North Freight Station, Providence Rhode Island
These two Freight Stations two of the three remaining structures of the Providence and Worcester Railroad's Union Station complex of 1847-1848, the first major railroad station to be erected in America. The main passenger station and its ancillaries formed one of the first and most proficient works in the brief and brilliant career of Thomas Tefft, who was still only a sophomore at Brown University when he produced these designs which were to attract worldwide admiration.
Union Station was also the first station in the country to be executed in the newly-popular Romanesque manner which Renwick had introduced in New York and Washington. The station was related in style to von Gartner's Ludwigskirche of 1829-180 in Munich, and Tefft himself ascribed its style origins to Germany.
Although the freight structures were more simple in detail than the passenger depot (now destroyed), they achieved in fact an economical elegance of design not so much present in the main building. They remained as fine, if severely utilitarian, examples of Tefft's work, as well as two examples of his very few surviving buildings. They were two of the earliest Romanesque-inspired buildings still preserved in America.
The two Freight Stations in the railroad yards west of Canal Street in downtown Providence are the only important surviving structures of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Depot complex which was built in 1847-1848 from the designs of Thomas A. Tefft and whose main part burnt in 1896. Though similar in size to each other and related in design, as they were also to the original large central depot, they are not twins.
The southerly one of these buildings is a long brick rectangle set upon a foundation of coursed granite, its south end now visible from Memorial Square. It is composed of an easterly-projecting storey-and-a-half central pavilion with its five-bay-wide, gabled projection fronting on Canal Street. This is flanked to north and south by two ten-bay ranges whose gable-ends are perpendicular to that street multiple openings on east and west sides allow freight to be unloaded from both railroad and street sides.
Projecting brick piers divide the facade of the central pavilion into its five bays, beneath a raking corbel table. Round-arched openings, diminishing in height from the center and thus echoing the pitch of the roof, pierce each bay. The central bay is emphasised by a wide and simple door surmounted by a round-arched transom and set within a tall and slightly projecting arch; above this arch and in the peak of the gable is a large bull's-eye window with spoked astragals. Entrances of similar design but smaller scale are in the immediately flanking bays, and narrow round-arched windows light the end bays.
While the south wing has been extensively altered, the northern one shows itself intact: its east and west walls are articulated by brick piers set at regular intervals and forming ten identical bays beneath a double corbel table of brick. Each bay holds a round arch filled by a large wooden door and a glazed tympanum; the simple plank doors can be raised by means of pulleys on the inside. The station's west front is identical to its east one except that the central pavilion does not project, and a long wooden loading-dock on this side allows freight to be moved directly to and from railroad cars.
The northern end wall is now hidden by an addition of corrugated metal, but its similar at the south can still be seen. Also with brick piers and a double corbel table, this wall has small round-arched doorways flanking a taller and broader round-arched opening; this latter contains a large and simple plank door and a panelled tympanum and once allowed freight cars to be pulled through the building. There has been mach alteration here in recent years. A railroad viaduct has been cut through the middle of the south wing (and this passage is expected to be reserved for traffic uses--railroad or otherwise); some windows have been rebuilt or boarded-in; a floor has been built across the bed of the tracks which ran through the middle of the building; and there has been some division of the original large open space.
The northerly freight house is of construction and proportions similar to those of its mate, but it has no emphasised central pavilion. The ridge of its gable roof parallels the railroad tracks and Canal Street. While the east side of the structure has been completely re- built, reducing the freight house's width, the west elevation, of which the east one was originally a duplicate, remains intact. This stretch of wall contains twenty-three tall arches set at regular intervals be- neath a double trick corbel table; windows and doorways alternately fill the arches. The windows are decorated only by their brownstone sills, and loading entrances under glazed tympana fill the alternate bays. A wooden loading-dock, partially protected by a projecting roof, today runs along the western length of the building.
The gable-ends originally each provided two small, round-arched doorways flanking a large, round-arched central opening which allowed freight cars to be moved directly through the center of the building. These large openings were closed when the structure's east side was rebuilt and interior width reduced by several yards. Modern "garage doors" with paired casement windows above open along the length of the new east wall, and an extensive wing or corrugated metal has been added at the north end of the freight station. Except for some partitioned office areas, the interior is a continuous open space. The railroad tracks running through the center have been covered.