The Great Northern railroad is the soil on which the town of Hillyard grew.
James J. Hill chose this location for his railroad terminal in 1892. The small town rapidly expanded around the railroad industry. The initial population was composed of single men, but families quickly followed. Locals began calling the city Hillyard (Hill’s Yard) and the name stuck--despite James Hill’s objections.
Hillyard became widely known in the railway industry in the 1920s for the articulated locomotives they built and repaired on site. In 1927 the employees of Great Northern completed engine No. 2034, one of the most powerful steam engines built in the world.
Great Northern continued to support the busy facility with a large expansion project in the 1950s. In 1954 they announced a modernization program to bring the Hillyard rail yard into the diesel-era. This proved to be the height of the railroads and Hillyard reaped many of the benefits. An average of 2,400 freight cars went through the terminal on a daily basis. During this time Great Northern employed more than 1,300 people in Hillyard and the annual wage bill added up to more than $6,000,000, providing steady jobs and pumping serious cash into the local economy.
The success was significant, however, the decreasing use of trains for transportation and industry led to a merger between Great Northern and Burlington Northern in 1970. Slowly train use continued to erode and Burlington Northern chose to close the Hillyard shops. The shops officially closed on October 4, 1982 ushering in a new era for Hillyard. Detached from the railroad the city had depended on for its entire history, many citizens have made sure the neighborhood will not cease to exist like the railroad they once depended on so greatly.