H.H. Richardson’s Last Station – New London Union Station

When it comes to great American architects, one must certainly mention the name Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson’s name may not be as widely mentioned as some others – likely because he unfortunately passed in his prime at the age of 47 – but his influence in American architecture is obvious. The architectural style he popularized bears his name – Richardsonian Romanesque – and is certainly one of my favorite architectural styles. The style features attractive arches and rusticated stonework – and is familiar to fans of the Boston and Albany Railroad, the style in which many of that railroad’s main line stations were designed.

Most of the Richardsonian Romanesque stations we’ve featured on the site – Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Hartford, Irvington, and Tarrytown – were designed by the firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, Richardson’s three assistants who continued the business after his death. The station we’re visiting today, however, was Richardson’s final station design. New London’s Union Station was conceived in 1885 – one year before Richardson’s death. Construction was not completed until one year after his death in 1887.

1885 Sketch of New London
1885 elevation sketch showing the detailing for New London’s Union Station. Image courtesy Shepley Bulfinch.

Although New London Union Station strays a bit from the typical Richardsonian Romanesque style as it is constructed primarily of brick, the characteristic arches, detailing, and occasional swaths of rusticated stone can be found. Bricks radiate outwards from the arches, creating a sunburst effect, and alternating exposed bricks create detailed borders around the top. Completing the detailing of the station is a wide band above the entrance, labeling the building “Union Railroad Station.” The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was the station’s primary occupant (having leased the Shore Line Railway in 1870), though the station was built in conjunction with the Central Vermont Railroad (which had leased the New London Northern Railroad) making it a Union Station.

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Around the Country in Railroad Art

As the weather starts to warm up, perhaps you’ve been thinking about vacation. There are plenty of cool spots that one can visit, all by train. As we’ve certainly covered on the blog before, America’s railroads had in their employ both painters and illustrators to create works to entice travelers. Leslie Ragan is certainly one of my favorites – he worked for the New York Central as well as the Budd Company – and about this time last year we were posting some of his spring-like imagery.

This time I thought it would be fun to take a tour of the country through railroad art. There are countless examples of awesome posters and ads, but these are some of my favorites. Perhaps it will even give you some ideas on places to travel this year.

Maybe a nice shorter trip will be in order? Cape Cod, New England, Atlantic City and even Washington DC are all possibilities. Artist Sascha Maurer designed for both the New Haven and the Pennsylvania Railroads. The New England and the Atlantic City art below was designed by Maurer. Ben Nason also designed an array of posters for the New Haven Railroad, including the Cape Cod poster below.

  
  

Maybe you’d like to travel to a different city, a litter further away? Maybe you should visit Cincinnati!

Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the Pennsy, you it is impossible to not love this poster by Mitchell Markovitz.

Chicago is always a lovely place to visit!
  

Did I say tour the country? I lied. Maybe a visit to Canada is in order?
 

Now who doesn’t love a nice trip to America’s National Parks, the Pacific Northwest, or even California? Maurice Logan, William and Kenneth Willmarth designed some of these lovely views of the western United States.
   
  
  

Maybe a nice jaunt to the southwest? Artists Don Perceval and Oscar Bryn created these lovely posters for the Santa Fe.
   

Are mountains more your thing? Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann worked on these lovely designs…
 

Oh forget it, let’s just go everywhere! The awesome Amtrak posters designed by illustrator David Klein in 1973 make me want to see the entire country. Klein has a large body of work that is travel-themed, stretched over his entire career. His most known works were for Trans World Airlines, but he also produced work for Holland America Cruises and travel website Orbitz. Klein’s undeniably gorgeous work made railroads once again appear glamorous, just as they were in yesteryear.

 
  

Now that we’ve traveled around the country through railroad art, are you planning to take a vacation to some interesting locale? Are you going to go by train? Let us know in the comments!

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Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

In keeping with last week’s theme of exploring Connecticut, today we take a quick visit to the southern coast of the state to check out Shore Line East. As part of the important Northeast Corridor, many of the stations along the line have a long history with the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Though some of the railroad historical buildings are still around (like the freight house, now restaurant in Old Saybrook), most of the Shore Line East stations are of relatively new construction (the exceptions being New Haven, which we’ve visited before, and New London, which deserves its own post at some point in the future).

Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, so you’ll often catch CDOT locomotives in the old New Haven Railroad scheme, Amtrak locomotives, or a horrible mixture of both (hey boss, I put our sticker on the front, and painted over the Amtrak logo!). The service itself is fairly young – Shore Line East trains began running in May of 1990 – and the line was only supposed to be temporary while construction was being done on Interstate 95. Due to its popularity, however, Shore Line East became permanent.

