Another Loss for Atlanta

Posted by David Lester
on Thursday, July 12, 2018

The demolition begins. Photo courtesy of Mike Jakob, Historic Atlanta. © Mike Jakob

On June 20, 2018, the last structure that was part of the downtown Atlanta rail passenger terminal complex met the wrecking ball.  After having stood for 113 years, the south interlocking tower for Atlanta Terminal Station required only one day to remove from the landscape. The tower sat directly across from the old Southern/Norfolk Southern Spring Street office building, which NS vacated years ago.

The primary reason the tower was torn down is that NS is going to sell the land adjacent to the tower to an organization proposing a considerable development in an area of downtown known as “the gulch,” which developed when Atlanta built streets above ground level to separate automobile and pedestrian traffic from the railroads.  Also, the tower was falling apart, with huge cracks in the outside brick walls.

From 1930 through the early 1970s, Atlanta had three railroad passenger stations – Terminal Station, Union Station, and Peachtree Station.  Terminal (1905) and Union (1930) were the large downtown stations, while Peachtree (1918) was a small suburban (suburban in 1918, that is) station.  Terminal was the largest, and it was adjacent to Union Station, with a large wye between the two that handled movements through and around the stations.  Both Terminal and Union stations were abandoned and torn down between 1970-72.  Peachtree Station, which now serves as Atlanta’s Amtrak station, is located about three miles north of the former Atlanta Terminal Station site, which is now occupied by the Richard B. Russell Federal Building.

The tower was a historic piece of Atlanta architecture.  The tower appeared constructed of the same bricks and a red tile roof that the station had, but someone please correct me if I'm wrong.  If NS had made the bricks and tiles available for sale, that would have been great.  Donating a few of them to Atlanta preservation groups would have been nice, too.  To my knowledge, neither of these happened.  I believe the garbage dump was the final destination for the tower.

The tower has been on the watch list of several Atlanta historic preservation organizations for years.  It’s unfortunate that nothing was done to try to save and move the building years ago.

From another perspective, Norfolk Southern and one of its predecessor railroads, Southern Railway, have a strong record of supporting railroad history.  The steam locomotive excursion program, begun by Southern nearly 50 years ago, has operated on and off since the 1970s.  Multiple steam engines, including two substantial and compelling examples of Norfolk & Western power, were restored to operating condition to the delight of rail enthusiasts and those who just wanted to ride a train.  Several years ago, the railroad painted 20 brand new diesel locomotives in paint schemes representing many of its predecessor railroads.  These "heritage" locomotives are seen throughout the NS system today, pulling revenue freight.

So, while the demolition of the tower saddens us all, we must remember that a modern freight railroad operating a vast network and competing for business every day cannot be expected to satisfy the expectations of the entire railroad history and preservation community.  All we can do is work with the railroads and other agencies to find a solution to preservation issues, but at the end of the day, the railroad has to make the final call.

Gone. This image shows the NS mainline in the foreground, the former NS building at upper right center and the Richard B. Russell Federal Building (former site of Terminal Station) at upper left. Note the passenger shed and platforms in the center. These were originally part of ATS, and Southern/Norfolk Southern used them for office cars before they vacated the building. Photo courtesy of Kyle Kessler, Historic Atlanta. © Kyle Kessler

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