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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Photos from Canaan Railway Days

Some months ago I randomly stumbled upon the old railroad depot in Canaan. Stumbled is really the appropriate word – I wasn’t looking for, nor expecting the station. I suppose one could say the station found me. In the original post I wrote about the station, I mentioned that I knew there had been a fire there, and after seeing fire photos in the internet I had assumed the station would be demolished. How wrong I was!

Apparently I am not the only person fascinated by the old Canaan depot. That original post has been one of the most popular stories on the blog this year. Not to mention that the people I’ve met from Canaan are fiercely proud of their depot, and proud of the railroading history of their town. Perhaps this is why I find them, and this depot so endearing.

The work on the station continues, and has progressed a little bit since the last time I was here. This time I was able to actually see the inside, which I hadn’t been able to do before. And I am not going to lie, seeing a train waiting on the platform right outside makes this place look so much more alive! I was only at the depot for a short time, and didn’t get a chance to partake in all of the activities (there was a parade, and even fireworks one night!), but I did manage to get a few photos…

 
  
  
 
 
  
 
   
 
   
  
    
   
  
 
  
 

As a side note, I noticed that on the depot’s website there is a form for ordering an engraved brick that will be placed at the station. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting one and having them write IRideTheHarlemLine.com on it (assumedly we’re not advanced enough to be placing QR codes on bricks…) Anyone want to contribute? They cost $150.

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Old & Abandoned: Middletown’s O&W Station

Despite only having returned from Africa a few weeks ago, I’m all ready for another vacation. Thankfully, I’m taking tomorrow off and will be spending the long weekend relaxing in the Poconos. I’m not even going to bring my laptop – though having my newly-acquired Blackberry somewhat defeats the purpose.

The one thing I couldn’t resist though, was to check and see if there were any interesting old rail stations nearby the place I’m staying. I found a beautiful one on the internet – only to find out that it was gutted by fire several years ago. What is it about train stations and fires? As if we didn’t have enough to worry about from people wanting to tear down history in the name of progress, fires have ravaged quite a few train stations that I’m familiar with. Canaan Union Station was the victim of an arson, Pawling’s station burned in 1984, and even beautiful Sharon had a fire, though it was later restored. The old Ontario and Western station that I happened to stop at last weekend was also the victim of a blaze, and for many years has just sat, lonely and abandoned.




Photos from YouTube video by kizzo11

There is something about HDR photos that somehow lend themselves to portraying the character of an abandoned ruin. Somehow they just feel more lonely, and a bit creepy. I’m not quite sure if I even like these photos, as they might be a little too much. But they do show the character of a once-beautiful station, constructed in 1892, until its apparent “death” in 2004. In the time between then it served as a station, then much later a nightclub, and as a home for various shops. But perhaps, there is hope for this place after all. The Middletown Community Health Center is looking to restore the station over the next three years, at an estimated cost of five-million dollars. Hopefully this place will have a happy ending after all.

 
 
   
   
 
   
 
    
   
   
 

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