Undoubtedly the most spectacular and best known of the Museum’s buildings is the Roundhouse. The Roundhouse was built to accommodate work on passenger cars and replace a similar shop destroyed by fire in February of 1883. Completed by the B&O in 1884 at a cost of $100,471.97, this 22 sided structure is 245′ in diameter, 135′ high and contains almost 1 acre beneath its slate roof. Designed by noted architect E. Francis Baldwin, this unique structure was practical as well as magnificent. Built of wrought-iron, brick, wood, and slate, it contained 22 bays, a turntable, and three rows of windows that allowed the maximum amount of natural light to illuminate the building.
Demonstration of B & O Railroad Roundtable Coming in March
Roundhouse [Passenger Car Shop], (ca. 1884)
In the middle of the Roundhouse is the 60′ turntable. It was used to position passenger cars in an available bay for necessary repairs and work. By the 1920s passenger cars became increasingly longer and the Roundhouse’s usefulness was limited due to the small size of the turntable. Subsequently the building was used less and less. The building was saved from demolition when it became the centerpiece of the Baltimore and Ohio Transportation Museum in 1953 and housed the B&O Railroad’s historic collection of locomotives and rolling stock.
In February 2003, after a record snowfall, the western half of the roof collapsed dropping thousands of pounds of slate, iron, and wood onto many significant locomotives, rolling stock and causing extensive damage to the structure. Through a Herculean effort the debris was removed and the remaining portions of the roof were replaced in a process that took 22 months to complete. During reconstruction the interior of the building was returned to its 1884 appearance. Today the Roundhouse contains exhibits and the gems of the Museum’s one-of-a-kind historic collection. The turntable is functional and used to demonstrate how railcars were turned when the building was in use.