Cathedrals to Commerce

by Jennifer Westrick

 

The many photographs of the Newberry Library’s CB&Q collection include striking images of various train terminals along the route.    Larger cities often constructed ornate depots that more than adequately served the needs of their dual markets:  those who chose to travel by train, and the railroad companies moving freight.

Taken in the mid-1940’s by Esther Bubley and Lee Russell, the images of these large, ornate buildings capture the feeling of reverence that surrounds these depots.   Many of these building remind me of churches and cathedrals build in European cities.  In both cases, the cities spared no expense.   Built in growing Midwestern towns, the best craftsmen were employed, local artists were used, expensive materials were employed and architectural details were designed to dazzle the eye.

For example, St. Louis chose to use stained glass and gold leaf to decorate its Grand Hall, which had a 65-foot tall arched ceiling.  Kansas City’s Union Station included such features as a 95’ ceiling, three 3,500 lb chandeliers and a 6’ wide clock.  The Great Hall in Chicago’s Union Station featured 18 soaring Corinthian columns, pink marble floors, and a five story barrel vaulted atrium ceiling.    To complete the comparison, patrons sit patiently on wooden pews, wearing their finest traveling clothes and often a most patient expression.

These photographs and many more are featured in a digital collection entitled “Daily Life Along the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad” which can be accessed from the Newberry Library’s main webpage.

Chicago Union Station, early morning

Chicago Union Station, early morning (photo credit: Esther Bubley). Record number: A-5-1 Photographs, Artwork and Audiovisual, Granger Country Photographs, #355.

 

St. Louis Union Station, night scene

St. Louis Union Station, night scene (photo credit: Esther Bubley). Record number: A-5-1 Photographs, Artwork and Audiovisual, Granger Country Photographs, #2214.

 

Kansas City Union Station (photo credit: Esther Bubley)

Kansas City Union Station (photo credit: Esther Bubley). Record number: A-5-1 Photographs, Artwork and Audiovisual, Granger Country Photographs, #2178.

 

 

St. Paul Burlington Station (phot credit: Russell Lee)

St. Paul Burlington Station (photo credit: Russell Lee). Record number: A-5-1 Photographs, Artwork and Audiovisual, Granger Country Photographs, #2155M3

 


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