St. Albans train shed

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St. Albans train shed
Posted by wanswheel on Friday, September 12, 2014 11:40 AM

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=411971&nseq=0

Article from Trains magazine, June 1958

St. Albans– An Architectural Classic

by Jim Shaughnessy 

The station of the Central Vermont Railway at St. Albans, Vt., is quite unlike most of the stations with which we are familiar today. Not small, rundown and forgotten, neither is it immense and unused. Passenger trains still rumble through it, but no one is trying to sell or lease rights to the air space above it. The fact that it is a part of the rail network gives it an air of being linked with the rest of the world. But the traveler that looks at the massive proportions and antiquated lines of the trainshed must wonder to what world this station is linked. St. Albans station is a ghost from the past – a specimen, and a handsome one, of the Victorian age of railroad architecture.

For the traveler arriving from Boston on the evening train, The Montrealer, the first link with the past is the old style signal system. On the way into the trainshed trains pass two ball-type signals still in use. By day, several red painted cans suspended from a chain pass the signal to the engineman; by night, oil lamps suspended in the same way burn in the same positions. Part way down the pole there is a round shield into which one or all of the balls can be lowered – by hand – depending on the indication to be given. Two other ball signals are located north of the station, making a total of four in the area.

The incoming train crosses Lake Street (which points the way to Lake Champlain 10 miles west) and enters the great barn like structure with its huge brick arch portals. This part of the building, the trainshed, is 351 feet long and 88 feet wide. It covers four tracks and enables passengers to board or leave trains completely sheltered from Vermont elements. The main station and office building rises to the right of the trainshed, beside a nicely landscaped garden. This red brick structure, built in 1866-67, should be, by modern standards of ceiling height, at least four stories high. Standards and proportions have changed in the last 90 years though, and the building actually contains only two stories. At the north end, adjacent to and on the same side as the larger structure, is located a one story portion containing the waiting room and ticket office, lunch room, and baggage and express handling facilities. To the left of the station building are the shop buildings – the same vintage as the station – of the original Vermont Central Railway. Two blocks farther up the pike have been built more modern engine facilities, shops and a roundhouse.

St. Albans, in the northwestern corner of Vermont, is an old city: home of the railroad building Smith family of Vermont, and the scene of the famed St. Albans raid. In October 1864 Confederate soldiers disguised as citizens raided the city and escaped to Canada with bank loot of $200,000. This raid was the northernmost of any such skirmish during the Civil War. Today St. Albans is a quiet New England agricultural town. It has the usual feed mill and dairy, and other than the railroad it has only one major industry, the Eveready flashlight factory.

Let’s look more closely at the station itself. The trainshed is completely open and has no columns on the inside. The 88-foot width is spanned by wooden trusses built by the noted bridge builder, William Howe. These Howe trusses are very unusual in design. They differ from those found in old covered bridges in that they have curved upper and lower chords. The panels of the roof trusses follow the curve and bracing design of the arch, and the X’s are smaller in the center than on the ends. The X timbers (or compression members) are wood; the upright members (or tension members) are iron rods in pairs. Boon nuts at the end of these rods can be tightened or slackened to adjust the arched Howe truss.

This type of truss was invented as a bridge truss in 1840 by Howe, a mechanic-carpenter-contractor from Spencer, Mass. (He was the uncle of Elias Howe of sewing machine fame). Howe first built bridges for the Western Railroad (later Boston and Albany), including that company’s great bridge across the Connecticut River at Springfield. In 1842, he was called to Boston to design a new roof for the Boston and Worcester depot there (torn down in 1900). It was there that he built the first type of Howe truss with arches such as those found in the roof of the St. Albans shed.

Other trainshed roofs of the Howe truss type were built later – using all iron by companies to whom Howe assigned the use of his patents. Most of these were operated out of Springfield, Mass. by relatives of his. They took the Howe truss bridge and the roof truss with them in expanding railroads across the West. Trainshed roofs of this type were built in, among other places, Buffalo, Rochester, Troy, Springfield, Reading and Chicago. The Michigan Southern engine house in Chicago, destroyed by the great Chicago fire, had a roof of this type.

