Since the 1880s, the railroads in Lexington discussed establishing a gateway “Union Station” on Main Street to serve all the passenger trains entering the city. The problem was locating a parcel of land large enough downtown. In 1901, both the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and Chesapeake & Ohio Railway agreed to join the Lexington & Eastern Railway in building this depot. At the time, the Louisville & Nashville was still using its original dilapidated freight and passenger station, built in 1835 on Water Street. The Chesapeake & Ohio and Lexington & Eastern were jointly using the depot behind the Phoenix Hotel. The Southern refused to join and rebuilt its depot on South Broadway.[i]
Postcard, circa 1910
In January 1905, the Union Station Company was established to operate the terminal, which was owned jointly by the Lexington & Eastern, Louisville & Nashville and Chesapeake & Ohio Railways. The projected cost was $200,000.[ii] J. Rogers Barr, of the Lexington & Eastern, served as the station’s General Manager.
In February 1905, the Union Station Company purchased the old Christian Church property on Main Street for $35,000 from the Lexington Auditorium Company. The lot fronted eighty-five feet on Main Street, and ran back two hundred ten feet to the Chesapeake & Ohio tracks. Three adjacent lots on Main Street were also acquired for $30,000. Lexington’s Mayor, Thomas A. Combs, a prime supporter of the depot proposal, negotiated these purchases.[iii]
Postcard, circa 1925
Stanford White of New York and Richards, McCarty & Buford of Columbus, Ohio, designed the new terminal. The terminal fronted two hundred twenty-five feet on Main Street and was set back one hundred twenty-five feet. The exterior was built with red and yellow brick, with green and red glass. The lobby was located in the center rotunda (fifty by eighty feet, with a central dome fifty feet high), with a Roman arch ceiling and six oak waiting benches. Off the lobby were the “ladies’ retiring rooms,” which included a dressing room and toilets for the women passengers. In addition, off the lobby were the “men’s smoking rooms,” which included washroom, toilets and smoking room. On the east end of the lobby were the separate “colored waiting rooms,” with a separate entrance.
The second floor was leased to the Lexington & Eastern for its offices. The office entrance was off the Harrison Street Viaduct. The front lawn included a circular drive around a fountain, with flowerbeds. A bulletin board placed inside the station announced each incoming and outgoing train and its assigned track. The station clock was located on the west wall, just above the ticket window. Located to the rear of the depot were four tracks, covered by sheds to allow passengers to avoid inclement weather. The Union Station assumed control of these tracks for two hundred yards in both directions, from the end of platforms. [iv]
Passenger Locomotive #124 at Union Station, 1920 <Bluegrass Railroad Museum>
The Harrison Street Viaduct, built over the railroad tracks by the Central State Bridge Company, provided access to High Street from Main Street without having to cross the tracks behind the depot. The viaduct cost $52,000 (half paid by the City of Lexington).[v]
In November 1905, the buildings on the site were razed and the site cleared for the depot. In December 1905, the excavation for the depot’s foundation began by S. R. Van Dyke. His bid was $5,500.[vi] Hendricks Brothers Company, Buford A. Graves and Central States Bridge Company were contractors on the station; the sheds were build by the Central Kentucky Bridge Company and concrete work by F. T. Justice & Company. Total cost was $375,000.[vii]
Switcher on Water Street, near Union Station, 1920 <Bluegrass Railroad Museum>
The station opened with great fanfare on August 4, 1907, with the arrival of the Chesapeake & Ohio Passenger Train #24. A crowd estimated at three thousand was on hand to meet the train. As many as 26 passenger trains operated from the station in its heyday. During both the First and Second World War, the station was the last view of home for servicemen heading overseas.
Water Street tracks and platform behind Union Station, looking west, Chesapeake & Ohio freight depot in background left, 1934 <LFUCG>
On May 9, 1957, the last passenger train (the Chesapeake & Ohio’s George Washington) departed from this facility. The station was closed due to high operating overhead and low passenger travel. In March 1960, the building was demolished by the Cleveland Wrecking Company. The Stewart Dry Good’s garage was built in the 1960s on the site.[viii]
 The Southern line ran north – south, which would require its trains to dead-in to the Union Station tracks, then backup to reconnect with the Southern’s mainline. Furthermore, the Southern tracks were elevated above the Main Street area.
[i] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, March 16, 1901, page 8, column 3.
[ii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8, 1906, page 1, column 6.
[iii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, February 12, 1905, page 1, column 2.
[iv] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, November 5, 1905, section 2, page 6, column 3 – 7 and Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky , January 28, 1907, page 4, columns 4 and 5.
[v] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky , July 17, 1905, page 1, column 1 - 2; January 23, 1906, page 2, column 1 - 4, February 10, 1906, page 1, column 4 and May 5, 1906, page 6, column 4.
[vi] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, November 12, 1905, section 2, page 6, column 2 and December 24, 1905, page 8, column 6.
[vii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, August 4, 1907, page 16, column 3 – 7 and August 5, 1907, page 7, column 4 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, August 4, 1907, page 1, column 7 and August 5, 1907, page 1, column 8.
[viii] Coleman, page 76.