Union Station, Albany, New York (3)

The main entrance to Union Station on Broadway in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view of Union Station is similar to the one in the previous post, but provides more of a close-up view of the central part of the building, with the main entrance in the foreground. As explained in that post and an earlier one, the station opened in 1900, and it served passengers of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the Delaware and Hudson Railway, the West Shore Railroad, and the Boston and Albany Railroad. The latter two railroads were owned by the New York Central, so overall the railroad was responsible for two-thirds of the daily trains here. This is emphasized by the fact that the New York Central’s name is engraved here on the facade in the first photo, directly above the central arch.

The station was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, with a Beaux-Arts style that was popular for public buildings of the era. The three arches here at the main entrance are the most distinctive architectural elements of the building, and in some ways they foreshadow the similar arches used more than a decade later when the New York Central built Grand Central Terminal more than a decade later.

Above the arches are a number of carvings, including a clock in the center atop the building, which is incorporated into the New York state seal. To the left of the clock is a figure representing Liberty, and to the left is Justice. An eagle is perched atop a globe above the clock, and underneath the clock is the inscription “Excelsior,” the state motto of New York. Other prominent carvings include large globes atop the corners, each of which is supported by four lions.

The first photo was taken soon after the station opened, and it shows an interesting mix of people outside the station. There are no cars visible on the street, but there are two horse-drawn vehicles, with an expensive-looking coach in the foreground on the right, and a more modest carriage further in the distance on the left side of the scene. Several people appear to have been watching the photographer, including a man with a top hat just beyond the coach, a man beneath the right arch with a briefcase and bowler hat, and three young newsboys who are standing in the street. Others seem indifferent to the camera, including at least three women walking along the sidewalk in front of the station, and another man in a bowler hat who is smoking a pipe and casually leaning against a column.

Union Station continued to be used by the railroads well into the mid-20th century, but by the 1950s ridership was in a steady decline, here in Albany and around the country. The station ultimately closed in 1968, ending passenger rail service into downtown Albany. To replace it, the railroad built a new, much smaller station across the river in Rensselaer.

The old station here in Albany was in limbo throughout the 1970s, and it was the subject of several different proposals, including demolition. However, it was ultimately restored as an office building in the late 1980s by Norstar Bancorp, whose name still appears on the facade in the spot where the New York Central’s name was once located. After a series of bank mergers, the building eventually became offices for Bank of America until 2009, and it is now occupied by several different tenants. Despite these changes in use, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the only significant difference here in this scene is the loss of the iron canopy above the entrance.

Union Station, Albany, New York (2)

Union Station in Albany, seen from the southwest corner at Broadway and Steuben Streets, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in a previous post, Albany’s Union Station opened in 1900 here on Broadway, in the northern part of downtown Albany. It was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, along with two of its subsidiaries: the West Shore Railroad and the Boston and Albany Railroad. Together, these three railroads comprised more than two-thirds of the rail traffic here when the station opened, with 42 New York Central, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany trains departing daily. The remaining traffic was from the Delaware and Hudson Railway, which was headquartered in Albany and had 31 daily departures here.

The first photo was taken soon after the station was completed, showing its ornate granite Beaux-Arts exterior. It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which was responsible for many of the stations along the route of the Boston and Albany. During the heyday of passenger rail travel, the railroad stations of large cities often featured grand architecture. Such stations would provide a good first impression to visitors of a particular city, along with demonstrating the importance and prosperity of the city and its railroad lines. This would have been especially important here in Albany, given its role as the capital city of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country.

Here on the west side of the station, where most passengers would have entered and exited the building, the exterior features three arches, giving it an appearance similar Grand Central Terminal, which was built more than a decade later. Above these arches are a number of elaborate carvings. Of these, the most prominent is the state seal of New York, which was carved over the course of three months by about 15 workers. It stands above the middle arch, and it consists of a clock that is flanked on either side by allegorical representations of Liberty and Justice. Beneath the clock is the state motto, Excelsior, and above it is an eagle perched on a globe. To the left and right of the seal, atop the corners of the central part of the station, are stone globes, each supported by four lions. Although not visible here, two identical globes are located on the other side of the building.

This station was a busy place throughout the first half of the 20th century, with rail travel peaking during World War II when up to 121 daily trains departed from here. However, railroads around the country saw a steep decline in ridership soon after the war, when highways and airlines became the preferred ways to travel by the 1950s. Even the New York Central, once one of the most lucrative companies in the country, was facing possible bankruptcy. This financial situation was not helped by the fact that it had to maintain large, aging stations such as this one in Albany, despite very limited numbers of passengers.

