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.

North Wilbraham Station, Wilbraham, Mass

The North Wilbraham Station on the Boston & Albany Railroad, around 1890. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Although Wilbraham is a fairly small town, it lies on one of the primary east-west transportation corridors in New England.  In the 1630s, the Bay Path crossed what would later become the northern edge of the town, connecting Boston and Springfield.  Later, this route was incorporated into one of three branches of the Boston Post Road between Boston and New York.  So, when railroads were beginning to be developed in the 1830s, this same route along the Connecticut River was a logical choice for a railroad line.  Heading west from Boston, railroads reached Worcester in 1835, and four years later the Western Railroad was completed, connecting Worcester to Springfield.  These companies would later be consolidated into the Boston & Albany Railroad.

One of the original stations on the Western Railroad was here in Wilbraham, although it was located almost three miles west of here, at the present-day Stony Hill Road underpass.  In 1851, though, this station was moved about a mile west into Springfield, to Oak Street in Indian Orchard.  A new Wilbraham station here at North Wilbraham was established around the same time, and the station seen in the 1890 photo was built in 1872.  By the time the first photo was taken, there were four to five scheduled trains in each direction that stopped in North Wilbraham.  As the sign indicates in the photo, it was the station for Wesleyan Academy, which was later renamed Wilbraham Academy and is now Wilbraham-Monson Academy.   From here, travelers would board a stagecoach for the remaining two miles to the academy.

However, with the decline of passenger rail in the mid-1900s, train stops in Wilbraham were gradually reduced until 1957, when the station was closed.  It was demolished the following year, and today no trace remains of it or any of the associated buildings.  The old Boston & Albany line is now owned by CSX, and as seen in the 2015 photo it has been reduced from two tracks to one between Springfield and Palmer.  The only passenger train that still operates through here is Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, which runs daily from Boston to Chicago without stopping in Wilbraham.

Boston & Albany Rail Yard, Boston

The Boston & Albany yard along Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay, on October 4, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The view in 2015:

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The Boston & Albany Railroad maintained a rail yard on this site in the Back Bay for many years, but as the city continued to grow around it in the 20th century, it began to be eyed for potential redevelopment.  The yard took up most of the triangular-shaped area between Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue, and Dalton Street, which included the entire south side of Boylston Street west of Exeter Street, as seen in the 1912 photo.  The first photo shows some familiar landmarks on the left, including the firehouse on the far left, the Tennis and Racquet Club, and in the distance the tower of the New Old South Church.  All three are still standing today, but the view to the right has changed significantly.

By the early 1960s, there were several different options for redeveloping the rail yard.  In 1957, the Massachusetts Turnpike had been completed from the New York border to Route 128 in Weston, just outside Boston.  From there, however, it was uncertain which route the highway would take into the city. One option was to build it parallel to the right-of-way of the Boston & Albany Railroad, which would have included passing through this yard.

One of the problems with running the highway through here, though, came when the Prudential Life Insurance Company purchased the yard, with the intent of building a large complex that would include the tallest skyscraper in the city.  Such a plan would be a great economic benefit to the city, but it threatened the highway that would also serve the economic interests of the city.

In the end, both proposals went through, and the Massachusetts Turnpike was completed through here in 1965, a year after the Prudential Tower was completed directly above it.  Today, as seen in the 2015 photo, the highway runs parallel to the railroad, and they both pass under the Prudential complex and the Hynes Convention Center, which can be seen in the foreground. In the distance to the right is the lower part of the Prudential Tower, which 51 years after its construction is still the second-tallest building in the city.