Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City (2)

Another view of the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Like the photos in the previous post, this view shows the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal. It is located directly underneath the Main Concourse, and when the station opened in 1913, this level was used for suburban commuter trains. The row of windows on the right side in the first photo were the ticket offices of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which provided commuter service to the north of the city, along the present-day Hudson and Harlem Lines on the Metro-North Railroad. The ramp in the center of the photo is the same one that appears in the first photo, and it leads up to the Main Concourse. Beyond it are more ticket windows, for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which provided service along the current Metro-North New Haven Line.

Today, this concourse is still used by commuters to access the trains on the lower tracks, but it also doubles as the station’s food court. Several prominent New York City restaurants have locations here, including Junior’s in the foreground and Shake Shack beyond it. Most of the original features are still here, including the marble walls, decorative ceiling, information kiosk to the left, and the ticket windows to the right, which now display menus.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City

The lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, showing the ramp to the upper level, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Grand Central Terminal is best known for its spacious Main Concourse, but when the station first opened in 1913 the upper level was only used for inter-city trains. Commuters to the outer suburbs departed from this significantly less breathtaking concourse located on the lower level, directly underneath the Main Concourse. The first photo was probably taken around the time that the station opened, but over the years its function has changed. As explained in the previous post, the station is no longer split between long-distance and suburban trains; instead, Amtrak uses nearby Penn Station along with the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter lines, while Grand Central is exclusively a commuter rail station, used by the Metro-North Railroad.

Today, the lower concourse is significantly more crowded today than it was in the first photo. The lower tracks are still in use, but the concourse has taken on a second role as the station’s food court, with Shake Shack and other restaurants occupying the space on the left side where the ticket office windows were located in the first photo. Despite this, though, the underlying architecture has not changed much, and the station would still be recognizable to a commuter from the early 20th century.

Grand Central Terminal Ramp, New York City

The ramp to the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same location in 2016:

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New York’s Grand Central Terminal is the world’s largest train station in terms of number of platforms, and in order to save space in crowded midtown Manhattan, it was built with two levels of tracks. The first photo was taken shortly after the station opened in 1913, showing the ramp to the lower platforms. At the time, the Main Concourse, located just on the other side of the columns on the left, served inter-city passengers, while the lower tracks were for suburban commuter trains.

By the mid-1900s, passenger travel had significantly declined, and the station was subject to a major alteration that would have destroyed most of the original interior. However, it survived and was subsequently restored, and today the only real difference in these two photos is the appearance of the walkway above the ramp. Amtrak no longer uses the station, though, so today all of the platforms on both the upper and lower levels are used by Metro-North Railroad commuter trains.

Boston and Providence Depot, Boston

The Boston and Providence Depot at Park Square in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The station around 1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The Boston and Providence Railroad opened in 1835, at a time when Boston was still a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. To avoid taking up scarce land, the railroad built a long trestle across the Back Bay, which at the time was a tidal marsh between Boston and Roxbury. The railroad terminal was built here at the edge of the water, at what eventually became Park Square.

The original station from the first photograph was demolished in the early 1870s so that the city could build Columbus Avenue, and it was replaced with the much larger station in the second photograph. In advertisements, it was hailed as “The Palace Depot of the World,” and from here passengers could board a train for Providence, New York, and other points south. However, by the late 19th century there were eight different railroads serving Boston, each of which operated its own separate station. The four railroads on the north side all had terminals near where North Station would be be built in 1893, and three of the south side terminals were located in the immediate vicinity of today’s South Station. The Providence and Worcester depot was the one outlier; it was on the south side, but it was a half mile away from the next closest station.

Because the multiple stations were both inconvenient for passengers and a waste of valuable property, the four south side railroads finally consolidated into South Station in 1899. This station and the tracks leading to it were closed, and the railroad, which by then had been leased to the New York, New Haven and Hartford, was rerouted onto new tracks, parallel to the Boston & Albany Railroad.

Today, none of the buildings from the first two photos are still standing. The site of the station is now the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1927 as the Hotel Statler Boston in the triangular block between Columbus Avenue, Park Plaza, and Arlington Street. The only visible remnant from the first photo is the Emancipation Memorial statue, which was added to Park Square in 1879 and can be seen on the far left of both photos.

 

Union Station, Palmer, Mass

Union Station in Palmer, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Palmer Historical Commission.

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The scene in 2015:

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Palmer is sometimes referred to as the “Town of Seven Railroads,” and although two of these railroads were never actually operated, the town was and still is a major regional railroad center.  The two most prominent of the seven railroads were the Boston & Albany, which ran east-west between those two cities, and the Central Vermont which ran north-south from the Canadian border in Vermont to New London, Connecticut.

