DUNEDIN — Once upon a time, when cars were few and trains were plenty, this city's Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Station bustled with passengers heading to St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs and beyond.
Today, the Dunedin Historical Museum is housed inside the former train depot, which operated from 1924 to the 1960s.
Paying homage to that legacy, the museum has erected three life-sized bronze statues. Frozen in a scene that likely played out countless times in the station's earliest days, a woman and her young daughter in 1920s garb rush past the depot toward a waiting train.
"All aboard!" a conductor, his hand raised to his mustached mouth, seems to call out — invoking the public art display's name.
The statues, which stand on Main Street outside what will eventually become the expanding historical museum's new entrance and on the cusp of the former railway-turned-Pinellas Trail, were sculpted by New York artist Randolph Rose.
The $60,000 project was researched and completely underwritten by longtime museum volunteer and board member Melba Rilott.
Museum director Vinnie Luisi said the statutes are a perfect example of the city's ongoing collaboration of art and history on projects like artistic bicycle racks, such as one near the Pinellas Trail that's shaped like a train.
"Dunedin is so culturally involved, and we finally have public art in the center of downtown," Luisi said. "It's a natural photographic tourist site."
It was also a long time in the making.
Luisi said he and Rilott first discussed the project 10 years ago but abandoned the idea after receiving a quote that was double the final price.
But Rilott, a self-proclaimed lover of history, wouldn't be defeated. She always kept her eyes open, studying statue details while traveling overseas. As the project revived, she traveled the county researching period clothing and hairstyles for women, children and conductors in 1924, when Dunedin's depot opened.
During the unveiling last month, Rilott cut the ceremonial ribbon with a pair of Victorian-age scissors.
"I am happy that I can donate," said Rilott, 76, of Palm Harbor, who has worked with the museum since the 1970s. "I like history, I like what's happening with Dunedin, I like what's happening with the Dunedin Historical Museum and I want to be part of it. …This is like a dream that came true."
Luisi said the statues are intended as the focal point of a building addition that will house the museum's new Main Street entrance, gift shop and visitor center. Officials expect it will lead to a 35 to 45 percent increase in foot traffic among passers-by, higher-quality exhibits, accreditation and ultimately increased eligibility for grants and self-sustainability.
Last year the city pledged $200,000 toward the expansion, which will include a redesign of all museum exhibit space. Luisi said the museum so far has raised two-thirds of its match while it awaits zoning information from the city.
The original structure, Luisi said, will not be affected.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.