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South Station, circa 1930

Posted by Kate Fichter, Project Manager

When you think of Boston South Station, you most likely think about catching a train or bus, commuting home, or taking a weekend trip to New York City or Providence.  It would be no surprise if, like many of the 22 million passengers who passed through South Station in 2011, you primarily regard the station as a means to get where you want to go. You may also appreciate the food and amenities that South Station offers, the holiday and art displays, and the connections to the MBTA Red and Silver Lines.

The South Station that you know today has come a long way from its original construction, so let’s travel back to 1876.  You’ve just arrived in Boston to catch your next train at one of three other terminals on the south side of the city.  You have to walk some distance with your heavy bags, since none of the local stations serves all of the different train lines that operate in and out of Boston (as many as nine different lines once carried travelers to and from Boston).  Wouldn’t travel be easier and quicker if the different railroads could be combined in a single station?

That’s where the Boston Terminal Company enters the story.  The Company was granted a charter by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1896 to construct and maintain a ‘union’ station – unifying the different railroads under a single roof – for all trains entering Boston from the south.  The company bought a 35-acre parcel (previously used for the terminal station of the New England Railroad) for $9 million, and construction began on the consolidated station in 1897.  The new station would combine the operations previously housed at four different terminal stations, including those of the New England Railroad Terminal, the Boston and Albany Railroad Company, the Boston and Providence Railroad Corporation, and the Old Colony Railroad Company.   Two years and $11 million later, Boston South Station opened its doors to customers on January 1, 1899.  Excited customers lined up to board one of the 65 trains that would depart that day.

The front entrance to the station looked similar to how it looks today, with three double doors opening to the corner of Summer Street and Atlantic Avenue, with an exterior clock (manufactured by the Edward Clock Company of Roxbury) topped by an eagle statue with an eight-foot wingspan.  Unlike today, carriages were allowed to enter the front of the station to meet passengers and carry baggage.
Unlike today, a shed – a large glass roof – covered the station’s 28 tracks and platforms, allowing passengers to be protected from the elements while boarding and alighting trains.  The train shed was removed during a remodeling of the station in 1929-1931.  The photo above, courtesy of the Boston Public Library/Leslie Jones Collection, shows the inside of the shed circa 1930.

COMING SOON:  South Station has a long history, and has long been the subject of tall tales of ghosts and bowling alleys.  As MassDOT focuses on a new South Station, I plan to share tales of the past and of the future we would like you to help us build.  Visit the South Station Expansion project website for more information.

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