Construction work to renovate Circus World Museum’s historic Ringling Bros. train shed will begin next month, potentially opening a portal to the past.
This week the final phase of the multi-year project to restore the shed earned state approval, with low bidder Nuvo Construction Co. of Milwaukee getting the contract. This phase of the $1.3 million project will include replacement of 290 windows, fire protection work and track and electrical renovation.
The 600-foot long shed, built in 1909, is where the Ringlings repaired and repainted their 80-plus railroad cars during the winter. It’s located along the Baraboo River, behind the St. Vincent de Paul Society store. Although it lies apart from the Circus World grounds, executive director Scott O’Donnell hopes one day to open the shed to the historic site’s visitors.
“That’s an area of our assets I’d love to incorporate into the daily experience of our guests,” he said.
Previous phases of the restoration project involved replacing exterior doors, upgrading exterior rail tracks and improving interior lighting. Projects to improve safety features such as installing sprinklers and exit lights, as well as adding marked walkways, also have been completed.
O’Donnell said the shed played an integral role in making the Ringling circus portable and giving it national reach.
“Once you step in there, you’re instantly transported to the early 1900s,” he said.
The shed is one of eight National Historic Landmark buildings on the site of the former winter quarters of the famed Ringling circus, all owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Today the building houses the historic circus train used to transport wagons to the Great Circus Parades in Milwaukee from 1965 to 2003. Trucks transported the wagons after 2003.
“Completion of the Ringling Bros. Train Shed restoration project will mark a major milestone in the preservation of an important historic building located within a National Historic Landmark property,” Wisconsin Historical Society Director Ellsworth Brown said.
“All of Wisconsin, and Baraboo in particular, should feel proud to know that such a unique historic structure will be preserved for future generations,” Brown said. “The renovated train shed will also enhance Circus World’s ability to tell the whole story of the American circus, including the era when circuses traveled from town to town via rail.”