Book Review: America’s Great Railroad Stations by Peter Strauss III, Ed Breslin, and Hugh Van Dusen

The age of the great American railroad, which emerged at the turn of the century, spurred a period of great American railroad stations all coming to fruition at the core of the Industrial Revolution. Now with the world steep in the computer age, the day of the great American railroad and train stations seem to have slipped away, but authors Peter Strauss III, Ed Breslin, and Hugh Van Dusen show that a handful of these period pieces continue to flourish in this modern age.

Their book “America’s Great Railroad Stations ” from Penguin Books is a detailed encyclopedia of the remaining railroad stations that were born at the height of the Industrial Revolution in America. Stations such as Philadelphia’s 30 th Street Station and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station are massive structures that are an integral part of their city’s landscape. They can be found on any map of these cities servicing hundreds of thousands of people each day whether in terms of supplying public transportation or in other areas of commercial endeavors such as food courts, gift shops, or convenience and specialty stores. The authors revel in the glorious structures of the American railroad station of yesteryear.

Though antique stations have been converted into museums such as Richmond Virginia’s Broad Street Station or operated by Amtrak like the Hudson River Stations and Adirondacks Lines, these structures still rival the grandeur of stations like Gare du Nord in Paris and Charing Cross in London. The authors ruminate about the European features of these structures such as elaborate cornices, Doric columns, domed ceilings with a glass oculus in the center, butterfly canopies, ornamented spires, elaborate mascarons, arched entrance ways, domed rotundas, and stone friezes. They also discuss the materials used to build these multi-ton structures such as rustic brick, durable granite, speckled marble, and classic limestone and terra cotta. It was a time when masonry work was in vast demand, and buildings were complimented by geometrical shapes and art deco floor patterns.

The authors offer a large volume of information regarding turn of the century railroad stations and their historical significance. They show that as communities grew, so too did the American railroad and the train stations which were designed to accommodate the expansion. But as planes and vehicles came into the public market, the need to use the railroad waned. The authors demonstrate how a number of antique railroad stations survived by adapting to the new conditions of their environment and servicing a modern society.

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