Demolished: 17 great fallen train stations

I have a thing for trains and an even bigger thing for glamorous train stations from the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, many of them succumbed to the explosion of car travel and the highway system in the 1950s. They were destroyed, oftentimes replaced with parking lots, bunker-style government buildings or even vacant lots in the middle of some of the prime real estate in the country. Boggles the mind, really.

Today I came across an excellent list of 11 beautiful train stations that were demolished and the crap that went up in their place, plus a follow-up article with 6 more destroyed stations.

I have personal knowledge of the crap that replaced several of these stations. In Atlanta, a city founded as a train depot and one the largest rail crossroads in the South, the sole train station remaining is a pokey two-track one-room cottage that used to be a minor commuter station. It’s an embarrassment, frankly, especially when you consider what they used to have.

Built in 1905, Terminal was the grand portal to the city. It had two Italianate towers and a huge train shed behind. When the station was razed in 1970, it was replaced by a government office building.

Then and now:
Terminal Station Atlanta, built 1905, demolished 1970 Richard B. Russell federal building

And that’s just one of the dearly departed stations in Atlanta. The other was built in 1930, demolished in 1972 and replaced with a parking lot.

Then and now:
Atlanta Union Station Parking lot today

The two stations in Chicago replaced with vacant lots will break your heart too.

Perhaps more than any other American city, Chicago’s destiny has been a result of its transportation links to the rest of the country. As such, it had something of an abundance of train stations. Even while it still has four commuter terminals inside the Loop, knocking down impressive stations like Grand Central did not yield much for the city. The site of this former station, prime real estate on the banks of the Illinois River, is still a vacant lot after nearly four decades.

THEN: Located on the banks of the Chicago River, the beautiful station with ornate marble floors, Corinthian columns, and a fireplace. It served travelers to DC and many other cities.

Chicago Grand Central Station

NOW: A vacant lot

Site of the former Central Station

I don’t even understand how it’s possible for such expensive property to remain vacant all this time. You’d think before they knocked down an architectural gem like that, they’d have some concrete plans or at least a vague notion of any benefit whatsoever that might accrue from the destruction.

12 thoughts on “Demolished: 17 great fallen train stations

    1. Michigan Central actually made the first list, although technically it doesn’t quite count because the building is still standing. In horrendous condition, granted, but at least it’s not a parking lot.

      Unlike the Michigan Theater. I still can’t get over that they turned such a glorious 20s movie palace into a parking deck. I read about it last week and was compelled to watch 8 Mile again this weekend just for the Michigan Theater parking scene.

  1. In a normal country, when people want to expand or modernise, they take the building that is there and make it more relevant to current needs. They don’t destroy it and leave the block empty 🙁

    So why did they knock down architectural gems like you showed, just for destruction’s sake and not for improvement? Perhaps the idea of top quality public transport for all citizens was so threatening that even the very _symbols_ of public transport had to be obliterated.

    1. I wish I knew. A common thread in many of these demolitions seems to be Amtrack withdrawing from the area, so stations that use to run hundreds of trains of day ended up with five or six. No traffic = no money = no maintenance.

      Really it all goes back to the 50s and the explosion of the car traffic. All mass transit suffered from then on.

  2. We lost our train too, passenger & freight service here in Shania Twain’s home town of Timmins ON. Canada.
    I wrote a song about it on called (The green Grass of Timmins ON.Canada)
    If you want to leave town you gotta take de bus now.
    The depot is still there but the train tracks are covered by asphalt and where the railyard was it’s a new library.
    There’s been a movement by a valliant lady to bring it back but I fear it’s gone as this town is asleep. Even if it did come back the local folks would couldn’t afford the fare.
    However when a town loses it’s rail service it’s dead.

    1. That’s so sad. You’re right that rail service can be the sole lifeline for many a small town, and what the demolished stations of major metropolitan areas show is that often these central crossroads are keystones of the city. Losing them sheds major lifeblood.

  3. Hey, thanks for the photos of Atlanta’s old stations. The current station seems so inadequate for such a big city, but now it makes more sense.

    The big old train stations were too expensive for the bankrupt railroads to maintain during the postwar years, when highways and airports were subsidized while railroads were left to languish. Thus, it was easier for the railroads to just tear them down and hope that the land could be redeveloped, as Terminal Station and many others were.

  4. On a happier note, President Obama has been trying to push through legislation to bring trains back. There is a planned rail route between the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I, for one, would LOVE to see such a route, as the PA turnpike (I-76) is a shambles, and the traffic sucks.

    My hometown of Williamsport, PA once had a San Francisco-style trolley system a hundred years ago. The brick roads…and the rails…are still there, but paved over with modern pavement now. I grew up in the 1990s where some of the city’s streets still was all red brick with rails and all. The bricks and rails held up for easily over 100 years (and still are intact!) And yet, they have to continually repave all the streets seemingly year after year.

    I miss the way some of those streets looked with the bricks and rails. There was talk before paving over the last of the brick streets of reviving the rail trolley system through the city. I thought that would have been pretty neat, but given modern levels of vehicle traffic, would have made driving around the city a huge pain.

  5. The old home town don’t look the same
    since they tore out the old train
    and now the railroad tracks are asphalt at the station
    And where the rail yard was it’s a new library
    a parking lot where stood Doran’s Brewery
    as I get off the bus in this town with no train

    Gone is the Hilltop Randezvous
    the Pav and Leone’s Rose room
    and the Maple Leaf Hotel is just a memory

    And tho still stands the head frame of the mine
    Ghost miners still pace the picket-line
    and country folks love beer in this town with no train

    And I can still hear mother callin me
    from the old house on Hillside Street
    come home son the shadows lengthen fast

    And from the past a coal train whistle blows
    near Mascioli’s sand pit where as a boy I roamed
    as I walk the streets of this town with no train

    The I awake and look around me
    at the Welcome Home Hotel
    realizing time has passed and I’m much older now
    And tho the end of Pine Street beckons me
    the bone-yard of what used to be
    where they’ll lay me down in this town with no train

    As the snow falls on this town with no train

    Last verse:
    As I board the bus in this town with no train

    Paul Henry Dallaire
    Paul Henry Pub.

    U.S. Rep: ASCAP

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