On March 23, 1896, Southern Railway Company broke ground on a new repair facility in Spencer. The Rowan County community was chosen as the location of the new shop complex because it was halfway between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The shops were named in honor of Southern’s first president, Samuel Spencer.
Initially, Spencer Shops included a 15-stall roundhouse, a machine shop and a blacksmith shop. More buildings were constructed over the next 20 years, the most impressive being the Back Shop, which covered the length of two football fields. In 1924, the original Roundhouse was replaced with a 37-stall facility. At its peak, 3,000 people worked at Spencer Shops.
One of the first U.S. rail systems to experiment with diesel-electric locomotives, Southern retired its last steam engine in 1953. This began the decline of Spencer Shops, with employment there dropping steadily through the 1950s and 1960s. The shops were eventually closed in the late 1960s.
Historic Spencer Shops is now the site of the N.C. Transportation Museum, one of 27 state historic sites. It interprets all forms of transportation history in North Carolina from dugout canoes to airliners.
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