A History of its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



A Definitive History of the
American Roundhouse



The locomotive roundhouse was by far the most distinctive structure of any railroad yard, and in many cases, the most distinctive structure in the entire town. For over a century, hundreds of thousands of people started and ended their day in one of the 3,000 roundhouses that dotted the United States. However, since they were built for a very specific purpose, only about 200 remain standing, and that number declines each year. This limited edition, hardcover book, written for die-hard fans of the American Roundhouse, attempts to preserve some of that history. Once the hardcover edition is sold out, a digital edition (with far fewer pictures) will be available on Amazon and other book sites. Features hundreds of photographs collected by the author over a 20 year period.


Erie Railroad roundhouse in Piermont, constructed in ca. 1842


Excerpts from the introduction:

The rapid development of railroads beginning in the 1820s had a profound effect on daily life in America, permanently changing the way people lived, worked, and played. During the mid- to late 1800s, railroads became the dominant form of transportation of both people and products. They opened up the western part of the country to settlement, created new opportunities for Americans to travel to other parts of the country, and fueled the Industrial Revolution by dramatically lowering the cost of bringing raw materials to the factory and finished goods to the marketplace.

The single most valuable piece of equipment of any railroad was the locomotive. Converting water to steam for sending power to the driving wheels is in theory a simple process, but steam locomotives quickly evolved from the simple contraptions of the 1830s to incredibly complex and powerful machines containing thousands of components and hundreds of moving parts. It was vitally important to the survival of the railroad corporation to keep them in running order for as many hours a week as possible. They needed to be properly maintained, repaired when broken, and protected when not in use. The solution to all three of these needs was the roundhouse.

By the 1850s, the standard roundhouse design had become widely accepted—that of a large, circular building that partially or fully surrounded a turntable for turning locomotives. Since turntables had to be placed at terminal locations anyway (steam engines had to be run in a forward direction), it was only logical to construct a building around it so that locomotives could be turned to an available stall for servicing.

Early roundhouses were small compared to the mammoth structures of the early 1900s. In the 1850s and 1860s it was not unusual to see a fully enclosed circular building 120 feet in diameter with a 40 foot-long turntable in the middle that could house 10 to 15 locomotives. But railroad owners quickly realized that the more freight and passengers that could be hauled at once, the greater the profit, so locomotives quickly became larger and more powerful. The first locomotives that were used consisted of four driving wheels, sometimes supplemented by two leading trucks to keep the engine on the tracks. These soon gave way to Mogul-style engines with six driving wheels along with leading and trailing trucks, followed by Consolidations with eight driving wheels. This necessitated adding extensions to roundhouse stalls or the replacement of the entire building. What was considered a large structure in 1850 was dwarfed by those being built at the turn of the century, and they only became bigger throughout the 1920s and 1930s as steam locomotives reached their maximum size before the advent of diesel engines.

The number of engine terminals also increased dramatically after 1850. The decade leading to the Civil War was prosperous for the country. The central (Midwest) and south-central parts of the US were being rapidly developed, which led to an increase in railroad miles from 9,000 to 31,000. Early railroads with limited capital were merged into giant trunk lines, such as the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads, while an infusion of capital led to the completion of other trunk lines such as the Erie, the Baltimore and Ohio, the Chicago and Rock Island, and the Illinois Central. These corporations, and many others, needed locomotive terminals at many midway points in addition to the terminals normally found at one or both ends of the line. Many small towns and villages along the mainline suddenly hosted a new roundhouse and sometimes machine shops for heavier repairs. Hundreds of new villages were created from scratch where multiple railroad lines crossed or interchanged with each other. These railroad “hubs” often became the site of roundhouses and other infrastructure that generated thousands of jobs.

States and territories which contained the highest ratio of tracks per 100 square miles unsurprisingly had the most roundhouses. For example, the “territory” between New England and Chicago along the New York Central and the Erie lines had 19 railroad miles per 100 at the turn of the century, followed by New England with 12.3 miles and the Midwest with 11.7 miles, compared to a national average of 6.5 miles per 100. Of the individual states, New Jersey had the densest amount of tracks with 30 miles per 100, followed by Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, and New York. These ratios shifted over time, but by the 1950s steam locomotives were being phased out, so the central, southern, and western parts of the country never caught up to the number of locomotive terminals found east of the Mississippi River.


