Wednesday, December 30, 2009

History of Broad Street Station

The story of Broad Street Station began in 1836 when the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad opened its first Richmond station at Eighth and Broad Streets. Almost immediately, the Railroad and the City of Richmond found themselves at odds. The locomotives entering and leaving what was becoming a busy business district frightened horses and residents, trains blocked cross-streets, and when it rained, increased traffic turned the dirt thoroughfare to mud. Later that year, to mollify City officials, RF&P agreed to pay half the cost for the first paving of Broad Street.

In 1838, the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, later named the Atlantic Coast Line, opened its first station at Eighth and Canal Streets, and a new controversy arose. To make north-south connections, passengers had to either walk or pay expensive taxi and freight fares to transport themselves and their baggage from the R&P station at the bottom of the steep Eighth Street hill to the RF&P station at the top.

Over the years, as business grew, the Railroads cooperated to build a variety of connecting rail lines between them and ever bigger stations, but despite their efforts, controversies and inefficiencies continued. In 1880, RF&P finally gave up on its East Broad station and opened a new station just west of Belvidere. It was named Elba Station after a nearby estate, but its popular name quickly became "Elbow" Station. In 1887, both railroads combined to build the new "Byrd" Station at the corner of Seventh and Byrd Streets.

Still, controversies continued. Neither station was big enough to handle long trains, necessitating they be broken into shorter segments to reach the stations. In addition, their cars still blocked city streets, north-south connections were still difficult, and passengers had to walk across the tracks to get to their cars. By the turn of the century, the Railroads were tired of the inefficiencies, and City officials were once again demanding that something be done.

Broad Street Station

In 1904, RF&P's real estate division purchased the old Fair Grounds at Broad and Davis Streets in the city's rapidly growing West End. As Richmond grew, RF&P hoped to convert the property into a residential neighborhood much like the new "Fan District" being developed south of Broad Street. However, increasing friction between the Railroads and the City and concerns about the excessive costs of operating two stations prompted RF&P to change its plans.

In 1913, RF&P and R&P held an international competition for the design of a new "Union" Station, and later that year, announced that New York architect John Russell Pope’s design had been chosen. Pope was well-known as an architect of government buildings, monuments, and private homes. Although he had never before designed a commercial structure, his plans for the new station were well received.

The Railroads proposed locating the new station at the Fair Grounds site which set off a new storm of controversy. For the next three years the City and the Railroads carried on a heated and frequently inconsistent debate featured in the pages of Richmond's newspapers. While the controversy raged, the Railroads proceeded with their plans. In April 1916, they publicly presented their final plans for the station, which included an innovative rail yard and track system designed by Harry Frazier. Pope's and Frazier's designs greatly improved the efficiency of station operations and also resolved most of the City's complaints.

On January 6, 1917 ground was broken. The projected construction time was 18 months with a projected cost of just over one million dollars. Almost immediately, due to World War I, the contractor ran into problems finding skilled workers, and costs for labor and materials soared. Eventually, the contractor declared bankruptcy. A new contractor was found, plans were altered, and Richmond's Union Station finally opened six months late and nearly two million over budget. The first train pulled out at 1:07 pm on January 6, 1919, the second anniversary of the Station's groundbreaking.

Richmonders quickly embraced what they came to call "Broad Street" Station. Over the next 25 years, the number of passengers and trains grew steadily. At its peak during World War II, the Station averaged 57 trains a day. Following World War II, however, passenger rail traffic steadily decreased, and railroad stations began to close. In 1971, Amtrak took over the remaining passenger trains, and at 4:58am, November 15, 1975, the last passenger train departed Broad Street Station.

Note: History of Broad Street Station is courtesy of Tom Driscoll. He used “One Hundred Fifty Years of History along the RF&P” by William Griffin as a reference.

For more historical photos of Broad Street Station, visit our Facebook photo album.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice *

At 12:47 pm today, December 21, 2009, winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere. The first day of winter is called the Winter Solstice; likewise, the first day of summer is the Summer Solstice. The word solstice is derived from Latin and means “sun standing still.” On these two days of the year, the sun’s apparent position in the sky has reached its most southern or northern extreme. Today there will only be 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight in Richmond, but tomorrow the number of daylight hours will once again begin to increase.
The solstices and the seasons occur because the Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5° relative to its plane of revolution around the sun (see illustration). In the Northern Hemisphere winter, the northern half of the globe is tilted away from the sun; therefore, the sun is low in the sky giving us shorter days and longer nights. At this oblique angle, the sun’s energy is spread over a larger area of the Earth’s surface and thus is weaker than if it was hitting the surface more directly. Also, the sun’s rays must travel through more atmosphere before they reach the Earth’s surface, and some of the solar energy is reflected back into space. In addition, there are less daylight hours to warm the Earth. With all these factors combined, is it any wonder that we have winter weather?
Contrary to what many believe, the Earth is not farther from the sun during the winter. Actually, the Earth is almost at its closest point to the sun at the time of the northern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice. This variation in the Earth’s distance from the sun is small and does not greatly affect the weather; however it does slightly modify the severity of the Northern Hemisphere winters and summers.
While we are experiencing winter, the southern hemisphere is experiencing summer. Our Winter Solstice is the southern hemisphere’s Summer Solstice. If you lived in Rio or Sydney, the winter months would be June through August and the summer months would be December through February.
Here’s some food for thought: what if the Earth’s axis was not tilted? Would we have seasons? What if the axis was tilted more than 23.5°? Or less than 23.5°? What would our seasons be like? How did the Earth get its tilt? All the planets in our solar system have some axial tilt, but they are all different. Why?

*Technical difficulties delayed the posting of this blog entry.
Tis the Season… for Nor’easters?

What will this winter be like? If the current weather pattern continues, the East Coast will certainly be stormy. Friday night through Saturday (December 18-19), Virginia experienced yet another intense Nor’easter (see blog of November 12). This one dumped huge amounts of snow over the central and western parts of the state.
Whether Virginia gets rain or snow from a winter Nor’easter depends largely on the track of the storm. A more westerly inland track will pull in warmer ocean air and Virginia will usually get rain. If the center of the storm stays just off the coast, cold air is often pulled in behind the storm and Virginia can get snow, sometimes lots of it. Nor’easters can intensify to hurricane strength and bring extremely high winds, coastal flooding, beach erosion, and heavy rain or snow to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. In the satellite picture above, note the hurricane-like eye in the center of this intense storm.
In addition to the heavy snow and gusty winds, this storm also included thundersnow. Thundersnow occurs only rarely and is basically a winter thunderstorm with falling snow instead of the usual rain. The lightning is nearly blinding due to its reflection off the white snowflakes, and the sound of the thunder is acoustically suppressed by the snowfall. Normally, thunder can be heard many kilometers away from a thunderstorm, but the thunder from thundersnow can only be heard 2 or 3 kilometers away. We had thundersnow at my house just after midnight on the 19th with at least two very bright lightning strikes and accompanying thunder.
How much snow did you get from this storm? I had 1 foot at my house in Midlothian, about 15 miles west of Richmond.