Springfield Union Station Memories

Dining Car

Well, I am 85 years old and my sister used to live in Northampton. I can remember many times walking through the Union Station in Springfield and meeting her at the "Top Of The Town" restaurant at Forbes and Wallace's in downtown Springfield. She brought her car and then we would drive back to Northampton. It was always a lovely time. The Union Station was so busy back then. Going back to New York, I could get on in Northampton back then and there was a dining car on the train where I could get a wonderful dinner. As I recall the Union Station in Northampton was quite a bustling place as well and during the fall when the girls were arriving there for Smith College the railroad would hire boys to carry their luggage from the train to the taxis. Things were a lot different back then and I think it was nicer. Oh well, that's my story.

Submitted by Esther F., New York NY

 

Fond Memories

I grew up in the Springfield area and remember well Springfield Union Station traveling on the New Haven Railroad to New York and back around Christmas time. Many fond memories of the station. Those benches and I think I recall a brass baggage stand just in front of the ticket counter. Also remember a lunch counter to the left when entering on Frank B. Murray street. And oh those long steps up to the platform. I'm very pleased to see the old station being restored. Had always been a dream then when I get back to railroad modeling, Springfield Station would be a focal point. Would like to be there for the grand re-opening. I also recall as a teenager going to the station to see the Flying Scotsman train come through. Not directly related, I also recall the old rail side produce and fruit buildings to the south of the station along the Connecticut river. My father took me there once to see a neighbor to ran a wholesale produce business. Many memories.

Submitted by Bruce E., Lancaster PA

 

Second Trip

My first train trip was at about the age of 4 from Thompsonville to Springfield on a cloudy afternoon on a late fall day, with a nursery school class. I was 4 years old. My next visit was the adventurous start of my second train trip - my parents took me with them to visit friends in Washington DC. While we were awaiting train 169, the "Washingtonian" before dawn that morning, we received word that the some express cars had derailed approaching the station and our train would be delayed. As we waited for an announcement to board the delayed train a commotion broke out on Liberty Street with the arrival of the Springfield Fire Department, announced by a number of sirens and many flashing lights. A fire had been discovered in "the Hash Room" which was part of the mail handling facility on the ground my Dad took me out onto Liberty (now Frank B Murray) Street to watch the excitement. We eventually made our trip, and returned to find that the New Haven Railroad's roundhouse along the Connecticut River had burned down in our absence.

I would go on to occasionally visit Union Station through the years, and witnessed its fall from grace. During one of those visits, in 1973, I asked about job opportunities with Amtrak which had taken over the operation, and this led to a 40 year plus railroad career. My first employment was in the Amtrak ticket office within Union Station, and recently I worked overtime at the current ticket office. My first time "on the clock" there in over 20 years. While sad to see the Mail and Express building disappear, I am pleased to see that finally the remaining part of the station will again be an attractive and busy transportation hub once again.

Submitted by William S., Plantsville CT

 

Watching the Boxcars

I remember Union Station well from my early childhood in the 1950's. My dad Art worked for the Railway Express Agency for 30 odd years after he came back from WW 2. He was an administrator in the offices in the Baggage Building. The office windows were just between the truck loading platform and the Hotel Charles.

I remember going to pick him up from work many times with my mom and being allowed to walk through what seemed to be an enormous room where the freight was sorted and sent out. The drivers and freight handlers all knew my Dad and they struck me as the biggest, strongest men I had ever met. They all seemed to be looking out for me.

The best part was being allowed up to the platform to watch boxcars being loaded and freights and passenger trains stopping in Springfield. It seems like a million years ago but they were wonderful memories that a boy will carry forever. I hope to take my grandson down to Springfield soon on the Vermonter. He needs some memories too! 

Submitted by Mike T., Meriden NH

 

Brought to Life

I was lucky as a child to have ridden numerous trains out of Springfield. It has impacted me to this day as a railfan. Numerous shopping trips were made with my mother and aunt to Hartford on the New Haven and also to NYC. The Boston and Albany carried us to Albany as well as Boston.

I regret not having been able to ride the B&M North. I recall stepping up to the ticket windows and then sitting in the cavernous waiting area. A barber and shoe shiner would be busy near the entrance. A counter with snacks, magazines and papers on the other side. As trains were announced the train announcer was hard to understand with his booming voice that echoed loudly through the waiting area causing excitement as you got ready to board. We would proceed to the tunnel to the doors marked with the proper track and I would nearly run up the stairs always hoping to see the locomotives for our train.

My Uncle was in charge of Railway Express (remember those big red diamond logos and green trucks that delivered packages to your home) in Springfield and on several occasions my Uncle would take my cousins and myself to the station and enter through the express office (called the baggage building in the website write up). We would go through the bowels of the building stacked with packages and boxes and up elevators to the tracks and platform always hoping to see trains. I also recall in the fifties the new Talgo train that was on display.

As new and innovative as it was the regular trains were more interesting. Today my son and grandson visit the station area and watch trains much as I did, and I enjoy being with them when I can pointing out this or that. The trains are newer, but are interesting and exciting for a new generation.

It was a special treat to be on the platform for the arrival from Chicago of one of New York Centrals premier trains "The New England States Limited". This train was the second most important train in the entire New York Central system, second  in importance only to the "20th Century Limited".  The headlight could be spotted as it came across the Connecticut River bridge and the grey "lightning striped" paint scheme of the locomotives with nearly matched stainless steel, streamlined passenger cars marked the train as "special".  

It created wanderlust and some envy to be a passenger on it. As it passed into the station for it's stop, the cook always seemed to be hanging out a dutch door on the dining car with his chef's hat and white garb and apron, looking over the crowd that was about to board in Springfield.  The smartly uniformed conductor and trainmen would occupy the doorways keeping an eye on the crowd until the train stopped.  

