Massachusetts Railroad Stations
UNION STATION, WORCESTER, MASS
September 26, 2016
by Derek Strahan
The Union Station in Worcester, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
Union Station in 2016:
Although Worcester’s Union Station looks largely the same now as it did over a century ago, the building has undergone dramatic changes in between. It was built in 1911, when the railroad tracks through downtown Worcester were raised above street level, requiring the replacement of the original 1875 Union Station , located just east of here. Although owned by the New York Central Railroad through their Boston & Albany subsidiary, the station served all of the railroads in Worcester, including the Providence & Worcester and the Boston & Maine. This new building was designed by the firm of Watson & Huckel, and its Beaux Arts architecture was very different from the Romanesque style of its predecessor, reflecting a major shift in architectural tastes from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries.
Although the twin towers of the building were its most iconic feature, the original ones lasted barely 15 years, and had to be removed in 1926 because of damaged caused by vibration from passing trains. The station, without the towers, remained in use for nearly 50 years, but by the mid-20th century passenger rail travel was in decline, and in 1972 it finally closed.
For more than 35 years, the station sat abandoned and decaying. Over time, the panes of glass in the skylight above the main concourse fell out, and for many years the interior was completely exposed to the elements. However, through decades of neglect the exterior remained structurally sound, and after several years of restoration work, the station reopened in 2000, complete with replicas of the towers that had been missing for nearly 75 years. Today, the restored building is a prominent Worcester landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, and from this angle is virtually indistinguishable from its original appearance.
OLD UNION STATION, SPRINGFIELD, MASS
May 6, 2018
by Derek Strahan
The old railroad station on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
The scene in 2017:
Railroads first came to Springfield in 1839, with the opening of the Western Railroad from Worcester to Springfield, and the line terminated here at a wooden, Egyptian Revival-style railroad station on the west side of Main Street. The railroad was later extended west through the Berkshires, and Springfield became an important midway point on the route between Boston and Albany. The original station stood here for 12 years, but in 1851 it was destroyed in a fire after sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the building.
A new station was soon built on the same site, as seen in the first photo. Like the first station, trains passed directly through the building, although this one was less flammable, having been built with brick and iron. Architecturally, this new station was unremarkable, resembling a large shed rather than a grand union station, but it was designed by railroad engineer George William Whistler, the older brother of the famous painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Their father, George Washington Whistler, had briefly lived in Springfield in the early 1840s, and had been the chief engineer of the Western Railroad during the construction of route through the Berkshires.
The new station was joined in the late 1860s by a new office building for the Western Railroad, which was located just north of the station on the right side of the first photo. A striking architectural contrast compared to the plain railroad station, this granite Second Empire-style building was one of the earliest works of Henry H. Richardson, who would go on to become one of the most important architects in American history. Although very different from his later Romanesque Revival buildings, this design reflected his education in France’s École des Beaux Arts, and it helped to establish him as a notable architect.
In 1867, around the same time that Richardson received his commission for the building, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester Railroad, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad. Both the station and the office building became part of the new railroad, but by this point it was obvious that the station, less than 20 years old, was already obsolete. As a union station, it served not just the Boston and Albany, but also the Connecticut River Railroad, and the Hartford and New Haven Railroad. Because of this, essentially all rail traffic from the four cardinal directions had to pass through this station, and Springfield’s rapidly growing population was straining the station’s capacity.
Along with overcrowding, the station’s location also caused problems, since the railroad tracks crossed Main Street just to the east of the station, as seen in the first photo. The busy railroad traffic meant that the Main Street crossing gates were closed as often as they were open, with an 1872 observer noting that the gates closed 66 times during one four-hour span from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This caused a significant disruption to the busy pedestrian, carriage, and trolley traffic in downtown Springfield, but the problem persisted for several decades, with neither the city nor the Boston and Albany Railroad wanting to pay the expense of lowering the grade of Main Street or raising the grade of the railroad.
