1905 station facade to be restored soon
November 9, 1995
By Pamela Cressey
The early 20th century postcard of Union Station shows the portico over the west facade, which will be restored. Original colorized postcard, courtesy Alexandria Library, Lloyd House.
Earlier this year the City of Alexandria published an historic structure report on the station authored by Al Cox, Staff Architect. The report is associated with the renovation of Union Station funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation with federal ISTEA money, (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act), RF&P Corporation (the property owner), and Amtrak. The City of Alexandria applied for the ISTEA grant, and the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services is administering the project.
Al's report is an excellent overview to the city's railroad history and also documents the alterations to the station's exterior by analyzing original blueprints and old photographs. This analysis is made possible through the use of historic photographs from William E. Griffin Jr., author of One Hundred Fifty Years of History: Along the Richmond Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.
Union Station stands at the base of Shuter's Hill between the two major turnpikes joining Alexandria with its western hinterland: The Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike (King Street) and Little River Turnpike (Duke Street). In this location, Union Station became in 1905 the modern hub of regional passenger travel. Its choice of location, not unlike its successor the King Street Metro Station, was not universally acclaimed: "The removal of the station to without the city limits was the hardest blow that has struck Alexandria for many years. The depot is not only outside the city limits, but is in another county; is difficult to approach, and requires considerable time and expense to reach, while but few persons will stop there, owing to the trouble and inconvenience of reaching the city" (Alexandria Gazette).
Regardless of these sentiments, Union Station opened November 20, 1905, just west of the city limits. The Alexandria Gazette announced: "Trains have been using the new tracks... for some time, but passengers were accommodated in a temporary frame structure...The new building is heated by steam, and will in a short time be lighted by electricity." Perhaps the station's location prompted Alexandria to annex the area and Rosemont in 1915.
Union Station was built at the cost of $62,020.55, while a freight station (demolished in the 1980s) east of the tracks was $25,086.11. Look for the restoration of the interior and exterior to their 1905 appearance, as well as new landscaping to enhance the historic character of the site.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.