   
  
 
 
Some views of the smaller stations on Shore Line East – Branford, Madison, Guilford, and Clinton.

Of the newer Shore Line East stations, Old Saybrook is probably the nicest, and a pretty good place for capturing trains. Besides the Shore Line East trains, about eighteen Amtrak trains stop here daily (which is actually more than Hartford, which we visited last week). Three tracks run through Old Saybrook, and the station consists of a side platform, an island platform, and an overpass connecting the two. Because it was started as a temporary operation, little money was spent on Shore Line East stations. However, once the service became permanent, proper stations were constructed, the first being Old Saybrook in 2002. Branford, Guilford, and Clinton were opened in 2005, and Madison in 2008.

Most Shore Line East trains terminate at Old Saybrook, though a few do go on to New London. The bane of Connecticut’s railroads are definitely the many movable bridges found along the shore line. Some are over a hundred years old, and cause slowdowns and nightmares for Metro-North. In Shore Line East’s case, the challenge to operating more service to New London is that trains must cross several movable bridges, bridges that the Connecticut Marine Trades Association fights to keep open for boats, as opposed to closed for trains. While some have big plans for the service (like connecting it to Rhode Island), it is these local issues that will have to be addressed first (not raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund is another…).

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

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A Fiery Centennial – Hartford Union Station

Exactly one hundred years ago, Connecticut was gripped in a frigid and snowy winter, much like the one we are currently experiencing. And exactly one hundred years ago last Friday, Hartford’s Union station was ablaze. On its own, a fire can be pretty devastating enough, but coupled with the snow, firefighters had difficulty getting to the station to put the fire out. Ultimately there were several small explosions, one of which displaced a large section of the roof, pieces of which fell and destroyed the ticket office. The station was heavily damaged, and much of the items in the baggage room – where the fire started – were destroyed.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire
All fire photos are from the Connecticut Historical Society, accessible at CTHistoryOnline.org

Originally constructed in 1889, Hartford’s Union station was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which first gained popularity in the Boston area and was used for several stations along the Boston and Albany Railroad. Conceptually designed by local architect George Keller, the bulk of the design work fell to architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, successors of Henry Hobson Richardson (which is where the “Richardsonian” part comes from. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge also designed a few stations we’ve featured: Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown). The station featured the typical arches and rusticated stonework characteristic of his style, using stone quarried in Portland, Connecticut.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire

Besides the 100th anniversary of the fire, the station is also celebrating the centennial of its rebirth. The entire building was not completely destroyed by the aforementioned fire, but the roof and interior were both gutted. Though some of the decorative arches at roof level were only slightly damaged, it was decided that the rebuild would not be to the exact specifications of the old station. Roof-level decorative elements were removed, and stonework was repaired – now bearing the date “1914”. The “new” Union Station boasted a full third story, and, as one would imagine, a fireproof roof.

Hartford Union Station Fire
The station after the fire was put out. Note the detail on the roof that no longer exists.

Despite spending the first twenty plus years of my life living in Connecticut, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I had never visited Hartford’s Union Station until recently. Likewise, I must also admit that I was unaware that Hartford’s Latin motto is Post nubila, phoebus (after clouds, the sun). That motto can be found within the station, above the doors that once led out to the platform, flanked between the past and present of railroading – steam and electric.

Train at Hartford
A northbound train at Hartford in the late 1940s. Note the Capitol visible in the background. [image source]

These days, Hartford is not the hub it once was. No longer are the days where trains were plenty, and it has been many decades since quasi-celebrity citizens like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe called Hartford home. About twelve trains stop daily at the station, the station is along Amtrak’s Vermonter, and Northeast Regional routes, and is a station stop on the New Haven – Springfield shuttle. Technically trains don’t run from the historical building – Amtrak occupies out of an addition underneath the viaduct carrying the railroad over the city, along with bus operators and a few fast food kiosks. One can, however, enter the addition from the historical depot.

If you’re ever passing through Hartford, the old station is at least worth a look. The stonework and detailing found on the exterior is undoubtedly beautiful, only marred by a few trappings of today – you’ll find security cameras just above decorative elements, and a garish Subway logo above a once more graceful arch. Be sure to check out the artwork at the top of the steps, and keep your eyes peeled for views of the the Capitol building from the platform.

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
 
  
 
  
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Cos Cob, and the Mianus River Railroad Bridge

Over the two and a half years I’ve maintained this blog, I’ve featured quite a few old railroad stations that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today is a little different, as not only do I have photos of another station that makes the list, but also of a bridge. I have mentioned Bridge L-158 before, and I’ve always thought it had a terrible name – though the Mianus River Railroad Bridge may be even worse. All you pretty much need to do is a google image search for Mianus – you’ll see plenty of fratboys (and the folks from the show Jackass) posing in front of various town signs. As much as they’d love to believe the name refers to a particular area on the body, it apparently derives from the name of a Native American chief.



