Boston and Albany Railroad Offices, Springfield, Mass

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, Jr.. 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.

Old Union Station, Springfield, Mass

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.

Providence River from Crawford Street Bridge, Providence, RI

Looking downstream on the Providence River from the Crawford Street Bridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The river from the same spot in 2016:

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These photos show the same scene as the ones in an earlier post, just from a different angle. The “then” photos in these two photos were probably taken on the same day, too, because the same ships are docked here, in the same spots. As mentioned in another previous post, the Crawford Street Bridge was a very wide bridge that virtually buried the Providence River, hiding it from much of downtown. South of the bridge, though, the river was open, and as the 1906 photo here shows, it was filled with steamboats.

From left to right, the steamers in the photo are the Warwick, the Squantum, and the What Cheer. They were among the many that plied the waters of Narragansett Bay and beyond, providing excursion trips to Newport, Block Island, Long Island, and other destinations. By the time the first photo was taken, the steamers were already fairly old. The What Cheer was built in 1873, and the similar-looking Squantum probably dates to around the same time. The Warwick is even older; this side-wheel steamer was built in 1867. Information is scarce on the Squantum, but the other two boats operated until the early 1920s, when they were in such poor condition that the Warwick sank at the dock in 1920, and the What Cheer did the same two years later.

Today, steamboats are long gone from the waters of the Providence River, and today the only watercraft visible is a Venetian-style gondola, in the lower left center of the photo. The bridge is also gone, having been replaced by much smaller bridges that have opened up the river through downtown Providence. There are also no longer any signs warning pedestrians of the $20 fine for spitting on the sidewalk, which would have been a substantial sum of money at the time, equal to over $500 today. The only building left from the first photo is the warehouse for the Oakdale Manufacturing Company, the six-story red brick building on the left side of both photos. Built in 1854 and significantly expanded in 1894, it was home to a butter and margarine company until 1916, and later had several other industrial tenants. Today, it is part of the College Hill Historic District, and is owned by the Rhode Island School of Design.

Union Station, Providence, RI

The view looking across City Hall Park toward Union Station in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Both the park and the railroad station were relatively new features in downtown Providence when the first photo was taken. They were a part of the larger redevelopment plan of the late 19th century, which included the filling of the Cove basin and the construction of the new State House on Smith Hill. City Hall Park, located on the north side of Exchange Place, was dedicated in 1892 and landscaped in 1898, the same year that Union Station opened on the far side.

The station complex, as seen in the first photo, consisted of five buildings, and replaced an earlier station that had been damaged in an 1896 fire. Together with the new park and the nearby State House, the station provided a grand entrance for visitors to Providence. At a time when most inter-city travel was by rail, the railroad station was the first part of the city that most travelers saw. A good first impression was important, and with this new development, Providence had a station that was worthy of its status as an prominent, growing city.

As with other grand urban passenger stations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, the Union Station saw a period of decline by the 1950s. The easternmost building, seen on the far right of the first photo, burned down in 1941, and in the postwar era there was a sharp drop in rail travel with the advent of commercial airlines and interstate highways.

The building was badly neglected, and in 1986 it was rendered entirely obsolete. That year, the elevated tracks adjacent to the station were removed, and the railroad was rerouted a little further to the north. A new, smaller station opened just south of the State House, and the old station was left isolated, several blocks away from the tracks. The following year, it was badly damaged in a fire, but it was ultimately repaired. Even the destroyed easternmost building has since been rebuilt, and today the buildings have been restored and repurposed. From this view, the buildings are no longer visible because of the tall trees on the park, which is now known as Burnside Park. However, they are still there on the other side of the park, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Providence River, Providence, RI

Looking upstream on the Providence River, with downtown Providence in the background, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The river in 2016:

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This view is just downstream of the one in the previous post, and shows some of the same features, including the 1896 Banigan Building and the Crawford Street Bridge. At the time, the bridge was the head of navigation for the Providence River, so the first photo shows several steamboats docked here. These boats were a common sight at the turn of the 20th century, providing excursion trips to vacation destinations such as Newport, Block Island, and other destinations in Narragansett Bay, Long Island, and beyond.

Two of the three steamers in the first photo are identifiable. The one on the right is the Warwick, which had been built in 1873 and was in service for nearly 50 years until 1920. En route to Newport in January, the old boat sprung a leak, and later sank at its dock in Newport. Likewise, the What Cheer on the far left of the first photo also fell victim to old age around the same time. Built in New Jersey in 1867, the What Cheer operated in Narragansett Bay for many years before being sold to a New York company. Two years later, the old sidewheel steamer sank at the pier at Glen Island, and was deemed to be beyond repair.

Today, very little is left from the first photo. The only readily identifiable building in both photos is the Banigan Building, although the Customshouse, seen just to the left of it in the 2016 scene, would have also been standing in the first photo. Otherwise, not much remains. The industrial buildings to the left are gone, including the one with the lettering that reads “Phenix and US Club Ginger Ale.” There are no longer any coastal steamers on the river, although, as mentioned in the previous post, the river itself has seen great improvement. In the first photo, most of it in the distance was hidden under the Crawford Street Bridge, which was probably just as well at the time, considering how polluted it was with sewage and industrial waste. Today, the nearly quarter-mile wide bridge is gone, the river is cleaner, and it is now an integral part of downtown Providence’s cityscape.

Old Union Station, Worcester, Mass

Worcester’s old Union Station, seen around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This building was Worcester’s original Union Station, serving the Boston & Albany Railroad along with several other railroads. It was completed in 1875 in a Gothic Revival style designed by the Boston architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt. Along with the usual passenger station amenities, it included a train shed over the tracks, along with a 212-foot clock tower at the corner of the building.

The station served Worcester for over 35 years, but by the early 20th century the city’s busy railroad traffic made it necessary to elevate the tracks through downtown. This, in turn, required a new station, which opened in 1911 just west of here. Most of the old station was demolished at this point, but the tower itself was saved. Unlike the two towers of the new station, which had to be taken down just 15 years later because of their deteriorated condition, the old 1875 tower stood here until 1959, when it was demolished to build Interstate 290.

Today, the 1911 Union Station, with replica towers, is still standing just to the right of the rotary, and in the distance the highway passes over the spot where the original station once stood. The only remnant from the first photo is the railroad itself, which can be seen on the right side of the photo, with MBTA commuter rail passenger cars passing over the bridge in the distance.