Boston South Station was opened in 1899 on the corner of Summer Street and Atlantic Avenue. The purpose for its construction was to make one central location for all of the five railway companies that serviced Boston because that was more efficient than having a separate depot for each company. It also made the passenger’s travel experience far more enjoyable; as they did not have to lug their baggage through the streets to different terminals.
Prior to the opening of South Station, there was a large amount of planning and construction that needed to be done. The turn of the century was quickly approaching and Boston felt the need to have the newest, most efficient, and lavish station in the country. With that in mind, the state legislature granted a charter to a new company to complete the job. That company was the Boston Terminal Company. They were faced with the task of “constructing and maintaining a union passenger station in the southerly part of the City of Boston” (1). One fifth of the company was owned by the Boston and Albany Railroad and the rest of it was owned by the New Haven Railroad. Part of the funding for the new station would come in the form of $100,000 stock purchases by each of the railroad companies that were going to use South Station. These companies were the New York and New England Railroad which connected NY State with RI, MA and other parts of New England, the Old Colony Railroad which covered southeast MA, the Boston and Albany Railroad which connected Boston and Albany, and the Boston and Providence Railroad which connected Boston and Providence. There was also funding that
came from bonds which were sold to the public from 1869- 1899 and totaled $14.5 million. Once the bonds were sold, the Boston Terminal Company bought a 35-acre piece of land for $9 million. In addition to being sizeable, this property was in a prime spot, only minutes away from Boston’s business district. The land was also the previous home to the New England Railroad terminal. This piece of land was not the only expense, however. The City of Boston also had to spend $2 million to reroute streets and wiring and build a very large seawall along the Fort Point Channel to hold back the tides. A mere two years after the start of construction, the largest train station in the world saw its first train roll out of the station on the morning of January 1st, 1899.
Along with the 20th Century came the heyday for passenger train travel, and South Station was at its forefront. By 1913, 38 million passengers per year were enjoying the convenience and elegance of South Station. That is more passengers than were seen in New York City’s Grand Central Station. As the years went on, the numbers of people using the station steadily increased. In 1945, South Station made history when over 135,000 passengers a day, largely due to soldiers returning from WWII, came through its halls.
After a time of such success, there was unfortunately a time where things did not look good for South Station. Over the next decade and a half, the station began to deteriorate and then in 1961 the New Haven Railroad Company declared bankruptcy. Later, on August 28, 1980, American Financial Enterprises, Inc. acquired its assets, thus ending the storied 108 year history. There was some hope for the old building, however, found in the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA, (logo to left)) which stepped in to buy the building in 1965 for $6.95 million, less than what the land alone was purchased for in the beginning. Five years later the BRA decided to tear down the building and started demolition. Some tracks were removed and part of the edifice was even shut down. The destruction of such an important landmark did not go over well with the citizens. They were able to get South Station listed in the National Register of Historic Sites and demolition was halted.
The end of demolition was the start of the station’s rebirth. In 1978, the BRA sold South Station to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for $6.1 million. After a time of six years, the MBTA started a project to restore South Station to its previous glory. The cost of this project was an incredible $195 million. The restoration involved rebuilding the headhouse, which includes Stoney Creek Granite, constructing eleven sets of tracks with high level platforms, as well as the construction of a bus terminal and parking garage which is above the train tracks. Luckily, all that construction was finished in time for the station’s 90th anniversary in 1989. Even today, however, South Station still has work being done to it. It is currently used by the MBTA’s commuter rail line and by Amtrak as one of the major hubs of the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail section in the country.
The façade of South Station was originally designed by renowned Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, originally H.H. Richardson. The firm also designed various buildings for Harvard, other places in Boston, and buildings as far away as Texas. In designing the façade of South Station, the firm chose to use Stony Creek granite as their material of choice. Stony Creek granite was also used many places in the interior of the building, such as lining walls, in its polished form. A virtual tour of the interior and exterior of South Station can be found here. As many know, granite is a very durable material that does not need much maintenance and does not deteriorate easily. In addition to its great structural benefits, the closer one looks at it the more color they see. Stony Creek Pink is no exception. The pink color can easily be seen from a distance and gets more prominent when viewed close up.
After designing and building this masterpiece of a train station, it had to be opened and was done so in quite a spectacular fashion. Thousands of people were there waiting to get a glimpse of some big names who would be in attendance. These names included President Charles P. Clark of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad who made some remarks, Mayor Quincy who also spoke, and others who were there to take part in the ceremonies. During the ceremonies, the building was also dedicated. Although it was under corporate ownership, it was more or less dedicated to the service of the people which was essentially responsible for its existence.
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