Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Surprising Piece of Chicago Preserved in Baltimore

Countless visitors to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland pass through a pair of monumental wrought iron gates coming and going each day. Somewhat hidden from view when the gates are open during the day they present a beautiful appearance when closed.
These gates are an historic remnant of the once palatial Grand Central Station of the B&O Railroad in Chicago, Illinois. Salvaged from scrap when the great station was demolished in 1971, they were re-configured and installed at the Museum in 1985 during the last renovation of the Museum’s campus by the Chessie System Railroads under Hays T. Watkins, one of the museum’s most important benefactors.

The Northwest corner of the B&O Railroad's Grand Central Station in Chicago
Grand Central Station, located in downtown Chicago, Illinois was constructed in 1890 and ceased operations in 1969. It was located at 201 W. Harrison Street in the south-western part of the Chicago Loop, the block bounded by Harrison Street, Wells Street, Polk Street and the Chicago River. Grand Central Station was designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman for the Wisconsin Central Railway, and was completed by the Chicago and Northern Pacific Railroad.
Grand Central Station was eventually purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which used the station as the Chicago terminus for its passenger rail service, including its glamorous Capitol Limited to Washington, D.C. Major tenant railroads included the Soo Line Railroad, successor to the Wisconsin Central, the Chicago Great Western Railway, and the Pere Marquette Railway.
The station was executed in the Norman Castellated architectural style by architect Solon S. Beman, who had gained notoriety as the designer of the Pullman company neighborhood. Constructed of brick, brownstone and granite, it was 228 feet wide and 482 feet long. Imposing arches, crenellations, a spacious arched carriage-court and a multitude of towers dominated the walls. Its most famous feature, however, was an impressive 247-foot tower at the northeast corner of the property. The interior of the Grand Central Station was decorated as extravagantly as the exterior. The waiting room had marble floors, Corinthian-style columns, stained-glass windows and a marble fireplace, and a restaurant. The station also had a 100-room hotel, but accommodations ended late in 1901.

Grand Central Station's monumental arched train shed.
Not as famous as the clocktower but equally architecturally unique was Grand Central Station's self-supporting glass and steel train shed, 555 feet long, 156 feet wide and 78 feet tall, among the largest in the world at the time it was constructed. The trainshed, considered an architectural gem and a marvel of engineering long after it was built, housed six tracks and had platforms long enough to accommodate fifteen-car passenger trains. When it was finally completed, the station had cost its railroad owners one million dollars to build.

Original decorative wrought iron gates in the Grand Central train shed

At the track terminus inside the great train shed where the shed met the head house of the station were the great wrought iron gates. Millions of passengers passed through these gates to board their trains just as visitors do today at the Museum.
When installed at the Museum, the gates were reconfigured combining two gates, one on top of the other, to achieve the necessary height for the Museum entrance. There is no record of who salvaged these great wonders of iron mongering, or whose idea it was to bring them to Baltimore for installation at the Museum. You will know, next time you visit, that you are passing through a remarkable piece of B&O history transformed and transported from Chicago to Baltimore.
Courtney B. Wilson, Executive Director