Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Train Depot in VA

Broad Street Station, Richmond Virginia
Date added: June 17, 2024
View from the southeast (1972)

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Richmond's Broad Street Station ranks among the Commonwealth's most distinguished and ambitious works of architecture. The design for this monumental edifice was provided by John Russell Pope (1874-1937), one of the most prominent architects of his day, whose work includes the designs for such nationally famous landmarks as the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art. Completed in 1919, after a construction period of two years, Broad Street Station was among the last of the great rail terminals to be built in what has been termed the "Golden Age of Railroads."

Broad Street Station replaces two earlier stations that served the historic Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. When its immediate predecessor, located between Byrd, Canal, Seventh, and Eighth Streets, became too crowded to handle both commuter and long-distance passengers, it was decided to reroute the larger passenger trains to the west end of town and erect a new terminal to serve them. The grounds of the Hermitage Country Club were chosen as the site of Pope's neo-classic edifice.

Although the volume of traffic through the station has greatly dwindled in recent years, Broad Street Station still serves the trains of the R.F. & P. and the Seaboard Coast Line Railroads, and also houses the central offices of the R.F.& P. Despite its decline as a major transportation center the station remains a monument of civic and commercial pride expressed through architecture. Architectural historian William B. O'Neal stated that the building gains in effectiveness from "its careful use of natural materials, the ease with which large crowds may be handled within it, and the wisdom of the owners and architect in selecting a site that afforded adequate parking space--now the constant and constantly unsolved problem of urban living." O'Neal further declared that with the designing of the station, Pope "gave back to the city the serenity of classic forms put to commercial uses."

Building Description

John Russell Pope's monumental design for Broad Street Station symbolizes the importance that train travel once had in America. Neo-classical in form, the station is dominated by a vast domed central waiting room, flanked by two wings, and a long projection or concourse on the rear from which access to the tracks is obtained. A passenger enters the station via a hexa-style-in-antis, Roman Doric portico surmounted by a full entablature and a parapet. The interior of the portico has a coffered, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Crowning the central portion of the building is a saucer-shaped, copper dome, supported on a low octagonal drum with large lunettes on its four greater sides. The three-storied wings are separated by simple pilasters into three bays on their front and rear facades and six bays on their sides. There are cast-iron and glass canopies supported by ornamental brackets around the first-floor level of each of the wings for passenger unloading. The entablature and a slight parapet continue around the wings and into the long, rear concourse. In June 1951, a section of the massive dome slipped because of lightning damage. One hundred twenty feet of a concrete ledge surrounding the dome collapsed and loosened the tile covering of the dome. This necessitated the removal of the rest of the tile and a replacement with copper sheathing. Unlike many stations of its era, Broad Street does not have one large train shed, but rather, a series of covered platforms below the concourse supported by cast-iron Ionic columns. The placement of the station on a promontory of land created an ideal position for the tracks at the base of the slope.

The interior of the station has a long axis running north-south, crossed by a shorter east-west axis. From the portico, one enters an expansive, octagonal-shaped space which serves as the main waiting room. On each of the four larger sides of the octagon is an arch. Two of the arches are supported by two Ionic columns, and two are blocked in with granite and decorated with Ionic pilasters. The soffits of the arches are lined with rosetted coffers. Above each of the arches is a large lunette, underlined by a dentiled cornice which circumscribes the room.

The four smaller angles of the octagon have semi-circular niches, lined with rosetted coffers, leading to smaller waiting and baggage rooms. The dome arches 94 feet over this whole section, which contains the ticket counter and mahogany benches for waiting passengers.

Entrance to the station can also be had from the one-story east-west axis, which crosses the longitudinal axis just behind the main lobby. At the intersection, there is a square hall with a high, flat, coffered ceiling. Four Ionic, granite columns demarcate this passage on the northern and southern sides.

A long, narrow concourse projects northward from the intersection axis. The walls are pierced by a row of eleven, tall, straight windows, placed high up on each side of the room. Below the windows, doors lead to the covered ramps to the tracks. There is a high, elliptical-vaulted ceiling, which is finished in plaster with no decoration. Mahogany benches line the walls and the center of the room.

The interior of the station is as functional and elegant as the facade. When it was first opened, Broad Street station also had a large and convenient parking area, which figured in John Russell Pope's total conception of the station.

Broad Street Station, Richmond Virginia View from the southeast (1972)
View from the southeast (1972)