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Chicago’s Railroad Stations
Chicago & Northwestern Station
Life Span: 1881-1910
Location: SW corner of N. Wells and W. Kinzie Sts. at the Chicago River (Merchandise Mart)
Architect: William W. Boyington
The Chicago & North Western Railway built their Wells Street Station (located on the site of the Merchandise Mart) in 1881 in an effort to consolidate their commuter passenger business at one location. The building was noted for its restaurants and spacious waiting rooms.
From RAND, McNALLY & Co’s BIRD’S-EYE VIEWS and GUIDE TO CHICAGO 1893
At the southwest corner of Wells and Kinzie streets, is the terminal of the Chicago & North-Western Railway system, and it is the only one of the six great depots that accommodates the trains of a single company exclusively. Suburban residents at Austin, Oak Park, Maywood, etc., arrive here in large numbers daily. It is only in recent years that the West Side depots of the North-Western have been abandoned and all North-Western trains brought to Wells Street. The handsome station (see “Arrival in Chicago”) fronts 188 feet on Wells and 280 feet on Kinzie Street, with a general height of 80 feet; but the central tower on Wells Street rises to 188 feet, and holds a large clock. The building has 5 floors, one of which is on the level of the railway-tracks. The exterior is of red brick and Ohio sandstone, and the 5-story structure stands in front of a train-shed which covers 12 tracks, accommodating 90 passenger coaches and 12 locomotives. About 200 passenger trains arrive and depart each day, carrying about 32,000 people. The station was erected in 1881-82
Two takes of the Chicago and Northwestern passenger depot in 1887. Top photo taken at 9:30 am, bottom at 9:35 am. Visible are the stages of the Parmelee Transfer which shuttled between all Chicago railroad terminals. The City of Chicago granted Parmalee the exclusive franchise for station transfer trade moving passengers and baggage, which the company held until 1971. After Amtrak consolidated inter-city railroad passenger services at Chicago’s Union Station, Parmalee ceased operations under the Parmalee name, but continues as Continental Airport Express.
From Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
Arrival in Chicago
Wells Street Station (corner of Wells and Kinzie streets), serving the system of the Chicago & North-Western. Standing with face toward the locomotive, in your car, you also face Lake Michigan, or east, with the south on your right. The station at which you have arrived is numbered 2 on our map of down-town hotels and stations. You have entered the city directly northwest of the business district of Chicago, and the most interesting parts o the city lie to your right, for you are at the northernmost station, and already on the North Side. A cable-car near by will carry you for 5 cents to the center of the town, or, if you are bound north (Lincoln Park), you are already well on your journey, and may safely take the cable going that way. To get to any one of the other main routes of our first paragraph, take the cable-car close by for the center of the town, and reach Washington Street, where cables run to west, northwest, and southwest (Douglas Park) points as follows: For Humboldt Park, on the northwest, take Milwaukee Avenue cable, asking conductor which car; for Garfield Park, on the west, Madison Street cable; for Douglas Park, on the southwest, board Ogden Avenue car, always last on Madison Street cable train. But to go far southwest, on Blue Island Avenue, take a horse-car that runs from Wells Street Station to Dearborn Station, and ride on to Van Buren Street, on which the Blue Island Avenue cable runs. For the World’s Fair, the same horse-car will take you to within two blocks of the Elevated station, or within four blocks of the lake shore suburban service of the Illinois Central; or the cable near your station will carry you within two blocks of the South Side cables running on Wabash Avenue. A cab or bus may properly be taken if the transfer is to be from one depot to another, although there is a convenient line of horse-cars (spoken of above) that runs from here to the Dearborn Station (fare 5 cents). On leaving this station you find yourself on Wells Street. East two blocks is North Clark Street, an important thoroughfare leading straight to Lincoln Park, on which you will find hotels such as the Revere, Grand Palace, Waters, Clarendon, Damon, Davenport, Hammond, Howard, European, Normandie, Superior, and Teller’s. The Virginia and Granada are family hotels that do not quote rates, and require references. The following houses may be found very near the station: Colombo, Danraark (German), American, Garden City (Swiss), Garfield, Metropolitan, North City, Neef’s (French and German), Anna, Bradford, and Le Grand. Lauterbach’s and the Columbia hotels are farther east, on North Slate. AH the very large public houses of Chicago are on the South Side, but to reach some of them only a short walk over the bridge need be taken. The Briggs, Sherman, Tremont, Merchants, and Commercial, together with the Nicollct, Germania, Currier’s, Henrici, Ogden, Old Metropolitan, Hamburg, and Barnes (West Side), all cater naturally to guests who come from this Wells Street Station, which is near them, though across the river. Beautiful flowers are sold here, and all the appurtenances of a new and first-class structure are in plain sight.
