Moving to a new area means discovering new things. When I moved to Maryland, among the new things I discovered were sauerkraut for Thanksgiving, and train gardens.
Train gardens, you ask? These are elaborate miniature landscapes with electric trains created at Christmastime, most often in firehouses. They are charming and great fun, and apparently, like sauerkraut, they have German ancestry.
The custom has been traced to 18th century Moravian settlers in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania. Christmas trees came from Germany, and apparently in some German areas it was customary to build a little village around the base of the tree.
Trains came later. Baltimore is the cradle of American railroading so trains are much loved here. Toy trains came in the later 19th century and when electrified trains appeared, it was ALL ABOARD!
Firehouses are community centers and firefighters often have time on their hands while waiting for calls. The custom of building little villages and electric trains came together to create train gardens.
This past weekend we visited family in Cambridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and after a lovely bistro dinner we visited the Rescue Fire Company train garden, which has been created every Christmas for the last 86 years, making it one of the oldest continuing train gardens. Last year with the lockdown, they set the train garden outside under a canopy so people could enjoy it at a safe distance. I took some pictures of this year's garden; as befits a town on the Chesapeake Bay, there were boats. <G>
Train gardens aren't static. While the trains return from year to year, the environments and themes change to reflect current events. The train garden I know best isn't in a fire station, but a small nearby mall called Kenilworth Bazaar. It takes up a large chunk of the central atrium/food court, and shoppers can admire the garden when it's under construction.
Creating a good train garden requires a HUGE amount of patient, detailed work, and from what I've observed, lot of the builders are retirees with time, patience, and skilled hands. Usually the Kenilworth garden shows four seasons, a mountain, and multiple trains. Some of the miniature buildings sport the names of local businesses. This year's edition honored first responders, our troops, and included several model hot air balloons. (I particularly like those.)
I don't know how widespread train gardens are. I'm heard that Pittsburg has them, it being not far away and with a similar legacy of German settlers and trains.
Were you familiar with train gardens? If so, where have you seen them? I'd like to know how far those trains have run!