History of Union Station


Tyrell Bernal, Contributor

The Providence Union Station was praised for its stately symmetrical design but also criticized for the long building and web of tracks that separated the train station from the Rhode Island State House behind it. With the decline of rail travel in the 1980s, Union Station was closed and a smaller station was opened closer to the State House. In 1896 a group of architects decided that they would bring back a bigger train station.The Providence Union Station building complex was designed as part of the elevated overpass, with Francis Street running directly underneath the main terminal building. Architects Stone, Carpenter and Willson designed the structures, which were built on pilings sunk into the recently filled Cove. The main terminal building is composed of two sections. The front portion is a two-story hip-roofed structure, with its main floor at the level of the elevated tracks. The rear portion, covered by a sawtooth roof, is a one-story brick block. There was a great deal of controversy when the station was built whether to construct a head or a through station. The plan adopted was a compromise to the contention that a wall was being built to divide the city. With Francis Street which was 110 feet wide, Gaspee Street to the east and promenade Street on the west it provided a new direct passageway from the center of the city to the north. Fourteen tracks were provided in the station, the four at each end being stub tracks. Passengers could reach the tracks from the exterior of the main building without entering the waiting room by using the stairways on either side of the structure. The station, of Renaissance style to complement the City Hall, consisted originally of five buildings symmetrically arranged all with granite foundations, yellow-mottled brick walls and red sandstone trim. Three of these were connected to each other by corridor passageways, which would later be removed. Pursuit of the railroad plan inspired the formation of an extensive design scheme for central Providence. The Union Station allowed passengers arriving in Providence on trains of the Providence and Worcester, Boston and Providence, New York, Providence and Boston, Hartford, Providence and Fishkill to make an easy connection to trains of each of the four railroads. Decorative ironwork on all the bridges remained for a long period of time. The large open space in front of the station was proposed as a public square, with a new Federal building opposite City Hall to be built on the east, and Smith Hill was chosen as the site for a new State House. This location seemed suitable and appropriate for linking the two areas of the city, since Francis Street below the station afforded a boulevard from City Hall to the Capital. In 1987, during renovations, the station caught fire. Parts of the station were renovated and contain offices, restaurants, and a brewery. The station has since been closed and many of the tracks are now apart of other local stations and tracks.