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.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.