Grand Central Station
Life Span: 1890-1971
Location: 201 W. Harrison Street
Architect: Solon Spencer Beman
The Inter Ocean, December 9, 1890
The Grand Central passenger station, on the corner of Harrison street and Fifth avenue, was formally dedicated yesterday shortly after noon by the hoisting of an American flag on the tall tower, the ceremonies being under the charge of the Grand Army posts of the State.
The orders were published on Friday last, by order of Department Commander Distin, and in conformity thereto at noon Grand Army Hall, No. 204 Dearborn street, was well filled with the wearers of the flag and bronze star.
With commendable and military promptitude the formation was made and the commands marched down to the depot.
H. H. Gage, Commander of George H. Thomas Post, was the Marshal of the day. The posts in line, numbering in total about 500 men, were: George H. Thomas, No. 5; Whittier, No. 7; Lyons, No. 9; U. S. Grant, No. 28; George A. Custer, No. 40; John Brown, No. 50; Abraham Lincoln, No. 91; Godfrey Weitzel, No. 425; Farragut, No. 602; Sheridan, No. 615; and a number of representatives from various posts. The procession was led by the Veterans’ Fife and Drum Corps, seventeen strong.
Architectural drawing of Solon S. Beman’s Grand Central Station at the corner of Fifth Ave. (Wells St.) and Harrison Street. 1889
On arriving at the depot, Quartermaster Sergeant Charles H. Sauter, of George H. Thomas Post, No. 5, mounted to the top of the tower. The line was drawn up on the north side of Harrison street, facing the depot.
Shortly after 12:30 o’clock the bugle sounded a call, the fifes and drums broke out with the stirring notes of “Yankee Doodle,” and the great crowd of onlookers joined un the swell of the Grand Army men as the big flag spread its gleaming folds out to the breeze.
The column was then formed again and marched into the main waiting-room of the depot. In the southwest corner of the room a big temporary platform on arches had been erected. It was covered with green draperies, festooned with evergreen ropes, and dotted with incandescent lamps. Toward this platform the column moved, the drums making a great fanfare in the big room. On the platform were Henry Vollard, chairman of the board of directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company; D. S. Wegg, president if that road; Senator C. B. Farwell, Colonel James A. Sexton, Commander H. H. Gage, and a number of gentlemen prominent in railroad and Grand Army circles.
Commander Gage then introduced Comrade H. H. Thomas, of Post 5. He spoke of the occasion that brought them together as being at first lost sight of through the mere fact of the presence of so many men whose devotion to the flag was tried and true. He then eulogized the flag and the men who had fought for what it represented. He elicited thunderous cheers as he referred to the movement in favor of raising the flag over the school houses two years ago. In no more noble place, he said, could it be seen. It was something of a novelty to be called on to celebrate the raising of a flag over a railroad depot and yet second thought would show that it was a proper thing to do, especially in Chicago “for,” said the speaker, “Chicago is the child of the railroads, and but for them might have been a Milwaukee, a Detroit or a St. Louis.”
In reply Henry Villard spoke briefly. He thanked the Grand Army for having so splendidly responded to the invitation to assist in dedicating a building which was an imperishable monument to the man whose enterprise had constructed those lines of road. He spoke of the various roads, the Chicago and Northern Pacific, the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City and the Wisconsin Central lines, that would use the structure, which with the terminal grounds and facilities had been leased by the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. He spoke of his first coming to Chicago in 1854. “It was not as a railroad king, as I am sometimes called, that I then came,” he said, “nor did I then imagine that thirty-six years later I should be standing before you in the position I now occupy.” His speech closed with repeated thanks to the Grand Army men.
Then the quartet sang: “One Hundred Years.” Colonel Sexton was, unexpectedly to himself, called on for as speech, and in response said that he felt as though he were at a Grand Army camp fire, and therefore at home. He had been asked what the Grand Army was doing, raising a flag over a business corporation? He had heard something said in the speeches about “advertising.” For his part he was not surprised at the action of the Grand Army, for America was made up of business men, and business men it was who fought the battles of the war. As for the advertising, if there was any, it was mutual. “What does it matter,” he concluded, “whether this be a business corporation for which we raised a flag? The Grand Army will always turn out, whoever and whatever may be the institution that calls on us to do, if what is wanted of us is to raise the flag we venerate and love.”
