Historic Structures

Montgomery Union Station, Montgomery Alabama

Date added: March 13, 2020 Categories: Alabama Train Station

Montgomery's Union Station, one of the largest and most elaborate railway stations still standing in the State, is an excellent example of late 19th century commercial architecture. Situated on the Alabama River, not far from the city wharf, it served as the focal point of transportation into the city until the advent of commercial air travel, Its size, the ambitiousness of the design and the opulence of its materials make it a monument to the importance of rail transportation in the early 20th century.

Prior to its construction in 1898, the city had been served by a small two-story frame structure built in 1860. By 1894, forty-four passenger trains were serving the city daily and the present station was planned and constructed to accommodate the heavy load. The station, which cost $200,000, was designed for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad by Benjamine Bosworth Smith, a local architect.

The trainshed is one of tke most important aspects of the complex. Although constructed in 1897-1898, its character and structure are of an earlier type. The gable form of the Montgomery shed is a rare example of the type of structure built by the railroads in the 1870s as the desire to improve the comfort of passengers became a matter of engineering pride. Gable-roofed sheds gave way to arched balloon sheds in the 1890s as railroads vied for the position of having the longest span trainshed.

In the case of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, however, a variety of factors combined to produce a number of trainsheds whose structure made them, in Carl Condit's words, a "comprehensive museum of nineteenth century building technology." While the L&N never experienced the volume of passenger traffic that large northern railroads did, the officers felt compelled to upgrade their station facilities as a matter of pride. Most of the larger stations along the L&N's mainlines, including those in Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and New Orleans, were replaced by architecturally distinguished stations with equally impressive trainsheds during the last quarter of the 19th century to improve the railroad's corporate image and thus increase public patronage. The first such complex, at Louisville (1888-91) set the style for the rest, including the one at Montgomery. The Louisville trainshed was reportedly built with at least some salvage parts from the iron bridges, which were then being replaced by steel structures. Whether this was the case at Montgomery is uncertain. It can be said, however, that the design of the members of the Montgomery trainshed trusses is certainly typical of iron bridge construction from 1868 to 1885. The Phoenix column, for example, patented in 1862 by Samuel Reeves, was a significant advance over the cast iron column and contributed to the feasibility of long-span bridges. The large metal eyebars used as tension members were also characteristic of iron bridge construction. These were subsequently replaced by riveted box and plate girders and are now exceedingly rare.

The Union Station is an impressive Romanesque building located on the river front in a district of excellent late 19th century commercial buildings. Constructed of masonry, brick and wood, the building utilized the best available materials and is highly ornate. It consists of a central block three stories in height with a high pitched hipped roof from which projects a gable with two round headed windows. Wings on either side of this block are two stories in height, each with two projecting gable dormers.

The central block, with some modifications, is repeated at either end of the wings. These five sections.make up the main structure. Two separate but connecting buildings located on either side of the main structure house the Mail and Express Building and the Baggage Room Building. A porte cochere projects from the front entrance, located in the middle of the central block. The opening for the entrance is formed by a Roman arch, a motif which is repeated throughout the building. This arch is subdivided into a rectangle which contains two double doors. The arched segment above the doors is filled with stained glass, and the wall around the arch is covered with terra cotta work. An identical entrance is located opposite this one and leads out onto the tracks. The waiting room in the central block is two stories in height and has a balcony supported by brackets which encircles the room at the second floor level. This balcony is of elaborately carved oak and opens into offices at either end. The floor is of inlaid mosaic tile and many windows are filled with stained glass.

The trainshed sits behind the station building and provides shelter to passengers as they get on and off the trains It covers an area measuring 600 feet by 94 feet 6 inches and is connected to the station by a sloped-rpof portico. The rpof pf Jhe shed is supported by 25 tricomposite Pratt trusses of timber, wrought iron and cast iron with cambered bottom chords. Its main span measures 77 feet 6 inches center to center on the columns, with an overhang on the north side of 13 feet 6 inches and on the station side of 3 feet 6 inches. The top chord of the truss is composed of 9x12 inch timbers except for the horizontal center beam which is a Phoenix column 8-5/8 inches in diameter and 20 feet11 long. The cambered bottom chord is composed of heavy eyebars joined at pinned connections. Two compression members, both wrought iron I-beams, join the bottom chord at the lateral pinned connection. The principal columns are built up from channels and iron plates riveted together. The only cast iron used is in the connecting shoes and couplings.

The roof is supported on longitudinal 8x18 inch purlins and 2x8 inch rafters (24 inches on center) covered with 1-1/4 inch sheathing. The roofing which is now of sheet metal and asphaltic paper was originally of metal covered with slate. A central monitor, 20 feet wide runs the length of the ridge. Originally, it had a glass roof to admit light and lowered sides for ventilation. Both have been sealed up since the disappearance of the steam locomotive.

Montgomery Union Station, Montgomery Alabama 1972 Facade
1972 Facade

Montgomery Union Station, Montgomery Alabama 1972 Main Entrance
1972 Main Entrance

Montgomery Union Station, Montgomery Alabama 1925