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Rochester’s (inspiring) Old Railroad Stations

November 6th, 2010

The interior of Rochester's missing rail station. The main waiting room with high arching windows and ornate ceiling would rival New York's Grand Central Station if it were around today.Lots of news has been brewing lately over the future of Rochester’s beat-up, 32-year-old Amtrak station on Central Avenue. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter recently announced that a $1.5 million federal stimulus grant has been awarded to New York state to plan for a new multi-modal station on the site. A $2.5 million appropriation to pay for the station design is expected to pass Congress next month. And Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has just made it abundantly clearexternal link that New York will take whatever federal money is left on the table by newly elected GOP governors in Ohio and Wisconsin.

So for now, let’s just assume that something very interesting is in the works for our pitiful excuse for a train station. This is the perfect time to take a step back in time—to be inspired by Rochester’s grand old stations…

A view of the first New York Central Railroad station located between Mill Street and Front Street. This station replaced a wooden structure, known as the Auburn Railroad shed, in 1852. It remained open until 1883 when a more modern station was constructed.Here’s a view of the first New York Central Railroad station located on the west side of the Genesee River, between Mill and Front Streets. State Street is in the foreground with the Savoy Hotel on the corner. This station replaced a wooden structure, known as the Auburn Railroad shed, in 1852. Train Leaving Auburn Station Rochester NY [PAINTING: Eugene Sintzenich, Oil on Canvas, 1852]It remained open until 1883 when a more modern station was constructed on the east side of the river. Talk about architecture that inspires… the Auburn railroad SHED was so grand in its day that it was immortalized in this 1852 oil painting by Eugene Sintzenich (shown at left). This 4′x3′ masterpeice is currently located at the Rochester Historical Societyexternal link.

Rochester's second NY Central Railroad Depot. It was the first to occupy the site of the current Amtrak Station between St. Paul and Clinton Avenue (view is looking west from Clinton, 1907).And this was Rochester’s second NY Central Railroad Depot (above). It was the first station to occupy the site of the current Amtrak Station between St. Paul and Clinton Avenue (view is looking west from Clinton, 1907). If you were to ask my opinion on what our new train station should look like—put your pencils down—this is it.

Another view of Rochester's second NY Central Railroad Depot. (looking east from St. Paul Street). This station was built in 1882 for $925,000 after the State paid to elevate the tracks to eliminate grade crossing in the City. It was only the 2nd such elevation in the nation—outside NYC.Another view of Rochester’s second NY Central Railroad Depot. (looking east from St. Paul Street). This station was built in 1882 for $925,000 after the State paid to elevate the tracks to eliminate grade crossing in the City. It was only the 2nd such elevation in the nation—outside NYC.

Rochester's third NY Central Station was designed by Claude Bragdon and opened in 1914 on the site of the current Amtrak Station. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Rooselvelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower were among those who used the station. Many spoke to huge crowds from a dais erected at the intersection of North Clinton and Central Avenues.Rochester’s third NY Central Station was designed by Claude Bragdon and opened in 1914 on the site of the current Amtrak Station. It was certainly the grandest of all of Rochester’s stations. Last year Infrastructurist.com declared it the 7th most beautiful station to fall to the wrecking ball. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Rooselvelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower were among those who used the station. Many spoke to huge crowds from a dais erected at the intersection of North Clinton and Central Avenues. No one really knows why this one was torn down. It was 1965. Someone was high on something.

Erie Railroad Depot. (looking from Court Street Bridge).The station shown above is probably the most overlooked of this bunch. The Erie Railroad Depot. (built 1887) stood between the Genesee River and Exchange Street on the south side of Court St. This shot was taken from the Court Street Bridge. You can clearly read the Erie Railroad sign over the canopy where the trains pulled in from the south.

Erie Railroad Depot. (looking from Exchange Street from the south).Here’s another angle of this gorgeous building with its majestic clock tower as seen from Exchange Street. Today this site is a parking lot opposite the Blue Cross Arena.