In 1968, the New York Central merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, creating the Penn Central Railroad. Around the same time, the railroad began constructing a new, much smaller station across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, and the old station here in Albany closed on December 29, 1968. The tracks to the station were then removed and, as a sign of the changing ways that Americans traveled, Interstate 787 was built through the former rail yard behind the station.

The station itself was the subject of different redevelopment proposals, some of which would have involved demolishing the old building. Instead, it was ultimately preserved and converted into offices in the 1980s. For many years it was occupied by banks, beginning with Norstar Bancorp. The company’s name is still carved in the facade above the central arch, but the bank went through a series of mergers in the 1990s and early 2000s, eventually becoming part of Bank of America. The former station was occupied by Bank of America until 2009, and the building is now used as offices for a variety of other companies.

Union Station, Albany, New York

The platforms on the east side of Union Station in Albany, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Taken nearly 120 years apart, these two photos capture one of the ways in which transportation changed in the United States over the course of the 20th century. The first photo shows a large, recently-completed downtown railroad station, with several trains waiting on the tracks and a group of people on one of the platforms. However, in the present-day scene the railroad station has been converted into offices, while the tracks and platforms are completely gone, replaced with a parking garage. Another even larger parking garage stands in the distance on the right side, and further to the right, just out of view, is an interstate highway.

Albany’s Union Station was completed in 1900, and it was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. However, it was also used by the Delaware and Hudson Railway and the New York Central-controlled West Shore Railroad, and it was the western terminus of the Boston and Albany Railroad, which the New York Central had begin leasing earlier in 1900. The station building featured a granite, Beaux-Arts exterior, and it was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. This firm was particularly well-known for their railroad stations, and they designed a number of them for the Boston and Albany, including Union Station in Springfield and South Station in Boston.

The station was built at the corner of Columbia Street and Broadway, with the main entrance on the western side, facing Broadway. However, this view shows the other side of the station, looking north from the southern end of the platforms. Here, three large island platforms were situated between the tracks, and passengers could access them via two underground tunnels. The train on the left side of the first photo is a New York Central passenger train, with 4-4-0 locomotive number 1135 in the lead. Another unidentified locomotive stands on the far right side of the photo, and further in the distance just to the left of that train is a group of men—possibly railroad employees—leaning against and sitting on a row of baggage carts. These trains were just two of the 96 daily trains that served Union Station when it first opened at the turn of the 20th century. Of these, there were 42 New York Central trains, 31 Delaware and Hudson, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany.

Passenger rail travel continued to increase nationwide throughout the first half of the 20th century, eventually peaking during World War II. This was also the busiest time for passenger trains in Albany, with 121 daily trains here at Union Station. However, the postwar period saw a sharp decline in ridership, a problem exacerbated by the development of the Interstate Highway System starting in the 1950s. By the 1960s, many of the railroad companies that had dominated the nation’s economy a half century earlier were now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As a result, the New York Central merged with its longtime rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in 1968, forming the Penn Central Railroad.

For nearly a decade prior to the merger, the New York Central had been looking to rid itself of Albany’s Union Station, which was under-utilized and expensive to maintain. The station was also near the path of the planned Interstate 787, which would cut through part of the station’s passenger yard. Soon after the formation of Penn Central, the newly-formed railroad opened a new, much smaller passenger station directly across the river from here in Rensselaer, and the old Albany station was unceremoniously closed on December 29, 1968.

A few months later, the New York Times published an “obituary” of the station, titled “In Melancholy Memory of Albany’s Union Depot.” The article lamented the closure of the grand station, recalling its long history during the heyday of passenger trains and contrasting its architecture with that of the new station, which was described as a “one-story crackerbox of concrete blocks.” At the time, the fate of the old station was still undetermined, but the article mentioned several different proposals, which ranged from converting it into a museum to demolishing it and building a high-rise luxury apartment building and marina on the site.

Ultimately, neither of these proposals materialized, and the building was instead converted into offices in the 1980s. It was originally the home of Norstar Bancorp, and it was initially named Norstar Plaza, although it was subsequently renamed Peter D. Kiernan Plaza after the death of the bank’s president. The bank then went through a series of mergers, and over the next two decades the building was home to Fleet Financial Group, FleetBoston Financial, and then Bank of America. The building was used by Bank of America until 2009, and it now serves as offices for several other companies.