Orange and Alexandria Railroad roundhouse in Alexandria, Virginia

Union Pacific's roundhouse in Pocatello, Idaho (eventually expanded to 53 stalls)


Pittsburgh and Lake Erie roundhouse under construction in Haselton, Ohio


Operational roundhouses located in the United States open to the public

Those roundhouses that have been converted to museums stand the best chance of surviving into the foreseeable future. Although the vast majority of remaining structures are built of brick and reinforced concrete, the conditions of those that have been abandoned for decades illustrates the importance of regular upkeep and repair. Consistent funding from visitor fees or through private or public funding is critical. Below is a list of American roundhouses open to the public or on public land as of 2020, each of which enjoys a core group of people who are active in their preservation.

Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum (Sugarcreek, Ohio): built by private owner in 2011, 18 stalls, standard gauge, brick construction

California State Railroad Museum (Sacramento, California): built by the museum in 1981, six stalls, brick construction, standard gauge

Cheyenne Depot Museum (Cheyenne, Wyoming): built by the Union Pacific in 1931, seven stalls of 48 remaining, brick construction, stores heritage rolling stock

Colorado Railroad Museum (Golden, Colorado): built by the museum in 2000, five stalls, narrow gauge, brick construction

Como Roundhouse, Railroad Depot and Hotel Complex (Como, Colorado): built by the Denver, South Park and Pacific in 1881, six stalls remaining, narrow gauge, stone construction

Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum (Willimantic, Connecticut): built by the museum in 2000, six stalls, cement block construction

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (Durango, Colorado): rebuilt by the museum in 1989, 14 stalls, narrow gauge, reconstructed from burned 1881 roundhouse

East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company (Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania): built by the East Broad Top in 1882, eight stalls, narrow gauge, brick construction, contains original railroad equipment

Georgia State Railroad Museum (Savannah, Georgia): built by the Central of Georgia in 1855, seven stalls remaining, brick construction, largely rebuilt in 1926

Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (Hagerstown, Maryland): built by the Western Maryland in 1907, 25 stalls, roundhouse itself was demolished in 1999 but some terminal buildings survive; model replica is on-site

Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village (Dearborn, Michigan): built by the museum in 2000, six stalls, brick construction, replica of an 1884 Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee roundhouse

Historic Prairie Village (Madison, South Dakota): built by the Prairie Village, Herman and Milwaukee in 1997, three stalls, wood construction

Huntsville Depot Museum (Huntsville, Alabama): built by the Memphis and Charleston in circa 1860, razed by 1900 and rebuilt in 1990, five stalls, brick construction

Minnesota Transportation Museum (St. Paul, Minnesota): built by the Great Northern in 1907, 20 stalls, brick construction, known as the "Jackson Street Roundhouse"

Mount Clare Shops, Baltimore and Ohio Museum (Baltimore, Maryland): built by the Baltimore and Ohio in 1884, 22 stalls, brick construction, enclosed

North Carolina Transportation Museum (Spencer, North Carolina): built by the Southern Railway in 1924, 37 stalls, brick construction, largest surviving roundhouse by diameter

Railroaders Memorial Museum (Altoona, Pennsylvania): built by the museum in 2010, seven stalls, metal construction

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (Jamestown, California): built by the Sierra Railway in 1910, six stalls, narrow gauge, wood construction, used in over 200 movies and TV shows

Sioux City Railroad Museum (Sioux City, Iowa): built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific in 1916, six stalls of 30 remaining, brick construction, museum since 1995

Steamtown National Historic Site (Scranton, Pennsylvania): built by the National Park Service in 1995, 13 stalls, brick construction, rebuilt from existing 1932 Delaware, Lackawanna and Western roundhouse

Tuscumbia Depot and Roundhouse (Tuscumbia, Alabama): built by the museum in 2013 (including a modern turntable), three stalls, brick construction

Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (Rollag, Minnesota): built by the group in 1976, five stalls, metal construction, standard gauge



