American railroad stations (also known as terminals and depots) used
to be an all too common sight in our country as almost every town, large
and small, could claim one, which was largely due to the fact that
railroads once went literally everywhere, reaching almost any and every
town. As the railroad industry progressed and grew, so did its depots
which became more and more ornate and grand, ultimately culminating in
this country’s (and perhaps even the world’s) greatest and most stunning such structure ever built, New York City’s grand Pennsylvania Station constructed by the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) at the beginning of the 20th century and opened in 1910.
Seen here is the small town depot in St. Marys, West Virginia during the early 1900s. It was constructed by the Ohio River Rail Road, which was acquired by the Baltimore & Ohio. The building was razed in the 1960s.
Pennsy's New York landmark, however, would survive only a mere 57 years (and in many ways would be
the spinning image of the rise and fall of the railroad industry itself
through the 1970s), as the PRR was desperate for cash during the 1960s
and ordered its demolition to sell off the property and air rights.
While many other buildings would meet a similar fate between the
1950s and 1970s, the loss of Penn Station signaled a change in this
country’s attitude towards its historic structures as the outrage in the
aftermath of its loss triggered a movement to preserve these buildings
(the result of which thwarted later efforts to demolish the New York
Central’s breathtaking Grand Central Terminal, also located in New York
The Soo Line's freight depot at its East Houghton Yard in Michigan was still loading and unloading cars in April of 1975 when this photo was taken. The area has since been transformed until commercial and residential property.
While the large terminals like those previously mentioned often receive the best remembered and garner the most attention in books and historical writings today, the smaller depots that served smaller towns and cities all across the country were much more than just buildings to load and unload passengers. For years until the automobile became a reliable means of transportation the depot was the center of life for these towns as it was the only means to the outside world for most folks. Not only did you use the building to board and de-board your train it also usually always delivered the goods you purchased.
The B&O's beautiful Point of Rocks facility in Maryland was designed by architect E. Francis Baldwin, completed in 1876. It sits along the junction of the railroad's Old Main Line and newer route. It is seen here on the evening of September 22, 2007 still serving as a stop for MARC.
The structures built during the 19th and early 20th centuries were true works of art, many with designs which reflected the Victorian or Roman eras as well as being constructed many times from the very same materials such as marble and crystal, which is a big reason why many are preserved and so coveted today. Even depots from the same time period built from wood and/or brick were likewise constructed with beautiful designs in mind (many of these were also from the Victorian era), which is why those smaller towns and cities who have preserved theirs take such pride in them (and many times these buildings are the centerpiece efforts in revitalizing their downtown areas, whether the railroad tracks still remain in place or not).
As the automobile came of age, however, and our highway infrastructure became much better the local depot fell from importance and no longer was the most essential building in towns and cities. As the 1950s came so went the local depot in most smaller towns and cities where the car or truck was much more accessible and reliable for the short to medium distances folks usually traveled (it was also a huge financial
drain on the railroads to maintain these smaller depots where the
little passenger traffic there quickly dried up after World War II, so
they were very happy to discontinue these trains and shutdown the depots
if possible). And, by the 1960s even the larger and more prominent terminals were not immune to closure or demolition.
The information above is a compilation of many such buildings
which still survive across the country, broken down by state. Please
note that unless otherwise noted the building mentioned that is still
standing refers to a passenger depot (i.e., "originally built by..."). I
realize that there may be corrections/additions to any of the above
lists. If you may know of any please let me know (either through e-mail
or simply make a post below to the Facebook comments) and I will work to get the information up-to-date. Many thanks in advance for any bit of help you may have!
This depot at Ewen, Michigan was originally built by the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic and was still used by the Soo during April of 1976.
While Penn Station is no longer with us its loss was, again, a wakeup call, and besides Grand Central Terminal a number of other large and prominent facilities
across the country have since been saved and preserved as well (many
are also still in used as they were originally intended, as a place to
pick up and drop off rail travelers). Finally, please be aware that the
links to the individual state pages are PDF files and
provide the latest information that I currently have on standing and/or
restored buildings. Much of this information was researched through the Railroad Station Historical Society's database.
If you have any questions about surviving depots or know of
any to add to the lists please feel free to get in touch.