On the first floor, or basement, to the right of the main stairway, are the lunch-counter, news stand, baggage-room, and closets; to the left, ticket and telegraph offices, smoking room, and depotmaster’s quarters. Ascending the stairs to the main floor, the restaurant (cafe) is at the left, or north; the waiting-rooms and parcel-booth occupy the entire middle and southern portions. You must cross the Wells Street bridge over the main river, close at hand, to reach the business section of the city. The thoroughfare called Wells Street north of the bridge is called Fifth Avenue south of it. There is a clock in the tower of the station, showing standard time, an hour slower than New York time.
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot in 1881
J. W. Taylor, Photographer
From The Standard Guide to Chicago For the Year 1891
Passenger Depot.—The central station or passenger depot of the Chicago & North-Western railway in Chicago is located at the corner of Wells and Kinzie streets, North Side. It is a new and magnificent structure, where every accommodation is provided for the traveling public. Trains arrive at and leave this depot at intervals of a few minutes from daylight till midnight every day, from and for all points in the great West and Northwest. The visitor will be interested in the morning or evening by watching the immense throngs of people arriving and departing, and observing the admirable system which is maintained, and the total absence of confusion. Depot agents are on hand to see that strangers make no mistakes in boarding trains.
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot in 1898
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot in 1886
From Andreas’ History of Chicago
From The Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1881:
It has heretofore been announced in The Tribune that the new depot of the Chicago & Nothwestern, at the corner of Wells and Kinzie streets, has been opened for the trains of the Galena Division. Commencing next Monday, May 23, the trains which now arrive and depart from the Kinzie street depot will also commence running into and out of the new depot. On that day the following changes in the running of trains will be made:
The Wisconsin Division train from Green Bay will arrive in Chicago at 5:45 p.m., instead of 6:15 p.m. as at present.
The Milwaukee Express, which leaves Chicago at 5 p.m., will not stop after that date at Evanston, as it has done heretofore.
The Winnetka passenger, which now leaves Chicago at 5 p.m., will leave at 5:05 p.m., and there will be a new train put on which will be known as the Evanston fast express, which will leave Chicago at 4:45 p.m. and arrive in Evanston at 5:20 p.m., and will leave Evanston at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 6:30 p.m.
On the same date there will be put two additional trains on the Wisconsin Division; one, the Lake Geneva express, will leave Chicago at 4:15 p.m., and arrive at Lake Geneva at 6:30 p.m., and will leave Lake Geneva at 7:40 a.m. and return to Chicago at 9:50 a.m.: the other, the Desplaines passenger or Wisconsin Division theatre train, will leave Chicago at 11:00 p.m. and arrive at Desplaines at 11:55 p.m., and leave Des Plaines at 5:55 a.m. and arrive at Chicago at 6:50 a.m. All the above trains will run daily except Sundays. The new Desplaines passenger trains will stop at nearly all the intermediate stations. With these additional trains there will arrive and depart from the new Northwestern depot eighty-seven passenger trains daily.
From The Railroad Gazette, December 1, 1905
The Surgical Department of the Chicago & North-Western
Operating Room in New Hospital Quarters of Chicago & North-Western, Wells Street Station, Chicago.
The room for examination of applicants for service and promotion is 22 ft. long by 12 ft. wide, with three large windows for ample lighting. The interior is finished in white, and the necessary equipment provided for making the examinations for vision, color sense, hearing, etc., prescribed for such applicants. Of the two waiting rooms mentioned, one is for these applicants and the other for patients for surgical attention. An elevator from the track level connects with the latter and a wheeled stretcher is kept in readiness at the bottom.