Photos of the Mianus River Railroad Bridge taken in 1977 from the Library of Congress

The Mianus River Railroad Bridge (Sometimes referred to as the Cos Cob Bridge. Not to be confused with the Mianus River Bridge which carries I-95 over the river and famously collapsed in 1983) was built in 1904 by the American
Bridge Company. A previous two-track bridge existed in the same spot, but was deemed unsafe. However, not all parts of the previous bridge were dismantled, some portions were reused in the construction of the current four-track replacement bridge. Historically, this bridge was the final constructed portion of the railroad line linking New Haven and New York – completed on Christmas day, 1848.



Photos of Cos Cob station, first photograph is from 1946, and the second from 1954. Both are from the Dodd Research Center’s Railroad History Archive.

Located just west of the bridge is the Cos Cob train station. This building is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and was built around 1894. The wood-framed station is on the west-bound side of the tracks, and measures 50 feet by 20 feet. The station was constructed during a time when the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was working on a complete overhaul of the line. Curves were straightened, tracks were elevated to remove grade crossings where possible, and two tracks additional tracks were added for a total of four. The relatively simple station design was reused for other stops along the line as a cost-saving measure – the Old Greenwich station is an extant example.

Similar to many stations I’ve featured here, the railroad played an important part in the growth of the area. Greenwich became an upper-class suburb, and its citizens could easily commute by rail into the city. Looking out the window from the train, it is highly likely you’ll spot many boats and yacht clubs – and in the few photos I took of the Mianus River Railroad Bridge it is fairly difficult to even spot the bridge as there were so many boats.

Cos Cob is roughly 30 miles to Grand Central, and during off-peak times takes about an hour to get to the city. However, some express trains during peak hours make the journey in as little as 45 minutes. The station is one of four along the New Haven Line in the town of Greenwich, and the neighborhood of Cos Cob is one of fifteen that make up the town.

 
  
 
 
   
  
 
 
  
   
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: New Canaan

 

If it isn’t obvious, I’ve been to a lot of train stations. My current count of Metro-North stations that I’ve photographed stands at 83. I’ve chronicled my various issues here – cops in Melrose, a rent-a-cop in Bridgeport, and I’ve even had people yell at me that they didn’t want me pointing a camera in their direction (sorry, honey, but I’m trying to take a picture of that train, not you). However, this past weekend when I visited New Canaan I had a little bit of a different experience. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a person excited that I was taking a photos of their station. I saw an older man, and when he saw me with the camera, he said, “it is a nice day for it, it is a very iconic station.” I think he was actually proud of his station, and that I was taking photos there. That is a first.

Though when it comes to train stations, the citizens of New Canaan do have a lot to be proud of. Their station, originally built in 1868, is one of the oldest surviving (and currently in-use) stations in the state of Connecticut. There has been plenty of work on it since – and it has even been jacked up and moved in order to accommodate a high-level train platform. The platform itself is a bit deceiving, as entering from the parking lot it appears to be low-level. However, the station and parking lot is raised above the tracks, which is why the station had to be jacked up during its restoration. Most recently, there was an expansion of the tracks, so the new M8 trains could run on the branch line.

  
  
Undated photos of New Canaan station from the Library of Congress. They were most likely taken in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, and before the station was raised.

Somewhere along the way, New Canaan station, terminus of Metro-North’s New Canaan branch, and 41 miles from Grand Central Terminal, became a haven wealthy commuters to the city. Not surprisingly, the railroad played a significant part in the growth of New Canaan, as it made New York City easily accessible – in a little bit over an hour. Today’s New Canaan Branch started out as the New Canaan Railroad, which ran its first train on July 4th, 1868, from Stamford to New Canaan. In the 1880’s the line was leased to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and by 1890 had merged with them.


1913 view of the station


1945 view of New Canaan station

I will not lie – I very much enjoyed visiting New Canaan station, and New Canaan itself. I had been told that the area was quite wealthy, and en route to the station saw houses (mansions?!) with six car garages. But despite the station being one of the oldest around, it certainly didn’t look ancient. On the contrary, it was beautiful and well taken care of. And to my delight, it is even open on weekends (as you’ve seen from my many tour stops, this is usually not the case, and I’m trying to get photos through the windows). Though the ticket windows may no longer be in use, it is lovely to see how they once looked in a station many, many times older than I am (I’m even younger than Metro-North – and @MetroNorthTweet has worked for Metro-North longer than I’ve been alive!).

 
  
   
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 
  
 
 
  
 

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