“America” was then sung by all present and at 1:30 o’clock the column was marched back to the hall at No. 204 Dearborn street and dismissed.
The Inter Ocean, December 9, 1890
The depot covers an area of three and six-tenths acres. The frontage on Harrison street is 226 feet and on Fifth avenue 680 feet. The foundation of the building consists of pilings the length of the piles being thirty feet under the lighter parts and fifty feet under the main piers and the tower.
The total length of piling driven was nine and one-half miles. Each pile under the tower carries a load of twenty-four tons. On top of the piles are boxes of foot square oak timbers, four inches apart and filled in with concrete. An eighteen inch concrete bed topped this, and on the bed the dimension stones were laid.
The tower is 236 feet high from the foundation, is twenty-seven feet square, and weighs 6,000 tons. The first twenty-nine feet is built of Connecticut brown stone. There are fifteen stories in the tower, nine iof which are used for offices, the upper four of these being reached by a special electrical elevator. The Seth Thomas clock is the second largest in the United States having a dial thirteen and a half feet in diameter. The hours are struck on a five ton bell by a hammer weighing 250 pounds. The pendulum weighs 700 pounds. This clock electrically controls all the clocks throughout the depot. The flagstaff rises nearly sixty feet above the tower.
The main waiting-room is an enormous apartment 71 feet by 267, with a ceiling twenty-five feet high. The room projects twenty-seven feet west of the office building above, the floors and walls of which are carried on sixteen heavy steel columns twenty-four feet long and two and a half feet in diameter. Two hundred and forty incandescent lamps light this noble room. The floor is of Champlain, and the eight and a half foot wainscoting is of Tennessee marble. At the south end of the waiting-room is the ladies’ parlor, a handsomely furnished room 32 feet by 40.
An eight-foot passage-way leads from the center of the south and to the baggage-rooms, and over the the passage a double marble staircase leads up to the big dining-room, 56×73 feet, on the mezzanine floor.
The characteristic features of the structures are the carriage-drive, the train shed, the rooms just described, and the admirable new system of handling with swiftness and safety a large amount of traffic.
There are four great classes of passengers to be handled. Those leaving Chicago, those coming into Chicago, suburban travelers, and emigrants. Each class has full space and accommodation without interfering with the others.
Passengers arriving in the city pass directly to the carriage drive, and thence to the street. Outgoing passengers go directly from the waiting-room to their trains, while separate entrances, and exits are provided for suburbanites. The emigrant-room is 470 feet from the main entrance.
The carriage drive is a court underneath the west wing of the building, and lies north of the train shed, opening on Harrison street, with three full arches each thirty-seven feet span and twenty-one feet high. The court is 146 by 117 feet, and is surrounded on three sides by a sixteen-foot sidewalk. The floor of this court is supported on thirty piers and eighty cast iron columns.
In this lower space are two 350 horse-power boilers, three engines to run dynamos, the power for running the three hydraulic elevators, and two air compressors. The exhaust steam is used to heat the building.
The engines furnish 550 horse-power and run five dynamos and two are light machines with a total lighting capacity of 127,000 candles. The air compressors furnish the power to operate the switches, block signals, the drawbridges, and all crossing gates within four miles of the station.
The train shed, as it is modestly called, consists of a single arched span of a radius of 59¼ feet, making a clear span of 119 feet, with the roof projecting on either side a distance of 13½ feet, giving the shed a total width of 146 feet over all. The roof, of corrugated, galvanized steel and three-eighths inch ribbed glass is supported on fifteen latticed steel arches, placed at forty-0foot centers, making the total length of the shed 560 feet, The sides and ends are open for ventilation. The entire floor is covered with lithogen pavement, the the four pavements being elevated ten inches above the rail. These platforms are 19 feet wide, and between them are three pairs of tracks, each pair occupying twenty-three feet. Midway between each pair of tracks there is a nine-inch sewer, with numerous catch-basins. A complicated and costly system of construction permits a stream of water to be turned on any part of the floor space, either platforms or tracks, the water escaping immediately below.