Overall, the present-day scene is drastically different from the view in the early 20th century. The most dramatic change is the parking garage in place of the station tracks and platforms, but other changes have included the tall building just beyond the station on the other side of Columbia Street. However, the station itself has not seen many exterior changes since the first photo was taken, even though much of it is hidden by trees from this angle. Today it stands as an excellent work of Beaux-Arts architecture, and it also serves to highlight the benefits of historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

Union Station, Springfield, Mass (2)

The old Union Station in Springfield, seen from near the corner of Lyman and Chestnut Streets around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows Union Station as it appeared about 10 to 20 years after its completion, as seen looking west from near Chestnut Street. The photo in a previous post shows the south side of the station from Lyman Street, but this view provides a more elevated look at the station, showing both the north and south sides, along with the platforms in between. Further in the distance, beyond the station on Main Street, are two of the city’s leading hotels: the Massasoit House on the far left at the end of Lyman Street, and Cooley’s Hotel, which can be seen in the center of the photo.

This area has been the site of Springfield’s primary railroad station since 1839, when the Western Railroad arrived, linking Springfield with Worcester and Boston. The original station, which was located on the west side of Main Street, burned in 1851, and the following year it was replaced by a brick and iron, shed-like station on the same spot. This station served for most of the second half of the 19th century, but it began to cause problems as the city grew in population and as rail traffic increased. Because the station was located at street level, trains had to cross directly over Main Street, leading to significant delays for traffic on the street. The station itself was also becoming insufficient for the number of trains that passed through here, and by the late 1860s there were already calls for a new station and elevated tracks through downtown Springfield.

In 1869, the state legislature authorized such a project, but it would take another 20 years before it was actually finished, thanks to an impasse between the city government and the Boston & Albany Railroad, which was the successor to the old Western Railroad. This dispute centered around which side was responsible for paying to raise the tracks and lower the grade of Main Street, and it ultimately did not get resolved until 1888, when the railroad agreed to spend around $200,000 to raise the tracks, while the city would spend about $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet.

This compromise enabled the station project to move forward, and the old station was demolished in the spring of 1889. The new one was completed in July, and it was located on the east side of Main Street, which provided more room for the station. It featured a Romanesque Revival-style design, and the original plans had been the work of noted architect Henry H. Richardson, who designed many of the stations along the Boston & Albany Railroad. He died in 1886, though, and his successor firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge subsequently modified the plans for the Springfield station.

One of these changes proved to be a serious design flaw. Richardson had intended for a single station building, located on the south side, with a large train shed over the tracks. However, the Connecticut River Railroad, which would share the union station with the Boston & Albany and the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroads, objected to this plan, wanting a separate building on the north side. As a result, the finished station consisted of two buildings, each with its own ticket offices and waiting rooms, and four tracks in between them. The smaller northern building, on the right side of this scene, served northbound and westbound travelers, while the larger building on the south side was for those heading southbound and eastbound.

Within less than 20 years, this design was already causing problems as Springfield continued to grow. Having two different station buildings was an inefficient use of space, since it meant redundant facilities such as the waiting rooms. This was also a source of confusion for passengers, who would sometimes find themselves at the wrong ticket office or platform. In addition, the two buildings prevented the railroads from adding new tracks, since the space in between was already filled with four tracks and three platforms.

Aside from practical considerations, the architecture of the building was also obsolete by the early 20th century. Romanesque Revival had been widely popular during the last two decades of the 19th century, particularly for public buildings, and railroad stations were seen as important architectural showcases. They were usually the first thing that a traveler saw in a particular city, so any self-respecting city need a monumental station, in order to give a good first impression to visitors. This may have been the case for Union Station in the 1890s, but Romanesque Revival had fallen out of favor by the next decade, and the new generation of iconic railroad stations – such as Grand Central and Penn Station – began to feature classically-inspired Beaux-Arts designs.

As early as 1906, it was evident that the station was inadequate. That year, the Springfield Republican published an article on the city’s numerous railroad-related problems, observing that “[t]he most important problem as far as the safety and convenience of the public is concerned is the rebuilding of the union station.” In 1921, the newspaper was even more explicit, remarking on how “there seems to be, in fact, a nearly unanimous demand that the structure be cast to the scrapheap,” and four years later it declared that the station was “long execrated for its combination of discomfort, dinginess and danger.”

