Abandoned train station in Kentucky

Southern Railway Passenger Depot, Lexington Kentucky
Date added: December 09, 2022 Categories: Kentucky Train Station Passenger Station Georgian Revival

The Southern Railway Passenger Depot is a remarkably intact early twentieth-century Georgian Revival-style railroad station. It has experienced very few architectural changes and is a Lexington landmark with its highly visible location on South Broadway. It has the dubious distinction of being the last major railroad station standing in Central Kentucky. According to a 1906 newspaper article, the building was designed by H. Herrington; it was constructed in 1906-08. As Herrington was not a local architect, it is assumed he was an architect with or under contract to the Queen and Crescent and Southern Railway Company. Paul Anderson, who was a professor of engineering at State College (later the University of Kentucky) was appointed supervising architect and Arthur Giannini was involved locally as the staff architect for the construction company, Hendricks Brothers. This imposing structure retains much of its original woodwork, floors, windows, and doors; and although some of the first-floor interior space has been redesigned over the years, the main mass of the building is unaltered.

Lexington, which is the second largest city in Kentucky and a county seat, has been involved with the railroad industry from the first half of the nineteenth century. From the 1830s, railroads were essential to the economic prosperity of Lexington, since it depended on them for the flow of agricultural goods, manufactured products, passengers, and later, coal. Kentucky's first railroad, the Lexington and Ohio Railroad Company, was incorporated in 1830 and was completed from Lexington to Frankfort in 1834. The Frankfort to Louisville section was not completed until 1852. Their depot was built in 1835 at Water and Mill Streets in Lexington, and the building was razed in 1959. The Southern Railroad was completed to Lexington in 1877, and that company built a depot near the site of the present station. This building was gutted by a fire in 1906, although the new and old depots are shown on the 1907 Sanborn Insurance map. The downtown depot, Union Station, was designed by the architectural firm of Richards, McCarty and Bulford of Columbus, Ohio, in the Beaux Arts style to accommodate three of the four railroad lines that served Lexington. Located at the intersection of East Main Street and the Harrison Street Viaduct, Union Station was demolished in 1960. The four lines serving Lexington at that time were the L & N (Louisville and Nashville), the C & O (Chesapeake & Ohio), the Kentucky Central Railroad and the Southern Railway. The 1906-08 Southern Railway Passenger Depot is the only building remaining to attest to Lexington's association with this mode of transportation for over 150 years. The Southern Railway was the most important line in Lexington from the point of passenger train service and through freight movement. The Southern was the only railroad whose main line came through Lexington, all the others being branch lines. By 1930, the Southern had sixteen daily passenger trains operating in both directions over this line, attesting to the use and importance of the Southern Railway Depot.

Building Description

The Southern Railway Depot is a massive, two-story, Georgian Revival-style brick structure situated at a very visible point on the crest of a rise on the west side of South Broadway, eight blocks west of Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky. Three blocks north of the Depot is the western boundary of the South Hill District. The area between this district and further west of the Depot is principally commercial in nature, a major portion being tobacco warehouses. Across Broadway and east of the Depot is the Reynolds Building, formerly offices for the Reynolds Tobacco Company which now houses art studios for the University of Kentucky, whose main campus is situated two blocks to the south of the Southern Depot. Directly across South Broadway from the Depot is the three-story Scott Hotel, which was constructed in ca. 1900. Is has been a lively example of a "railroad hotel", one of the few surviving examples of this once common building type.

The Southern Depot with its salmon/yellow brick and irregular plan and composition has over the years become a Lexington landmark. Its Georgian Revival style is accented by colossal two-story brick pilasters, each having Ionic stone capitals. These pilasters separate individual or groups of bays. The main entrance is through a massive frame portico which is two-tiered with monumental stone columns resting on brick piers supporting the entablature and pedimented porch roof. The second-story porch balcony, which is taller than the first-story porch, has lost its original balustrade. The porch architrave and cornice, with small dentils beneath its crown, joins the identical building cornice and repeats on all sides of the structure. The southeast corner of the building is a large, multi-bayed, round projection with pilasters and stone courses repeating the pattern found on the main mass. Along the west side of the building, there originally was a porte cochere sheltering a side entrance to the depot and a porch supported by Ionic columns on brick piers that extended along three sides of the building. The northern half of this porch is all that remains on the east side of the building. It is completely gone at the north end and is intact, although in bad condition, on the west side, running along the railroad tracks. The window sashes, surrounded by original framing, are one-over-one and appear to be original. The long-hipped roof is interrupted only by three chimneys and two vent stacks arising on the back half of the building. The roof is clad with asphalt shingles. At present many of the windows are covered with plywood which, along with a good roof, has prevented any major water damage to this vacant building. The only later exterior construction occurred in the 1940s after a train "jumped the tracks" and damaged the northwest corner of the building. It was rebuilt to the original design, although the new brick is plainly visible.

The public area of the first floor as shown on the original plans has been changed over the years to accommodate the needs of declining railroad passenger service. The waiting room is now divided with a concrete block wall. The original metal columns with their glazed terra-cotta Ionic capitals, which were in the original waiting room, are still in place, although one is encased in the later wall which has divided this space. The entrances from the foyer into the Depot have been closed-in. The partitions creating the "colored waiting room, ticket office, men's restroom and vault" have been removed and a concrete block wall built to create other usages for this space. Most of the original six-paneled doors are intact as is a majority of the wooden beaded-board wainscotting. It is assumed that the original terrazzo floor is still under the "indoor-outdoor" carpeting which is now in the former public areas of the Depot. The stair hall on the south side of the building has the original Colonial Revival style half-turn with landing staircase with a large square newel post, turned balusters, and a closed stringer. The space in the back half of the first floor remains almost intact as originally designed.

The second floor, which housed the railway offices, has been relatively unchanged over the years. The main front room has the original doors to the porch balcony and off this space are two partially round rooms that conform to the round exterior design on the north and south side of the principal mass. All these rooms and most of the others on this floor are covered with beaded tongue-in-groove paneling, much of it still unpainted. The long hall has offices that are partitioned by walls of wood panels and transparent glass above. Except for the two offices on the south side in which the paneling has been somewhat damaged, this floor is intact. A portion of the wall in an office at the northwest corner of the building is relaid in concrete block as a result of the train which hit that end of the building. The original wood floors are in place, although covered with vinyl tiles, as well as doors and window sash. The third floor houses the steel joist, rafters, and trusses.