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May 13, 2013

Museum exhibits Vigo transportation history

TERRE HAUTE — The big passenger bus was built by General Motors in the 1940s and became a part of the Terre Haute city bus fleet in 1948.

In 1954, Terre Haute relinquished bus No. 2857 and it was soon carrying passengers in the deep south. In December of 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., Rosa Parks sat in that same bus and would soon be arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man in violation of Alabama laws at the time.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“The start of the civil rights movement was on that bus,” said Kim Smith, curator of the Vigo County Historical Society Museum, looking at a large photograph of the former Terre Haute city bus currently on exhibit in the museum. It is now aptly known as “The Rosa Parks bus.”

The photo of bus No. 2857 on a Terre Haute street is just one piece of a larger transportation exhibit now on display at the Historical Society museum on South Sixth Street. But it may be one of the least-known bits of history currently a part of “The River, The Road and the Rails” exhibit.

“The bus was brand new in 1948 when it came here,” Smith said. The city of Montgomery used the bus until 1971 when it was sold at an auction to a man whose family later used the old bus as a tool and wood shed.

Then, in 2001, the Henry Ford Museum purchased the bus in an auction for $492,000.

In addition to showing a photo of the famous bus, the transportation exhibit highlights the importance of the Wabash River, the National Road, the railroad and electric street cars to the development of Terre Haute. It also includes finely detailed models of Wabash River riverboats created by the late Alfred F. Nehf.

The exhibit also features photographs and memorabilia from Terre Haute’s trolley system, which stretched out in many different directions from the city. A large photograph shows dozens of trolley conductors standing on Wabash Avenue outside the Conservatory Concert Hall in the 600 block of the street.

“That’s actually one of my favorite photographs in our whole collection,” Smith said of the old black and white portrait.

The exhibit also includes information about Fort Harrison and about the Eastern Express trucking company, including a shirt from the company’s local bowling team.

The exhibit will remain at the museum at 1411 S. Sixth St. through June 15. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted. Museum hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com

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