The anniversary of east central Indiana’s most historically significant structure occurs this week.
On Monday, July 7, 1902, the Richmond, Pennsylvania depot opened.
Although local news editorials announced high expectations for its benefits to the community, these expectations would ultimately be far exceeded by the distinction this new structure would bring to Wayne County in its usefulness for decades to come.
The Pennsylvania depot will bear witness to the major events of the 20th century.
The continued arrival of presidents and celebrities, and the comings and goings of people from all walks of life, have allowed the building to bear witness to events that shaped not only Wayne County, but the nation as well.
The July 8 evening article reported that on the depot’s first day of operation, “it was a very busy place last night from 7-9:30 p.m.” Crowds of people came and went, and horse-drawn vehicles lined the northeast as laborers plied their trades.
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The station quickly became a bustling, bustling 24-hour menagerie. Cooks and waiters, porters and porters tended the meals, horse-drawn carriages and buggies, vehicles transporting passengers to and from the station. Waiters banged on pots to let travel-weary passengers know where the restaurant was and that a meal was waiting for them. Train and railroad duties were carried out by engineers, firefighters, brakemen, flagmen, signalmen and track crews every day of the year. Buses and coaches stood ready in front of station doors whenever a train arrived. Later, electric trams and motorized taxis lined the streets, replacing horse-drawn vehicles.
At its peak, the Pennsylvania Depot had a 24-hour restaurant, all-night newsstands, a shoe shine stand, and a hair salon…and as many as 160 passenger and freight trains passing through town every 24 hours.
Designed by world renowned architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, responsible for several famous landmarks in Chicago, New York, Washington and San Francisco – the Flatiron Building in New York, the Rookery in Chicago, Union Station in Washington DC and the overall design from the 1893 Columbia World’s Fair – its name alone gives the structure international significance, as it was his last artistic achievement in Indiana.
Historically and architecturally, the Pennsylvania Depot in Richmond is a towering landmark of enduring majesty and the glittering jewel of East Central Indiana and West Central Ohio.
The son of a man who made boots for George Washington – Charles W. Starr – donated the land for the site of the first depot in 1850. The Pennsylvania Depot, built in 1902, was the third station on the north side of Richmond at this site, and it is from this very depot that veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War embarked. Many historical scenes of powerful emotion occurred.
On Thursday, April 5, 1917, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the first contingent of conscripted men from Wayne County marched from the courthouse to the train station to go to war to end all wars, the First World War. Flags waved and there were cheers and prayers accompanied by continued applause from residents who were unsure if they were seeing their loved one for the very last time.
World War II began 21 years later on September 1, 1939, and the depot once again became a staging point for local men and women entering war service. For those who did not return, it was their last glimpse of loved ones. The people of Richmond tragically realized the ravages of war when their coffins began arriving at their homes.
American presidents, world leaders, war-weary soldiers and world-renowned luminaries as well as popular and unsung heroes, who are the true fabric of a nation’s greatness, have visited the depot.
Almost every U.S. president who held the office from the late 1800s through Dwight D. Eisenhower has stopped at the site where the repository now stands. This included Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Theodore and Franklin . Roosevelt.
International celebrities have passed through, including Buffalo frontier showman Bill Cody, ‘little Miss sure shot’ Annie Oakley, educator-speaker Booker T. Washington, bar breaker Carrie A. Nation, comedian Will Rogers , visually impaired humanitarian Helen Keller, poets James Whitcomb Riley and Robert Frost, jazz immortals Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller, Mamie Smith, Fletcher Henderson and Jelly Roll Morton, evangelist Billy Sunday, inventors of planes Wilbur and Orville Wright, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, political orator William Jennings Bryan, silent films starring Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and Lillian Gish, famous dancer Bill “Mr. Bojangles” Robinson, vaudeville and film comedians Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers and George Burns and Gracie Allen, baseball greats Babe Ruth and Joe DiMagio, heavyweight boxing champions Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Gene Tunney, the singers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peggy Lee, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt…and members of the real Trapp family singers of “Sound of Music” fame.
The Pennsylvania Depot flourished through three-quarters of the 20th century, a time when Americans witnessed the first flight of an airplane by two former Richmond boys at Kitty Hawk, the first viewing of silent movies, and the first broadcast of a world series of baseball. Henry Ford introduced the Model T; American women won the right to vote; talkies have arrived. Penicillin was discovered; the atom has been split. The first computer—Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC)—was built. The first human organ transplant was performed. The precursor to the Internet, ARPNET, was created… and a man walked on the moon.
Historically and architecturally, the Pennsylvania Depot is Wayne County’s sparkling gem and an indispensable part of the nation’s history. It remains an unparalleled artistic achievement in east-central Indiana and west-central Ohio and has been sacred for generations.
This week is his birthday. He is 122 years old.
Contact columnist Steve Martin at [email protected]