The St. Albans trainshed of 1866-67 was built by the firm of Harris and Hawkins of Springfield, Mass. Daniel Harris was a bridge builder, contractor, engineer, and one-time president of the Connecticut River Railroad. Richard F. Hawkins started as an office boy in 1853 with one of the Howe  bridge building companies. He worked up to partner and later, in 1868, became owner of the R.F Hawkins Iron Works of Springfield, Mass., and St. Albans, Vt.

The trusses were built on the ground, then raised into place by means of gin poles, block and tackle, mule and muscle power. The brick walls, made of local brick, have buttresses on the outside to support the load brought to the walls at the point of the truss. Iron tie rods, called bowstrings, run horizontally from one end of the truss to the other, keeping the load from kicking the ends off the bearing plates as the trusses tend to flatten out. The roof, made of 2-inch boards running parallel to the trusses, is fastened to purlins running the 20 feet between the trusses. Although the exposed wood in the roof structure is somewhat dingy today, in the past it was kept whitewashed. This brightened the interior, but the main purpose was to protect the wood from the sparks emanating from the funnels of passing locomotives. Smoke from locomotives could escape through louvers running the length of the roof in a skylight sort of structure located at the top.

The office building part of the station, which is 120 feet long and 70 feet wide, has a tower three stories high at each end. Each has a Mansard-type roof. In the old days the building had a number of fireplaces for heating, and the larger, or eastern, tower had a clock with raised hands. The trainshed also had a small two story hexagonal tower, or minaret, at the southwest corner. Some of the chimneys were removed from the office building when central heating was installed.

Upon walking through the door with the words GENERAL OFFICES and the maple leaf crest, one enters a large hall with gleaming woodwork and floors. Each side is lined by various offices, including that for the dispatcher for the entire system. On the left at the middle of the hall is a gigantic maple staircase which practically glitters like gold. The second floor hallway is like the first floor’s – with pictures and scenes on the lines of both CV and the parent Canadian National. At the east end a door leads to the office of General Manager D.M. Kerr; and therein lies a conference room with green carpeting and mahogany furniture in which top level conferences are held.

The one story portion containing the modernized waiting room and ticket office is 263 feet by 27 feet. The entire structure occupies 46,000 square feet, or just over an acre.

Why was such a spectacular structure built in an out-of-the-way place like St. Albans? How is it that it still stands today? This is the second station at St. Albans; it was built during the presidency of J. Gregory Smith. Smith lived in St. Albans. He was an influential and wealthy man, president of the railroad; naturally he wanted his home town to have the best depot on the line. The structure was also to be the location of the company’s new main offices. A vast plant was built at St. Albans, including car and locomotive shops which are still standing and in use today.

The station has endured the years for several reasons. It was built of the best materials in the first place, and in the ensuing years it has been well cared for and properly maintained. In addition, St. Albans has not grown into a metropolis as have other cities which had big trainsheds. Downtown congestion doesn’t exist here. The station has passed the critical age at which it is just an old building; it is now in the category of an antique. Efforts would tend to preserve, possibly even to restore, the honored old edifice rather than to raze it. It has come to be a landmark.

Business has dropped somewhat since the year ending December 31, 1868, in which 2,606,880 pounds of butter, 948,276 pounds of cheese, and 14,102 cases of mineral water were shipped. Today, six trains a day pass through the shed on their runs between Washington, D.C., Boston and Montreal. As each train pauses, the railway mail clerk picks up the mail from the box on the inside wall near the main office. Passengers board, baggage and express are loaded, and the conductor’s booming voice echoes in the darkness – “All aboard!

As the train, pulled by diesels, fades into the night one can imagine that the fumes are wood smoke and that the stainless steel New Haven Pullman is an open ender with green velvet upholstery.