Because of this impasse, the old station remained in use well into the 1880s, since the railroad was unwilling to build a new station until the tracks were raised above street level. It was not until February 1888 that the two sides reached a compromise, with the railroad agreeing to spend $200,000 to raise the tracks and build a stone arch over Main Street, while the city would spend $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet, and would settle any damage claims by adjacent property owners. Most significantly, though, this project meant the construction of a new railroad station , which would be built across the street from here on the east side of Main Street.
The old railroad station was demolished in the spring of 1889, but the platforms and two waiting rooms were left standing until the new station opened in July. Like the older railroad office building, the new station was based on the designs of Henry H. Richardson, although he died before construction began, and his successors made some significant alterations to his original plans. The entire project was finished once the railroad arch was completed in 1890, finally eliminating the long-problematic grade crossing on Main Street.
Despite all of these changes, the Boston and Albany office building remained standing well into the 20th century, and continued to be used even after the railroad was acquired by the New York Central in 1900. The building was finally demolished in the late 1920s, around the same time as the 1889 railroad station. Despite being less than 40 years old, this station had become obsolete as quickly as its predecessor, and in 1926 it was replaced by the current Union Station on the same site. However, the stone arch is still here, and still serves as an important downtown landmark on Main Street.
BOSTON AND ALBANY RAILROAD OFFICES, SPRINGFIELD, MASS
May 8, 2018
by Derek Strahan
The Boston and Albany Railroad offices, just north of the railroad tracks on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.
The scene in 2017:
Henry H. Richardson was one of the most influential architects in American history, and helped to establish what became known as the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture. Along the way, he designed churches, government buildings, libraries, railroad stations, and private homes, but he began his career here in Springfield, where he received his first commission in 1866. Although originally from Louisiana, Richardson had graduated from Harvard, where his friends included James A. Rumrill, a Springfield resident who later married the daughter of Chester W. Chapin . Chapin, a railroad and banking executive, was among the richest men in the city, and he was also a prominent member of the Church of the Unity . Through this connection Richardson able to enter a design competition for a new church building, and his plans were ultimately selected, giving him his first commission and helping to establish his career as an architect.
Even before the Church of the Unity was completed, Richardson’s connection to Chapin helped him to obtain several more commissions here in Springfield. Among other business interests, Chapin was the president of the Western Railroad, and in 1867 Richardson was hired – without any competition – to design a building for the railroad’s headquarters here in Springfield, directly adjacent to the city’s railroad station . The result was a granite, Second Empire-style building, with a design that bore more resemblance to the fashionable townhouses of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood than to an office building. Although hardly an architectural masterpiece, it reflected Richardson’s training at the École des Beaux Arts in France, and it showed his abilities in designing commercial structures.
Shortly after Richardson received his commission in 1867, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad, with Chapin as its president. The building was completed two years later as offices for the new railroad, and was ideally situated at the midpoint of the line, 98 miles from Boston and 102 miles from Albany by rail. Chapin went on to serve as president of the railroad for the next decade, with the line serving as an important link between Boston and the rest of the country. In 1900, it was acquired by the New York Central, but retained its separate Boston and Albany branding for many years. This building continued to be used as offices well into the 20th century, but it was finally closed in 1926 and was demolished soon after.
Many years later, this site was again used for transportation when, in 1969, the Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines built its terminal here. Established in 1933 by Peter C. Picknelly, Peter Pan became a major intercity bus company in the northeast, and it has remained in the Picknelly family ever since. Peter’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, served as the company chairman from 1964 until his death in 2004, and building, which also served as the terminal for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses, was named in his honor in 2005. However, in 2017, shortly after the first photo was taken, both Peter Pan and the PVTA moved across Main Street to the newly-restored Union Station, and the long-term future of this site seems uncertain at this point.
BOSTON & ALBANY RAIL YARD, BOSTON
October 25, 2015
by Derek Strahan
The Boston & Albany yard along Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay, on October 4, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.
