The Reading Company's Reading Terminal, located in downtown Philadelphia, was the railroad's most famous, and renowned railroad station. Along with functioning as a railroad station the terminal complex also served as the Reading's main headquarters building until declaring bankruptcy in 1971 and eventually become part of the Conrail in 1976. While the Reading was never, truly large enough to be a major competitor in the intercity passenger train market with names like the Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Baltimore & Ohio it did offer its famous Crusader, which called to the terminal. However, perhaps the building's greatest asset as a train station was in commuter service as the railroad moved thousands on a daily basis around Philadelphia for decades. Today, this impressive complex still stands including its remarkable train shed, as an extremely popular market, and has been honored with the rare distinction as a National Historic Landmark, forever protecting its future.
The Reading Terminal was the railroad's grand entrance into its home city of Philadelphia. While the Pennsylvania Railroad ruled supreme here having already built its Broad Street Station (this was later replaced with an even more ornate terminal, 30th Street Station) and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had its own station in place as well (24th Street Station) the Reading's new complex was perhaps the most impressive, to date, of the three. Located at the corner of 12th and Market Streets, construction began on the terminal in the early 1890s and was designed in two phases; the concourse and headhouse was the creation of architect Francis H. Kimball while the Wilson Brothers Architecture & Engineering Company oversaw the design of the train shed and approaches. For trains to reach the terminal the railroad also built a massive raised viaduct (known as the Reading Viaduct), which was about one-story above the street.
At the time of the terminal's construction the Reading was a quite wealthy mid-sized Class I railroad with the large number of anthracite coal mines it served. As such, it spent lavishly on its Reading Terminal despite the fact that, again, it did not serve a wide array of intercity passenger trains. Built in the Italian Renaissance style the terminal featured three sections; the headhouse (an eight-story structure), train shed, and Reading Terminal Market. Its interior design was quite ornate with marble used throughout and featuring wood flooring and cast iron decorations. The stunning terminal opened to the general public on January 29, 1893.
While not related to rail operations, the market has a very interesting history. Today's Reading Market is still one of the most popular venues in downtown Philadelphia with a history that dates back to 1653, well before the United States was even a recognized country. Before the Reading constructed its terminal on the site the market had always been an open-air affair. However, it gained an enclosed setup following completion of the station complex, which required the railroad to spend an additional $1 million to move the market. Given the timing of the terminal's construction it was able to witness the grand "Golden Age" of passenger rail travel, which occurred from the start of the 20th century through the 1920s. Despite its heavy use as a commuter station throughout its service under Reading management the building did see a handful of regional, intercity trains. Along with the Crusader these included others like the King Coal, North Penn, Schuylkill, and Wall Street.
Through World War II the Reading Terminal saw several thousand travelers daily, both commuter and long distance passengers. However, after the war, as with passenger rail travel in general across the country, the terminal saw a decreasing decline in use until the bankruptcy of the Reading Railroad in 1971 resulted in an uncertain fate for the building's future. After the creation of Conrail in 1976 the terminal continued to be used by SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) until 1984 when a new structure, Market East Station, replaced it.
After this changing of the guard the elevated approach tracks that connected the terminal have been abandoned and partially demolished. However, the station itself would suffer a better fate. In 1976, it, along with its train shed were forever protected when they were named a National Historic Landmark and today are part of the Pennsylvania Convention Center's main headquarters. While trains have not served the terminal for more than three decades now the Reading Viaduct is still mostly intact, albeit derelict and abandoned.
Today, Reading Terminal is multi-use building that includes, hotel space, shopping, restaurants, meeting rooms, and of course the Reading Market. So, if you are ever vacationing in Philadelphia, along with visiting 30th Street Station, this is another historic railroad landmark that you do not want to miss seeing! One a final note, if you happen to watch Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" program on the Travel Channel he stopped by the Reading Market. Despite the fact that it has lost its status as a train station the building is still abuzz with activity and very popular. To learn more about Reading Terminal as it is used today please click here to visit the Pennsylvania Convention Center's website.