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Union Station’s Past and Present

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Vincent Pacifico

The two iconic towers that stand in Washington Square are well known by most and can be seen from many locations in the city. Perhaps one of the best views is driving on interstate 290 West and looking down at them from a bird eye view. Worcester’s famous Union Station has been a prized piece of architecture for a century and will continue to be for many years to come.

What we know as Union Station today, the place where we jump on the commuter rail to head to Boston for the day was not always how it was, or even where it was. The train station that stands today is more than a century old but is not in fact the original station that served the city in the 19th century. The original Union Station was built in 1875 featuring a Gothic Revival style and was located just east of today’s station where Interstate 290 is currently situated. The building featured a large train shed which covered the tracks and rail cars along with a single clock tower which rose over the city 212 feet. The station served the city with various lines up until the early 20th century when it was demolished to make way for a new station with elevated rail lines that would cause much less traffic on the street level.

In 1911 the new Union Station was built. It featured a beautiful terra cotta faced facade designed in the French-Renaissance style along with two towers, each 175 feet tall clad with marble. The building was tastefully accented with ornamentation, arches and ionic style columns. During Worcester’s heyday the station was busy and had up to 140 passenger trains going in and out daily. Due to the materials used to build the two towers, the vibrations of all of the trains coming and going led to structural weakening of the towers, therefore they had to be removed in 1926 taking away much of the building’s charm. 

Common of many railroad stations around the country, after World War II, there was a decline in the use of Union Station and the building was left abandoned in 1974. The station sat empty until 1995 when the Worcester Redevelopment Authority acquired the building and completely renovated it. The two towers were rebuilt with new innovative materials that could better withstand the vibrations from the rail lines along with the interior being restored to what it had originally looked like. New windows and interior finish work was completed to give the building the same beautiful look it once had. The grandhall space today is still one of the most stunning rooms in the city and it is commonly used for events due to its elaborate aesthetic and its ability to hold large crowds.

The train station today does not get nearly as much traffic as it once did in the 20th century. Your destinations are definitely limited but you can still easily take the commuter rail towards Boston for an enjoyable commute. Even if you’re not taking the train, it’s still worth walking through the front doors and admiring the space inside. Besides the waiting platform, there is a restaurant on the ground floor and a convenient parking garage located in the rear. Over the years Union Station has risen and fallen a few times, it’s changed locations and has been left completely abandoned, however the beauty we all love from the original design has definitely been recreated and better developed for the city’s new fleet of incoming trains.

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