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Introduction to the History of Union Station


A 1920s postcard of Union Station.

The Washington Evening Star was confident it understood the significance of October 27, 1907. On the 26th, its front page announced that the next day would witness not just the opening of “a new era in railroading” but “an event of signal importance in the history of Washington:” the opening of Union.

It was easy to dismiss these claims as hyperbole, since, like most papers of the day, the Evening Star often seemed more interested in promoting its hometown than in reporting about it. This time, however, the paper was accurate. The terminal did revolutionize railroading in the city: for the first time, its carriers all operated from under the same roof, and visitors to the nation’s capital finally received an appropriately grand welcome. More remarkable was how its influence spread into aspects of life far beyond transportation, including architecture, planning, economics, politics and government, race relations, and gender roles.

This site examines how, over the past century, Union Station has both shaped and documented life in the nation’s capital. Its importance appears most clearly through the stories of those who encountered it, from Presidents and movie starts to workers and travelers. Together their experiences reveal the central place Union Station has occupied in modern Washington and in the process illustrates how much one building can reveal about its community.