Excerpt from Rock Products, December 4, 1920

Railroad Also Values Whitewash

On a recent trip to St. Albans, Vt. the editor was struck with the excellent condition of the trainshed roof of the Central Vermont Ry. station. A view of this is shown herewith. C.E. Donaldson, supervisor of bridges and buildings of this railway, states:

 Our records show that train shed was built in 1868 and there have been no repairs or renewals to trusses since erection of building. Same has been whitewashed on an average of once in four years. Am unable to advise you what formula has been used but at the present time we are using just common whitewash similar to that used on cattle guards, stock yards, etc.

You ask my opinion in regard to using whitewash as a timber preservative. I am satisfied from personal experience that it does preserve our native timber such as spruce, hemlock and other soft wood. Every engineer and architect knows that a trainshed roof is the hardest possible service any structural material can be put to, yet here we have a roof, possibly the oldest of its kind in this country, still in A-1 condition after more than half a century of service. Not only are the timbers in an excellent state of preservation but the iron bolts and rods are equally well preserved from the corrosive gases of the locomotives. Lime whitewash did it.

And so doubtless one could find other sections of the country where old-fashioned practices have held on despite of the propaganda of modern paint manufacturers until today we are forced to admit their virtues and are just beginning to see a return to those practices by people who are being educated to the fact that things need not be discarded just because they are old.

Youtube has a shaky view of the station from a southbound train, starting at 4:50.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3jprDojT_k

Historic info:

http://accd.vermont.gov/sites/accd/files/Documents/strongcommunities/historic/nr_nominations/St_Albans_CVRR_HD/VT_Franklin%20Co_Central%20Vermont%20Railroad%20HQ%20HD.pdf

NDG
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Posted by NDG on Thursday, September 18, 2014 1:45 PM

The covered train shed was demolished by 1966.

 

 

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Posted by greenproducts on Tuesday, November 04, 2014 7:07 AM

This is a picture that my cousin painted of the St. Albans train shed. Jack Barrett painted it for Lee Barrett. The picture does not do the actual painting justice.  Family rich in railroad history in St. Albans VT

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Posted by wanswheel on Sunday, September 17, 2017 5:48 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 8:21 PM

So what on earth possessed them to demolish the train shed? 

Incredible.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 9:09 PM

Miningman
So what on earth possessed them to demolish the train shed? 

Incredible.

Doubt that it would clear Plate C or larger cars that were becoming commonplace at the time it was demolished.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 10:01 PM

BaltACD-- Could they not have simply built a line or two parallel to the shed outside of the building...surely more reasonable than demolition of history and architecture.

I don't get it...shake my head. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 10:12 PM

Miningman
BaltACD-- Could they not have simply built a line or two parallel to the shed outside of the building...surely more reasonable than demolition of history and architecture.

I don't get it...shake my head. 

Remember - in the period "railroads are dying and won't be around in 1981' were the prevailing thoughts.

http://cs.trains.com/trn/f/111/t/265168.aspx

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

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Posted by wanswheel on Thursday, September 21, 2017 12:53 AM

Miningman

parallel to the shed outside of the building

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3jprDojT_k&t=4m49s

 

Bennington Banner, April 5, 1963

 

ST. ALBANS—The 97-year-old Central Vermont Railway trainshed here, believed to be the last of its type in the U.S., will be razed this summer as a safety and economy measure. "The old shed is badly in need of repair," General Manager Frederick W. Hutchinson said, "and it would cost more to repair it than it will to take it down."

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Posted by Trinity River Bottoms Boomer on Thursday, September 21, 2017 7:09 AM

A tragic loss.  Like Texas replacing the Alamo with a parking lot....just don't try it anytime soon!

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, September 21, 2017 6:45 PM

From Wanswheel---The old shed is badly in need of repair," General Manager Frederick W. Hutchinson said, "and it would cost more to repair it than it will to take it down."

Didn't they use that line in Animal Farm? 

What a load of hooey.