Usually in the fifties the train was long enough to occupy nearly the entire platform length and the locomotives would be well beyond.  The crewman would assist passengers in boarding and baggage handlers would pull their carts to the baggage car for loading.  After all had boarded the conductor would then raise his hand as a signal to the engineer and shout " Boooooard", step aboard, and the engineer would acknowledge with a couple of short toots and the train would begin to move to its destination in Boston.    

Submitted by John C., Southampton MA

 

A Passion for Trains

During the 1950's and early 1960's, my grandmother Rose and my mother Renee, lived in Springfield and Renee's older sister, Marian, lived in Manhattan. Several times a year Rose would visit Marian, and of course, she would take the train from Union Station. My mother and I would take her to the station. Sometimes we had to take a bus to get there. Going downtown was always a big deal, and I would get giddy as we entered the train station. It was a beautiful building, active with station employees working and strangers coming and going from every direction. As a very young girl, I developed a passion for trains and the beautiful architecture of train stations.

When the Springfield train station closed and was boarded up to keep vandals and the homeless out, I found a way in. I would visit the train station whenever I could and imagine that some day it would be a major attraction again. I would get my hopes up every time I read an article about refurbishing the station, only to be disappointed again and again. Well, 40 years later, I believe that my wish is finally coming true. In my opinion, this is the best thing to happen to Springfield in decades. I hope it will be the start of a project to rejuvenate downtown Springfield. I knew even as a small child that closing the train station and building the tower and mall (Bay State West) was a huge mistake. I have been waiting patiently for almost 40 years for the "powers that be" to rejuvenate the downtown area and I believe it will finally happen. I am sure the city will salvage whatever it can so the train station will keep its charm of the past.

Just yesterday, my sister Debbie and I were headed into Memo's for breakfast, when she stopped to show me The Republican's headlines: UNION STATION WINS FINAL FUNDS". I actually jumped up and down clapping my hands. After all these years, it still makes me giddy. Thank you for never giving up on this important project.

Submitted by Linda N., Longmeadow MA

 

Wooden Benches

A recent trip with my kids to NYC via Amtrak brought back memories of my childhood as we waited at the Springfield station for the train. My grandmother would take periodic trips by train to NYC to visit her sister who lived most of her life on the upper east side of Manhattan. When regular service from Northampton ended, we would take her to Union Station in Springfield. I recall how huge the place looked and loved the shiny, long, wooden benches in the waiting area. My siblings and I would, of course, run around the concourse while we waited. As the years went on, it was sad to see the station fall into disrepair and eventually close much of the station. I look forward to seeing the revitalization of the station as a vibrant facility. I hope much of the historical look can be preserved. 

Submitted by David O., Easthampton, MA

 

Army Days

A Springfield native, I travelled to and from Union Station many times during my Army days 1968-70. Coming home on leave I'd sometimes jump off the slowly moving train as it slowed to a crawl in the South End and walk home. Friends would see me off from the old terminal building when I had to go back to the Army. I always loved the ride along the Connectict River and then my city coming into the horizon. I couldn't be happier that Springfield is finally getting its grand old train station back.

Submitted by Stephen J., Los Angeles, CA


Thoreau's Travels

American author Henry David Thoreau passed through Springfield on the train at least four times in his life. He boasted in his book Walden that he "traveled a good deal in Concord," his hometown. In reality, his lectures, surveying jobs, and natural explorations led him to select areas throughout New England, the American Northeast, and Canada. And while he also described each locomotive that clattered past Walden Pond as being an "iron horse" that breathed "fire and smoke from his nostrils" and one that disturbed the peacefulness of its surroundings, Thoreau came to use the railroad quite a bit. He was no Luddite. He traveled thousands of miles by rail during his lifetime.

Here are the four confirmed times he passed through Springfield. He would have stopped at the Western Railroad station each time. It pre-dated the Union station buildings from 1926, obviously. But at least he was there.

July 1844: Thoreau embarked on a walking quest from Concord, MA, to Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. He continued west on foot into the Connecticut River Valley, passing through the towns of Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, and North Adams. He climbed Mount Greylock, known to him as "Saddleback." Then he walked to Pittsfield and met friend William Ellery Channing, by prior arrangement. The duo continued on to the Hudson River and to the Catskills, probably taking the Western Railroad to Greenbush, NY. They no doubt used the Western Railroad to get back to Concord, and would have passed through Springfield. The date and time are uncertain.

December 1860: Thoreau was scheduled to give a lecture in Waterbury, CT. He took a train from Concord to Worcester on December 10th, and stayed overnight there with friends. On December 11th, he took the Western Railroad from Worcester to Springfield; the Hartford & New Haven Railroad to Hartford; and the Hartford, Providence, & Fishkill Railroad to Waterbury. He gave his lecture at Hotchkiss Hall and stayed overnight in Waterbury. On December 12th, he rode back to Worcester (passing through Springfield) and may again have visited with friends that night. By December 15th at the very latest, he was back in Concord.

May 1861: Thoreau and young Horace Mann, Jr., began their "Journey West" to Minnesota. They left Concord on May 11th, and got as far as Worcester. They spent May 12th visiting with friends there. On May 13th, they took the cars of the Western Railroad and headed for Albany. If the train was on time, it stopped in Springfield at 11:28 a.m., and resumed its westward trek at 12:10 p.m. (There's no telling what Thoreau and Mann might have done during that break, though Thoreau bought something for six cents at the stop.) It took about two weeks for Thoreau and Mann to reach St. Anthony, Minnesota. They spent a month in that state, then took a more northern route home. They were back in Concord by July 11th.

Submitted by Corinne S., Athol MA

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Page last updated:  Thursday, June 23, 2016 02:32 pm