All Aboard!! The Kneeland Street Station was built at the southern edge of Downtown Boston in 1847 for the newly established Old Colony Railroad Company. By the early 1840s, the city of Boston had six major rail lines connecting it with other places including Lowell, Maine, Fitchburg, and Salem to the north, Worcester to the west and Providence to the southwest. The southeastern part of Massachusetts had yet to be served by a rail link to Boston. On March 16, 1844 the Old Colony Railroad Corporation was formed to provide a rail connection between Boston and Plymouth. Construction of the line began in South Boston in 1844 and the line opened to Plymouth in 1845. The company needed a more accessible station to the residents and businessmen of Downtown Boston, so they acquired a large parcel of land on Kneeland Street to extend the line. The corporation hired architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who designed this stunning railroad station constructed of brick with strong stone trimmings. As was common, a large clock was affixed to the building to allow waiting passengers to know how long they would be waiting. From 1845 to 1893, the Old Colony railroad network grew extensively through a series of mergers and acquisitions with other established railroads, serving lines to Providence, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford and down the Cape. The railroad was acquired in 1893 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and sought to consolidate the many local stations into a larger building. They soon after began construction on Boston’s South Station, re-routing lines to that new building. They sold off the excess stations, including this one on Kneeland Street, and it was eventually demolished in 1918.
Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan was opened in 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the largest building ever built occupying two entire city blocks, and boasted the biggest waiting room in history. Over 500 buildings were demolished for the station to make way for the Charles McKim-designed station, an icon in the Beaux-Arts style. The structure had “nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, and an architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city.” Sadly, being one of the most beloved architectural gems in the city did not constitute its maintenance nor preservation.
In 1961, after numerous plans for redevelopment, air-rights were sold on the building and in 1963, Penn Station was razed. The former grand station was replaced by Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Plaza, an office skyscraper, all with a modernized station below. When the building was destroyed, art historian Vincent Scully famously said, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” In 1965, two years after Penn Station’s demolition commenced, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, thereby creating the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Additionally, Grand Central Station was proposed to be demolished later in the decade, but was saved thanks to preservation efforts.
The Southport railroad stations in Fairfield, Connecticut, are reminders of the important role of railroad passenger service in the historical development of the town which continues to this day. In Southport, there are two stations, an east-bound and west-bound, one on either side of the tracks. The older east-bound station was built in 1884 to replace a depot destroyed by fire. It is typical of the substantial brick stations built at small-town stops throughout the state in the period. The use of brick was likely to prevent fire destroying yet another station. The stations were commonly large enough to accommodate spacious waiting rooms, ticket counters, offices, restrooms, and a baggage area. The brick station was converted to a restaurant, with a modern addition by Roger Ferris + Partners completed by 2017.
The wooden west-bound station was built around 1895 as part of a massive rebuilding of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad’s main line. At this time, the railroad adopted a single design-concept for all the stations, reverting to wood construction, and limited the stylistic details. The Southport station has an interesting design however; with its saltbox-like roofline, bargeboards, and stick detailing. Imagine all the people and stories that passed through these buildings. Parents saying goodbye to children going off to college or war, businessmen and women commuting to and from work, or people like me who took it to Manhattan!
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the railroad in the 19th century to the industrial growth and economy of New England and American cities. In order to connect Boston and its ports to the Hudson Valley in New York, a western rail line was constructed in the southern part of Massachusetts but was not an ideal route. In response, businessmen and politicians began to envision a more direct rail line across Massachusetts, but with one problem: trains hate climbing mountains! Instead of going around Hoosac Mountain, a massive detour, engineers thought they could tunnel through it, and that’s what they did, creating the Hoosac Tunnel. The tunnel through Hoosac Mountain is just under 5 miles long. Its active construction period consumed roughly a quarter-century and cost at least $17 million in 1870s dollars – an enormous sum. The cost was paid in dollars and the lives of nearly 200 miners (many of whom suffered terrible deaths as you can imagine). The first train passed through the tunnel in 1875, with the eastern portal wall constructed in 1877 (seen here). By 1895, roughly 60% of Boston’s exports traveled through the tunnel. Since then, some small collapses and deferred maintenance have left their mark on the tunnel, though it is still in operation today!
The Chester Depot is historically significant as a well-preserved train depot in Vermont. The first public train arrived in town on July 18, 1849, and in December, the Rutland & Burlington Railroad opened the first rail line across Vermont linking the Connecticut River valley at Bellows Falls and Lake Champlain at Burlington. The route passed between Chester’s older North and South villages, and Chester Depot village emerged. Fire destroyed the first station in 1871, and the lessee Vermont Central RR built this one that year. By the 1890’s, several industrial and commercial enterprises made Chester Depot one of the busiest stations on the Rutland RR. The State purchased the line in 1963, leasing it in part to the Green Mountain RR. The depot is an amazing lasting example of an Italianate style railroad station with decorative brick corbeling and large wooden brackets supporting the overhanging roof.