The view in 2015:
The Boston & Albany Railroad maintained a rail yard on this site in the Back Bay for many years, but as the city continued to grow around it in the 20th century, it began to be eyed for potential redevelopment. The yard took up most of the triangular-shaped area between Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue, and Dalton Street, which included the entire south side of Boylston Street west of Exeter Street, as seen in the 1912 photo. The first photo shows some familiar landmarks on the left, including the firehouse on the far left, the Tennis and Racquet Club , and in the distance the tower of the New Old South Church . All three are still standing today, but the view to the right has changed significantly.
By the early 1960s, there were several different options for redeveloping the rail yard. In 1957, the Massachusetts Turnpike had been completed from the New York border to Route 128 in Weston, just outside Boston. From there, however, it was uncertain which route the highway would take into the city. One option was to build it parallel to the right-of-way of the Boston & Albany Railroad, which would have included passing through this yard.
One of the problems with running the highway through here, though, came when the Prudential Life Insurance Company purchased the yard, with the intent of building a large complex that would include the tallest skyscraper in the city. Such a plan would be a great economic benefit to the city, but it threatened the highway that would also serve the economic interests of the city.
In the end, both proposals went through, and the Massachusetts Turnpike was completed through here in 1965, a year after the Prudential Tower was completed directly above it. Today, as seen in the 2015 photo, the highway runs parallel to the railroad, and they both pass under the Prudential complex and the Hynes Convention Center, which can be seen in the foreground. In the distance to the right is the lower part of the Prudential Tower, which 51 years after its construction is still the second-tallest building in the city.
UNION STATION, SPRINGFIELD, MASS (2)
January 28, 2020
The old Union Station in Springfield, seen from near the corner of Lyman and Chestnut Streets around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
The scene in 2018:
The first photo shows Union Station as it appeared about 10 to 20 years after its completion, as seen looking west from near Chestnut Street. The photo in a previous post shows the south side of the station from Lyman Street, but this view provides a more elevated look at the station, showing both the north and south sides, along with the platforms in between. Further in the distance, beyond the station on Main Street, are two of the city’s leading hotels: the Massasoit House on the far left at the end of Lyman Street, and Cooley’s Hotel, which can be seen in the center of the photo.
This area has been the site of Springfield’s primary railroad station since 1839, when the Western Railroad arrived, linking Springfield with Worcester and Boston. The original station, which was located on the west side of Main Street, burned in 1851, and the following year it was replaced by a brick and iron, shed-like station on the same spot. This station served for most of the second half of the 19th century, but it began to cause problems as the city grew in population and as rail traffic increased. Because the station was located at street level, trains had to cross directly over Main Street, leading to significant delays for traffic on the street. The station itself was also becoming insufficient for the number of trains that passed through here, and by the late 1860s there were already calls for a new station and elevated tracks through downtown Springfield.
In 1869, the state legislature authorized such a project, but it would take another 20 years before it was actually finished, thanks to an impasse between the city government and the Boston & Albany Railroad, which was the successor to the old Western Railroad. This dispute centered around which side was responsible for paying to raise the tracks and lower the grade of Main Street, and it ultimately did not get resolved until 1888, when the railroad agreed to spend around $200,000 to raise the tracks, while the city would spend about $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet.
This compromise enabled the station project to move forward, and the old station was demolished in the spring of 1889. The new one was completed in July, and it was located on the east side of Main Street, which provided more room for the station. It featured a Romanesque Revival-style design, and the original plans had been the work of noted architect Henry H. Richardson, who designed many of the stations along the Boston & Albany Railroad. He died in 1886, though, and his successor firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge subsequently modified the plans for the Springfield station.
One of these changes proved to be a serious design flaw. Richardson had intended for a single station building, located on the south side, with a large train shed over the tracks. However, the Connecticut River Railroad, which would share the union station with the Boston & Albany and the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroads, objected to this plan, wanting a separate building on the north side. As a result, the finished station consisted of two buildings, each with its own ticket offices and waiting rooms, and four tracks in between them. The smaller northern building, on the right side of this scene, served northbound and westbound travelers, while the larger building on the south side was for those heading southbound and eastbound.
