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Chicago’s Railroad Stations
Grand Central Station
Life Span: 1890-1971
Location: 201 W. Harrison Street
Architect: Solon Spencer Beman
Grand Central Station was a passenger railroad terminal in downtown Chicago, Illinois, from 8 December 1890 to 8 November 1969. It was located at 201 W. Harrison Street in the south-western part of the Chicago Loop, the block bounded by Harrison Street, Wells Street, Polk Street and the Chicago River. Grand Central Station was designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman for the Wisconsin Central Railroad, and was completed by the Chicago and Northern Pacific Railroad.
Fronts 228 feet on Harrison Street and 482 feet on Fifth Avenue, at the southwest corner, where its square tower rises to a height of 243 feet, and holds a clock-bell weighing nearly 6 tons. The arches open for carriages, which may themselves enter the building, and the equipment of the whole edifice is regarded with pride by all railroad men and architects. The fore building is 100 feet high, with 7 stories and basement, constructed of Connecticut brownstone, brick, terra cotta, and steel.
There are 3 elevators. This station is the terminal of the Chicago & Northern Pacific (Wisconsin Central), Chicago Great Western, Baltimore & Ohio, Chicago Central, and Chicago & Southwestern railroads. The seating capacity of the waiting-rooms is 1,800, and 77 trains carry 10,000 passengers daily. The open train-shed, which is 560 feet long, covers 7 tracks, each accommodating 7 coaches and locomotive. This magnificent improvement was completed in 1890, and to serve the depot and not close Fifth Avenue the approach to Polk Street bridge, south of Harrison Street, was turned sidewise, and made architecturally a part of the station.
Grand Central Station was eventually purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which used the station as the Chicago terminus for its passenger rail service, including its Capitol Limited service to Washington, D.C. Major tenant railroads included the Soo Line Railroad, successor to the Wisconsin Central, the Chicago Great Western Railway, and the Pere Marquette Railway. The station opened December 8, 1890, closed on November 8, 1969, and torn down in 1971.
“Grand Central Depot”
Published in “Harper’s Weekly” September 1891
Chicago Tribune December 9, 1890
THRONGS of men and women of all classes flowed in and out of the portals of the new Grand Central passenger station of the Northern Pacific railroad at Harrison street and Fifth avenue. A general reception to the public was arranged to celebrate the opening of the new depot, and thousands of people took advantage of it. Hundreds of young men found it a good opportunity to spend an evening out with their best girls, and some women came without escorts.
It was a jolly crowd, and it admired the “vacant hugeness” as Carlyle would say, of the general waiting-room and enjoyed the performance of Maj. Nevans’ band, which was perched on a temporary stand near the marble stairway at the south end of the waiting-room, leading to the dining-room. The reception was not intended to be a high-toned affair, but it was given to the great condition people. And the great common people were there, too numerous to give any names. There was one World’s Fair director, T. J. Lefens, Postmaster Sexton, Col. John T. Adair, Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Nash, Henry C. Mechelko and a few others as well known.
Made Themselves at Home.
The proletariat made up the greater part of the attendance and promenaded through the vast rooms They were permitted to inspect everything.
The tables in the dining-room were covered with white spreads when the reception began, and some waiters with white aprons. The kitchen looked inviting, the barbershop palatial.The emigrant-room gave an impression hardly in keeping with its purposes.
But the finest and most impressive effect was in the general waiting-room. This is an oblong, rectangular space, reaching from the entrance at Harrison street almost the whole length of the depot along Fifth avenue. It has a lofty ceiling, supported by columns; the walls are marble-plated around the base. The general effect of the coloring is yellow, setting off to advantage the radiance from the rosettes of incandescent electric lights, of which one is set in the center of each square formed by four pillars.
Against the east wall of this room is a fireplace with a mantel of gigantic proportions. The fireplace was filled with bouquets and potted forms, and around it groups of people were seated comfortably as the great crowd would allow. The walls of the halls are plain and unadorned with anything but the splendor of the marble plates. The interior of the building is in keeping with its outward simplicity.
Grand Central Station
Waiting Room and Train Shed
From Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
Arriving in Chicago:
Grand Central Station (Harrison Street and Fifth Avenue), serving the Chicago & Northern Pacific, the Chicago Great Western, and the Baltimore & Ohio. This station is numbered 7 on our map of down-town hotels and stations. You have arrived in the new and magnificent station at Harrison Street and Fifth Avenue, where the invention and experience of railroad men have joined to make your reception agreeable, safe, and convenient. The eating arrangements, roominess, and solidity of this structure will not soon fade from your ‘memory. To the right, as the handsome waiting-room is entered, are the baggage-rooms, lunch-counter, barber-shop, and ladies’ retiring rooms. The restaurant (cafe) is reached by ascending the marble staircase. To the left, as you approach the main exit at the corner of Harrison Street and Fifth Avenue, will be found ticket and telegraph offices, parcel-room, and bureau of information. As you face the locomotive, in your car, the north is before you, and Lake Michigan to your east. The hotels in the vicinity
are the Crescent and Lindell. Nearly all the well-advertised houses will be found within a half-mile north and northeast. On leaving the station, you reach Harrison Street, the southern limit of the Great Fire east of that point; the street running north is Fifth Avenue, and the horse-cars on this street are your only cheap means of riding to the business center. The Twelfth Street horse-cars come by on Fifth Avenue, and the Taylor Street cars on Harrison.