Accidents, 61-62, 197-198
Ash pits, 88-89
Children, 65-66, 92
Coaling stations, 84-87
Design, 49-54, 66-68, 70, 76, 181-182
Disadvantages, 54-55
Enclosed roundhouses, 8-9, 12, 31-32, 206

Fire, 62, 189-191
First engine houses, 7
First roundhouse, 8, 26-39, 46
Floods, 194-196
Ideal, 104-105
Injuries, 61-62, 197
Locomotives, 15, 18, 21-22, 73, 139, 200
Museums, 236-238
Roundhouses lost, 202
Sand, 19, 87
Surviving, 223-235
Tornadoes, 196-197
Turntables, 27, 32, 50, 70, 89-93
Water towers, 79-83
Women, 64-65, 169
Workers, 57-60, 72

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Santa Fe), 15, 63, 119, 131, 136, 218
Baltimore and Ohio, 6-8, 20, 31-32, 205-206
Baltimore and Potomac, 95-99
Boston and Maine, 15, 47, 125, 138, 157
Boston and Worcester, 37
Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh, 167-168
Central of Georgia, 17, 214-216
Central Railroad of New Jersey, 129, 199
Chesapeake and Ohio, 120-122, 157, 209
Cleveland and Toledo, 45
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis (Big Four), 86, 122, 148-149
Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula, 45
Chicago and Alton, 71, 108-109, 146
Chicago and Eastern Illinois, 52
Chicago and North Western, 13, 55-56, 63, 144-146, 198, 208
Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (Burlington), 16, 144, 203-205
Chicago Great Western (Maple Leaf), 154-155
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road), 91, 212-213
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha, 114, 132, 135
Delaware and Hudson, 138, 147-148
Denver and Rio Grande Western (Rio Grande), 2, 85
Detroit, Toledo and Ironton, 73
East Broad Top, 212-213
Elgin, Joliet and Eastern, 87, 217
Erie, 35, 35-37, 69, 84
Grand Trunk, 155-156
Great Northern, 213-214
Illinois Central, 52, 80, 102-103
Indiana Harbor Belt, 57, 218
Kansas City Southern, 136
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern (Lake Shore), 45, 119-121, 149-151, 190
Lehigh Valley, 18-19, 168-171, 218
Little Miami, 8
Long Island, 220-221
Michigan Central, 45, 56, 175-176, 217-218
Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie (Soo), 132
Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy), 62, 130, 136
Missouri Pacific (MoPac), 136
New York and Harlem, 8
New York, New Haven and Hartford (New Haven), 32, 34, 109-111, 146-147
New York Central, 45, 94, 171-172
New York, Chicago and St. Louis (Nickel Plate), 22-25
Norfolk and Western, 199-200
Norwich and Worcester, 32, 38
Northern Pacific, 14, 53, 141, 165
Orange and Alexandria, 43, 44, 89
Pennsylvania, 40-42, 75, 92, 99-101, 137, 142, 180-181
Pere Marquette, 119, 156-157, 182-184, 233
Philadelphia and Reading (Reading), 18, 40, 126, 144, 177-179
Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, 9
Pittsburgh and Lake Erie, 105-107
Southern, 17, 162, 197, 216-217, 219, 231, 238
Southern Pacific, 61, 152-153, 166, 184-185, 218
Toledo and Ohio, 172-175
Union Pacific, 50, 82, 158-162, 207-208
Utica and Schenectady, 29-30
Western (of Massachusetts), 38
Western and Atlantic, 165, 188 

