Wabash Railroad Station and Railway Express Agency, Decatur Illinois
The Wabash Railroad Station and Railway Express Agency served as a division headquarters, dispatchers' offices, maintenance offices, as well as a passenger depot for the Wabash Railroad and later the Norfolk and Western Railroad. It was a functioning division headquarters and passenger station from 1901, the year the Station was built to the early 1980s when Amtrak abandoned the Station.
A new era commenced in the history of Macon County the day first train of railroad cars ran into Decatur. The Great Western Railroad was the first railroad constructed through Macon County in April 1854. The first train arrived on April 21, 1854. The Great Western Railroad Company changed names several times through reorganizations and mergers. In 1865 it became a part of the Toledo, Wabash, and Western Railway and in 1877 it reorganized as the Wabash Railway Company. The Wabash Railway Company was consolidated in 1879 with the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Northern Railway Company and became known as the Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railroad. Reorganization came again in 1889 under the name of the Wabash Railroad Company. In 1964 the Norfolk and Western Railroad absorbed the Wabash Railroad Company.
The first station serving the Wabash Railroad and the Illinois Central Railroad was the Union Station built and opened in the summer of 1856. It was a two-story building located to the east of the present Wabash Station on East Cerro Gordo Street. The Station included the Central House Hotel. Union Station remained in existence until the existing Wabash Station was dedicated on June 18, 1901. A newspaper account from the Decatur Herald on June 18, 1901 gives a description of the empty station.
The Illinois Central Railroad built their own station in 1900 adjacent to and east of the present Wabash Station. That station was razed in 1951. A small storage/baggage area of that station remains.
Plans for the new $70,000 Wabash Railroad Station and Railway Express Agency were announced in April 1900. Surveyors staked the site on May 23 of the same year. St. Louis architect Theodore Link was hired to design the plans for the Classical Revival styled building.
Theodore Link was born in Germany in 1850. He studied engineering in Heidelberg and Paris before immigrating to the United States in 1870. Link moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1874 and became a draftsman for the Bridge and Building Department of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. He was hired in 1875 to draw the plans for Forest Park in St. Louis. In 1876, Link became the Superintendent of Public Parks in St. Louis. In 1891, Link, along with E. A. Cameron, designed Union Station in St. Louis. Link also designed entrances for Westmoreland and Portland places in St. Louis; buildings at Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois; St. Mark's Episcopal Church; the Alton Public Library; the East St. Louis Ice and Cold Storage Building; and numerous private residences in St. Louis.
Menke Stone and Lime Company of Quincy, Illinois was hired to construct the building and provide the stone. Four days before the dedication, Theodore Link, and Edward H. Menke who represented the building contractors, inspected the building. Employees and dispatchers moved into their new offices on June 16 and 17, 1901 although they would not officially open for business until June 18, 1901.
At the dedication of the Wabash Station on June 18, 1901, general superintendent, H. L. Magee spoke for the railroad commenting "If the Wabash had a few more Decaturs scattered along the line, we would have electric fans and a barbershop on every train."
During the dedication of the Station, four hundred incandescent lights burned inside the building and train sheds as the crowds inspected areas that would later be closed to all but employees. A dozen arc lights burned outside, one of them hanging in the tower to show off its beauty.
The Wabash Station was the only station in Decatur that housed railroad division offices. It was also home to one of the largest forces of dispatchers in the country. All of the Railroad's middle division officials and the Regional Superintendent, A. Robertson resided in Decatur at the time of the Station's opening. The Wabash Railroad was the only line that served east-west traffic through Decatur.
Passenger train service reached its peak in 1907 in Decatur when 72 trains a day stopped in the city. To the economy of Decatur, the railroads were of incalculable value. The Wabash Railroad in 1927 was the largest employer in the city. That year 3500 people were employed with the line in Decatur. Annual shipments forwarded by the line through Decatur averaged $350,000 to $400,000 in the early 1900s. Annual receipts were $120,000 and passenger receipts varied between $90,000 to $100,000 during the 1900s. Decatur was the hub of the Wabash Railroad's operations.
During World War I a Red Cross canteen hut was built near the Station. This hut served the thousands of military personnel that passed through on the trains. It was staffed by volunteers and on one of the busiest days in June 1918 more than 3000 sandwiches, 5000 cookies, a similar number of doughnuts, ice cream cones, bananas, and other tasty treats were consumed during the trains' brief stops. During World War II, war mothers and other women operated a canteen at the Wabash Station serving during an eighteen-month period, 335,000 servicemen as they passed through Decatur.
