COOKEVILLE – While most kids may never set foot on a moving locomotive, they’re all “experts” on these massive rail-riding vehicles.
“Kids are genuinely excited about trains,” Ashley McKee, education specialist for the Cookeville Depot and History museums, said. “I don’t have to get them excited — they just are.”
The horn-blowing and steady rumbling along the tracks are only part of the appeal. It’s also about the history.
“Trains were such a big deal for this area’s growth,” McKee said. “It’s easy for kids to get excited about local history because it’s their history.”
McKee, along with museums manager Beth Thompson and exhibit specialist Pam Philpot, strives to build on that natural enthusiasm through a number of fun and educational community outreach programs — one of which is Train Tales.
Geared toward preschoolers, Train Tales is a free half-hour program that consists of a story and activity every Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the depot. It’s an important program, McKee said, since it introduces children to transportation history at such a young age.
“We do something different each week,” she said, noting that activities can be anything from crafts to games. “At holiday times, we’ll do themed activities.”
McKee has a close working relationship with the Putnam County Library, where she borrows most of her story books. “Whenever they get new train books, they hold them for me,” she said.
She even offers Train Tales at the library from time to time. “Engineer Ashley” also visits schools as part of her educational outreach.
“Some want a train activity; others want to talk about local history,” she said. “In that case, I’ll bring artifacts and talk about why they’re important to Putnam County.”
In addition, schools take field trips to the Cookeville Depot, as well as the Cookeville History Museum. But tours aren’t limited to student groups – adults take advantage as well.
“We’ve had the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Putnam class, senior citizens groups and other civic organizations,” McKee said.
She encourages interested groups to call the history museum at 931-520-5455 to set up a field trip, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. All are free.
“If I know their interests, I can cater the tour to them,” she said.
Other educational outreach programs include History Hikes and WestSide Scavenger Hunts, both of which offer museum patrons an opportunity to learn more about the history of their surroundings. Free events such Night at the Museums, Cookeville Cemetery Walk, Storyfest in the Park and numerous exhibit openings are also offered.
From the museum manager’s perspective, Thompson said it’s rewarding to see people learn while they are being entertained.
“We want our community to know that museums aren’t boring,” she said. “We have so many activities that are lots of fun and free for the whole family.”
The Cookeville Depot and Cookeville History museums are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 116 W. Broad St. and 40 E. Broad St., respectively. Admission is free.