Union Station, Springfield IL

Looking north at Union Station and Lincoln Statue

Looking north at Union Station and Lincoln Statue

I had the opportunity to explore Springfield, Illinois’s magnificent historic Union Station on Friday, September 23rd. I was in town with a school that was visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library (located across the street) and had some time to myself. Besides taking these photos, I was able to learn much more about this handsome depot.

The station was opened in 1898 by the Illinois Central, and it was designed by their corporate architect, Francis T. Bacon. The large park area where the Lincoln statue now stands was once filled with warehouse buildings. There was a coach lane running along the south edge of the station–a carriageway for horse-drawn coaches and wagons. Most of the bricks in the current pavement are original.

Inside Union Station, model of Lincoln Funeral Train

Inside Union Station, model of Lincoln Funeral Train

This model of the Lincoln Funeral Train was crafted by Wayne Wesolowski, a retired professor of chemistry at Illinois Benedictine College, with help from his son. The model is 15 feet long and built to a 1:12 scale.

The original funeral car was the first railroad car built by George Pullman, and after Lincoln’s burial in 1865 the car was displayed at the World’s Fairs in Chicago (1893) and St. Louis (1904). It was destroyed by fire in 1911. (It should be noted that the funeral train did not use the Illinois Central right-of-way to travel from Chicago to Springfield in May 1865. That trip that brought Lincoln’s remains home took place on the Chicago & Alton tracks, the alignment still used by Amtrak.)

Looking southwest at Union Station from the former track side of station

Looking southwest at Union Station from the former track side of station

Today, the north side of Springfield’s Union Station faces Madison Street, but during the station’s active life as a railroad depot three sets of tracks ran along the building. Passengers arrived and departed from the platform. Thus, the north side exhibits more decorative terra cotta ornamentation than on the south side. Architect Bacon was using the Romanesque Revival style in his design for the station.

Track side of Union Station. Three sets of railroad tracks once ran along thus side of the station where Madison Street now runs.

Track side of Union Station. Three sets of railroad tracks once ran along thus side of the station where Madison Street now runs.

The Romanesque Revival style had become popular in the 1880s when Boston architect H. H. Richardson created some influential buildings in that style, such as the Glessner House on Chicago’s Prairie Avenue and the Marshall Field Wholesale Store (Adams and Wabash in Chicago, demolished in 1930). Bacon was one of several architects to be influenced by Richardson; others include Louis Sullivan in the look of the Auditorium Theater Building and many structures built by Daniel Burnham and John Root including The Rookery. The style features decorative stone and brick, strong geometric form based on simple shapes like triangles, rectangles, and semi-circular arched windows.

Close up of tower, looking south

Close up of tower, looking south

Soaring towers were also a feature of the Romanesque style, and Union Station’s clock tower also served an important function. At 110 feet tall, the clocks at the top could be seen from a long distance, and they reflected the time used by the railroads to schedule their trains. The railroads had adopted standard time zones in 1883, cutting the nation into four time zones. Before that, time was usually set by individuals who would adjust their watches to noon when the sun was directly overhead. This system was too imprecise when it came to scheduling trains that required a standard in order to insure that two trains would not be trying to occupy the same track at the same time.

Detail of entry door on north side of Union Station

Detail of entry door on north side of Union Station

The original construction cost of the station was $75,000. Nearly all window frames, trim, and exterior doors are original. In the 1940s, the clock tower was taken down due to safety concerns. The last passenger train left Union Station on April 30, 1971. As Amtrak took over intercity passenger rail, they consolidated operations to one station or depot in each city. They chose the old Chicago & Alton depot for Springfield, so Union Station sat vacant from 1971 to 1985.

Detail of entry door on north side of Union Station

Detail of entry door on north side of Union Station

The vacant station was in danger of demolition until it was rehabbed for a boutique shopping mall in 1985 by developers Michael and Nanchen Scully at a cost of $4.5 million. The current restoration was completed at a cost of $12.5 million in 2007. The work was done by the Carbondale, Illinois firm White and Borgognoni Architects.

Second floor chandelier seen through a window, north side of Union Station.

Second floor chandelier seen through a window, north side of Union Station.

Details of the station were restored to their original look with help from period photographs. The flooring throughout was maple, and the original is still in place on the upper floors. A 1946 modernization on the first floor covered the maple with terrazzo, so new tongue-and-groove maple flooring matching the original was installed during the 2007 restoration.

The mezzanine and second floor housed office for the Illinois Central and four other of their railway-system partners. Today, the station functions mainly as a visitor’s center for tourists visiting Springfield. The ticket office sells tickets for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum across the street. Brochures and maps for local attractions and the rest of Illinois are available on the main floor. Vintage photos along the wall show the station in different eras. If you enjoy looking at beautifully-restored vintage buildings and enjoy learning about their history, make Union Station part of your next visit to Springfield, Illinois!

Luggage weight scale, Union Station

Luggage weight scale, Union Station

South side of Union Station, gazebo in foreground

South side of Union Station, gazebo in foreground

South side of Union Station, Honest Abe relaxing on a bench.

South side of Union Station, Honest Abe relaxing on a bench.