These two railroads shared Union Station, with the Central Vermont platform on the left and the Boston & Albany one on the right from this perspective.  It was built in 1883, and although Palmer is a relatively small town, there were two prominent figures involved in the station: architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed the station itself, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the grounds.  Olmsted is best known for designing Central Park in New York City, and Richardson’s other works include Trinity Church in Boston, First Baptist Church in Boston, the Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield, and the Church of the Unity in Springfield.  However, he was also commissioned by the Boston & Albany Railroad to design their railroad stations.  He ended up designing nine stations, including this one, before his death in 1886.  After his death, his successors at Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge designed about 20 more stations based on his style, including the old Union Station in Springfield.

Because of its location as a transfer point between north-south and east-west trains, Palmer was an important stop on the Boston & Albany Railroad; an 1885 timetable shows it as one of just seven express stops along the 200 miles between Boston and Albany.  It was also the primary rail line connecting Boston to the Midwest, and the 1885 timetable shows connecting trains from Palmer to destinations like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.  By comparison, the Central Vermont Railway was a much less prominent, but it was still one of the major north-south railroads in central and western New England, and Palmer became its primary rail hub south of Brattleboro, Vermont.

Passenger rail entered a steadly decline in ridership after World War II, with automobiles replacing trains for short trips and airplanes becoming a legitimate alternative for long-distance travel.  Many small-town stations closed by the 1950s, including nearby stations in Monson and Wilbraham.  However, Palmer remained a stop on the Penn Central Railroad until 1971, when Amtrak absorbed all U.S. passenger rail service and closed Palmer’s station.

Almost 45 years after the last train picked up passengers in Palmer, the historic Union Station is still standing today.  Palmer is still a major railroad hub, although now it is exclusively freight trains that stop here.  The old Boston & Albany line is now operated by CSX, one of the largest railroads in the country, and the Central Vermont is now operated by the New England Central Railroad, whose southern division offices are still here in Palmer, just a little left of where the photo was taken.  A third railroad, the Massachusetts Central Railroad, also operates out of Palmer, and the station is at the southern end of their line.

Despite several decades of deterioration and neglect, the station is still standing.  It has since been restored, and the only major difference to the exterior has been the removal of the covered platform on the Boston & Albany side of the building.  Otherwise, the rest of the station still reflects its 19th century appearance, and it is now the home of the Steaming Tender restaurant.  Because of the busy rail traffic, it is also a popular place for railroad enthusiasts to watch and photograph the passing trains, and the railroad-themed restaurant serves many of these visitors.  The restaurant also has a historic locomotive on display, as seen in the foreground of the 2015 photo, and a 1909 passenger car to the left, which is rented for private events.

Railroad Station, Monson, Mass

The railroad station on Washington Street in Monson, probably in the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The site of the station in 2015:

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Railroads first came to Monson in 1839, when the Western Railroad opened between Springfield and Worcester.  It cut across the extreme northwestern corner of the town, though, and the nearest station was in Palmer, about four miles from Monson’s town center.  It would be another 11 years before rail service came to the center of Monson, with the completion of the New London, Willimantic, and Palmer Railroad.  It was renamed the New London Northern Railroad in 1861, and was leased to the Central Vermont Railroad in 1871.  The frequent name changes actually help to date the first photo; one of the cars had the abbreviation “C.V.R.R.” on the back, which indicates it was probably taken before (or very soon after) the company was renamed the Central Vermont Railway in 1899.

Over time, the Central Vermont operated four stations in Monson, but the main station was here on Washington Street, just a little north of the town center.  A 1934 timetable shows two scheduled passenger trains in each direction that stopped here daily; the two northbound trains left at 8:14 in the morning and 4:36 in the afternoon, and the southbound trains at 10:00 in the morning and 6:10 in the evening.  From here, town residents could travel on the line north to the Canadian border in Vermont, or south to New London in Connecticut, where they could connect with trains to New York City and points south.  They could also travel six minutes north to Palmer and take a Boston & Albany train east to Boston or west to upstate New York and beyond.

Passenger rail travel entered a steady decline after World War II, though, and by the 1950s railroads such as the Central Vermont were eliminating passenger service to small towns like Monson. The station was demolished in 1960, and today the site is vacant, although the old granite foundations of the station are still there.  Passenger trains did briefly return to this line from 1989 to 1995, when Amtrak ran their Montrealer train through here, but it did not make any stops in Monson.  Since 1995, the old Central Vermont has been operated by the New England Central Railroad, which runs several freight trains per day through Monson.