Historic Structures

Union Railroad Station, Joliet Illinois

Date added: September 15, 2022 Categories: Illinois Train Station

Joliet, due to its ideal location in relation to Chicago, by 1885 was served by four trunk lines: the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific (C.R.I. & P.); the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fee (A.T. & S.F.); the Chicago & Alton (C. & A.); and the Michigan Central (M.C.); as well as by two belt lines, the Elgin Joliet, & Eastern (E.J. & E.) and an outer belt line, the Chicago, Milwaukee, & Gary (C.M. & G.). Before the construction of Joliet Union Station in 1912, all of the above railroads maintained separate passenger stations, through which up to 60 passenger trains a day passed.

In 1909, the four trunk lines began an ambitious track elevation project which the city has been encouraging to alleviate traffic problems. Consequently, a new passenger and freight station needed to be constructed. This station, Union Station, Joliet, and the track elevation project, were completed in 1912 at a cost of $2,000,000. Because the four trunk line stations were consolidated, the new station was large and intensively used. Passenger train traffic reached a peak of 101 trains daily, excluding commuter trains.

Numerous street cars and two interurbans, the Chicago & Joliet Electric Railroad Company and the Illinois Traction Company, also served this station, making it a very efficient and heavily used transportation center.

Joliet was considered a key location by the four trunk lines and was the major interchange point and shop location for the E.J. & E. which, at one time, handled 70,000 cars a year in Joliet.

The 1960's saw a rapid decline in the frequency of passenger trains at Union Station and, by 1977, three railroads, the C.R.I.& P, the I.C.G., and Amtrak serviced the station. The two belt line railroads have long since discontinued passenger service, thereby leaving only one passenger station, Union Station, to serve the area. The station now services 28 Chicago commuter trains and 15 long-distance trains daily. Many outlying passengers use Union Station as a point of departure instead of Chicago, thus avoiding a trip to the loop. The station may, in the near future, see greater commuter usage when the Rock Island track is rehabilitated for higher speeds.

Building Description

Union Station, Joliet, was completed in 1912 to serve four trunkline railroads. It is adapted to its site, a place where two major lines cross at an acute angle, by being built as an oblong hexagon with wings at the extremities of the longer axis. The width of the main structure is 64 feet, and the length of the longer side facing the apex of the track intersections is 81 feet. The total length of the building, including the wings, is 240 feet.

Facing the center of Joliet is the main facade with a broad elevated walkway extending across the front of the tall waiting room area. This walkway is angled forward to define a carriage court used for access by wheeled vehicles. Doors at the upper level lead directly into the waiting room and through it to the track platforms.

At ground level in the carriage court are three arched portals in line with the waiting room windows above. These portals lead into the ticket lobby. In that lobby is found the grand marble stairway leading up to the main waiting room.

The waiting room ceiling is high and arched, and its symmetry is unbroken except for window openings and small arches at either end. A doorway at either end of the waiting room in one of the short sides of the hexagon leads to the train platforms.

The facade facing the platforms repeats the three great arches encountered in the front. At the base of the facade is a lower structure with five smaller windows. At each of the short ends of the hexagon is a large metal canopy projecting towards a train platform to define the entrance for those leaving the train.

The entire structure is faced with Bedford limestone. A parapet with a broken series of balusters rings the top of the hexagonal waiting room, and a similar parapet defines the edges of the upper walkway. The bottom story facing the carriage court has broad horizontal drafting in the facing.

The interior is covered with fine materials. The floors are white and darker tile in the ticket lobby and Tennessee marble in the waiting room. The treads and sidewalls of the staircase from the lower to the upper level is also Tennessee marble with massive railings of highly polished marble enclosing the approaches to the main waiting room where the wainscoting is also polished marble. Bronze fixtures abound both in the ticket lobby, with its single slab of Belgian marble 57 feet long, 38 inches wide, and five inches thick, and in the lamp standards along the walls of the waiting room outside.

The structure is sound, but some of the windows and concrete steps have deteriorated, and some of the floors reveal extensive wear. The street-level portion of the station is unoccupied and has suffered some water damage. The train platforms also need repair. Some light fixtures are missing or broken, some windows are broken and the wood and metal trim on the station has been painted a dark green.

Various major and minor alterations have introduced more substantial changes. A dropped ceiling was added in the waiting room in 1962 to reduce heating costs. The stairways to the center platform were closed and filled, and the ticket lobby was closed by cement block in 1975 with a new ticket counter added for Amtrak in the waiting room. The train sheds have been removed, and a small building was added in the front carriage court sometime soon after 1953, Finally, new floodlights have been added.