Monday, June 4, 2012

What Remains - Central Union Station

About a month ago, a fellow Cincinnati history fan posted this picture on Facebook:
This was the Central Union Station, also called the Grand Central Depot. This beautiful building, built in 1883, once stood at the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue. It was home to the Big Four Railroad (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis) and many others. In 1894, the book History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County described the magnitude the Central Union Station and the Big Four had:
This system (Big Four) connects at the Central Union station in Cincinnati with the trains of the Chesapeake & Ohio; Queen and Crescent; Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern; Louisville & Nashville; and Kentucky Central railways for all the principal points in the East, Southeast and South. The total length of all lines owned, leased and operated in the "Big Four" system amounts to 2,336.11 miles.
The board of directors is composed of Cornelius Vanderbilt, William K. Vanderbilt, Chauncey M. Depew, J. Pierpont Morgan, George Bliss, H. McK. Twombly and James B. Layng, of New York; S. J. Broadwell, Alexander McDonald, Melville E. Ingalls and William P. Anderson, of Cincinnati; Amos Townsend and James Barnett, of Cleveland; Benjamin S. Brown, of Columbus, George A. Farlow, of Boston.
1887 Sanborn Map - Source
 Plans for the station on Central Avenue began as early as 1871 and in 1873, an ordinance was pending in City Council to allow for concessions to be made to the railroads so they could unite in a common passenger depot. These plans were dropped and then revived in 1881. When the building was finally completed and opened in early 1884, it was described as being:
"on a grander scale than its down East (Boston) competitor... The style of the great edifices, which is to cost within a trifle of half a million, is a happy combination of Queen Ann and Eastlake. There is to be hardwood and tile interior finish and a fireproof mansard roof." (Cincinnati Times Star, 3/20/1933).

1891 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
This was not the only train station in town. There was also the Pennsylvania Station, the Sixth and Baymiller Station, the Court Street Station, and the Fourth Street Station. This caused quite a tangled mess of tracks in the riverfront area, which was subjected to the periodic flooding of the Ohio River. So in 1929, it was decided that a new depot should be built in the West End and in 1933, Union Terminal was opened.
1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source

Even flooding cause the Central Union Station to close earlier than expected. Plans were made for ceremonies to open Union Terminal on March 31 and April 2, 1933 but the river flooded and trains were sent to the new depot on March 19th. On August 31, 1933, demolition of the 50-year-old Central Union began and the reported reason was to escape paying taxes on the vacant building, which was still owned by the Big Four Railroad. The first two weeks were spent removing the interior of "fine and valuable wood furnishings", taken by the wrecking contractor and the brick and stone exterior was being reused by the Big Four in other road construction work (The Cincinnati Post, 9/27/1933). Plans were made in 1934 to use the location as a freight yard for perishable goods.
By 1939, talks began about redeveloping the Third Street area into what would become Fort Washington Way. Jake Mecklenborg's website, Cincinnati Transit, explains in great detail how and why it was built. Make sure you check out all the pictures too!
Cincinnati Riverfront 1949, Click to view larger - Source

So what about the remains? Comments made to my preservation friend's photo indicate that a small portion remained at Third and Central. Coincidentally, a blog fan, Dave, sent me an email to inquire about a brick and stone wall in the parking lot at this same corner. He took some great pictures for me and also outlined on this old postcard of what now remains of the old Central Union Station.
Outline by Dave, Photo Source
 Here is what remains today:
Just a small portion of the original Central Union Station remains at the corner of Third and Central

Parking lot view shows the windows which allowed light to the lower level of the building. You can also see where the floor beams attached.

Close-up of what was once the right side of the doorway into the station on Third Street
Approximately the same view from the original photo
I am so grateful that my favorite Cincinnati building, Union Terminal, has been standing now for almost 80 years, 30 years longer than Central Union Station was a part of Cincinnati. Thanks goodness for those who fight to preserve our landmarks today.


  1. Interesting history. Thanks for sharing your info and insights.

  2. Research "Mud Floods". I believe this building can be seen in the 1848 daguerreotype. 1st plate, in the distance. History is messed up...


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