Roundhouse & Railyards - Atlas Obscura

Roundhouse & Railyards

Evanston, Wyoming

Evanston's historic railroad complex saved this rail town from reaching the "end of the line."  


The historic Roundhouse & Railyards is one of the last remaining relics of the Union Pacific Railroad and perhaps the most important building complex in Evanston, Wyoming. Throughout its history, this building twice saved the city, and today is an important part of its future.

Evanston is a railroad town: its history is entirely intertwined with the Union Pacific Railroad. The town is even named after James A. Evans, a Union Pacific employee and civil engineer. The railway was built rapidly through Wyoming from 1867 to 1868. Stops along the line quickly became boom towns as the railroad line rapidly extended through the state. In December 1868, the end of the railway line reached Evanston, and this new city began to flourish, as hundreds of workers poured into town, many living in tents.

Of course, the railroad line kept progressing, and once it was extended to the new town of Wahsatch, 12 miles to its west, Evanston’s population cratered within months. The city emptied: It appeared to be the end of the line for the former “end of the line” city.

However, something strange happened in Evanston. Evanston’s natural features and position on the Bear River made it a good potential refueling station, and the ghost town managed to hang on. By the next summer, the Union Pacific headquarters was moved back to Evanston, and the town grew again. Evanston built its first roundhouse, a massive train storage yard, and the railyards became the primary economic base for the town for the next century.

The first roundhouse lasted until 1912 when it was replaced by a more modern 63,000-square-foot facility, which still stands today.

By the 1920s, trains could travel further distances without refueling, and newer locomotives had grown too big for the old Evanston roundhouse. The city was again in peril. The people of Evanston convinced Union Pacific to repurpose the roundhouse as a plant that overhauled railcars. The building was renamed the Reclamation Shop, and the plant would employ more than 300 people at its peak, maintaining the country’s steam locomotives. The town survived.

The Reclamation Shop would last almost another half-century, but in 1971, Union Pacific closed it and returned it to the city of Evanston. They then leased it out to other contractors, but by 1998, the plant was shut for good. The building that had twice saved the town was now itself in need of saving.

Through grant funding and private investment, the restoration of the roundhouse and the related railyards and buildings in this historic district began in the early 2000s, a process that continues today. Historic interpretive markers were placed around the site, and a visitors center and event space were built in the old oil house and machine shop.

The roundhouse was restored in phases, and the hulking building now serves as office space, a gallery, a community event space, a classroom, and even a brewery. Even the historic turntable was again made operational. As a final touch, the 4420, a historic locomotive that had long ago been donated to Evanston, was moved and returned “home” to the railyards in 2021.

Know Before You Go

As of 2024, the complex is still under active renovation, but the complex is free and accessible to visitors. The City of Evanston offers tours of the Historic Roundhouse and Railyards district by request.

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