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Indianapolis Union Railway Station (Union Station)

39 Jackson Place
Indianapolis, IN

Summary of History and Significance

The Indianapolis Union Railway Station complex is significant to the United States as being the site of the first union passenger depot in the country. It is significant regionally as being the hub of an extensive passenger rail network that provided service to all parts of the Midwest and the state of Indiana. Locally, it is significant for providing a wealth of passenger and freight commerce that for a century sustained one of the state's major wholesale districts, centered along South Meridian Street. Most significantly, Union Station helped to transform the city of Indianapolis from the outpost village it was in the 1840s into the thriving Midwestern metropolis it became in the early twentieth century.

The concept of merging the passenger depots of competing rail lines into one single depot for the convenience of passengers originated in Indianapolis with the construction of the original Union Passenger Depot, built in 1852-53. The idea quickly spread to other parts of the country when its practicality was realized. The original depot building was outgrown by the 1880s, necessitating the construction of the present station by the Indianapolis Union Railway Company, an umbrella company organized by the participating railroads to operate the station and central rail yards.

Designed by Pittsburgh architect and engineer, Thomas Rodd, and built between 1886 and 1888, the Indianapolis Union Railway Station is an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. The exterior is notable for the architect's skillful combining of brick and granite; the brick clock tower with its polyfoil spire is the landmark's most recognizable feature. The station's grand interior is dominated by the monumental barrel-vaulted waiting room that extends the length of the building and forty-five feet high; along with its two stained glass wheel windows, it is one of the finest large-scale public spaces in Indianapolis.

The 1916-1922 Concourse and Train Shed was designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Price and McLanahan. The Concourse was an extension of the waiting room, giving passengers safe access to six loading platforms above in the Train Shed. The Concourse and Train Shed are notable for their "Expressionist" architectural design. The streamlined design and use of terra-cotta suggests a late example of the Art Nouveau style that had been extremely popular in Europe during the 1890s and early twentieth century. Additionally, Indianapolis's Train Shed is one of the last surviving large train sheds in the Midwest, as few other major cities in the region have retained these significant industrial structures.

The train yards include a large number of rail spurs that were necessary to accommodate the nearly two hundred trains passing through the station daily during its prime.

Union Station

Union Station