The station’s demise was hastened by a November 1922 fire that caused about $25,000 in damage to the north building. The fire was considered to be suspicious, but its origins were unclear, with the railroad superintendent simply telling the Republican, “your guess is as good as mine.” The city’s fire chief declared that he found no evidence of arson, although he did not actually inspect the cellar beneath the waiting room, where the fire had apparently started. There were no injuries, and most of the valuables, including mail, packages, and cash, were safely removed by railroad employees and by an off-duty police officer.

Within less than a month of the fire, the railroad had approved the plans for a new station. This replacement would be in approximately the same location, but the entire station would be located on the north side of the tracks. It would be connected to Lyman Street on the south side by way of a tunnel beneath the tracks, and this tunnel would also provide access to the platforms, avoiding the dangers of passengers crossing directly over the busy tracks. Perhaps most significantly, the number of tracks would be increased from four to 11, reducing congestion and delays on the railroad.

Demolition on the old station began in 1925, just 36 years after it was built, and the new Union Station opened the following year. It would remain in use for the next few decades, but passenger rail began to experience a significant decline throughout the country during the post-World War II era. With passenger trains becoming unprofitable for railroads to operate, Amtrak ultimately took control of the country’s passenger rail services in 1971. Two years later, most of Union Station was closed except for the Lyman Street entrance, and a small Amtrak station was built on the south side of the tracks.

Union Station sat empty for many years, and only one of the old station platforms was used for passenger service. However, the building underwent a major restoration in the 2010s, reopening in 2017. It now features a ticket office, waiting area, and retail space in the concourse, along with office space on the upper levels, including the offices of the Peter Pan Bus Lines. Union Station is also the terminus for most of the city’s PVTA bus lines, with 18 bus berths just to the west of the station. In addition to this, the rail traffic here at the station has also increased. Along with a number of daily Amtrak trains, Union Station is also served by the Hartford Line, which opened in 2018 with commuter trains running from Springfield south to New Haven.

The 2018 photo shows this scene about a year after the station reopened. An Amtrak train is visible in the distant center of the photo, consisting of two passenger cars pulled by a P42DC diesel engine. This is the typical setup for most of the Springfield to New Haven Amtrak trains, and the rear car is a converted Metroliner cab car, which allows the train to be operated in either direction without turning the locomotive. Just to the right of the train is Platform C, which was the last part of the station’s renovation project. It was still unfinished when the first photo was taken, but this project – which upgraded the platform to modern accessibility requirements – was finished in January 2020, marking the end of Union Station’s restoration.

John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI

The John Carter Brown Library on the campus of Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The John Carter Brown Library is one of seven libraries at Brown University, featuring an extensive collection of rare, colonial-era books published in the Americas. Its origins trace back to the private collection of John Carter Brown, who was a member of Providence’s prominent Brown family. His father, Nicholas Brown, Jr., was the donor for whom the school was named, and many other family members played an important role in the founding and development of the school.

After his death in 1874, John Carter Brown left his collection to his son, John Nicholas Brown. He, in turn, left instructions in his will to establish a library with the collection, to be named in memory of his father. Although his will did not stipulate a location, the library trustees chose Brown University, and it opened in 1904, four years after his death.

Like many other early 20th century libraries, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture, and was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the firm that would go on to design Brown’s John Hay Library a few years later. The library’s opening in the spring of 1904 coincided with the completion of a nearby gate, which was donated by John Nicholas Brown’s widow and named for her late husband.

Today, the front facade of the library is unchanged from the first photo, but its holdings have significantly increased over the years. A new addition was completed in 1990, and named the Caspersen Building in honor of the parents of its benefactor, Finn M. W. Caspersen. The library now has over 50,000 books from the 19th century and earlier, along with thousands of rare maps, prints, manuscripts, and other documents.

John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI

The John Hay Library at the corner of Prospect and College Streets in Providence, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The John Hay Library is one of several libraries at Brown University. The building was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and opened in 1910 as the school’s primary library. It was built in part with funds from Andrew Carnegie, and is named for John Hay, an 1858 graduate of Brown who had served as US Secretary of State from 1898 until his death in 1905.

It remained in use as main library until 1964, when the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library opened just to the left of here, on the other side of College Street. Today, the John Hay Library is used to house the special collections, rare books, and the University Archives. Among its more unusual holdings are several anthropodermic books, which are books bound in human skin. The library also has an extensive collection of letters and other manuscripts from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, a Providence native who lived nearby and often visited the library.