation grant program that is open to applications from non-profits. Beyond that, there are a number of non-profits and foundations that offer historic preservation grants within specific states. The following list was the result of a rather superficial internet search, so it is probably incomplete and these folks may not agree to fund railway preservation. If you have any experience with them, or if I’ve missed some, please let me know.

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Colorado State Historical Fund grants
Colorado: Peter Grant Preservation Fund for Colorado
Connecticut Historic Restoration Fund
Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation
Delaware Preservation Fund, railroad preservation specifically mentioned.
Florida Historic Preservation Grants Program
Georgia Dept. of Economic Development: Tourism Product Development Grants, Georgia Heritage Grants
Iowa Resource Enhancement & Protection, Historical Resource Development Program (5% of REAP funds)
Kansas Heritage Trust Fund
Kentucky Preservation Fund
Linda & Jerry Bruckheimer Preservation Fund for Kentucky
Maine New Century historic buildings restoration grants
Maryland Historical Trust
Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund
Massachusetts Historic Preservation Municipal grants, State Register sites.
Minnesota Legacy Fund
Mississippi Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program: Currently unfunded
Missouri Heritage Properties grants
Montana History Foundation
New Hampshire Conservation License Plate grants, for the preservation and restoration of publicly owned historic resources
New Jersey Historic Site Management grants
New Jersey Cultural Trust Capital Preservation Grants, stabilization, repair and restoration
New Mexico Historic Preservation Grants
New York Environmental Protection Fund Grant Program for Parks, Preservation and Heritage
Preservation League of New York State
North Carolina Preservation Consortium, max. $2000
Ohio History Fund
Restore Oregon
Oregon Heritage Commission: Oregon Heritage Grant, Oregon Museum Grant
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission
South Dakota Deadwood Fund Grant (gambling revenues)
Texas Historical Commission: Certified Local Government Grants, Texas Preservation Trust Fund
Texas Historical Foundation
Vermont Historic Preservation Grants
Vermont Certified Local Government grants
Washington Heritage Capital Projects Fund
West Virginia Division of Culture & History: Development grants, and Survey & Planning grants
Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund
Alliance for Historic Wyoming, Heritage Architecture Assistance Fund

Canadian federal resources
Federal funding is much more robust in Canada. The available grant programs include:

Canada Cultural Investment Fund
Canada History Fund
Canada Traveling Exhibitions Indemnification Fund
Canadian Conservation Institute Internship Programs
Museums Assistance Program
Canadian Council of Archives grants
Cultural Spaces Canada fund

Provincial resources
In addition to the federal sources, the provinces have both governmental and private funding resources.

Heritage Legacy Fund of British Columbia
Columbia Basin Trust
Alberta Heritage Awareness grants
Alberta Historic Research Conservation grants
Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation
Architectural Heritage Saskatchewan
Manitoba Community Places Program
Manitoba Heritage Grants Program
Manitoba Community Museum Grants Program
Manitoba Designated Heritage Building Grants Program
Ontario Trillium Foundation
La fondation quebecoise du patrimoine
Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications
New Brunswick Arts & Heritage Stabilization Program
Buildings at Risk Fund of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia
Prince Edward Island Provincial Heritage Incentive Program
Newfoundland Registered Heritage Structure Grants

Find the local sources
Any museum interested in raising money should explore all the local private foundations and cultivate a relationship with any that are sympathetic. Often your best funders are located nearby, but finding them is your challenge.

Leave a Reply