Large Scale Central

Hillyard, the Great Northern terminal in Spokane, WA

This is a photo of Hillyard (Hill Yard) in North Spokane. Its not the greatest photo, but it answers a question that I’ve had for the last 20 years, what occupied that vast expanse of land just east of suburb Hillyard, WA.

Photo thanks to BNSF.

That roundhouse can handle 120 ft long articulates. It was a huge operation. All that is left is a single track that goes north to Canada, well, used to go that far. Now BNSF runs trains to Chewela, WA, where the train is handed over to the Kettle Falls International Railway.

That huge shop almost dead center in the photo is where a good many of GN’s steam articulated locomotives were built and maintained.

Hey thanks for that picture Steve.

I new Hill Yard was a very large yard and served as a main base of operation for GN between the mountains (Rockies and Cascades for those that aren’t aware). But I had no idea it was that large or complex. It has one heck of a round house. just south of that huge shop.

GN shops in Hillyard. Probably a decade later than the above photo.

Great Northern R 2, outside the erecting shop in Hillyard.

Photos courtesy of Spokane Historical Society.

Wow no idea

In the first photo, there’s kind of a circular, open area in the upper right corner. Any idea what that was?

That’s a good question Ray. Its light industrial, and a housing development now. There is some farm ground out there still today, also. My guess would be farm country, but it looks odd for that.

Here’s a Google Earth photo of the Hillyard Shops location now. You can see the old foundation footprint of the roundhouse near the bottom of the shot on Wellesley Ave. There’s still some history showing.

Here’s another close up of the foundation. From the Google Street View The foundation is still intact. Steve and Devon have to get out there and explore.

I will have to run out there and take a look. I had no idea it still had any remains. A large portion of that area is scheduled to have a freeway run through it. Bit that is on the west side of things I think. They are already building north of it and Are about to come through this section anyday. I would be crious to know how the location works out.

Thanks Dan for posting those pictures. Has peaked my curiosity.

If you look at the top of the yard area you can see the freeway coming in. It looks like it is making a b line straight for the round house.

Once that freeway goes through that area will literally be history. Get on Google Earth and save some photos. I’m surprised by the lack of historical photos of that operation.

And now it is a vast contaminated oil drenched site down to about 120 feet. BNSF, the State of Washington and the EPA are working on a way of solving the spill before the freeway goes any farther south.

Here’s another interesting tidbit I found at the Hillyard site on Google Earth. There is a Fire Rail Museum on N. Greene Street.

Here’s some history about Hillyard.

"In the 1880s, Spokane was becoming the premier rail hub of the West and tycoon James J. Hill wanted it on his Great Northern line to the coast. The first GN train rolled into Spokane in May 1892, starting a long association between the company and the city.

Because Hill was trying to catch up to the Northern Pacific and others, he needed a right of way through Spokane. He dropped hints that he could drop shipping rates if he was given the land and rights of way he needed. Although he eventually got the land, the shipping rates, which made everything more expensive in Spokane, never came down. But Hill went on to build a new station on Havermale Island downtown.

Another clever dodge was the placement of the extensive rail yard outside city limits to avoid city taxes. The yard would become the biggest rail shop west of the Mississippi, including a 20-stall engine house and shops to repair engines and rail cars. The Hillyard shops produced the largest and most powerful steam engine to date, the R-1 Mallet, based on the designs of Swiss inventor Anatole Mallet. Between 1927 and 1930, 26 were built there.

It would be another decade or so before diesel-electric engines began to replace steam power. As diesels became common, Hillyard got some of the work, but other repair centers grew, too. In 1968, the GN merged with the Northern Pacific and other lines to form the Burlington Northern. Repair work and jobs were consolidated and moved to other areas of the country, and Hillyard lost hundreds of jobs.

To fight the economic losses, the Hillyard Development Corp. and the Hillyard Historical Society sponsored a tourist train to Newport and back in 1968 to draw people to the historic shop area, which they wanted to turn into a train village or museum. But railroad officials raised rates for the tourist trains and made them unprofitable. Boosters vented their frustration to Louis Mank, the president of the BN in 1970.

“To let Hillyard, the center of early-day railroading here … simply die an economic death while the weeds and debris take over the yards and the old roundhouses – scene of all the early bustle – would be sad and wasteful neglect,” they wrote.

The yards closed for good in the early 1980s. The losses led Hillyard to be one of the poorest neighborhoods, per capita, in the state.

The former shop area is heavily contaminated with lead and other heavy metals from years of industrial activity. Burlington Northern entered the property into Washington state’s voluntary cleanup program in 2004."

– Jesse Tinsley
Published: May 12, 2014, midnight

Just to the north was a large fruit/vegetable loading and icing facility. I remember as a kid watching the long trains of orange reefers being loaded there.

the foundations are just to the left of that big warehouse.

Very interesting post Steve… thanks for all of the inform… (


John Bouck said:
And now it is a vast contaminated oil drenched site down to about 120 feet. BNSF, the State of Washington and the EPA are working on a way of solving the spill before the freeway goes any farther south.

Thanks John,

While not surprised I was unaware of that.

What surprised me was all the powers to be knew about it, but just happily kept building that freeway south until they bumped up against the site. According to the news paper, there are some plans in the works now. Duh???


Why would this surprise you. Its the gooberment, If they did things efficiently then they would get done to soon and have nothing to do and be out of jobs. Now they can spend at least another 5-10 years solving this problem.