Second Act for Soule Steam Feed Works

America’s last intact steam engine factory puts a new focus on education as the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum.

| June 2019

Soule-museum
As a business, Soulé Steam Feed Works shut down in 2002. As a museum, it endures as an
industrial time capsule from the early 20th century.

It’s impossible to experience the past … until you’ve been to Meridian, Mississippi. There, inside a pair of otherwise unremarkable buildings occupying one city block, is what is believed to be America’s last intact steam engine factory, complete with foundry and machine shop dating to the late 1800s.

Today, the historic Soulé Steam Feed Works survives as the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum in Meridian (though locals still refer to it as, simply, Soulé). The foundry, machine shop, assembly area, pattern shop and blacksmith’s forges exist as if workers had just gone home for the day. Visitors gawk at the 106-foot line shaft that provides power to belt-driven machines built more than a century ago. Work orders hand-written on faded slips of paper hang on a hook by the foreman’s desk.

When Bob Soulé, the third-generation owner of Soulé Steam Feed Works, decided in 2002 to close the doors on the 110-year-old family business, he scheduled an auction. He hadn’t counted on one bidder taking nearly the entire offering. “Actually, I was afraid it would be torn down,” he says. So fast it’d make your head spin, local businessman Jim McRae was the new owner of the building, the real estate and all the ancient machinery.



Soule-blacksmith
Volunteer blacksmith Benny Crevitt, Meridian, at work during the Live
Steam Festival. By 1907, manufacturing processes had almost made
the blacksmith obsolete, but company founder George Soulé continued
to make a place for a smith in his operation.

Leaving a trail of bread crumbs

From the beginning, Jim saw Soulé as a museum, one that would deliver a bit of economic development to the city of Meridian. “Bringing jobs to a town is tough,” he admits. “But we can get visitors. We’ve had visitors from every state in the U.S. and several foreign countries.”



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