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Union Station (Columbus, Ohio)


Columbus Union Station, as it is recalled today, was the third Union Station in Columbus. The previous two served in the nineteenth century, and their replacement and upgrade reflected the rapid growth in traffic and importance of Columbus' railroads at that time. The subsequent decline in rail passenger traffic following World War II was reflected in Union Station's demolition and replacement with a convention center in the early 1980s.

First station (1851)Edit

The first Columbus Union Station in 1864. The station is located here on the east side of High Street with the tracks crossing High Street.

In 1851, a site north of Naughten Street and east of High Street was purchased jointly from Orange Johnson by the Columbus and Xenia Railroad (C&X) and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C). A wood barn structure measuring 90 by 175 feet (27 by 53 m) was installed to serve passengers, the rest of the site given over to shops and freight tracks. The station had three tracks for loading and unloading of passengers. In 1853, the Central Ohio Railroad entered the city and connected to the station. In 1864, the Steubenville and Indiana Railroad was connected the Central Ohio at Newark, and entered the station on shared tracks. This road was called the "panhandle route" because it crossed the panhandle of West Virginia on its way east. The station was inadequate and in 1868 the railroads formed the Union Depot Company to undertake a replacement.

The second station (1875)Edit

The second Columbus Union Station sometime in the late 1870s.

In May, 1873 work was begun on the second union station north of the existing station, and it opened on February 14, 1875. The first station was then demolished. Compared to its wooden predecessor, this new station was far more substantial. Constructed of brick, it had a large waiting room, ticket offices and railroad offices at the front of the structure. Seven tracks entered the structure and a long train shed kept passengers dry. In 1875, 42 daily passenger trains departed from the station.

High Street crossingEdit

The City of Columbus continued to grow northward with the opening of The Ohio State University in 1870. With the opening of the new union station, thirteen tracks now crossed North High Street. The congestion between train and road traffic became unbearable. In 1875, a $45,000 tunnel was built under the tracks to allow streetcars and horsecarts to pass under the tracks. An extra mule was stationed at the tunnel entrance to assist horsecars up the steep grade. The tunnel was 150 feet (46 m) long with 550-foot (170 m) approaches on either side. It was so dark and smelly that only the horsecar passengers, who had no other choice, would use it.

The third station (1897)Edit

The third and final Columbus Union Station in the early 1900s. This shows the arcade portion of the station on the High Street viaduct over the tracks. View looking south along High Street.

In 1891 the traffic situation on High Street reached a crisis, with the roadway blocked for up to seven hours per day by crossing trains. In 1893 the architectural firm of Daniel H. Burnham & Company of Chicago began planning a new facility. A key feature of the new station would be a road viaduct over the tracks, finally solving the traffic/train problem on North High Street. In 1893 the old station was handling 112 passenger trains per day.

The new station opened in 1897, and the arcade was finished in 1899. The arcade was unique to Columbus and consisted of stores and offices built atop the viaduct and facing High Street. An elevated roadway connected High Street to the station to the east. The station increased the number of depot tracks from seven to nine.

The architecture of the station drew on Burnham's experience designing the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The style was Beaux-Arts Classicism, a late 19th-century style often applied to monumental structures.

In May 1928, part of the arcade was demolished to expand the driveway to the station to better accommodate automobiles. Service moved from the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad Station to Union Station in 1930.[1] In April 1931, the train shed was replaced with an enclosed concourse. In 1956, Columbus was down to 42 daily passenger trains, the lowest number since 1875.

Daily passenger trains fell to 21 in 1962, and just 10 in 1970. It was clear that the completion of the interstates and popularity of automobiles would soon mean the end of passenger rail service in Columbus. On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over most of what was left of passenger service in the United States.

Decline and demolition (1976–1979)Edit

The remaining arch in Arch Park, photographed in 2016
The Cap at Union Station, built in 2004 to reflect the third station's design

Amtrak cut back rail service to a single train, the New York-Kansas City National Limited (formerly the Spirit of St. Louis). The restaurant and newsstand were closed.

At 6 pm on Friday, October 22, 1976 the deteriorating arcade was demolished by a consortium led by the Battelle Memorial Institute to make way for a new convention center, despite the arcade having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places two years earlier. A restraining order by a judge halted demolition, but it was too late and only one arch of the ornate structure was saved. It remains on display in the Arena District's Dimon McPherson Park directly across Nationwide Boulevard from Nationwide Arena. The land the arch sits on was formerly occupied by the Ohio Penitentiary.

While the arcade was gone, Union Station continued to serve rail passengers until the morning of April 28, 1977. On that date, Amtrak moved its operations to a metal shed ("Amshack") east of the station near the 4th Street viaduct when it became apparent that the cost of operating the station was too great. The last train to serve the main station building was a westbound National Limited, which left for Kansas City at 9:17 am that morning.

The station was finally demolished in September 1979. The National Limited itself was eliminated a month later, ending over 150 years of intercity rail service in Columbus.

The freight yards and servicing facilities located east of the station had been replaced by the construction of the new Buckeye Yard near Hilliard by the Penn Central in the late 1960s. The multitrack yards and shop areas eventually gave way to I-670 in the early 1990s. The viaduct over I-670 was constructed with a cap, and shops lining High Street reminiscent of the long gone arcade. Amtrak has not returned to Columbus since the end of the National Limited. However, as part of the 3-C Plan, there are plans to build a new multi-modal station on at least part of the site of the former rail terminal. It is planned to be located between the Ohio Center and the Greater Columbus Convention Center. A future streetcar or light rail line could be built on the west end of the proposed station.[2]

Railroads in the order they entered Union StationEdit


  1. ^ Essley, Joffre (November 26, 2013). "The Most Unusual Building in Columbus". Columbus Underground. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  2. ^[permanent dead link] "12 Ideas".
  • Darbee, Jeffrey T. (2003). Taking the Cars: A History of Columbus Union Station, Columbus: Columbus Historical Society. ISBN 0-9742573-0-3.
  • Darbee, Jeffrey T. (2003). A Tale of Three Cities:The Union Stations of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, Indiana Historical Society, accessed 2012-10-19.
  • Steiner, Rowlee. "A Review of Columbus Railroads", 1952, unpublished 125 page manuscript available from the library of the Ohio Historical Society, 1982 Velma Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43211
  • Public Interest in the Preservation of Historic Buildings has Risen Since the Demolition of the Historic Arcade at the Old Union Station Site. Columbus Dispatch, November 7, 1976, pg. 12A.
  • Demolition of the Historic Union Station is Halted after Franklin Co. Common Pleas Judge George Tyack Issued a Temporary Restraining Order. Columbus Dispatch, October 24, 1976, pg. 1A.
  • The Unused Union Station Entrance at 348 N. High St is Placed on the National Register of Historic Places; The Designation will Affect Plans for the Proposed Convention Center. Columbus Dispatch, February 12, 1974, pg. 1B.
  • The Columbus City Council Approves the Purchase of the Union Station Land for the 27-acre (11 ha) Downtown Convention Center Site. Columbus Dispatch, January 23, 1973, pg. 1B.
  • The Convention Center Building Commission Announces that the Penn Central Transportation Co. Approved an Agreement to Sell its Union Station for About $5.7 mil. Columbus Dispatch, April 4, 1972, pg. 1A.

External linksEdit