The Architecture of Railroad Stations
by Bradford L. Gilbert
The Engineering Magazine1895
IT is scarcely more than half a century since the architecture
of railroad-stations became a necessity or even a possibility.
As the railroad-station is the one architectural object which
Americans see everywhere and with the greatest frequency, and
the one in which many thousands daily have nothing better to do
for hours than await the departure of their trains, there is to-day
no other field of architecture which offers such wide opportunity
for the most potent and elevating architectural education. Until
a comparatively recent date, however, cheapness alone was the
principal consideration in the erection of stations in this country,
placing them in strong contrast to such buildings abroad, where,
with the exception of the churches and some public buildings,
the railroad-stations seem best to illustrate the typical architecture
of each country.
The following illustrations have been selected to demonstrate
this fact, and they form part of a personal collection gathered
upon a recent extended foreign tour, made for the purpose of studying
The photographs speak for themselves, requiring only general
The buildings, upon personal inspection, indicate careful study
and adaptation to the site and all requirements.
The St. Pancras
terminus is possibly, with one exception, the best known of
the station buildings in London, considered from an architectural
On the continent, however, with few exceptions, the general
exterior design of the principal stations can usually be recognized
as the work of an architect, and the effect is certainly a vast
improvement over the treatment of the problem from an engineering
Even were it possible to cover all the tracks within the Paris
station train-shed with one (or even two) single-span arches,
as is so frequently the case elsewhere, and as shown at Friedrichstrasse,
the proportion still would be far better with the use of intermediate
supports, the expense certainly less, and the practical service
equally good. In the photograph of the Terminal Hotel connected
with the Paris
station the cafe in which the recent bomb explosion took place
is plainly seen. The revenue from rental derived from the otherwise
useless space under the viaducts of the Metropolitan Railway of
Berlin, including Friedrichstrasse
as shown, should appeal to the practical, if not the artistic,
sense of railroad officials generally.
It is seldom the case that a large terminus is planned with
enough foresight, or, more correctly speaking, with enough realization
of actual future growth, to provide for later developments and
actual traffic requirements, without considerable additional expense,
and in a great measure destroying the unity and harmony of the
original design. The formation of railroad terminal companies
in so many of the large cities, to divide the vast expenditure
required for enlarged ground space (actually made valuable in
the first instance by the location of the railroad terminus),
tells its own story. In a recent conversation with Col. Walter
Katte, chief engineer of the New York Central, on this question,
the importance of this was very clearly demonstrated by the extensive
and expensive improvements now in progress in connection with
the passenger traffic to and from the Grand Central Station, New
York, which 25 years ago was believed equal to all future demands,
and to-day is found totally inadequate. The same is true of the
passenger stations at Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco,
and other principal cities, where the companies have been rudely
awakened to the truth, and in several cases have made provision
As at Frankfort,
it would in many instances undoubtedly prove a paying investment
to purchase land just outside the city limits, construct new boulevards,
and erect such railroad buildings as seem desirable for present
needs and future development. The increased valuation and sale
of the land would cover the first cost with a handsome profit
In the majority of instances first impressions are the more
enduring, particularly of buildings and places. Pleasant environments,
tastefully decorated grounds, the proximity of a public square,
each help to set off the station to best advantage. The writer
recalls several places where the open squares, temporarily loaned
to the city by the railroad company have been partially utilized
later at small expense for increased traffic accommodations, at
great advantage to both the company and the public.
the large public square, just outside the city gates, gives an
air of dignity to the station which it otherwise would not possess.
The reflection of the station at Amsterdam, with its towers and projections,
in the placid river below, lends a quaintness and picturesqueness
to the whole structure.
The station at Zurich,
a city of a little over one hundred thousand inhabitants, will
compare favorably with the stations in any of our own cities of
If the proverbial hackmen are missing at Venice, the noisy gondoliers fill their
places with credit to themselves. The station is in keeping with
the many handsome buildings surrounding it, belonging to the Renaissance.
The stations erected for the smaller villages and towns on
the continent, all bear a strong family likeness, not at all unlike
our own "class stations"; but frequently the picturesque
surroundings add a beauty and charm shown in the views of Vitznau and
latter a particularly interesting and beautiful view.
The growing public demand for railroad-stations which afford
comfort and convenience, as well as architectural beauty, deserves
the attention it is receiving from railroad officials generally.
The widespread territory covered multiplies the opportunity
for the use of varied building material and designs, meeting climatic
influences and local conditions to an extent beyond all known
Architecture should so far become a delineator as to indicate
upon its face the character of the work it is intended to portray.
A good design, graceful contour, correct constructional outlines,
and symmetrical proportion, carried out in permanent material,
necessarily combine to form the elements of all successful architectural
Architectural beauty alone in buildings cannot be said to have
any justifiable existence. It should be made secondary to both
construction and utility. These should become the fundamental
and underlying principles of all correct design.
Considering the general character of the buildings, probably
no other distinctive style is capable of such freedom of treatment,
or such variety of detail, in connection with station buildings,
as what might be termed "modernized Romanesque "an
architectural treatment used so effectively by the late Mr. H.
H. Richardson in almost the first of the station buildings to
attract special notice in the vicinity of Boston.