Note carefully that some of the Twelfth say “Randolph,” some ” State Street,” or ” Van Buren and State.” In nearly every case you need the car with the “Randolph” sign. The only exception is that if you wish to go south or to the World’s Fair, take the Van Buren and State Street (the Twelfth Street cars) or any Taylor Street car to State Street or Wabash Avenue, where you may take either the State Street or Wabash Avenue cables. Southern points are also reached by the Illinois Central suburban trains from the Lake Front,’ opposite Van Buren Street, or by the Elevated, on Congress near State Street.
The Wabash Avenue cable is the best cable for the Fair, as the State Street is not so direct. The Elevated carries passengers to the Fair. If you wish to walk across, these southern thoroughfares are about four blocks east, but Harrison Street is crossed by many railway tracks, and you will do wisely to take the street-cars and avoid danger. To go north (Lincoln Park), take (only) Randolph and Twelfth Street car at door on Fifth Avenue and ride to Dearborn Street, then take north cable (two fares, 5 cents each). To go west (Garfield Park), take (only) Randolph and Twelfth Street car, on Fifth Avenue, and go north to Washington Street for Madison Street cable. For the northwest (Humboldt Park), same car to Washington Street for Milwaukee Avenue cable. For the southwest, take Taylor Street or Twelfth Street car to Van Buren Street for Blue Island Avenue cable, or Randolph and Twelfth Street cars to Washington Street for Ogden Avenue car on Madison Street cable. Remember, also, that interior southwest points can be reached by taking, at the door, the two horse cars of which we have now so often spoken. Of the great hotels, the nearest is the Grand Pacific, and when you have reached that, there are fifty not four blocks away. Consult especially paragraphs 1 and 5 for petty details on arrival, and look at the map for hotels. A conspicuous clock inside the depot and a towTer clock outside will both give you the standard lime for all railroads in Chicago, one hour slower than New York time. The clock tower at the northeast corner of the station is 242 feet in height, the bell of the big clock weighing 11,000 pounds.
Grand Central Station Roads Serviced
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad
Chicago, Great Western Raliway (Maple Leaf Route)
Maple Leaf Route (C. Gt. Western Ry.)
Pere Marquette Railroad
Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie
Grand Central Station, 1922
Architectural drawing of Solon S. Beman’s Grand Central Station at the corner of Fifth Ave. (Wells St.) and Harrison Street. 1889
Grand Central Station
201 W. Harrison Street
Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views, 1893
Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1945
GRAND CENTRAL STATION! RELIC OF CARRIAGE ERA
BY ROBERT HOWARD
Chicago’s Grand Central station is a relic of tile carriage days, hidden away In tlhe wholesale district southwest of the loop. Used since 1891 and owned by a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company, it is one of the four passenger terminals for which abandonment and consolidation have been proposed.
The station, at the southwest corner of Harrison and Wells sts., can be reached only by taxi, private auto, or street car.
Civic leaders for years have urged that the Grand Central and other south side stations be replaced by a consolidated terminal, preferably on the lake front. Passenger convenience, operating economy, and the elimination of railroad blockades south of the loop would be objectives.
Station Has Fewest Trains
The Grand Central Is Chicago’s least used station. The Dearborn station is smaller, but fewer trains unload and depart from the Grand Central. The Baltimore & Ohio schedules 12 daily passenger trains, not counting extra sections, to Washington, D. C., and New York. It also provides tracks and station for three other railroads, none important as passenger carriers into Chicago.
The Pere Marquette has six trains daily to and from Michigan and eastern Canada. The Chicago Great Western, which heads into the corn country, and the Soo Line, northwestward, have four trains .
H. B. Voorhees, vice president and executive in Chicago for the B. & O. and president of the Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad company, the subsidiary that holds title to the station, commented 15 years ago, when terminal consolidation was a live issue, that he would be interested in a new station only if it gave him a connection with a road to the Pacific coast. He declined to state his current views on the subject at the start of deliberations by a new committee of railroad executives, of which he is a member, which is studying the southside terminal problem.
Bought by B. & 0. in 1910
For 16 million dollars at a mortgage foreclosure sale in 1910, the B. & O. acquired the Grand Central station and formed the Chicago Terminal company to manage It. Included in the deal were rolling stock and 237 miles of track and sidIng. It now operates 282 miles of track in Chicago and vicinity.
The subsidiary does an extensive switching business and trackage rental from other lines. For 1944, the balance sheet showed roads and equipment valued at 49 millions, operating of $6,300,000, and net railway operating income of $609,146. Outstanding is a 32 million bond issue owned by the parent company.
The B. & O.’s Liberty passengers, en roule eastward, also get a good look at Chicago’s west side, since the Grand Central statIon is reached over the D. & O. C. T.’s circuitous right of way which turns westward at 16th st. and goes beyond Western av. By track improvements and the use of interlocking switches, the B. & O. has cut to 12 minutes the extra running time required to get out of town, Voorhees said.
Uses Union Stations Elsewhlere
As In Chicago, the B. & O. has off center terminal facilities In New York. The end of the track Is at Jersey City, N. J., whence passengers are given bus rides into New York and Brooklyn. It uses union stations in Washington, D. C., St. Louis, Mo., Indianapolis, Ind., and Toledo, Dayton, and Columbus, O., in some of which it has joint ownership.
Inside the 54 year old station the main wailing room measures 70 by 200 feet and provides room for five ticket windows, 10 telephone booths, and a cramped soda fountain. The combined lunch room and restaurant is up a flight of stairs. The baggage room is located as far as possible from the train and street entrances.
Taxis Use Carriage Court
One improvement has been to convert the interior “carriage court” to a taxi stand opening on Harrison st. It is six steps down to the rail level of the six stub and station tracks.
The station was built by the Chicago and Northern Pacific railroad as a terminal for the old Wisconsin Central. It first underwent a receivership In 1897.