The Aurora Roundhouse
The Roundhouse opened in 1856 (Aurora, Illinois) as the site for a major car building and repair shop by the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Originally, twenty-two stalls were built, but by 1864 another 18 were added, making it a complete circle. In 1925, the entire building was replaced with a more modern roundhouse, and it remained in service until the 1970s. In In 1995 the Roundhouse was bought by an investment group, led by former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, who transformed the roundhouse into a Brewing Company and entertainment venue, as well as Walter Payton museum. In 2011, they sold the building to craft brewer, Two Brothers Brewing, who currently occupy the space. The building is the oldest limestone roundhouse in the United States and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
Construction continued through the Civil War era, with 18 more stalls added; the roundhouse became a completed circle in 1864. At the roundhouse, Charles Jauriet invented a special compatible firebox that allowed trains to use coal instead of wood. As well, The Pullman hotel car was built at the Rounhouse in 1866 as was the first American diner car, in 1868.2The roundhouse had a profound effect on Aurora, IL (circa 1837). Sitting at the Fox River, it was a bustling trade center evidenced by constant horse wagon traffic, largely benefitting from its preferred location as the main westward route from Chicago to the Fox River. By 1849, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad extended a railroad track from Chicago to Turner Junction, located 12 miles to the north of Aurora, which decreased the round trip
In the 1970s, when railway use declined, and became much less significant as an economic force, the roundhouse ceased operating and fell into disrepair. However, in 1995, the famous Hall of Fame National Football League running back, Walter Payton, and his investment partners, purchased the building and turned it into an entertainment venue. Akin to Omaha's meatpacking district that transformed from a meatpacking center to that of retail, service, and artist shops, the new use of the building signified a change from a heavy reliance by towns on industry to that of the service industry, such as retail, food and beverage, hotels, and related industries.4
In 2011, Two Brothers Brewing Company took control of the place, a result of the craft-beer boom occurring in the U.S., largely attached to the end of prohibition laws that prevented homebrewing until 1978. At that time, less than 100 breweries operated in the U.S, but as of 2016, more than 4,6000 breweries exist.5
The limestone roundhouse provides an immense amount of history, from its original purpose to that of its modern day use. To walk into the doors of the roundhouse is to experience the legacy of the American and Chicago railroad history, the fame of a sports star, the transition from large industry economy to a service economy and the craft-beer boom, which enjoys a history all to itself.