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Images of Union Station

Photographers documented much of Union Station's history. The pictures below provide an introduction to those images, as well as to others related to the building's development. Click on any thumbnail to see a larger version, which will open in a separate window. To close the new window, just click anywhere else on the screen.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs come from the Library of Congress.Anyone wishing to see more should start by visiting the Prints and Photographs section of the Library of Congress's website; for the best results from the online catalog search, enter "Washington Union Station" without quotation marks.

19th Century History of Railroads in Washington
Most of these images appear in Chapter 1, "Railroading Washington."

B & O station

Rear of the B&O Station, late 19th century
The cramped space in which the B&O operated is clear from this photo. Its trains were backed into the depot before being loaded from the building side.

B & O Station

Baltimore & Ohio Station
This image, taken within a year of the station's demolition in 1908, shows how the building-up of Washington's streets after the Civil War left the station significantly below grade. The U.S. Capitol is three blocks off to the right.

Pennsylvania Station

Pennsylvania (Baltimore & Potomac) Station in Washington
The Pennsy's station in Washington stood at Sixth and B (now Independence Ave.) Streets NW, on the land now occupied by the West Wing of the National Gallery. Sixth Street runs down the left side of this picture, past the train shed that extended onto the Mall.

National Mall

The Mall, 1870s
A view from the top of the Smithsonian Castle looking east. Running across the middle of the image is Sixth Street, along which the Pennsylvania Railroad ran its trains; visible along the left edge of the photo are its station.

Old Long Bridge

The Old Long Bridge
This view from the bridge's eastern end helps show why people in and around Washington so disliked it. It barely cleared the Potomac, which helped create the flood pictured in the next image. More importantly, carriage and foot traffic had to travel just feet from the smoking and clattering railroad, whose tracks are on the far side of the bridge.

Flood on the Mall

The Flood of 1889
This drawing from Harper's Weekly looks north up Sixth Street towards the Pennsyvlania depot, which stands on the left, after the same storm that helped cause the Johnstown Flood. According to legend, the building's matron patrolled the waiting room in a boat.

Grade Crossing Accident

Grade Crossing Accident, 1887
The aftermath of a crossing accident involving the B&O in Northeast Washington, including the freight car on its side in the center right. Standing up in the center of the picture is the arm of the gate intended to protect the intersection. These accidents, which were frighteningly common in 19th century Washington, are described in section 4 of Chapter 1.

Construction of Union Station
Many of these images appear in Chapter 3, "Assembly Required."

Concourse Under Construction

Concourse Area, 1905
The tracks in the center of this image are used for bringing in fill that will be dumped in between the piers of the foundation, like those in the bottom right. The wall running from left to right in the center of the photo marks the northern edge of the concourse; the building farther back is one of the cement plants that served the site.

Headhouse under Construction

Headhouse, 1905
Union Station's foundations were built by pouring concrete into wooden forms like the one visible along the left edge of the photo. (Next to the form are two workers.) The horizontal lines in each pier indicates the start of a new layer of concrete. The areas in between were filled with dirt that came largely from the hills north of the station; the material was brought in by train, then distributed by wheelbarrow. The building in the center background in the Pension Building; closer and to the right is the Government Printing Office.

First Street Tunnel

Entrance to the First Street Tunnel
Sandhogs pose in front of the wall holding back the dirt through which the men will bore the central, or driven, section of the First Street tunnel. Note the small shafts (or drifts) at either lower corner, through which the men will create the tunnel under Capitol Hill. For a complete description of this work, see section 4 of Chapter 3.

Interior of First Street Tunnel

Drift for the First Street Tunnel
While the north and south ends of the First Street tunnel were built by cutting and covering, the center section was bored or "driven" through Capitol Hill. This photo shows one of the three drifts the sandhogs used to start the tunnel. All this work, including building the frames and removing the dirt, was done by hand. A full description of how the men built this 1,700 foot section is in Chapter 3.

Interior of the First Street Tunnel

Building the First Street Tunnel Walls
After the sandhogs had removed the dirt core of the tunnel, masons used the moving scaffold to build the ceiling and sidewalls. This traveler carried wooden arches that the masons used as guides for their brickwork. Because digging continued farther up the tunnel, the scaffold had to straddle to dirt car tracks running to the lower right corner of the picture.

Union Station from Massachusetts Avenue

Union Station from the West
This 1906 photo, taken from Massachusetts Avenue near North Capitol Street, shows defining features of the station. On the left is the west end of the concourse, with the driveways to the basement baggage area visible just above the dirt. The rounded steel work is the concourse roof; it was built with a moving scaffold, the rectangular structure at this end of the concourse. On the right is the headhouse, and the poles sticking up around the site are the derricks that lifted material into place.

Union Station, 1905

Southeast Corner of Union Station, 1905
This photo, taken late in 1905 for D.H. Burnham & Co., shows the station at a time when the original plans said it would be finished. In the lower left corner are rowhouses about to be demolished; their roofs indicate the nearly 25 feet of fill this area gained to create the new street level. The one-story building on the left is the construction headquarters.

Union Station, 1906

Southeast corner of Union Station, 1906
A comparison of this photo with the one from November 1905 shows the progress made over winter of 1906. The steel work is now higher, and more granite has been set on the building walls. The old row houses have been removed, and more fill has been added.

Waiting Room 1906

Main Waiting Room, 1906
Taken looking northeast from the southwest corner of the waiting room, this photo illustrates many of the features of this stage of construction. In the middle are two steam-powered derricks, which lifted steel and granite into place. The arch in the center of the picture is the framing for the window that will occupy the east wall of the waiting room. Though it is difficult to see, each of the pieces of granite has a number written on it that tells the masons where to place it.

Ticket Lobby 1906

Ticket Lobby Roof
This photo from Christmas 1906 shows the trusses for the ticket lobby roof and the west end of the headhouse. The rectangular structure in the center of the photo is the moving scaffold or traveler the ironworkers were using to build the barrel vault over the waiting room. Note the two men at the top of the photo: they are standing on a couple of wooden planks, with no net below.

Union Station, early 1907

The front of Union Station, early 1907
This photo shows the typical pattern of construction, under which the men would work east (on the right) to west -- note the relative conditions of the two corner pavilions. The walls near the top of the three central arches are dark because the masons have not yet set the granite over the brick backing.

Union Station in the fall of 1907

Headhouse Ceiling, Fall 1907
The sign in the middle reads "McNulty Bros. of Chicago/Plastering Contractors/Largest Moving Scaffold in the World/Union Station Washington, DC" This traveler was originally used to build the roof; McNulty Brothers bought it, reduced its outer dimensions, and used it to hoist the pieces of the plaster ceiling into place.