Joseph McDade, Steamtown's backer in Congress, dies at 85

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FAIRFAX, Va. — The man who saved the Steamtown collection in Scranton, Pa., by getting it named a National Historic Site, has died. Joseph M. McDade, 85, was an 18-term Republican congressman well known for bringing federal dollars home to his northeastern Pennsylvania district and who was acquitted in 1996 on a bribery charge.

The Steamtown National Historic Site, built on the remains of the Delaware Lackawnna & Western Railroad's yard and shop in Scranton, which also included some buildings from the Dickson Locomotive Works, was controversial. The federal government spent more than $70 million in an attempt to turn the mostly abandoned yards and buildings into a National Park Service site celebrating the nation's railroad history.

Critics lambasted the project, which sits next to a shopping mall. They noted the park service didn't ask for the money and most of the site's equipment had nothing to do with Scranton. But McDade and local leaders saw the park as a way to bolster Scranton as a tourist destination. For several years, no steam locomotives operated at the museum, and only recently has Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-6-0 No. 26 returned to service, supplementing historic diesels leased from several historical rail organizations.

An earlier attempt by a private entity to operate the museum with steam locomotives ran out of money, and the equipment originally saved by F. Nelson Blount as Steamtown USA in Vermont might have been sold piecemeal or scrapped if McDade hadn't stepped in. As the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee at the time, he was able to ram through legislation creating the national historic site.
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