Lehigh Valley Railroad Station (looking from Court Street).  This is now home of Dinosaur Barbque.And that brings us to the only two survivors. Both now serve Rochester’s tastiest meals. The Lehigh Valley Railroad Station (above, built 1905) is now home to Dinosaur Barbqueexternal link. The building also sits on top of the south entrance to the Rochester Subway but that’s another story.

Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh Depot. (looking from Main and W. Broad Streets). This is now home of Nick Tahou's Hots.And last but certainly not least, the Rochester & State Line’s depot (built 1877) on West Main Street. In 1881 the Rochester & State Line became the Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh which was later acquired by the Baltimore & Ohio. The building eventually became home to Nick Tahou’s Hotsexternal link. This shot was taken from Main and W. Broad Streets. I love that this postcard shows the waiting platform (long gone today) peeking out from behind the building.

In place of the Bragdon Station now stands this uninspiring Amtrak building.So let your history inspire you Rochester. Let’s not build another Amshack. Cause I swear to God I will catch the next train out of town ;-)

Visit our Postcard page for some more vintage views of Rochester.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 6th, 2010 at 10:48 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images, Train/Railroad Stuff. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

17 Responses to “Rochester’s (inspiring) Old Railroad Stations”

  1. I recall that before Nick Tahou’s place was moved to the current location at W. Main and Broad it was a B & O station.

  2. admin says:

    Patrick, you may be right. BR&P went out in 1932 and B&O used many of the BR&P locomotives after that. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they used a few of their stations too. Here’s another good photo of the station…

  3. Jim says:

    Mike, this is SO important. I was reminded of a piece I read by Blake McKelvey (sp?), the esteemed City Historian, in the periodical ‘Rochester History’, entitled “Rochester’s Near-NorthEast”. His claim was that the expansion of the city into what is now known as the northeast quadrant was enabled by the elevation of the railroad right-of-way. His point had to do with the steam-powered trains rapidly accelerating out of the west side station and bearing down on unsuspecting horse-and-wagon traffic at major arterial crossings such as those at St. Paul and Clinton. Not the sort of thing housing developers want to see.

    And sure enough, the date you give for the building of the El (1882) predates several of my houses in the Evergreen Tract (1883-4) by only a couple of years. So the histories of your transit systems and my neighborhood intersect it seems.

    Btw, the hotel on the right side of the image of the first NY Central station was the residence of ‘Wild’ Bill Hickok (“Buffalo Bill”) during the summer when he actually stayed in Rochester. There is folklore in CornHill that claims he lived in a house on Lunsford Circle, but the historical record does not support this. Several of his offspring did indeed live in Rochester and are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. The location of the hotel was “Waverly Place”, #57 as I recall, and his residence there is documented.

    Best,
    Jim

  4. admin says:

    Jim,
    Very interesting point you make about the nearly simultaneous developments in the northeast quadrant. And I believe the name of that hotel on the corner was The Savoy. Here’s an interesting related note: Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to address the public from the first floor corner balcony of the Savoy on February 18, 1861. Due to a last minute scheduling change he delivered the speech from the observation platform of his official train while on its journey to Washington for his inauguration. The speech was brief but was heard by one of the largest crowds on the president’s entire trip to the Capitol.

    Here’s a full view of the hotel…

  5. Jim says:

    Correction: It was “Buffalo Bill” Cody, not ‘Wild’ Bill Hickok. The two played together for ten years in the now-famous staged Western dramas of the late 1800′s – precursors to the cinematic Western – so maybe that is how I got them confused.

  6. admin says:

    Patrick, you’re right. I just found it… B&O acquired BR&P in 1931.

  7. Bob says:

    Mike, your NYC II was the next block over West of the Bragdon.

    And if we are choosing starting points for the new design, it’s Bragdon or bust with me!

    Perhaps we’ll throw down Saturday morning?

