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Dearborn Street Station, Chicago

By Beryl Frank

[Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress]

During the heyday of rail travel, the Dearborn Street Station - sometimes called the Polk Street Station - served downtown Chicago. It was located at the corner of Dearborn and Polk streets. This was the oldest of the six intercity train stations in the city.

The station was the property of the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad, and several companies operated over its lines. The Erie Railroad ran an express to New York; the Grand Trunk ran trains to Canada; still other trains ran to Indianapolis as well as to St. Louis. Dearborn Street Station was a very busy place.

It was designed by Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz, a New York architect, in the Romanesque Revival style, and opened on May 8, 1885. It was a three-story building with a 12-story clock tower, and was made of pink granite and red pressed brick. The original building had a number of steeply-pitched roofs.

The station lost its steep roofs and the gabled superstructure of the clock tower in a 1922 fire. The whole station was modified following that fire. But inside the station, the ticket counters were still there, as were the waiting rooms and a Fred Harvey Company restaurant where passengers ate everything from a small snack to a large luncheon served on a white table cloth by 'Fred Harvey Girls.'

On May 2, 1971, Amtrak was consolidating Chicago's remaining intercity train operations at Union Station. Five years later, Dearborn's train shed was demolished, but the head house was spared. Despite saving this, the tracks were removed.

The station stood abandoned until the mid-1980's. But in 1982, Dearborn Street Station was designated a Chicago landmark. It was about that time that the station was converted into retail and office space.

The former rail yards provided the land which is now known as Dearborn Park - an urban renewal project comprised of several parks, an elementary school, townhouses and single-family homes.

If you are in the neighborhood, it is well worth a ride through to see what happened to the Dearborn Street Station after the trains stopped running.

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The large 12-story clock tower was located slightly to the west of the station. It was originally over 170 feet high with a steeply-pitched Flemish Gothic roof. This roof was ornamented with low dormers.

The original tower measured 21 feet square at the base, weighed 1,860 tons including its foundations, and was supported by a 1,200 square-foot footing. The exterior of the tower, like the rest of the station, and made of pink granite and red pressed brick.

The entire station lost its steep roofs in the fire of 1922. The steep roof of the clock tower was also gone in the fire. But the clock tower was restored and still looks over the city on all four sides. The top of the tower may be different from the way the architect intended, but it is still a tall tower which kept the time for the trains and its passengers. Today it is a Chicago landmark.

Above left - The Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway, a tenant company of the Dearborn Street Station, issued this advertisement shortly after the completion of the station. This shows a detailed view of the east wing including the train shed roof and baggage handling areas to the south of the main building. [From collection of the Chicago Historical Society]

Above center - Dearborn Street Station prior to 1922.

Above right - The station in July 1952. Note the difference in the top of the clock tower from the original. [Photo by J. Sherwin Murphy from collection of the Chicago Historical Society]