Through the center of the shed runs a conduit for a steam pipe to furnish heat to standing cars and to carry a system of electric wires from all trains to the annunciator in the train-starter’s office. The lighting is done by sixty groups of incandescent lamps, ninety thirty-two-candle power lamps at each end arch, and serves powerful arc lights high up under the arches.
Eleven tracks are employed in the passenger yard. Six tracks under the arch of the shed and one east and another west, eight in all, will be used exclusively for passenger traffic. The most easterly track will be used for express matter, and the next two west of this will be used for incoming and outgoing baggage.
The most interesting thing about this great depot is the wonderful system of connecting up these tracks so as to gain the maximum efficiency in the space. This system is as follows:
All of the switches between Twelfth street and the train shed will be controlled by a pneumatic interlocking system under the control of a man in a tower at Polk street by means of a series of small levers, each of which is not over eight inches long. By these levers any switch can be set and the trainman be signaled that the track is ready, but it is impossible to give a signal for a train to approach any switch point until the switch is in position and locked, and only when this is the case will the lever controlling the signal be unlocked so that the engineer will be notified to move ahead.
The train starter notifies the man in the tower what particular track is required, and when a train is ready to fo and on what track. This is accomplished by a clever device which automatically displays the yard in miniature simultaneously in the train master’s office and in the signal tower.
The drawbridge will be interlocked in the same manner as any switch, and before it can be unlocked and opened the derailing points on all the tracks approaching it must be opened. A beautiful automatic electro-pneumatic system is brought into play to handle the bridge switches and signals.
A very complete and novel automatic pneumatic block signaling system, operated by the air compressors at the depot, controls the tracks out as far as the Panhandle crossing, something over four miles. An open switch, a broken rail or even a car standing on a sidetrack at less than clearance distance displays block and danger signals. And in case of failure of the apparatus in any of its parts the failure of the apparatus in any of its parts the signal goes to danger all along the line at once. The same system likewise operates all the crossing gates in the same distance.
At 8 o’clock in the evening the big building was thrown open, and for two hours it was thronged with visitors.
Certainly 10,000 people came in and looked about and expressed their admiration in all sorts of ways and in a dozen different languages.
Although many hundred invitations had been sent by mail to prominent citizens inviting them and their wives and daughters to attend the opening yet it was not an exclusive reception, for the wide doors were a hospitable invitation to every one to come in.
They came by companies, by divisions, and cohorts, thousands of them came, but the big depot swallowed them all up and still the doors gaped open ready to take in fully as many more.
A crowd, whatever it may mean elsewhere, in Chicago means a great throng of intelligent men and women, quick to appreciate each and every material advance made in or for Chicago, and equally quick to give expression to that appreciation. It means, too, a cosmopolitan crowd. Last night beside the shiny silk hat of the city father was to be seen the crimson fez of the Armenian and Turk, and to the broad, drawled accents of the Englishman echoed the sharp French or sonorous Spanish or liquid Italian, Germans, Irish, Africans, Poles, Chinese, all the world was represented in that most fitting of assembly rooms for such a crowd, the huge waiting room of an enormous passenger station.
At first sight the main waiting-room does not reveal its own size, for its harmonious proportions deceive the eye. But some idea may be gained of its dimensions from the fact that the lowest computations placed the number of people congregated on the floor at one time at 3,000, and yet there was evidently room for half as many more before the crowd would become uncomfortably jammed.
The broad double staircase at the south end of the room, with a big arched door at its summit leading to a brilliantly lighted room, was the first objective point of the crowd. Up one side and down the other at the rate of 200 every five minutes, for three hours the procession carelessly poured. The big room was the dining room. It was set with many tables covered with snowy cloths and nothing more.
A good many who had received invitations evidently expected that the reception was to be a very small affair for the invited few only, and not a few of these came in all the glory of evening dress.
The great crowd dampened their spirits, but the sight of these tables revived them again, and down they sat, calmly waiting for the moment when the non-invited should go and the silver and glass and porcelain and their contained good things be displayed in tempting array for their special delight. But later on they realized the facts, and with the other thousands walked through and inspected the ample kitchen, with its great hooded range and battery of brazen casseroles, the big larder and steam table and then went out to listen to the music again.
