I like to travel by train and have memories of a few fun train trips, but sadly my main modes of tranport are not trains. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate historic train stations, with or without trains. Though the heyday of the passenger train is in the past, there are still some grand stations in use across the United States (Chicago, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles are a few ) and some that have been saved and adapted for reuse (Kansas City, St. Louis and others).
Recently I visited a small station with a big history in Ogden, Utah, designated “Junction City.” The city’s close proximity to the site where the transcontinental railroad was completed and its victory in a competition with three other cities earned it a prominent role as a railroad junction in the Intermountain West, the junction for the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific rail lines. Ogden’s Union Station was the main gateway to the city for over fifty years.
The railroad came to Ogden in 1869 on its way to the joining of the transcontinental railroad at nearby Promontory Summit. A two-story wooden frame building served as Ogden’s first station. Twenty years later several railroad companies joined efforts to build a much larger and grander station to serve the growing community. It caught fire thirty-four years later in 1923 and a new building was dedicated a year later, even grander yet. The Spanish Colonial building standing today saw busy years, especially during World War II when thousands of servicemen traveling to the Pacific Theater passed through the junction on their journey to the west coast.
Sadly, a decrease in passenger traffic brought an end to passenger service in the 1970’s. Fortunately the railroads gave the city of Ogden a lease for the building and offered the space to several museums, including the Utah State Railroad Museum.
While the grand lobby was quiet and empty when I visited, I could imagine it filled with benches and the chatter of hundreds of excited travelers. The 56 ft. high ceiling soars overhead. Two impressive classic murals dominate the ends of the lobby and were painted by muralist Edward Laning. Completed in the artists’s studio in New York City and personally installed by the artist in 1980, they depict the work on the two railroad lines of the transcontinental railroad.
For a great short online history of American railroads, visit http://www.american-rails.com/railroad-stations.html
Another site, Great American Stations, offers a list of other historic rail stations in the U.S.
Do you have a favorite historic station or a story of traveling through one of these great historic stations? Tell us about it!