It may not be generally known that the "Romanesque"
has held its own among all other types for a longer consecutive
period of the world's history than any other distinctive style
of architecture, not excepting the Renaissance which immediately
followed. Possibly in time we shall evolve from all the prevalent
styles what shall prove a broad, natural, and truly national type
of American architecture, based upon the best and most appropriate
features of all the various orders; and what more suitable beginning
can offer than the railroad-station problem?
The American illustrations have been selected by the editor
of this magazine from a collection of original black and white
drawings and photographs, specially prepared to demonstrate the
evolution in railroad-station architecture during the last quarter
century. These were personally loaned for hanging in the Exhibition
Building erected for the New York Central Railroad Company at
the recent World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, and called forth
much favorable comment both from American and from European railroad
As examples of a portion of the railroad work personally carried
out, it is believed they will possess a certain weight in verifying
personal statements and suggestions oil the subject of railroad-station
station as shown, on the New York Central Railroad, is constructed
of granite with red sandstone trimmings, and is designed with
a Romanesque motif throughout. The rotunda is 90' 6" square,
and out of this open all of the principal rooms. Below is a large
restaurant and lunch room, reached either directly from the street,
or through a generous, well-lighted subway below the tracks. Local
offices are arranged in the second and third stories, while a
large train-shed covers all of the principal tracks and platforms.
The Illinois Central Railroad general offices and union station
was necessarily designed to meet the peculiarities of the site
and actual traffic needs. It was opened to the public 10 months
after beginning work, to accommodate the World's Fair traffic,
and at a total outlay of about $1,800,000. The foundations necessarily
formed one of the principal items of expense.
While the Illinois Central station might be called a terminal
station, eight through tracks pass under the rotunda. Passengers
are transferred to and from the platforms of the train-shed on
overhead passages enclosed, or underneath by well-lighted, thoroughly
From actual measurements, the floor space of the principal
waiting-room or rotunda, as shown, is larger than the one given
of Frankfort, which is said to be the largest on the continent.
The marble wainscoting carried to a height of about 14 ft.,
and the marble mosaic flooring, together with the fire-proof construction
of the building, are intended to render it permanent. Separate
waiting-rooms, smoking-room, barber's shop, large restaurant accommodations,
etc., are shown on the photograph of the interior.
National station, with general offices and railroad hotel,
was designed to meet these requirements and the climatic conditions
of Mexico. A somewhat different plan, however, was adopted for
the station now in course of erection at Colonia.
The station at Lowell,
Mass., was located by the Boston and Maine Railroad Company
upon a triangular plot of ground, with tracks on two sides and
one of the principal streets across the end, while another crosses
overhead above the passenger platform at the opposite end (as
shown on the photograph), and is reached directly by a stairway.
The station at Fall
River, Mass., was erected for the Old Colony Railroad, before
its consolidation with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
system. It is intended to meet the needs of a wealthy community
of upwards of seventy-four thousand persons. Milford pink granite,
with trimmings, quoins, and voussoirs of Long Meadow sandstone,
form the exterior, the detail treatment of which is shown on the
photograph. The interior is finished in oak and hard pine throughout.
The Union station designed to be erected at Manchester, N. H., contains various waiting-rooms
and local offices, with large train-shed connected for the traffic
of this large manufacturing city.
The station at Liberty
on the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad is of frame construction,
the outside being covered with shingles creosoted, while the roof
is of slate. A wide passenger platform, extending in both directions
from the building, and with seats framed between the supporting
posts, connects the end baggagerooms. The station is located on
a curve, as well as on a considerable incline.
N. Y., station is of brick construction, containing large
restaurant accommodations and local railroad offices.
The stations at Bridgewater,
Massachusetts, are constructed of granite for the exterior and
of hardwood for the interior finish, with all known conveniences.
The small station at New
Boston, Mass., is built of field stone, the gables roughly
stuccoed in cement and pebble dash.
is a small but growing suburb of New York. The station is partly
built of stone, with frame construction. The porte-cochère
is located at one end. Above are rooms for the station agent.
Built at a cost of under $3,000, exclusive of platforms, this
is a specimen of what can be accomplished at a small outlay.
The station at North
Branch, N. J., is built of local brownstone with slate above,
an example of a low-priced station, containing all modern improvements,
including steam heat.
The station at Toluca,
Mexico, is built of native stone, the greater portion of which
was carried on the backs of peons and burros for many miles. It
is designed to meet the three-class conditions of the country.
The station at Laconia,
N. H., is built of granite. The central feature is the rotunda,
from which all the other rooms open. This is lighted during the
day by clere story windows above the roofs of the porte-cochère
and wide passenger platforms.
A layman is apt to judge of the success and value of a railroad
by outward evidences of its wealth or taste and provision for
public comfort. Railroad officials generally,not excepting
the chief engineer,partly on account of their professional
business training, principally on account of the high pressure
under which they are constantly driven and the important business
requiring their immediate attention, seldom have time to consider
the artistic and architectural elements required to make their
stations the success in these respects which they might readily
become without any additional expense, and frequently at an actual
saving in cost, if intrusted to any competent architect.
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