Bruce Williams Zaccagnino started building model railroads in his basement in 1972. He expanded his basement five times to house his growing model train habit. This was getting out of hand for a hobby, so in 1990, Bruce bought 16 acres of land in Flemington NJ, built a building, and took it on as a full-time job. Northlandz is named for the Northern geography most of the scenes depict, with ‘z’ at the end for Zaccagnino.
The 52,000 square foot building housing what Bruce says is the world’s largest model railroad and the world’s largest dollhouse. Although the model railroad dominates Northlandz, it is also home to an impressive collection of dollhouses and dolls, antiques, art, and a beautiful music room with multiple organs. Bruce wanted to appeal to a wider audience than model train enthusiasts.
Northlandz’ railway exhibit includes about 100 model trains travelling a landscape of 400 bridges and tunnels and eight miles of track traversing mountains, rivers, and towns with thousands of model buildings. The materials to make the exhibit include enough lumber and plaster to build about 40 large houses.
“The key thing for me is,” says Bruce, “if you have talent to do something, you have to give it to the world.”
Bruce has certainly done that. He and his wife Jean have developed an attraction that is like no place else I’ve ever seen. Northlandz is a magical place with a whimsical sense of humor. Visitors navigate through about one mile of walkway. Around every curve is a new vista and more surprises. Additional details come to light every time I visit, and Bruce is always adding more. Incredibly, he has plans to triple the size of Northlandz if he can.
“If I can live to 110,” Bruce muses, “I could bring this to a million people.”
Northlandz makes an especially wonderful winter holiday visit. The two story music room is beautifully appointed in stained wood. During the Christmas holiday it is adorned with a large Christmas tree, poinsettias, and wrapped presents. If you are lucky, you’ll catch one of Bruce’s daily musical performances.
The gallery below may give you some idea of the size and scope of the place, but you really have to be there to experience it.
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Interspersed throughout the facility are displays of art, models, dollhouse scenes and dolls, and antiques.
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Northlandz is about an hour’s drive from NYC or Philadelphia, and under an hour to many points in NJ. I can highly recommend it. Give yourself 2-3 hours to experience it. More information can be found on the Northlandz website.