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One of many multi-level, detail-packed landscapes.

One of many multi-level, detail-packed landscapes at Northlandz.

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.

Interspersed throughout the facility are displays of art, models, dollhouse scenes and dolls, and antiques.

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.

Andrew Terranova

Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and an electronics and robotics hobbyist. He is an active member of the Let’s Make Robots community, and handles public relations for the site.
Andrew has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children’s Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Learning Center in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.


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Comments

  1. […] Northlandz è il mio hobby di un uomo trasformato in un magico mostra di circa 100 modellini di treni che viaggiano un paesaggio di 400 ponti e gallerie e otto chilometri di binari di movimento montagne, fiumi e città con migliaia di modelli edifici. E ‘anche sede di un suggestivo spettacolo di bambole e case di bambola, arte e antiquariato. […]

  2. Mario says:

    I haven’t been back there in a few years but I love this place. Its something you really need to see for yourself as pictures could never do it justice. If I remember correctly, the walk though is about 1/4 miles long. There is also a fun movie they made going though the different parts of the display.

    1. It is really fun. I didn’t mention it in the article, but there’s also a small working train on the property that you can buy a ticket to ride on.
      Regarding the length of the walk, it is actually nearly a mile. No stairs so it is accessible, but there is a gentle incline.
      You are right about one thing. Despite my best effort, the pictures don’t do the place justice.

  3. sherryritternature says:

    I love anything miniature. I may have to design a vacation around visiting this place. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Greg says:

    Great place! My kids love it. I would love to see a deeper interview with Bruce on Make. He seems to capture the true maker spirit.

  5. ria says:

    great job, i want build it too

  6. kjunkins says:

    I’ve been here a couple of times. Once with my dad (who is a model train buff) and possibly a few times with my kids. It is an amazing place.

    There are some quirky things with it. Some of the scenes don’t go together. Sometimes the scale is off. Once in a while there are broken parts that have never been fixed. And there is even a place when someone tried to climb on the model train, fell through the plaster ad lathe, and they not only haven’t fixed it, this has become a feature, with signage and all.

    There are a few hokey parts, and there are a few cute running jokes throughout.

    But all-in-all, this is a MUST GOTO place (along with destinations like the giant ball of string and the mushroom museum), because you will be awed by it, AND it is built from a love of the art, rather than as a commercial tourist attraction.

    Hmm, now I want to go back. I wonder if my grand kids are ready???

    1. Depends on the kids, but my 3 year old nephew loved it. His four year old sister got impatient about half way through, but enjoyed it on the whole. My nine year old son still likes the place and we’ve been going since he was little.