Many famous people have used the Wabash Station during its years of service. On June 4, 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt who had come to Decatur by train to dedicate Millikin University's new campus went by carriage to the Wabash Station and left at 4:35 p.m. to return to Washington D.C. In 1908, Eugene V. Debs, founder of the American Railway Union greeted 300 people at the Wabash Station as he traveled aboard his train, "The Red Special," during his third try for the U. S. Presidency. On October 2, 1952, one month before Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, he made a fifteen minute stop in Decatur. A cheering crowd of over 20,000 welcomed Eisenhower at the Wabash Station. He spoke briefly from the rear platform of his observation car and shook hands with many who crowded up to reach him.
The decline of the need for Wabash passenger trains began as early as the 1920s. In August 1931, the day station master's post was eliminated. The Wabash was not alone in suffering from the decline of passenger service needs in the following years. Competition with private autos and other forms of public transportation left many stations deserted during several hours of the day. The last passenger train of the merged Wabash Railroad and Norfolk & Western, the Blue Bird, pulled out of the Station in 1972. Amtrak attempted to reestablish passenger service during the late 1970s and early 1980s but the effort was unsuccessful.
The Wabash Station was sold by the railroad to the present private owners who are in the process of rehabilitating the building.
The Wabash Railroad Station and Railway Express Agency is located at the east end of, and running parallel to, East Cerro Gordo Street (Cerro Gordo terminates at this point before continuing further east of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks)in Decatur, Illinois. The two-story rectangularly-shaped yellow brick building stands to the south of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks and to the west of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. The Wabash Railroad Station, built in 1901, is separated from East Cerro Gordo Street by a 70-foot wide paved parking lot and grassy area and from the Norfolk and Southern tracks to the north by a 13-foot wide asphalt boarding area. To the west of the Station, connected by a breezeway, is the one-story Railway Express Agency also built in 1901.
The Wabash Railroad Station measures 156 feet 6 inches long and 56 feet 6 inches at its widest point. The exterior is constructed of yellow brick with terra cotta trim. The main (south) and east entries have classical pilasters, Ionic capitals and a classical pediment with modillions in the gable above. The front (main) entry formed the base of a three-story tower which has since been removed (date unknown). The wings of either side of the front entry are not identical but the building has an overall sense of balance. A distinctive feature of the building is that the front entrance has a rectangular doorway flanked by arched windows while the east entrance has an arched doorway flanked by rectangular windows.
The Railway Express Agency is 115 feet long and 25 feet wide. It is constructed of the same brick and stone as the Station. The Railway Express Agency has stone quoins at its corners. The front (south) side of the building has five door openings with transoms. Six pairs of windows are arranged between each door. They have terra cotta trim and are double-hung, nine-over-nine. The east end of the Express Agency has a single-door opening. The rear (north) side openings mimics the front. The east end has no openings. The west end butts up to another unrelated commercial building. This commercial building is currently a pet shop. There is no connections between the two buildings.
The Station has a stone foundation with smooth-cut stone blocks that rise up the walls approximately three feet. Wide terra cotta trim sets atop these stone blocks. The corners of the building including the front wings have stone quoins. The front gable entry extension has brick quoins. The roof of the Station is a combination of hip and gable while the Railway Express Agency's roof is hipped. Both roofs were replaced in 1990 with brown asphalt shingles. The Station has gutters and downspouts in both front and back as well as the Railway Express Agency.
The Station has an attic and partial basement. The attic has round vented windows in the gable ends. The 25 front first-floor windows are set on bracketed sandstone sills and topped with molded arcaded sandstone frames. The smaller windows are grouped in threes and fours, while the larger windows are individually set. The larger arched windows have eight panes surrounding an arched top and a one-over-one window. There are 27 second-story windows on the front facade. The second-story windows are set on a terra cotta belt course that runs the perimeter of the building. These windows are unornamented. A second belt course runs the perimeter of the building between the first and second floors which adds symmetry to the Station. The windows on the second floor are double-hung nine-over-nine windows. They have four square corner panes with four rectangular panes between, and a large square pane in the middle.
