In 1852, construction of the Union Depot began – the largest building standing in Indianapolis for many years. It is considered the first “union station” in the United States. However, the depot soon became too small to accommodate the growing population of Indianapolis and the new railroad tracks that were quickly becoming necessary for the city. In 1888, the new Union Station opened a couple blocks away to replace the depot; it was a beautiful structure, offering everything from a ladies’ sitting room to a dining room. Today, though Union Station is home to a hotel, restaurants, and a charter school, it retains the beauty of the original station’s structure and its history.
In 1847, the first railroad in Indiana was built; it ran
from the river port of Madison to Indianapolis, thus the line was labelled
“Madison and Indianapolis.” Because several more railroads were being planned
and built by the end of 1848, the Indianapolis city council created the Union
Railroad Company with the intent of building a Union Depot to connect all the
railroad tracks being built. In 1849, the three railroad companies who were
building passenger stations on the outskirts of Indianapolis agreed to their
combine tracks and invest in a single depot station. Construction on the Union
Depot building began in 1852 on Louisiana Street.
At the time of the station’s construction, there were
only six professional architects in Indianapolis. Out of those six, Joseph
Curzon was chosen to design the building. The brick depot he designed
accommodated five tracks and cost $30,000. The Union Depot opened on September 28, 1853 and was one of the largest buildings in
Indianapolis for many years. For a few months in 1864, young Thomas Edison
worked as a telegraph operator in the depot. It was during his time working at
the station that he created his first invention: the automatic repeater
telegraph, which could record incoming telegraph signals and replay them.
In the 1870s the city of Indianapolis and its railroad
system were growing rapidly – Union Depot quickly became unable to fulfill the
city’s needs. By December of 1884, the Union Railway had officially approved
plans to build a new Union Station. Thomas Rodd, an architect from Pittsburgh,
was chosen to design the station. After a sufficient plot of land between
Illinois and Meridian Streets had been acquired, construction began in 1886. While
it was being built, the nearby Union Depot continued to be used.
Union Station opened on September 17, 1888; its construction, along with the
construction of a train shed and refurbishment of a nearby tunnel, cost around
$1,200,000 (around $29 million today). The first floor of the red brick
structure held a gentleman’s waiting room, barber shop, news stand, parcel
room, large ticket office, dining room, and a ladies’ sitting room. The
building contained Romanesque arches throughout and a 185 foot clock tower.
The Union Railway
remodeled the station in 1913, but a larger renovation throughout the city was
needed as many of the ground level tracks were causing an increased number of
accidents. In 1915 the railroads and city agreed to split the cost of
renovations – between 1915 and 1924 twelve station tracks and two freight
tracks were elevated to make the roads safer.
In the mid-1980s,
Robert Borns converted the station into a marketplace. Today, the Union Station
building holds a hotel, restaurants, a charter school, and a branch office of
the Mexican Embassy.