Columbus Union Station as it is recalled today was actually the third Union Station in Columbus. The previous two served in the 19th century, and their replacement and upgrade reflected the rapid growth in traffic and importance of Columbus’ railroads at that time.
In 1891, the traffic situation on High Street reached a crisis, with the roadway blocked for up to seven hours per day by crossing trains. In 1893, the architectural firm of Daniel H. Burnham & Company of Chicago began planning a new facility. A key feature of the new station would be a road viaduct over the tracks, finally solving the traffic/train problem on North High Street. In 1893, the old station was handling 112 passenger trains per day.
The new station opened in 1897, and the Arcade was finished in 1899. The Arcade was unique to Columbus and consisted of stores and offices built atop the viaduct and facing High Street. An elevated roadway connected High Street to the station to the east. The station increased the number of depot tracks from seven to nine.
The architecture of the station drew on Burnham’s experience designing the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The style was Beaux-Arts Classicism, a late 19th century style often applied to monumental structures.
In May 1928, part of the Arcade was demolished to expand the driveway to the station to better accommodate automobiles. In April 1931, the train shed was replaced with an enclosed concourse. In 1956, Columbus was down to 42 daily passenger trains, the lowest number since 1875.
Daily passenger trains fell to 21 in 1962, and just 10 in 1970. It was clear that the completion of the interstates and popularity of automobiles would soon mean the end of passenger rail service in Columbus. On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over most of what was left of passenger service in the United States.
The arcade portion of the station on the High Street viaduct over the tracks. View looking south along High Street.