While the department at Chicago is intended primarily for cases from the Wisconsin and Galena divisions, it not infrequently happens that patients are brought there from points all over the system. In addition to employees, the department, of course, cares for persons injured on the road, in wrecks, etc. Besides the facilities at 56 Kinzie street, there is a department maintained at the large shops on the west side of the city known as the “shop dispensary,” which is intended only for the treatment of injuries received in the shops, an assistant in the department being constantly in charge.
The surgical department is in charge of Dr. John E. Owens, Chief Surgeon. He has three assistants in Chicago, who give their entire time to the work, Dr. J. D. Andrews being Chief Assistant. It is interestinng to know that the department, during its more than 30 years, has had but two chief surgeons, Dr. Owens having been in charge since 1885. His predecessor was Dr. Ralph N. Isham.
The department for examination of applicants for service and promotion has 45 points on the line outside of Chicago where such examinations are made. It has been in existence ten years.
Chicago & Northwestern Station and Wells Street Bridge
View from 5th Avenue
Wells and Kinzie, 1910
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot
SW corner of N. Wells and W. Kinzie Sts. at the Chicago River
Rand McNally Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
Terminals of the Chicago and North-Western Railway at Chicago
Geo. H. Walker & Co., Boston
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot
June 3, 1911
A Half Century of Chicago Buildings, 1910
THE first railroad chartered from Chicago to the West was the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad.
On October 10, 1848, the brig “Buffalo” arrived at Chicago with the first locomotive “The Pioneer.” One month later the road then extended 10 miles west and its rolling stock consisted of 6 freight cars, one passenger coach and the “Pioneer.”
In 1867 one through passenger train each way daily furnished ample accommodations for passengers traveling between Chicago and Council Bluffs. From this nucleus the present great system has been developed, which for the year ending June 30, 1909, had about 900 passenger trains a day and carried over its rails more than 27,000,000 passengers.
It is not my purpose to give here the history of the development of a railway system, neither to discuss or even touch the railway terminal problem, but rather to trace briefly the growth of the terminal passenger station in Chicago of this one system which is typical in many ways of the numerous other systems having terminals in Chicago. From a history of the
road published in 1905 entitled “Yesterday and Today” I am able to quote description of the early buildings, and to give here a few illustrations.
WELLS STREET STATION.
Main portion finished in 1882, Annex, 1902.
The first railroad station that was built in Chicago was a one story wooden affair built by the Galena Union Railroad in 1848. It stood on what is now a triangular piece of vacant ground west of Canal Street south of Kinzie and but a short distance west of the west abutment of the City bridge that crosses the north branch of the Chicago River at Kinzie Street.
In those days there was a narrow street named West Water Street that ran close along the north branch of the Chicago River at the east of what is now Canal Street. This depot ran east and west and its east end was entered from this West Water Street. Building faced the railroad tracks which were south of the station. Whatever package freight the railroad had to handle in Chicago at this time was handled at this place.
In 1849 this building was enlarged and a portion of it was set aside for freight, while the original east end was still used for passengers. The second story was added to the structure and that was surmounted with a sort of observatory. The second story was used by the officers of the road as its general office and in it John D. Turner, the president of the road
and his associates planned the extension of the road and controlled its destiny. West of the station was what was substantially an open praine and from the observatory Mr. Turner often watched for the incoming of his trains with the aid of a long old fashioned marine telescope that he possessed and thus could annnounce the coming of a tram while it was yet as far away as Austm, 6 miles. In those days the use of the telegraph was not even dreamed of on any western railroad.
In 1851 the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad began to purchase station ground east of the north branch of the Chicago River and in 1852 and 1833 built a pontoon or floating bridge across the river on practically the same ground where the Chicago & Northwestern Railway bridge now stands. In those days a street ran along and not far north of the main Chicago River and was named North Water Street. The second passenger station was built in 1852 and 1853, east and west along this North Water Street with its east end on Wells Street. It was built of brick and was two stories high. The passenger entrance was from Wells Street but a sort of private alley or perhaps a vacant lot ran south from Kinzie Street and this was used to reach the station through the baggage room.
