Union Station, or Penn Station, is the second train depot erected at Eleventh Street and Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The first, built in 1857, was destroyed by the rioting that accompanied the tragic railroad strike of 1877. Rebuilt in 1899, Union Station is one of the oldest and grandest structures in the City of Pittsburgh.
The Pennsylvania Railroad was at one time a major mode of local transit. In 1910, East Liberty alone was served by 104 trains a day, and in peak hours railroads transported 12,323 passengers out of the downtown area, compared to 23,942 on street railway lines. In 1922, the peak for commuter trains, 368 daily runs were operated in the Pittsburgh district. By 1947, the increasing popularity of the automobile, and better road networks, reduced that number to only sixty-seven.
The present Union Station building was designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and financed by industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The materials used were a grayish-brown terra cotta that resembled brownstone, and brick. Although Burnham is regarded more as a planner and organizer rather than a designer of details, the most extraordinary feature of the monumental train station, the rotunda with corner pavilions, was his design. The rotunda sheltered passengers and led to a spectacularly designed waiting room. The Union Station rotunda is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although railroad traffic in Pittsburgh is no longer a prominent mode of transportation, the old train depot still echoes with the sounds of the conductor, and freight trains bound for warehouses along Liberty Avenue still snake their way along the old tracks. For those who want to take a ride on the scenic Pennsylvania Railroad, Amtrak service still operates out of the Pittsburgh station.
The upper floors of the 19th century landmark have been refurbished, and are now part of "The Pennsylvanian", an upscale apartment complex. In 1985, the railroad terminal was also linked to a spur line of the Port Authority's Pittsburgh Light Rail system, with the Penn Station passenger loading platform. The spur line utilizes an old tunnel that was once a part of the historic Pennsylvania Canal, was later converted for railroad use and has since been modernized for subway traffic.
Pittsburgh's Union Station, along with the P&LERR Grand Concourse terminal building in Station Square, are two of the remaining links to the grand days of Pittsburgh's railroad heritage.
"Give them hell!" the mob screamed when Sheriff Fife, backed by Philadelphia troops, tried to arrest a ringleader on July 21, 1877. A revolver shot followed a barrage of stones. The soldiers opened fire, leaving many dead and wounded. The trouble had started five days earlier in Baltimore and spread west. On the 19th, Pennsylvania Railroad workers in Pittsburgh struck in protest against wage cuts and layoffs.
News of the 28th Street battle flashed through the city. Soon, railroaders were joined by thousands of angry millhands and other workers. By midnight 20,000 people were upon the grounds, 5000 of them armed. The rioters burned a roundhouse to dislodge the soldiers and then spent the evening sending blazing oil trains crashing into freight cars and sleeping coaches.
The following day, anarchy reigned in the city and the rioters descended upon the Union Depot and Hotel. Soon the building was also in flames. Thousands of Pittsburghers gathered on hillsides to see the sight. Law enforcement authorities were helpless to stop the carnage.
The rioting lasted for three days before peetering out. When it was all over, property damage exceeded $7,000,000. Sixty-one people had died and 150 were injured.
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