Roanoke Shops played important role in railroad and region's history

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 8:49 PM EST
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The Roanoke Shops have been in operation about as long as Roanoke has been a city.

"It has had a wonderful reputation," said Bev Fitzpatrick, former Executive Director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. "And the men and women of these shops have done a tremendous job over the years."

In many ways they put Roanoke on the map, Fitzpatrick said, producing locomotives that many people consider the finest ever built.

"When 611 goes down the track," Fitzpatrick told WDBJ7 Tuesday morning, "it is still the most modern steam locomotive ever made. And it was designed and built here."

"During the heyday, the shops had probably between three and five thousand people," said Ken Miller, editor and secretary of the Norfolk and Western Historical Society. "They normally worked three full shifts, seven days a week."

By providing steady employment, he said the shops helped thousands of people provide for their families and played a major role in the region's growth.

"The shops meant for many, many years a steady job, a good paying job, back into the 1880's when it started as Roanoke Machine Works," Miller said.

"It's really sad on a day like today to realize that things have changed so much, that that real long-term investment that made us who we are is gone," Fitzpatrick said.

What's next for the Roanoke Shops?

That's still unclear, but Fitzpatrick and Miller said they expect Norfolk Southern to market the property.

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