2016 has been bookended by two major moves for me – early in the year I was settling in to a new place in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, and at the end of the year I find myself settling in to a new place in the Buffalo, New York area. Busy seems to be an understatement when you find yourself traveling through at least 18 different states, and spending the equivalent of nearly three months in different hotel rooms. Of course, throughout it all I kept my camera by my side. This post roughly continues where Part 1 left off – but I’ve aptly attempted to bookend it with Harrisburg, and the Buffalo – a true reflection of 2016.
Snow falls on the Keystone Corridor in Middletown
Another cloudy day as the Conrail heritage unit passes over the Rockville Bridge
I lived in Camp Hill for nearly a year, and I finally made it a point to take a photo of the old station…
Continuing off from the previous Never Ending Journey post, my road trip back from Atlanta led us to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where I heard that the Secret City Scenic would be ending operations. Sadly, their operating agreement was not renewed, and they would no longer be permitted to run trains. Since we were not far, we dropped in to see the final excursions, and snap a few photos.
Just about twelve years ago I hopped on a plane bound for Brazil to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. I lived in smaller city named Toledo – in the south-west of the country, not too far from the borders of Argentina and Paraguay, and the famed Iguaçu Falls. It was a nice place – think quaint Appalachian mining town with a little of White Plains mixed in – but hardly a city that would get significant numbers of tourists. While I lived there I had a host brother that was some years older than me, and he recounted his first visit to the United States. As is customary in many South American cultures, the 15th birthday is a big deal, and a lot of upper middle class folks reward their children with a big trip. Most tend to choose interesting places like Disney World, or New York. My host brother had a different idea – he wanted to go to another city called Toledo.
Toledo, Ohio is likewise a city I can’t imagine gets immense amounts of tourists (though apparently there are some modern rail hobos), but it certainly is a nice enough place. I’m not too sure what my host brother actually did here when he was fifteen – perhaps took a trip to the zoo – but it really doesn’t have the allure of say, Disney. Once upon a time, however, Toledo did get quite a few visitors, and many of them by train. The state of Toledo’s rail station today is really a visual reminder of not just the fall of passenger rail travel, but of the steady 40+ year decline of Toledo’s population.
In embracing modernity, the above 1800s Toledo station was replaced with the current brick and glass box. People hated this building so much that they cheered when it caught fire and burnt down. I think they’re crazy.
The replacement – Central Union Terminal postcard, and tickets from Toledo from 1950.
Central Union Terminal, opened in 1950, is claimed by Wikipedia editors to be the last “great” railroad station built by the New York Central. A modern structure made of brick and glass, it certainly doesn’t have the same charm as many of the Central’s older stations. When opened, the station had about 55 daily departures – compare that with today’s paltry 4 departures. The island platforms that connected to the main station, once filled with people, are relatively dormant today. The passageways leading from these platforms to the station proper have long been shuttered, and are fastened shut with rusted chain for good measure. Some lonely platform canopies protect ripped out platforms, and others just stand over rusted rails. Toledo may be Ohio’s busiest railroad station, but from some angles it looks quite abandoned.
The old passageway to the platforms can now hold quite a few chairs… note the doors on either side that led to the island train platforms below. More photos of the event space in the station can be found here.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, as it is called now, is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, and Capitol Limited. With trains arriving at the station during hours many are asleep (11:39 PM, 2:50 AM, 5:22 AM and 6:15 AM), the station functions on opposite schedule – the waiting room is open most night hours, and closed during the day. Though the waiting rooms for the trains were once in a more attractive spot on the third floor, during renovations the waiting area was relegated to the bottom floor. The former waiting area on the third floor is now an event space able to hold 650 people… so in reality, this station is pretty cool – if you’re looking to host a wedding reception.
If half-abandoned rail platforms aren’t your thing, there’s at least a bunch of freight traffic through Toledo that you can check out. I even caught my first Norfolk Southern heritage unit… awww. In case you’re curious, the folks watching the train in the first photo were the aforementioned “hobos.”
1930 poster of Cleveland Union Terminal by Leslie Ragan
There’s no denying it… the star ceiling in Grand Central Terminal is wonderful (and even cool enough for someone to actually get a Grand Central tattoo). But I must admit that after recently visiting Tower City Center (the former Cleveland Union Terminal), I was absolutely mesmerized by the ceiling there. It isn’t hard to see why – the repetitive pattern of flowers is not only beautiful, but almost hypnotic. Besides the two terminals having attractive ceilings, Cleveland’s terminal was influenced by some of Grand Central’s innovative designs. Tracks were built below ground, with the terminal building and tower constructed atop (making use of the “air rights”), and stores and hotels were constructed in adjoining buildings, ensuring that a traveler never had to step foot outside if that was their wish.
Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White and officially opened in 1930, the Cleveland Union Terminal complex was comprised of several buildings, and included the impressive Terminal Tower. The fourth tallest building in the world when constructed (and second tallest in the US), the tower was 52 stories and 708 feet tall, and remains one of the most notable features in Cleveland’s skyline. Politically, the two parts were separated by ownership – the terminal was owned by the Cleveland Union Terminal company, and the tower by the Cleveland Terminals Building company. The Nickel Plate, New York Central, and Big Four railways were the primary stockholders of the Cleveland Union Terminal company, and thus the main train building.
Cleveland Union Terminal construction photos.
Though the railroads certainly had an investment, the main figures behind the station were Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, eccentric brothers that developed the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Village (now Shaker Heights). Part of that development included an interurban streetcar link from the village to downtown Cleveland, called the Cleveland Interurban Railroad. Eventually the brothers envisioned a train terminal that would connect their railroad with the other streetcars and railroads in Cleveland, and the concept for Cleveland Union Terminal was born.
Postcard and matchbook from Union terminal. The “Busy Person’s Correspondence Card” may be one of the best postcards I’ve ever seen.
Photos of Cleveland Union Terminal in 1987, before much of the renovations to turn the station into a mall occurred.
Today Cleveland’s light rail uses the station, but beyond that longer distance trains have disappeared. Amtrak moved their operations to a newly built station closer to the waterfront in the ’70s. The original station platforms were for the most part demolished to create a parking garage. After extensive renovations the building now goes by the name of Tower City Center, and houses a shopping mall, restaurants, a movie theater, casino and two hotels. Despite all these changes, much of the entranceway from Public Square looks as it did when first constructed, including that mesmerizing ceiling.
Entrance to Cleveland Union Terminal from Public Square. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.