Central Station, also sometimes known as Chicago Terminal, was the
primary hub of the Illinois Central's passenger train services in the
city. However, it was not the only railroad to use the facility as
others, notably the New York Central, also used the terminal.
Interestingly, Central was the busiest station in Chicago in terms of
train movements despite the fact that only a handful of railroads
actually used the building. Additionally, it was not the first station
used by the IC whose much smaller Illinois Central Depot, located along
Randolph Street to the north, dated back to the mid-19th century. The
new terminal was, visually, incredibly stunning and of the six large
railroad stations to serve Chicago, arguably the most beautiful. Sadly,
when Amtrak was created in 1971 it looked to consolidate all of the city's terminals and Central Station was one that would not survive to serve in another capacity.
Station was the Illinois Central Railroad's attempt to replace an aging
station that was simply outdated and could not handle the increased
capacity demanded of it. Known as the Illinois Central Depot it was a
stub-ended design that featured about a half-dozen staging tracks and
was located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The new terminal would be
located just to the south, along the southwestern corner of Roosevelt
Road and Michigan Avenue (and just two blocks east of Dearborn Station). Construction of the Central Station began in the early 1890s and it would be the third-oldest of Chicago's six grand passenger terminals.
The Illinois Central hired architect Bradford Gilbert of New York to design the new station, which the railroad wanted to also include their central offices. As such, Gilbert planned a very tall structure, topping out at nine stories once it was completed. He gave the terminal a very compact design, somewhat resembling an office building, although it was offset but a beautiful 225-foot clock tower (which actually reached 13 stories). Additionally, the architect designed the station in the Romanesque style using red brick and local sandstone. As such, with its arched windows, rounded support columns, red-tile pitched roof, and spiral peaks the building looked very much like a Medieval Europe castle one might see in ancient France, Spain, or England.
Central Station officially opened to the public on April 17, 1893 just
in time for the World's Columbian Exposition ongoing later that year.
The terminal featured a run-through design so trains did not have to
back in and out of the station, which passed through the building's
massive train shed (the world's largest at the time) measuring 610 feet
long by 140 feet wide. These tracks were actually located just east of
the Illinois Central electrified main line through Chicago, which
extended north to the Illinois Central Depot that was now exclusively
used for commuters.
Passengers were treated to a magnificent three-story waiting
room in the new station that constructed mostly of marble and included
an outdoor balcony where one could look directly over Lake Michigan (at
the time the station and tracks lay right next to the waterfront). The
large waiting room was certainly needed during the terminal's heyday of
operations, which occurred from roughly the time it opened through the
1920s (and again briefly during World War II).
After the station opened, the the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago &
St. Louis Railway (also known as the "Big Four") used the terminal until
1922 when it officially absorbed into the New York Central. Other
railroads to use Central Station included the Chesapeake & Ohio
(from 1925 until 1947 when it took over the Pere Marquette Railway),
Michigan Central Railroad (another NYC subsidiary), Minneapolis, St.
Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway (also known as the Soo Line, it used
the building until 1912 when it moved into Grand Central Station,
although it returned to the
terminal after 1965), and the Pere Marquette. After the mid-1920s the
Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad also used the station for
Although one could not find quite the variety of paint schemes
and trains at Central Station as at nearby Dearborn Station it
nevertheless provided plenty to see. For instance, all of Illinois
Central's famous trains like the Panama Limited, City of New Orleans, City of Miami, Green Diamond,
and numerous others used the terminal. Interestingly, as rail travel
declined through the 1950s and 1960s the Illinois Central still
dispatched between 10 and 20 trains per day. For more reading and photos of the station please click here.
Inevitably, however, the station's better days were behind it. The
Illinois Central, as owner, was the last railroad to use the facility
when its Panama Limited departed the terminal on April 30, 1971.
The next day, Amtrak would take over and continued to use Central
Station until March 6, 1972 when it finally transferred all remaining
trains to Union Station. Despite the loss of these trains the station
continued to be used as the IC's main office complex until 1974 when it
completed construction of a new building, known as Two Illinois Center
at 233 North Michigan Avenue. With this the station's fate was sealed.
Before 1975 the entire building was razed as some residents considered
it to be an eyesore. Today, the are is still vacant and is an extension
of Grant Park although the IC's
original tracks (minus the large yard) still continue northward to Metra
stations at Van Buren and Randolph streets.