UNION TOWNSHIP | A stop along the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway led to the founding of the village of Wheeler in the 1850s and created a bustling community at the turn of the 20th century. Now, a much smaller railroad stands ready to bring people to the southern end of Union Township.
Nestled amid the 360-acre reserve of tranquil gardens, woodlands, wetlands and prairies at Taltree Arboretum, a new Railway Garden is scheduled to open in June.
"It's quite a display," project manager Evan Spirrison said.
When completed, the garden will feature nine miniature locomotives running on 3,000 square feet of track. Spirrison said crews have been busy in the past year, bringing in massive boulders on which some of the trains will run. They've also added a number of dwarf plants and miniature conifers to the area surrounding the track.
Taltree founder Damien Gabis said the plantings last year were a major undertaking for the arboretum, and more planting is set to begin this spring.
"We've almost doubled our number of species," Gabis said.
Designed by landscape architect Richard Hitz, the area also features a 5,000-square-foot building modeled in the style of an old fashioned train depot. Plans call for the building to be used as a gift shop with railroad and horticultural items.
Gabis said the entire concept is intended to be historically accurate and provide an enjoyable educational experience for children.
"There's a whole raft of exhibits that go along with it," Gabis said. "We have several vignettes that tell the history of railroading."
Planned exhibits are set to take visitors from the time of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln's funeral to the country's modern urban centers with freight and commuter rail systems.
Gabis said the ultimate vision is to make Taltree a destination for families as well as adults. He said the hope is that the Railway Garden will make it inviting for children, while maintaining peacefulness for adults.
"We want to bring as many people from the region and beyond to Taltree," he said.