SALEM — When he was a boy growing up in Beverly, Richard Symmes went with his Cub Scout troop to see the Salem Roundhouse. It was a trip the Scouts made every year.
The large brick building had a turntable surrounded by a dozen stalls where steam locomotives were stored at night. It was essentially a maintenance and storage depot.
"We had the whole pack climb out on the turntable, and around we went," said Symmes, 70.
Although the Salem Roundhouse has been gone for nearly a half-century, memories of it are being rekindled by the MBTA's proposed $31.8 million Salem station and parking garage at the commuter rail station, the subject of a 6:30 meeting tonight at Carlton School.
The new garage will be built right where the roundhouse, or engine house, once stood.
"Borings and site investigations have found a historic roundhouse and turntable structure buried at the site ..." MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote in an email.
More accurately, ground-penetrating radar detected what likely is the granite block foundation of the roundhouse and, possibly, remnants of the turntable pit.
As a result of the discovery, the MBTA will hire an archaeological firm to do a site survey to determine the historical significance of the findings. They are expected to dig test pits to see and document what remains from the city's great railroading days.
While the roundhouse is an issue for the MBTA, the larger concern is the soil conditions at the landfill site and possible soil contamination. Soil conditions will require deep piles, which are commonly long steel posts or beams driven into the ground for structural support.
"Due to the added cost for the deep pile foundations, the size of the structure is being altered, reducing the number of spaces ..." Pesaturo wrote.
The proposed Salem garage, which has been on the drawing board for years, has been shrinking because of well-chronicled budget problems at the MBTA, the numerous elements in this station project and the higher anticipated costs of construction. A garage once expected to have 900 to 1,000 spaces now will hold only 553 vehicles.
The new Salem station, which is more than just a parking garage, will be built near the site of the roundhouse, once an imposing structure with a coaling tower and water tank. Steam locomotives had to be kept running all the time, which required "hostlers" to work all night feeding boilers with coal and water.
The Salem Roundhouse was located at a major junction for the railroad, which has run through this city since the mid-1800s. At the site of the current commuter rail station, the main line headed north to Portsmouth, N.H., and beyond, while another line headed to Peabody Square, where it branched again in three directions: Wakefield, Lowell and Danvers.
Although tracks still run to Peabody, today they carry an occasional train to Eastman Gelatine.
The Salem Roundhouse might have been news to the MBTA, but it is ancient history at the Beverly Historical Society, home of the Walker Transportation Collection. There are numerous photos of the roundhouse in its collection.
"There was an engine terminal over there for decades," said Symmes, the former curator of the collection.
"They had a big roundhouse and service facility where the parking lot is," he said. "In fact, I would say in the center of that parking lot is where the roundtable was."
Most of the structures were taken down by the 1950s and '60s. A signal tower near Bridge Street is about all that remains from the old days.
Except, of course, for what is underground.