Southern Railway's Spencer Shops

Southern Railway's Spencer Shops

Infobox_nrhp | name =Southern Railway Spencer Shops
nrhp_type =

caption = Spencer Shops turntable service facility
location= Spencer, North Carolina
lat_degrees = 35
lat_minutes = 41
lat_seconds = 13
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 80
long_minutes = 26
long_seconds = 10
long_direction = W
locmapin = North Carolina
area =
built =1896
architect= Southern Railway Company
architecture= No Style Listed
added = March 17, 1978
governing_body = State
refnum=78001972cite web|url=|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]

"Southern Railway's Spencer Shops" were a major steam locomotive repair facility between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. in Spencer, North Carolina. [ The History of the railroad and Spencer - North Carolina Transportation Museum] ] The service facility was once Southern Railway's largest steam locomotive repair center. The period of greatest prosperity and productivity for the facility was in the first half of the twentieth century. [ Workers outside Southern Railway's Spencer Shops - history of Spencer Shops] ]

These type of repair service facilities for the railroads were called "back shops". They were located in every division of a railroad system and centralized for the most extensive kinds of repairs. The Spencer Shops "back shops" were named in honor of Samuel Spencer as was the name of the new town developed for these facilities. [ North Carolina Transportation Museum - History of Spencer Shops] ]

The original buildings included a machine shop, storehouse building, office building, wood working shop, and a combination smith and boiler shop. It even had a power plant, an automobile repair facility, and a 37-bay roundhouse where locomotives could be worked on. It employed between 2500 and 3000 at any one time. [ The North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer Shops] ]

The former Spencer Shops were located near Salisbury, North Carolina. The conversion from steam locomotives to diesel locomotives was the demise of Spencer Shops. They are now phased out which took place in the 1950s to the 1970s. It is now the North Carolina Transportation Museum.


Samuel Spencer reorganized the Southern Railway Company in 1894 with a newly formed company from the defunct Richmond and Danville Railroad and several other defunct railroads. It then had two repair facilities, one in Atlanta and the other in Knoxville. Much of the inherited rolling stock from the acquisitions of the defunct railroads were in need of major repairs. The other "back shops" service centers could not handle this extensive service need. These facilities were "antiquated and poorly equipped and not sufficient for their purposes" as Samuel Spencer is quoted of saying. Spencer saw the need for a third major "back shop" service facility on this eastern main line between Washington D.C. and Atlanta. He reported also in the first annual meeting of June 1895 "one additional large shop may be necessary." This way the repair facilities would be divided up into segments of about convert|160|mi|km apart. The switch locomotives needed to be inspected for repair and service and refueled at this increment. The new major "back shop" service facility was proposed to be in the middle of these two major cities.

ecret negotiations

The development of the facilities for Spencer Shops started with John Steele Henderson. He was a Confederate veteran, a former state senator and Rowan county's largest landholder at the time. History records that Henderson entered into secret negotiations with Southern Railroad officials for land acquisitions for the proposed major facility to act as a type of front dummy entity to prevent price speculating. He was to buy the land secretly for the new shop complex and sell it back to the railroad at or near the low price he paid. It was already known in 1896 by the public that the Southern Railroad was looking for potential land for this facility and at the time the Charlotte area was seen as the logical choice for the complex. It would not seem unusual for the largest county landholder to acquire more land, so this plan of using a "front" person for acquiring large parcels of land for this purpose could keep the real purpose secret from the public. Most thought anyway that the facility was going to be put in the Charlotte area. In January 1896 Henderson began buying large tracts of land two miles (3 km) north of Salisbury directly on Southern Railroad's main line. He then sold most of it back to the Southern Railway for slightly more than he paid for it.

Henderson did profit however from this secret arrangement. He sold land that he owned in this area to other people that worked for the shops. At the turn of the century he even sold some land back to Southern Railway for a large profit that he had kept for himself.

The workmen constructing the shops began on March 23, 1896, turning the first shovels of convert|75000|cuyd|m3 of dirt moved in the construction. It opened for business on August 19, 1896, with Samuel Spencer presiding at the opening ceremonies.

Town of Spencer

Spencer Shops had a small army of thousands of workers. There were skilled workers as well as engineers, firemen, brakemen, and conductors. Many of these settled down in the area and the town of Spencer was formed. Initially Southern Railway partitioned 84 acres into 500 lots. They were 50 × 145 for residential lots and 25 × 145 for commercial lots. They sold for $100 each. The 625 residents of Spencer were granted incorporation by North Carolina legislature in 1901.



* Cates, Pat C., "The Southern Railway: Further Recollections", Arcadia Publishing Company (2005), ISBN 1-8830892-3-9
* McQuigg, Jackson, "History on Steel Wheels", North Carolina Transportation History Corporation (1996), ISBN 0-9642749-0-6.
* Galloway, Duane and Wrinn, Jim, "Southern Railway's Spencer Shops, 1896-1996", T L C Publishing (1996), ISBN 978-1-883089-23-9

External links

* [ Railroad lines abandoned by the Southern Railway]
* [ Southern Railway Historical Association] containing Spencer Shops history

Further reading

* "Southern Railway in Color Volume 2" by Alton Lanier. Published by Morning Sun Books Inc. ISBN 1-58248-014-1.
* "The Southern Railway Remembered" by James Leslie Hepler, publisher Motorbooks International, ISBN 1-8830896-3-8.
* "The Southern Railway: Road of Innovators" by Burke Davis, University of North Carolina Press (1985), ISBN 0-8078163-6-1
* "Southern Railway Panorama" by Frederick A. Kramer. Published by Quadrant Press, Inc., New York, ISBN 0-9152762-0-8
* "Southern Railway Varnish 1964 - 1979" by Ralph Ward, Original at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, ISBN 0-9622999-2-8.
* "The Southern Railway System An Illustrated History" by William Webb. Published by The Boston Mills Press. ISBN 0-919783-19-8.
* "The Southern Railway Steam - Locomotives and trains 1935 - 1937" from the collection of Robert K. Durham, ISBN 0-9644480-6-8.
* "Southern Railway in Color " by Fred Cheney and David R. Sweetland. Published by Morning Sun Books Inc. ISBN 1-878887-14-9.
* "Southern Railway Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment" by James Kinkaid. Published by Morning Sun Books Inc. ISBN 1-878887-60-2.
* "Southern Railway System A Pictorial Album Washington to Atlanta, 1960 - 1982" by Douglas B. Nuckles, Four Way West Publications, ISBN 1-885614-09-8.

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