I have to talk about these two together as they are part of the whole location, that is Northern Pacific Railroad’s Como Shops. Well it was, from 1885 through WWII.
Completed in 1885, it was built because Northern Pacific needed a repair shop for its passenger cars so with a long history and a number of reasons (if you love history, read about this place) St Paul was chosen as its eastern terminus. It was such a large undertaking that once finished, it completely altered the landscape into the St Paul we now recognize.
When the decision was made to build in St Paul, the citizens learned of it through several newspapers with illustrated plans and heavy descriptions of intentions. The best part of researching this? The shops were the center of a bit of rivalry between the cities and once announced, the St Paul Dispatch published that it was a “victory” won over Minneapolis.
With bricks from Little Falls, the site housed five buildings so large that 16 cars could be worked on at one time. Each of the building performed a separate function, from woodworking (since the cars back then were made of wood), to machining, office, and even a blacksmith shop. Since the site was so large and used so much power from the plant attached, huge water pumps that were later attached to the city’s water supply had to be installed. So much so that by 1889, the shops actually had their own firemen.
Most of the original construction was unaltered until the turn of the century and with some construction, remained active until WWII. Once the Amtrack came, the shops were of little use and most slowly were dismantled.
After years of interchange, Bandana Square had become a shopping center (which later closed), hosted the Dakota Jazz Club, Dino’s and even the Minnesota’s Children’s Museum from 1985 until 1995. As it sits now, it is a hotel and office space.
On the second floor, to the back, is a little room that houses the Twin City Model Railroad Museum that includes a huge, scale model of notable portions of the North Coast Limited & Northern Pacific Railway.
Visit and you can stop in and see the Mississippi, Mattlin, Third Ave Bridge, Como Junction, Midway Yards, Great Northern Passenger Junction, Stone Arch Bridge , St Anthony Falls, North Coast bridge, Western bridge, the Milwaukee road short line bridge, Hamline and even the Como Shops. A sight you really don’t want to miss. The walls are covered in old photos and artifacts from Minnesota’s railway heyday. They also have boxes and boxes of railroad magazines you can purchase. If you go on the weekend, you also get access to the Toy Train Division, which is housed in the Chimney Building. Totally filled with enthusiasts and working, movable parts, it’s the perfect place to tinker.
A word from me personally.
The Twin City Model Railroad Museum will need to find a new home by February if it doesn’t raise enough income to stay at the current location. I have reached out to everyone I know to help preserve and make sure we don’t lose this incredible piece of Minnesota History and I’m asking you to do something, too.
Visit. Photograph it. Spend time there. Give them your patronage. Tell others. Spread the word.