In the video the view from the parallel track as it runs past shows no signs of massive deterioration or bricks out of alignment or crumbling. 

It has outlived it's usefulness with the demise of passenger service and would cost money to maintain and pay taxes on. So what? 

It should have been preserved plain and simple. Vermont, Vermonters' , CV and CN know better. 

Suppose that Balt ACD is correct. Thinking of the times. 

Trinity-- Don't count on that! Ask Columbus and Jefferson. 

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Posted by cx500 on Thursday, September 21, 2017 11:23 PM

Also, remember that municipal taxes are based on property value, and the trainshed would increase the assessed value as an "improvement".  There was real economic benefit to removing buildings once no longer needed.   Even in cases where a town has successfully begged the railway not to demolish a redundant station immediately, that generally did not mean the related property tax was foregone the next year.  Stupid, but reality.

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Posted by rcdrye on Friday, September 22, 2017 6:41 AM

The big issue was that the roof trusses were shot.  Snow load is a big deal in St. Albans.

There's a photo out there someplace of a B&M RDC-3 poking its end out of the trainshed.  CV/CN trip-leased RDCs from B&M for their part of Boston/New York-Montreal service for a year or so in the late 1950s.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Friday, September 22, 2017 9:21 AM

Sounds like the same old sad story.  If the building can't earn it's keep, and there's no money in the budget to keep it up, what are you going to do?

A railroad is a business after all, not a historic preservation society.

Still, it's a shame anyway you look at it.  Possibly private funds might have been raised to preserve it, but prior to the Pennsylvania Station demolition waking everyone up who thought that way in 1963?

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Posted by wanswheel on Friday, September 22, 2017 12:13 PM

 

"Zoomify” link I meant to put below the 1938 aerial photo. You can see the depth of the train shed and the third mansard-roofed ‘tower’ at the north end of the station. http://www.uvm.edu/landscape/extensions/zoomify.php?ls=16430&sequence=000&set_seq=3&imageSet=1506060900-59c4aa640a44c&AddRel=0

 

National Register of Historic Places document, so thorough it concludes with a color photo of supermarket shopping carts. Map on page 36 shows the 22 tracks at Lake St. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/AD_74000211_09_18_2014.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

North Adams Transcript, July 25, 1963

 

ST. ALBANS—Plans are well under way for the participation of the Central Vermont Railway in the St. Albans, Vt., mid-August bicentennial celebration. The CV show during the bicentennial will be Aug. 17. The Canadian National is sending an assortment of its newest freight equipment to St. Albans for display. In addition, eight units of new CN passenger equipment will be in St. Albans for display and also will be operated on four excursion trips during the day between St. Atbans and Alburg, hauled by CV diesel locomotive 4925. Old No. 40, believed to be one of the few remaining woodburning locomotives in North America, will also be on display in the venerable CV trainshed which is 97-years old and scheduled for demolition after the St. Albans bicentennial celebration. Souvenir tickets for the bicentennial excursion trains are being provided and will feature pictures of the old No. 40 and her modern counterpart, Diesel 4925.

 

 

 

Bennington Banner, Sept. 26, 1963

 

ST. ALBANS (AP)—Demolition of the ancient Central Vermont Railway train shed here has begun. A long list of presidents, former kings, prime ministers and generals have passed through the railroad landmark—the last of its kind in the United States.

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Posted by wanswheel on Friday, September 22, 2017 1:37 PM
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Posted by Miningman on Friday, September 22, 2017 6:36 PM

Great information and a great thread...thank you to Wanswheel.

The second link to the National Park Service, where you refer to the shopping carts, does not work at the moment. The Park Service states it is their fault. 

Am I to understand that the entire structure was on the National Historic Sites list? That and the fact that the shed was the last of it's kind anywhere puts the destruction of this on the scale of the Taliban blowing up Buddha statues!. 

I do not get it. Not at all. 

Well they did tear down magnificient Pennsylvannia Station and blew up half of Castle Rock so what's a train shed?

Thanks again for all this Wanswheel.

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