Grand Central opened to the general public on December 8, 1890, the second-oldest second-generation passenger terminal in Chicago (the oldest being Dearborn Station constructed in 1883). While the Chicago & Northern Pacific ferried Wisconsin Central passenger trains to and from the terminal,
Grand Central also played host to trains of the Baltimore & Ohio,
Chicago Great Western (via its subsidiary, the Minnesota &
Northwestern Railroad) and later the Pere Marquette Railway and
Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway (Soo Line).
Unfortunately for the Northern Pacific, the Financial
Panic of 1893 forced the railroad into bankruptcy which ended its
dreams of a direct route into Chicago. Despite attempts to hold onto to
its Chicago area properties, alas Grand Central Station was sold at foreclosure to the B&O in 1910. The eastern trunk line made the station uniquely its own by later adding a neon-lit "B&O" sign in
the bell tower, providing for a beautiful photographic setting of
trains awaiting departure just outside the train shed with the sign
glowing brightly in the background. Additionally, the trackage the
railroad gained from the transaction became another part of its
Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad.
While the station was architecturally beautiful, with only one
major railroad serving the building (the Soo and Chicago Great Western
were both regional, Midwestern systems) it was never as busy as the five
other major terminals serving the Chicago. During peak operations from
its opening through the 1920s (and later during World War II) the
station averaged just 38 trains per day with just under 4,000 daily
passengers. In comparison the terminal saw just 10% of Central
Station's (owned by Illinois Central) daily trains and was well behind
fifth-busiest Dearborn Station's 146 trains-per-day.
Still, one could find several storied streamliners calling to Grand Central including the B&O's flagship Capitol Limited as well as other named trains like the Columbian and Shenandoah. In addition, the Soo Line's Laker could regularly be found at the terminal as could the CGW's Great Western Limited, Legionnaire, and Minnesotan. Finally, the Pere Marquette's Grand Rapids Flyer and Grand Rapids Express both called to the station. As passenger rail serviced waned following World War II so did business at Grand Central Station.
By 1956 the Chicago Great Western stopped using the facility and by
the early 1960s only the owner, Baltimore & Ohio remained with the
grand station seeing just a paltry 210 passengers daily.
surprising move, somewhat uncharacteristic of the B&O (which became
known for saving historic structures and equipment), in the early 1970s
as the city of Chicago was urging the region's railroads to consolidate facilities in preparation for Amtrak the company elected to raze Grand Central Station to sell the perceived-valuable land beneath it. Amazingly, the ground failed to sell, for decades. It was
thought the property would be prime for new condos, apartments, and
office buildings but ultimately none of this came to be. The Baltimore
& Ohio retained the property through the Chessie System era and
later when CSX Transportation was created in 1987. Only in 2008 did the
ground finally sell to a real estate agent although virtually the
entire property remains a vacant lot today.