Union Station, Springfield Illinois

Date added: January 21, 2023 Categories: Illinois Train Station

Springfield of the 1890s, unlike today, contained a great deal more industry and looked upon all growth as positive. It received Union Station as a symbol of civic pride by default. In 1895, the Chicago and Alton Railroad had constructed a new depot which was the finest in town. This came after local citizens boycotted the C & A for its poor facilities. Fearing a similar attack, Illinois Central Railroad (I.C.R.R.) officials constructed Union Station. Completed in 1898 at a cost of $75,000, it was truly intended to be a "Union" station as the I.C.R.R. leased space to four other passenger services serving east and west routes. In October of that same year, President William McKinley visited Springfield, arriving at the Wabash Station from Decatur. After speeches on the square, the President then left for Chicago from Union Station on the Presidential train pulled by "an immense piece of machinery of superior speed for use on special mail trains" and was specially decorated and engineered for the occasion.

Of special significance was the opening in 1900, for the first time, of direct passenger rail service from Springfield to St. Louis completing direct service between Chicago and St. Louis via Springfield. Springfield, being the State Capitol, became the site for the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Union Station became an important landmark to fair-goers, as there were 30-50 trains per day regularly scheduled through Springfield. Street-cars carried passengers from Union Station to the Fairgrounds and to make this a more significant landmark, a three-story, tall "Triumphal Arch" bearing the inscription "Union Station" was constructed over Fifth Street adjacent to the station.

In 1926, Queen Marie of Rumania, visited Springfield while on tour of the United States. An I.C.R.R. "Queen's Special" carried the Queen from Saint Louis to Chicago, stopping for two hours at Union Station.

In May of 1936, the first standard diesel-electric locomotive and streamline train to be placed in regular use concluded its 8,000-mile national tour at Springfield and Chicago. The train, called the "Green Diamond" was visited by over 12,000 people and gave the station a day of nationwide attention as the National Broadcasting Company produced a radio special from Union Station, heralding the event.

Historically, the station, like most stations, was the scene of many sad goodbyes and happy reunions during the war years. A War Memorial Plaque honoring I.C.R.R. employees killed in action was unveiled at Union Station on 10 September 1945, exemplifying the railroad's and the station's significance during the war years.

The immense clock tower, rare for stations in cities this size was, until it was removed in 1946, a very functional landmark as a community timepiece. Despite its removal, this is the most intact Springfield station reflecting the tremendous growth of railroads from the Civil War thru World War II. Additionally, it is one of the few remaining local structures relating to transportation in the days before the automobile and airplanes revolutionized travel. Sadly, the last passenger train passed thru the station on April 30, 1971 as a result of the Illinois Central Railroad consolidation with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio, allowing use of the old C & A Station, more convenient for north and south passenger service.

Building Description

Union Station was designed by I.C.R.R. Architect Francis T. Bacon, in 1897 and was constructed the following year. The structure, including the covered platforms, occupies most of a site 150 feet long and 78 feet wide. The two-story center portion contains a mezzanine level and also originally had a 90-foot tall clock tower, a feature which was, until 1946, quite prominent in the Springfield skyline. The style is basically "Romanesque Revival" similar to several of H. H. Richardson's famous stations in the east. It also has details "Sullivanesque" in nature, reflecting the "Art Nouveau" period.

Although a "Romanesque Revival" structure, it reflects the manner in which midwestern Architects adapted the style. Rather than being constructed of stone, the materials were brown, red and buff pressed brick (probably locally made as Springfield had several brickyards at that time). Watertables, sills and lintel courses are of Bedford Limestone.

The steep-hip roof, characteristic of Richardson, is covered with red Harris tiles, sheet copper and skylights. Terra cotta embellishments in the Art Nouveau manner decorate the main gable, dormers, and originally the elaborate "clock tower" Cast iron was also used for the columns that supported the extended roofs covering the train platform along the front and each end of the building and at the porte-cochere originally attached to the south elevation of the building.

Despite the use of fireproof materials such as brick, stone, copper, and tile on the exterior, the structure is basically wood frame. The interior walls and ceilings are plaster with oil decoration. Quarter-sawn red oak woodwork, Knoxville marble, ceramic mosaics and bronze were used in appropriate areas. The ceilings are flat with beams, unlike Richardson's works which provided deep barrel vaults inside the hip roofs. Here, that space was reserved for offices.

Alterations were made to the structure by the I.C.R.R., but care was taken to match both materials and workmanship. In 1924, two office bays were added to the Madison Street front and in 1946, the upper portion of the clock tower was removed as was the porte-cochere and brick wall on the south side. Alterations were also made in the area of the ticket windows and restrooms.

Union Station, Springfield Illinois South elevation (1977)
South elevation (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois View from northwest at 5th Street (1977)
View from northwest at 5th Street (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois View from northeast at Madison Street (1977)
View from northeast at Madison Street (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois North elevation (1977)
North elevation (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois Iron work on lower windows south elevation (1977)
Iron work on lower windows south elevation (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois View from southeast at 6th Street (1977)
View from southeast at 6th Street (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois South elevation (1977)
South elevation (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois Underside of canopy north side (1977)
Underside of canopy north side (1977)

Union Station, Springfield Illinois View from southwest from across 5th Street (1977)
View from southwest from across 5th Street (1977)