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Longtime executive director of B&O Railroad Museum to resign

Courtney B. Wilson, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum, has announced he will resign in late fall.
Courtney B. Wilson, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum, has announced he will resign in late fall. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum — whose tenure included a massive rebuilding project after a roof collapse during a 2003 snowstorm — has announced he will be leaving in the fall.

“I feel that now is the right time to identify new leadership to continue to move the museum forward,” Courtney B. Wilson said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing my work in other history and heritage arenas.”

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An antiques expert, Wilson, 64, joined the B&O as chief curator in 1997. He was named executive director in January 2000, following a national search.

Officials from Baltimore and the B&O Railroad Museum on Monday announced a joint effort to raise $2.5 million in charitable donations to build new digs for the police department's mounted unit.

Wilson’s biggest challenge, and most likely the biggest challenge the 64-year-old museum has ever faced, began on Presidents’ Day in 2006, when the roof of its 1854 roundhouse, where so many of its engines are displayed, collapsed in the course of a storm that dumped more than 20 inches of snow on Baltimore.

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“As a leader, it was my job to offer a positive attitude, even though I was wondering, ‘Would the museum survive?’” he told The Baltimore Sun in 2013. “Notes, letters, emails and contributions literally came in from around the world. It was then I realized: We're going to make it.”

The museum remained closed for 22 months while the roof was replaced and several of the engines that had been damaged in the collapse were repaired. Work on many of the engines continued even after the reopening.

“Courtney is the face of our museum,” board chair Francis Smyth said in the release. “We will miss his steady hand on the tiller, but he will always be a resource for us.”

Wilson said he plans to “pursue consulting and other opportunities in the nonprofit and museum world,” according the news release.

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In a January 2015 interview with The Sun, Wilson’s thoughts were already on the museum’s future.

“Looking toward the future, we actually have our sights already set on the year 2027, which will be the 200th anniversary of railroading in the United States,” he told reporter Kevin Rector. “So we actually have started forming committees and looking way, way down the tracks at what that's going to look like. We would like to be the sort of cornerstone of a national celebration, and certainly we are looking at our own facilities and collections to see how that might be enhanced in anticipation of that celebration.”

Frederick N. Rasmussen contributed to this article.

The restoration of the J.C. Davis, an 1875 B & O steam engine that was damaged when the 2003 President's Day blizzard swept into Maryland and caused the roof of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum to collapse, is well on its way to being restored.

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