Within less than 20 years, this design was already causing problems as Springfield continued to grow. Having two different station buildings was an inefficient use of space, since it meant redundant facilities such as the waiting rooms. This was also a source of confusion for passengers, who would sometimes find themselves at the wrong ticket office or platform. In addition, the two buildings prevented the railroads from adding new tracks, since the space in between was already filled with four tracks and three platforms.
Aside from practical considerations, the architecture of the building was also obsolete by the early 20th century. Romanesque Revival had been widely popular during the last two decades of the 19th century, particularly for public buildings, and railroad stations were seen as important architectural showcases. They were usually the first thing that a traveler saw in a particular city, so any self-respecting city need a monumental station, in order to give a good first impression to visitors. This may have been the case for Union Station in the 1890s, but Romanesque Revival had fallen out of favor by the next decade, and the new generation of iconic railroad stations – such as Grand Central and Penn Station – began to feature classically-inspired Beaux-Arts designs.
As early as 1906, it was evident that the station was inadequate. That year, the Springfield Republican published an article on the city’s numerous railroad-related problems, observing that “[t]he most important problem as far as the safety and convenience of the public is concerned is the rebuilding of the union station.” In 1921, the newspaper was even more explicit, remarking on how “there seems to be, in fact, a nearly unanimous demand that the structure be cast to the scrapheap,” and four years later it declared that the station was “long execrated for its combination of discomfort, dinginess and danger.”
The station’s demise was hastened by a November 1922 fire that caused about $25,000 in damage to the north building. The fire was considered to be suspicious, but its origins were unclear, with the railroad superintendent simply telling the Republican, “your guess is as good as mine.” The city’s fire chief declared that he found no evidence of arson, although he did not actually inspect the cellar beneath the waiting room, where the fire had apparently started. There were no injuries, and most of the valuables, including mail, packages, and cash, were safely removed by railroad employees and by an off-duty police officer.
Within less than a month of the fire, the railroad had approved the plans for a new station. This replacement would be in approximately the same location, but the entire station would be located on the north side of the tracks. It would be connected to Lyman Street on the south side by way of a tunnel beneath the tracks, and this tunnel would also provide access to the platforms, avoiding the dangers of passengers crossing directly over the busy tracks. Perhaps most significantly, the number of tracks would be increased from four to 11, reducing congestion and delays on the railroad.
Demolition on the old station began in 1925, just 36 years after it was built, and the new Union Station opened the following year. It would remain in use for the next few decades, but passenger rail began to experience a significant decline throughout the country during the post-World War II era. With passenger trains becoming unprofitable for railroads to operate, Amtrak ultimately took control of the country’s passenger rail services in 1971. Two years later, most of Union Station was closed except for the Lyman Street entrance, and a small Amtrak station was built on the south side of the tracks.
Union Station sat empty for many years, and only one of the old station platforms was used for passenger service. However, the building underwent a major restoration in the 2010s, reopening in 2017. It now features a ticket office, waiting area, and retail space in the concourse, along with office space on the upper levels, including the offices of the Peter Pan Bus Lines. Union Station is also the terminus for most of the city’s PVTA bus lines, with 18 bus berths just to the west of the station. In addition to this, the rail traffic here at the station has also increased. Along with a number of daily Amtrak trains, Union Station is also served by the Hartford Line, which opened in 2018 with commuter trains running from Springfield south to New Haven.
The 2018 photo shows this scene about a year after the station reopened. An Amtrak train is visible in the distant center of the photo, consisting of two passenger cars pulled by a P42DC diesel engine. This is the typical setup for most of the Springfield to New Haven Amtrak trains, and the rear car is a converted Metroliner cab car, which allows the train to be operated in either direction without turning the locomotive. Just to the right of the train is Platform C, which was the last part of the station’s renovation project. It was still unfinished when the first photo was taken, but this project – which upgraded the platform to modern accessibility requirements – was finished in January 2020, marking the end of Union Station’s restoration.