After the building had been occupied for some time Wells Street was filled in and raised about eight feet, and this caused the Galena Company to add another story and in the room so made a portion of the general offices of the company were located. This building remained in use until destroyed by the Chicago fire in 1871
The third station scarcely deserves to be named but to make this history full it must be referred to. In 1851 this road bought land east of the north branch of the Chicago River and on part of this purchase, erected on the east side of North Dearborn Street and south of Kinzie Street a two story building, the lower story of which was intended for freight purposes, while in the upper rooms some of the General Officers of the road were to have their offices. For some time, but for reasons now not known, the passenger trains of the Galena Road ran to and from this building and while this was done neither of the first or second depots were used. The records of the company that were burned in the great fire of 1871 doubtless contained a full explanation of these facts. That this building was used as the road’s passenger station is established beyond any question.
Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot
SW corner of N. Wells and W. Kinzie Sts. at the Chicago River
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 2
The next passenger station of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, which now had become the successor of the Galena Company, was the one that was built on the then North Wells Street in the late fall of 1871 to take the place of the one that was burned in the great fire. It was a modern wooden structure and faced south with an entrance from Wells Street.
What is now a portion of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway in Chicago was begun under the corporate name of the Illinois & Wisconsin Railway Company. This afterward by consolidation with the Rock River Valley Union Railroad became the Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac Railroad and that by bankruptcy and reorganization became the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. This railroad while under the second of the corporate titles built in 1854 and occupied a passenger station in Chicago. It stood with its gable end to Kinzie Street and its greatest length west of and quite close to and parallel with the north branch of the Chicago River. It was quite a pretentious structure of wood and had a large train shed that was shut off from Kinzie Street by slatted gates. After the Chicago & Milwaukee and the Milwaukee & Chicago Railroads were consolidated and ultimately those, together with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad became the present Chicago & Northwestern Railway. This building was known as the Kinzie Street depot and was used until it was abandoned on the occupation of the present Wells Street station in 1882.
The next passenger building of the road is the present structure that stands on the corner of Wells and Kinzie Streets on the site of the old Galena depot.
The planning of this building was for that time on broad lines and was thought would anticipate the requirements far into the future. It was to be the largest and finest passenger station in Chicago built on the headhouse type with a shed covering the tracks. It was begun in 1880 and occupied in 1882.
The building was planned a few years too early to show in its general effect much result of the architectural awakening, which about this time began to gain strength and which has since gone steadily forward. About this time ihe railways having conquered in the struggle for existence and slackened somewhat their expansion into new territory; some portions of an available surplus was used in many kinds of improvements, notably the right of way, suburban and way stations and their surroundings. And now corporations and the people generally recognize the fact that beauty has actual value. In a comparatively few years the rapid growth of this city and the more rapid development of the great Northwest country, this railway system, always in the vanguard of progress, found the Wells Street station too small and the property lying between it and the river was purchased and preliminary studies prepared for a great terminal and office building. This study of the problem developed numerous limitations of the site, the north branch of the Chicago River being no small factor. This and the new conditions due to the general elevation of the railroad tracks from 12 to 15 feet above the street level led to search for a new site and to meet the temporary requirements the annex to the Wells Street station was built and occupied in 1902. As the result of the search for an adequate site, the railway company undertook the gigantic task of acquiring by purchase practically four city blocks in the heart of Chicago for a terminal building, train shed and power house, and in addition to this, the purchase of a new right of way wide enough for four tracks for each of the two divisions extending both west and north about one mile, thus securing for the passenger service of the road a complete elevated system eight tracks wide into the center of the city, eliminating all dangers and delays due to freight obstructions, grade crossings and open bridges. The last piece of the property was secured and the work of building commenced in the fall of 1908.
The Terminal building proper will be of granite and front on Madison Street, will be used for station purposes only, and will occupy the greater portion of the city block bounded by Madison, Canal and Clinton Streets, extending north nearly to Washington Boulevard.
The track floor covered by the train shed is approximately 18 feet above the general street level. The tracks approaching the station therefore pass over Lake, Randolph Streets and Washington Boulevard and the trains are screened from view from the street by curtained walls about 48 feet high, extending from the main building north on Clinton and Canal Streets as far as Lake Street with special treatment where passing over the street and Washington Boulevard.
The high shed, so objectionable from many points of view, both external and internal, has been abandoned and a low form of shed substituted covering entire space excepting for openings directly above the locomotive stack so that all smoke and gas are exhausted directly into the open air above the shed. The shed will contain sixteen tracks, each with a capacity of 13 Pullman coaches or 16 day coaches. This terminal will have ample facilities for handling 250,000 passengers daily.