Shoreham Roundhouse
Minneapolis, MN

Dirty, Steamy Diesel Dreams

You do not need to be around trains regularly to find they have a particular scent. Spilled diesel, thick oil and a healthy coating of grease silhouetted the olfactory phantoms inside the shadows, their combined smells are unmistakable even in their absence.

Doors 16 and 17
Doors 16 and 17, with a clear view of the pits.

Wooden platforms traced the feather beds of steel horses, the worn boards faintly glowing orange from the polluted light filtering through ancient cube glass. The curving space was blank, but felt claustrophobic, in spite of its antique emptiness. Barely enough light sneaked in to make out the sign leaning against the broken steel door, its stenciled letters peeling uniformly, but nonetheless legible: “Shoreham.”

The sign had been recovered from the day lit world years before, and the historic roundhouse it represents is not its home, shared with the old, uncomfortable roommate, history. History keeps you up at night, and definitely never cleans up after itself. If it could, History would tell you its story of this place—I listened and still listen to this tale, and it goes something like this…

Shoreham, 1975 (
Shoreham, 1975 (

A Flour Mill Mover

Diesel Doors
One of two new doors facing the modern yard.

The Shoreham Yards in Minneapolis were founded in 1887 by the Minneapolis, Sault Saint Marie and Atlantic Railway, which later became the famous Soo Line, which has since been absorbed into Canadian Pacific. Minneapolis was then earning the nickname ‘Mill City,’ a moniker that couldn’t be earned without a strong rail backbone to haul grain and deliver finished flour.

Every major rail yard at the time had its own roundhouse, a semi-circular building wherein trains were stored and serviced; Shoreham was no exception. The first roundhouse with just 18 stalls—spaces for trains to park inside—was built that first year, and was expanded through 1919. When construction was finally complete, there was space for 48 locomotives.

Hose In the Pit
An air hose next to the elevated (sort of) pit.

When diesel locomotives phased-out their steam-powered counterparts, a train servicing shop was built in 1948 onto the 1919 brickwork. The next few years saw the roundhouse mothballed, its old wooden doors and shorter ceilings unsuited for the mammoth new engines. Soon, the service shop was the only facility in use in the Shoreham Roundhouse.

Canadian Northern eventually stopped using the facility altogether in the 1960s, and in 1970 they removed the roundhouse’s turntable—a device that turned engines from their stall’s angle to match the outgoing rails—and 16 stalls were demolished. When the railroad wanted to demolish the rest of the roundhouse and shops, the City of Minneapolis had the site designated a historical location to be preserved, and it remains so today.


References »

  • Millet, Larry. AIA Guide to the Twin Cities. St. Paul: MNHS, 2007. (accessed May 12, 2012).
  • Shoreham Yards Roundhouse Reuse Study. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development
  • Shoreham Yards Roundhouse. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission