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.

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11 Comments »

Comment by Lynea
2010-04-26 23:56:50

Don’t forget about Michigan Central Station in Detroit! It has such sad beauty, as does the whole city! Rise up Detroit!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station

Comment by livius drusus
2010-04-27 01:17:57

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.

 
 
Comment by Hels
2010-04-27 00:18:01

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.

Comment by livius drusus
2010-04-27 01:20:03

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.

 
 
Comment by LadyShea
2010-04-27 11:55:26

Although our local train depot is tiny, the city surrounded it with a park and a model train group has set up an incredible display inside. I am so glad for that.

http://www.foleyrailroadmuseum.com/

Comment by livius drusus
2010-04-28 10:24:56

What a brilliant idea. You have be dead or crazy not to heart model trains.

 
 
Comment by Paul Henry Dallaire
2010-04-28 10:22:40

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 wwwyoutube.com 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.

Comment by livius drusus
2010-04-28 10:27:53

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.

 
 
Comment by Mood bath
2012-03-18 18:54:08

Boohoobooho

 
Comment by Payton
2012-05-10 11:20:40

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.

 
Comment by Mike M
2012-05-31 21:50:43

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.

 
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