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In the spring of 1865, Erie’s first Union Station/Depot began its building process. It took approximately a year and was completed in February of 1866. The structure was built mostly out of brick and strong timbers. It was located between Peach and Sassafras Street between 14th and 15th street. A covered passenger platform surrounded the entire station and protected passengers from the rain, snow and sun. Railroad tracks ran on the north and south sides of the station. A mechanical device operated from a high booth controlled the railroad gates. This protected pedestrians and vehicles from the trains. The Porter at the station was responsible for cleaning out the trains and gets them ready for their next trip. The station had a steam boiler that was used for steam heat to keep the train cars warm in the cold weather. It was a busy and exciting place. Everyday over 90 passenger trains passed through Erie, most of them stopping. At that time, trains were the only means of travel for freight and passengers.

This first station served Erie for about 60 years until, November 21, 1925, when it was shut down. A temporary station was opened and located on Division and 14th street. This temporary location operated for two years while the construction of the new Union Station was taking place. A dedication ceremony was held on Saturday, December 3, 1927 and the New Union Station was in business! Many well known city and railroad officials attended this dedication ceremony. The President of the New York Central Railroad, Patrick Crowley, the Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Matthew Griswold, whom the present Union Station Park is named after, and the Mayor Joseph C. Williams. An elaborate event was held at Union Station that evening honoring this special occasion.

The new station was redesigned and faces 14thstreet. The new design included a hexagonal rotunda/waiting room, eight ticket windows and a baggage window. In the large main concourse there was a Union News stand, a soda fountain bar, a barber shop and other merchants. The United States Post Office operated mail service for both the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad. Below Union Station there is a very old and fully stocked bomb shelter and an underground tunnel that goes under 14th Street that was used to transfer mail from the station to the Erie Post Office. There are other tunnels under Union Station as well. One of the tunnels led all the way to the Bayfront and was used to transport cargo to the ships but has been sealed off. There is another one that was used for coal and the station’s furnace.

Many passengers passed through Union Station’s doors over the years. You could see them jammed at ticket windows, trying to get a quick bite to eat before their train departed, or maybe they would be around the marble-top counters at the soda fountain. Some purchased a newspaper or magazine, got their shoes shined and maybe even a haircut. Others walked through the depot’s door on their way to and from World War II. Famous people have stopped at Union Station as well. During his 1st campaign for presidency Franklin D. Roosevelt made a whistle stop in Erie in 1932. In 1948, when Harry Truman was president his campaign train came into town. The former heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey entertained people at the Union Depot for about an hour in the early 1950’s, and baseball’s legend Babe Ruth was a visitor too. More recently, in 2008, ABC’s Good Morning America team made a visit to the station. The morning show was on a whistle stop tour of 50 states in 50 days.

 

1971 was the beginning of the Amtrak service to Erie. Only one train served Union Station at that time between midnight and 6 a.m. Not long after, the city of Erie was left without passenger service until The Lake Shore Limited service began in 1975. Now in 2009 only one train runs each day. There are no ticket sales or baggage handling available at the station today, yet Union Station of Erie still provides service for over 8,000 passengers yearly, and on December 3, 2007 celebrated its 80th anniversary.

There have been many facelifts to Union Station over the years. In the 90’s a major renovation took place for the Rotunda Restaurant and once again when the current owners of The Brewerie took over the space. Although there have been all of these changes over time the station still looks as it did in 1927. Most of the lighting fixtures are original and are in working order. There is a large amount of marble that was used in the 1927 design and is still there today.

Night time brings a whole new twist to the Union Station. If you ask the employees you may even hear a ghost story or two. Urban legend has it that decades ago, a young couple was at the ticket window with their young daughter Clara. As the family climbed the stairs to the train platform Clara’s father turned to say something to her and his heavy suitcase accidently knocked her down the flight of marble stairs to her unfortunate death. There is some evidence that Clara’s spirit still remains in the Station and that many strange happenings have occurred on the restaurant level and the second floor. The stairwell where Clara had fallen is just off the kitchen and that is where strange noises, lights going on and off and names of the staff being called out in a child’s voice have been heard. We were told that on several occasions’ employees’ experienced the sensation of “someone sticking their foot out to trip you” while they were walking down the hallway on the second floor. Also the current owner of The Brewerie, himself, has felt an icy breeze down his neck while walking in that same hallway. Sounds of a child’s giggles have been heard and other unexplained events have taken place in the halls and stairwell of Clara’s passing. There have been enough of these events to draw the attention of three local paranormal groups to come in and investigate. PSR (paranormal study research), LEAP (Lake Erie Association of the Paranormal) and ASPIRE. There is also a book written by Stephanie Wincik, Reaching Through The Veil (Ghost Hunting in Erie County), available with these stories. They have recorded some interesting findings.

Many residents have come and gone in Union Station., such as The Rotunda Restaurant, Hopper’s Brew Pub and Porter’s Restaurant just to name a few. Besides being the Global Headquarters for Logistics Plus, Union Station currently houses: The Brewerie, The Concourse (banquet hall), the Hookah Café as well as Amtrak, Abraxas and the GOP Headquarters.

 
         
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