The east elevation has a pair of arched windows towards the south on the first floor and single rectangular-shaped windows on both sides of the east entry. The second floor has six windows.
The eighteen rear first-floor windows are rectangular and masonry framed with columns in between the sets of triple windows. There are two doors towards the east of the building and a three-sided window bay towards the west. There are nineteen windows on the second floor and a bay window with four windows in the northwest corner. The bay was used as a lookout up and down the tracks.
The west elevation has the connection to the Railway Express part of the building, four windows, and a small door on the first story. The upper level has the continuation of the bay in the northwest corner with four windows and five windows to the south. All of the outside doors have been replaced (probably during the time when Amtrak occupied the building). They are currently steel, aluminum, and glass. Most inside doors are original. These are 1/2 wood, 1/2 glass, some with transoms and mail drops. Where modifications have been made, the doors are plain hollow core doors.
All windows on the first floor remain intact except one on the north side of the building which has been taken out and boarded. This window can be easily reconstructed. Many of the second-floor windows have been broken out due to vandalism.
The building has been remodeled a few times to keep up with the times and to adapt to changing uses. Originally the building had a large waiting room along the north side of the first floor. A newsstand was located to the right of the front entry and the ticket office was located to the left of the front entry. A smoking room and men's toilet was located in the southeast part of the building. The watch inspector's office was located in the northeast corner. West of the waiting rooms was a restaurant and a kitchen to the south. The women's restrooms were located to the west of the ticket office and south of the waiting room.
The waiting room interior had tile floors, Georgia marble wainscoting, frescoed ceilings and paneled walls. The English-style furnishings had antique oak trimmings. The women's restroom was furnished with fourteen seats. The woodwork was painted white and the walls light cream. It was separated from the main waiting room with swinging gates. The women's toilet area was also elegantly furnished with heavy porcelain wash bowls, plate glass mirrors, and marble wainscoting.
The building has two stairways to the second floor. One on the far east end and a second about halfway between the front entrance and the west end. The stairs are plain wood treads with plain round wood handrails. The stairwell walls are plaster.
The second floor had a central hallway with the division offices of the Wabash Railroad aligned along this hallway. Fourteen offices served such officials as the division superintendent, the chief dispatcher with five dispatchers working on each of the three shifts, the telegraph manager, general roadmaster, train master, resident engineer, and fuel inspector. The dispatching and telegraph office occupied the northwest corner of the building. The north and west bay windows provided a good view of the yards for a considerable distance. The dispatchers' tables were arranged so that their backs faced the view.
The walls and ceiling of the superintendent's office were decorated by A. Harman with prevailing trims of light yellow. The room was decorated with two fine rugs and new furniture throughout. A private bath adjoined the office.
Remodeling was carried out in the station in 1936 to alleviate upkeep problems that led to water leakage, loose plaster, and generally dirty conditions. In 1955 the newsstand was closed.
By 1963 the first-floor waiting room had expanded into the newsstand area and ticket office towards the south. The ticket office and green Georgia marble ticket counter was moved to the northwest and the trainmasters' offices was expanded into the waiting room along the northeast. The original green Georgia marble that runs up the walls from the floor approximately five feet was left in place. Above the marble, soundproof tiles were added. The restaurant and kitchen had become six separate offices that opened onto a central reception area. A wood and glass door and wall that reaches the ceiling separates this are. These offices have simple wood-trimmed doors and window, tile and concrete floors, dropped ceilings, and dry-walled partitions.
The eastern 2/3 of the building was most recently used by Amtrak, which ceased operations in 1976. In the early 1980s, Amtrak attempted a revival of passenger service for a short time.
Amtrak dropped the ceilings on the first floor and added fluorescent lighting fixtures. The ceilings on the second floor were also dropped to install fluorescent lighting. Amtrak also installed some partitions in the waiting areas which have been removed to open up the first floor.
The Railway Express Agency is divided into two sections connected by a single door. The walls are unfinished, floors are concrete, and the ceilings are open rafters and beams.
Amtrak abandoned the Station in the early 1980s. Vandals removed most of the electric wiring and broke nearly every window on the second floor. Because of this, inclement weather has caused deterioration of the ceilings, plaster walls, window sashes, and windows. The planned rehabilitation includes repairs to the interior and exterior of the buildings including tuckpointing, cleaning and small piece replacement of missing work. Some gutters and downspouts which are missing will also be replaced.