Building Description Big Four Train Depot, Lafayette Indiana

The New York Central, along with the Pennsylvania Railroad, emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as two of the largest railroad systems in the country. Passenger service, while not always profitable, was an important part of their services and would remain so (except for the Depression years) until after World War II. Both systems utilized standard plans for many of their new passenger stations, particularly at the turn of the century, as costs rose and interests in efficiency became more important. Stations of the New York Central located east of Buffalo were far less standardized, many were older stations, which had been built by individual railroad companies and later incorporated into the larger system.

Standardized plans for passenger and freight stations were most frequently used in small towns and in the more westerly locations. The commonest of these were the frame, one and two story structures which dotted the plains states. The Pennsylvania system developed a classification system for these plans, based on size. Structures were graded from a combination freight and passenger "Class A Depot" measuring 40 x 16 feet to a "Class D" passenger depot of 49 x 17 feet. The typical "class station" was a small, frame building of simple design, which according to a contemporary commentator, Bradford L. Gilbert, bore a "strong family likeness" to smaller village and town stations erected throughout Europe. The Lafayette Depot differs from these and other standardized design in both its larger size (113 x33 feet) and in the fine masonry and wood work of its construction. In both design and construction, it ranks as an exceptional example of the type.

The unknown designer who was responsible for the plans for the Big Four Depot had surely seen such buildings as H. H. Richardson's Boston and Albany Railroad station in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Built in 1884, it featured a gabled dormer over the stationmaster's bay, whose window and finial treatments were nearly duplicated in the Lafayette station. Other similarities exist between the two, although the Indiana building is more restrained in its use of stone and is lacking the typical Richardsonian circular elements.

Railway presidents notwithstanding, the planners of the "small" station in Lafayette indulged their public to a considerable degree in the appointments and construction of their new station. According to railroad man Droege, writing in 1916, brick stations of about 3,000 square foot size cost between $3 and $5 a square foot to construct. At $35,000, (Railway Age, Jan. 2, 1903) construction costs for the Lafayette Depot, were nearly twice that figure. The interior finishes of the station, especially the terrazzo floor, whose uniform surface provided a sanitary surface, easy to clean, also met the qualifications of contemporary railroading which dictated that stations should be designed to give very little place for dirt and dust to lodge. And it was fitted out with a central heating system, a big improvement over the older terminals, where heating was accomplished through a stove in the middle of the waiting room.

The basic floor plan of the Depot is typical of an intermediate station of this era, with a central waiting room (for both men and women), a telegrapher/stationmaster's office, a ticket office, separate baggage room and men's and women's toilets. Examination of the structure indicates that the present ticket office may represent a later adaptation. This corner may have served as a separate women's waiting area, or a baggage/storage area. However, these functions were soon combined for increased efficiency and enlarged ticket sales activity.

In a 1916 guide for architects, a small station is described, approved by the American Railway Engineering Association. Percentages of space to be devoted to each of its components are given: General waiting room, 50-64%; Baggage Room, 8-10%; Ticket Office and Telegraph, 10 to 15%; Toilets (2), 8-10%; Women's Retiring Room, 10-15%. The Big Four Depot in Lafayette contains all of these component spaces and its original rooms would conform to those indicated in the standard.

At the central, east entrance (off Second Street) the relocation office has incorporated a small foyer into the interior of the building of wood and plate glass. This energy saving feature is also a terminus for a 40 inch high wood reception counter. Additionally, a 12 x 16 foot utility room and a 9 x 17 foot office have been erected in the east sector of the waiting room. The baggage room has not been impacted and still contains a cabinet adjacent to the chimney, which held kerosene lanterns and flags, all railroad memorabilia.

A single wood staircase passes from the baggage room to the basement which exists only under that area. It contains a modern furnace, but once was devoted to a coal burning apparatus and its attendant coal pile. The remainder of the basement is crawl space accessed by two small scuttles in the furnace room.