For all this while, ever since the 250-pound hammer up in the tower had ponderously struck the five-ton bell eight sonorous blows, Nevan’s and Fisher’s band of forty pieces had been industriously engaged in a not altogether unsuccessful attempt to fill the great edifice full of music. And while a few thousands became scattered and almost lost here and there all over the building, a lot more thousands compactly stood, satisfied to just look at the big waiting-room, at their neighbors, and applaud the really good music. This was the programme:
The sides and ends of the 350-foot train shed are left out—for ventilation, the designers said. Last night ventilation, in big chunks, and of decidedly chilly aspect, filled up the shed with great unanimity. There were no trains in the way, nothing to hinder ventilation getting its work in except a few score of inquisitive great-coated men who wandered up and down the broad platform and admired the myriad incandescent blazing lamps shining like stars, while the fierce arc lights away up sixty feet overhead blazed like suns.
The carriage drive elicited perhaps the very heartiest admiration. Chicagoans are surfeited with great buildings floored and walled and ceiled with marble. They found comparatively little new, therefore, to admire within. But the carriage drive is a novelty, and it so fully and so splendidly fulfills its purpose that it received unqualified praise from all who visited it. Nor did the wonder grow less when the visitor to the room where these great engines were driving the seven big dynamos that light the building were situated, learned that the ceiling of that room was the floor of the carriage drive above.
It was nearly 11 o’clock before the “Clear the Track” galop ended with a shout of “Chicago! All out!” and the reception was over.
Grand Central Station
Waiting Room and Train Shed
Harper’s Weekly September 12, 1891
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
Chicago Great Western Railway
Grand Central Station, 1922
The Baltimore & Ohio’s Capital Limited as it prepares to depart Grand Central station
Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1945
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.
LEFT: Chicago Great Western Advertisement, 1896
RIGHT: Chicago Great Western Advertisement, 1905
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.
Grand Central Station
201 W. Harrison Street
Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views, 1893
Grand Central Station
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1969
BY EDITH HERMAN
Passengers will walk by the marble columns of Granb Central Station for the last time today.
The last train to use the station, the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad’s Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids, Mich., will leave at 5:58 p.m. signalling the end of what once was the bustling hub of Chicago travel.
The Chesapeake and Ohio and Baltimore and Ohio railroads, the only two left of 26 railroads once bringing passengers into the station, will be rerouted to the Chicago and Northwestern railway station.
The city plans to raze the building soon, freeing the land for ne development. Abandoning Grand Central Station is the city’s first step in a hoped-for consolidation of railway terminals south of the loop.
It means progress, a station official had said, but “it also means the end of an era.”
Built in 1890, the station has seen everything from gentlemen in bowler hats to teenagers in mini-skirts. The Harry Truman Presidential Special took its first run to Washington from Grand Central station.
An Architectural First
It was considered an architectural beauty a structural first. It was the first to be constructed entirely on piles driven 50 feet below the surface to a layer of hard clay.
Designed in the motif of early Norman castles, the station had a waiting room floor of Vermont marble. Intricate carvings rise from 25-foot high marble columns. An 11,000 pound bell once tolled the hours on the 13-foot dial grand clock, then the second largest clock in the United States.
Grand Central station first was called the Wisconsin Central station. Constructed under a charter of the Chicago and Northern Pacific railroad company, it was acquired by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in 1910.
In those days, its passenger list read like a who’s who. Now footsteps echo in its hollow marble waiting room.
TOP: Marble columns of Grand Central station, which were part of an era of railroads, stand majestically on the eve of the closing of the famous terminal.
BOTTOM LEFT: Grass and weeds already have begun to grow along tracks of entrance to Grand Central station.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Workman walks platform at train shed on his last night shift at station.
Grand Central Station
Fred Ash says
Grand Central was built by the Northern Pacific, which never got withing 400 miles of Chicago. As they say, “make big plans.” The NP leased the Wisconsin Central, but quickly lost its control. The station was a separate company whose control was lost by both the NP and the WC. The station once served many commuter trains from western suburbs, but these lines became part of the Chicago and West Towns streetcar system.