Adrian, Michigan, 45
Albany-Schenectady-Rensselaer, New York, 28, 123-124, 149, 164
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 163
Alexandria, Virginia, 44
Altoona, Pennsylvania, 42, 142
Ashtabula, Ohio, 150-151
Atlanta, Georgia, 165, 188
Auburn, New York, 19
Aurora, Illinois, 16, 203-205
Baltimore, 6, 7, 205-206, 209
Baraboo, Wisconsin, 13
Battle Creek, Michigan, 156
Bellefontaine, Ohio, 148-149
Bellevue, Ohio, 24-25
Birmingham, United Kingdom, 26-27
Bloomington, Illinois, 71, 72, 108-109
Boonton, New Jersey, 90
Boston, Massachusetts, 37, 45, 47, 125-126, 157
Brisbane, California, 64, 218, 220
Buffalo, New York, 19, 124-125, 168-171
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 194
Champaign, Illinois, 74, 80-81, 93
Cheyenne, Wyoming, 160-163
Chicago, Illinois, 4, 23, 77, 102-103, 116-119
Cincinnati, Ohio, 40, 121-123
Cleveland, Ohio, 45, 119-120
Clinton, Iowa, 55-56
Collinwood, Ohio, 86, 121, 149
Columbus, Ohio, 120-121, 137, 143, 172-175
Communipaw, New Jersey, 113, 199
Como, Colorado, 206-207
Concord, New Hampshire, 15, 40
Conneaut, Ohio, 24
Cortland, New York, 19
Covington, Kentucky, 209
Council Bluffs, Iowa, 81
Crestline, Ohio, 140, 141
Creston, Iowa, 144
Danville, Illinois, 152
Deer Lodge, Montana, 91
Denison, Ohio, 142
Detroit, Michigan, 42-43, 140
Denver, Colorado, 2, 133-134, 206
Duluth, Minnesota, 165
Evanston, Wyoming, 207-208
Fort Wayne, Indiana, 25
Fort Worth, Texas, 116, 130
Fulton, Illinois, 145
Gary, Indiana, 217-218
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 156
Greenville, Pennsylvania, 58, 207-208
Hagerstown, Maryland, 201
Hammond, Illinois, 217-218
Huron, South Dakota, 208
Indianapolis, Indiana, 122-123
Jamestown, California, 210
Jersey City-Hoboken, New Jersey, 34, 128-129
Kansas City, Missouri, 134, 135-136
Laramie, Wyoming, 50
Lewistown, Montana, 51
Los Angeles, California, 154, 166
Los Vegas, New Mexico, 218
Macon, Georgia, 17
Manchester, New York, 19, 218
Mandan, North Dakota, 141
Manhattan, New York, 46
Martinsburg, West Virginia, 33, 192, 206
McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, 105-107
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, 116, 132, 191, 213, 236
Missoula, Montana, 14
Nashville, Tennessee, 219
New Haven, Connecticut, 109-111, 146
Niles, Michigan, 175-176
North Platte, Nebraska, 159
Norwalk, Ohio, 45
Norwich, Connecticut, 32
Oelwein, Iowa, 154-155
Omaha, Nebraska, 132, 134-135
Oneonta, 147-148
Pendleton, Ohio, 8
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 99-101, 126-128, 177-179
Piermont, New York, 35
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 127-128, 193
Pocatello, Idaho, 158-160
Port Jervis, New York, 36-37, 191
Providence, Rhode Island, 39
Proviso, Illinois, 145-146
Queens, New York, 220-221
Roanoke, Virginia, 83, 136, 199-200, 234
Rochester, New York, 19, 31
Rockhill, Pennsylvania, 212
Salem, New York, 4
Salida, Colorado, 2
St. Albans, Vermont, 78
St. Clair, Pennsylvania, 18, 144
St. Louis, Missouri, 23, 123
St. Paul, Minnesota, 116, 132, 191, 213, 236
San Antonio, Texas, 61-62
San Bernardino, California, 131
Savannah, Georgia, 214-216
Sayre, Pennsylvania, 19, 170
Scranton, Pennsylvania, 140, 210-212, 236
Sioux City, 114, 212-213
Sparks, Nevada, 152-153
Spencer, North Carolina, 216-217
Springfield, Massachusetts, 32, 38
Stony Island (Chicago), Michigan, 23, 25
Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, 36-37, 69-70
Tacoma, Washington, 53-54
Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, 41
Toledo, Ohio, 119
Utica, New York, 3, 62
Washington D.C., 4, 7, 20, 32, 48, 65, 95-98
West Lebanon, New Hampshire, 15
West Stockbridge, New York, 29, 30
Wilmington, Delaware, 9-11
Worcester, Massachusetts, 37