Nostalgia for trains and train travel seems to remain constant in a world where very little, if anything, can be preserved in perpetuity. The fundamental principle of railroads has remained the same for almost 200 years: trains, steel tracks, stations, tickets and passengers/cargo.
Aside from engineering, one of the most significant changes over the years is the architecture of stations. In the early 1800’s rail stations were small and utilitarian. A notable design element in two images is the ornamental roof cresting and pinnacles. America hadn’t found its own architectural identity at that point and was leaning on the knowledge of immigrants who brought their heritage with them to a new country. Designs were simplified versions of styles such as Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Stick, Chateauesque and French Colonial.
^Map of proposed route for Erie Railroad, 1832
The Erie Railway originally travelled between New York City and Buffalo, eventually expanding west. The railway propelled economic development throughout the state. Ship travel could only reach ports, while rail lines could reach inland areas and connect port cities. With the ability to carry building supplies in bulk compared to horse wagons, the architecture of homes across the US changed.
^Erie Railway, East Buffalo Station, Buffalo, NY (six over six windows)
Train stations eventually evolved into exquisite architectural monuments to the industrial age. New York City had Pennsylvania Station and its demolition was the catalyst for historic preservation laws across the country. Buffalo has Central Terminal, and most people hope restoration of the abandoned Art Deco landmark comes to fruition.
Train travel creates a unique relationship between mobility and freedom: two indelible threads woven into fabric of American culture. The architecture may have changed over time, but trains are still being used around the world. It would be great to improve the current train station in Buffalo (AmTrak) and restore Central Terminal so train travel can return to the city. Someone else suggested it would be interesting to see one of the historic train stations reconstructed.
^ (L) Erie Railway, Walden Avenue Station, Buffalo, NY (four over four windows) Erie Railway Station, Main Street
^ (R) Station, Buffalo, NY (four over four windows)
^ Map of New York & Erie Railroad route, approximately 1854
Lead image: Erie Railway, Kensington Station, Buffalo, NY
All images from the Library of Congress. Use allowed and unrestricted