Imagine this building as the central location for industry and modernity in 19th-century Providence. Picture a tangle of railroad tracks and constant motion, with engineers and manufacturers working hard to support (arguably) the most important place downtown––the railroad station. In the late 19th century Union Station was the hub of southeastern New England’s transportation network. Goods came and went through this terminal supporting the machinery, textile, and jewelry industries that fueled the growth and future of Providence.
Union Railroad Station was built from 1896-1898 by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad company overlooking Exchange Place. Initially the complex consisted of five buildings to support the increase of passenger rail travel and material goods, but then simplified into a singular structure. Union Station was praised for its stately symmetrical design but also criticized for the long building and web of tracks that separated the train station from the Rhode Island State House behind it. With the decline of rail travel in the 1980s, Union Station was closed and a smaller station was opened closer to the State House. It took a herculean effort to remove the winding tracks described as a “Chinese Wall” to simplify the area and create today’s Exchange Terrace. Notably, modern structures built in the block of Union Station mirror the Italian Renaissance style architecture of the original building, retaining the city’s historic roots. Now, Union Station is home to several nonprofits, restaurants, and RIPR, the local public radio station.