    BOO Richardsonian Romanesque tower! HOORAY Archways symoblizing locomotive drive wheels!!! :)

  8. admin says:

    Bob, you’re right on point 1. I over generalized when I said the second NYC station occupied the site of the current Amtrak Station. I got streets right but the current Amtrak site is a block to the east. I forget sometimes that people actually read the junk I write ;-)

    BUT, I am totally going to throw down with you on Bragdon v Richardson. Bragdon is a great station. I don’t disagree there. But at the risk of igniting a violent backlash from the architect community I strongly believe the Bragdon station would be too rigid and far to pretentious for Rochester today. It’s a box. A gorgeous box. But a box. The variation found in NYC II would allow for an infinite number of design configurations. Much more flexible.

    And the Romanesque style (and tower) you’re booing can be found all over Rochester (buildings past and present) including our City Hall buildings and at least 3 of the train stations shown in this post. It’s a much better representation of Rochester’s history and character than a Grand Central Station type of building.

    I DO like the arches, but arches can be worked into the modern descendant of NYC II I’m envisioning. You want arches? I’ll show you arches :-)

    This is all in good fun Bob. We’ll take the gloves off on Saturday.

  9. Bob says:

    It sure is. While I was channeling my inner Red Stripe commercial as a joke, I do like Richardsonian Romanesque and it is a shame that Pittsburgh’s JAIL looks better than a good chunk of our prominent public buildings.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38941334@N00/2283734710/

    I’ll bet the original blueprints to my ‘gorgeous box’ are in the library. Problem solved. But if you’re content with a glorified Erie station… ;-)

  10. Joe D. says:

    has anyone heard updates on the status of the new intermodal station? I’m eagerly awaiting the release of a design. I sure hope they get it right and make it beautiful. Any thoughts out there on changing the location? Anything near Joseph Ave is sure to scare people away!

    Cheers!

    Joe

  11. admin says:

    @Joe D., I know the City is using part of the $4-some-million Federal dollars to study the POSSIBILITY of at least 3 sites:
    1. The existing Central Ave site between Clinton and Joseph
    2. Central Ave between Saint Paul and Clinton
    3. State St. (where the Frontier Field parking lot is)

    There may be one other site under consideration—but in the end I’m told the existing location will most likely win out because of it’s proximity to the heart of downtown (business district, East End, High Falls, and Mortimer St. RTS terminal) AND because any other location would require a substantial and costly reconfiguration of the tracks and platforms.

    Personally I’m of the opinion A) that Joseph and North Clinton are not all that “scary” or at least no less scary than State Street, and B) the money and effort that will undoubtedly go into rebuilding the station and its surrounding streetscape will completely change the way that pocket of the city is perceived.

    I have seen very early & unofficial concepts for the station… Most, but not all of them, are focused on the current Central Ave location. While I can’t share details yet, I am bursting with excitement over what I’ve peeped.

  12. chase tyler says:

    Its 2013 now… nothing happened. Again.

    There was also the Braddocks bay trolley, but that closed in the 1960′s and didn’t have a station.

  13. Chris Gullo says:

    When was he last grand NYCentral in Rochester NY demolished?

  14. @Chris, most of the station was demolished in the early 1960s. About a third of the building remain standing until 1977. It was quite strange. See these photos…
    http://www.rochestersubway.com/topics/2012/11/photos-of-rochester-bragdon-station-demolition/

  15. Michele says:

    Does anyone know if there was a train or bus transportation from Rochester, NY to New York City, from around 1920 to 1930?? Please e-mail me if you know??

  16. @Michele, I’m pretty sure one could travel by train to NYC from Rochester as early as the 1850′s via NY Central (now Amtrak).

    FYI, I hid your email address because spam runs rampant in the comments here and I don’t want you to have to change your email address. If anyone has more information to share with @Michele, please leave a comment here.

  17. mark says:

    actually “buffalo bill” lived here with family at 10 new york street, just around the corner from susan b anthony…he used to hang out at the spring house at pittsford plaza when it was along the erie…this is from a book by bobby bridger


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