By Johna Picco, Boehl Intern
On the morning of July 18, 1905 Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company’s President, Milton Hannibal Smith, sent a grim telegraph to the L&N chairman: “Union Station Louisville burned last night […] Loss almost total.” Milton estimated $200,000 in damages, not including the records forever lost from the offices of the Chief Engineer and Machinery Superintendent.
Later that day, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported the Union Station disaster under this succinct headline: “In Ruins”. A headline, which appeared just fourteen years—to the day, in fact—after the very same paper declared the soon-to-be station the “Finest in the South”.
The fire broke out at approximately 9:40 p.m. when flames began rushing out the windows of Union Station’s third-story. By 10 o’clock fire had nearly engulfed the northwest tower and no sooner the vaulted ceiling of the station’s main concourse began to buckle and the great stained-glass skylight came shattering down. One hour later, with the fire semi-contained, the southwest corner of the building—including its tower—collapsed into 10th Street. Amazingly, no one was killed and reported injuries were confined to those fighting the blaze. Neither train, nor stock was lost. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for passengers’ luggage.
Two days later on July 20th, the Paducah Evening Sun reported that aside from temporarily-constructed ticketing and train dispatch quarters, it was business as usual at Union Station. Rebuilding would begin at once, reported the Sun. And sure enough, on December 20, 1905 Union Station was reconstructed to its original state.
Nearly 110 years after the burning of Union Station, The Filson Historical Society is excited to announce the soon-to-be available architectural plans of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, including plans that document elements of both the rebuilt Union Station as well as plans for the original Union Station. Also in this tremendous collection are drawings for the train shops in South Louisville (present-day site of the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium), interior detail of the still-standing L&N office building located at Broadway and 9th as well as an 1883 drawing for the platform and shed that was to be erected for the Southern Exposition.
Louisville isn’t the only city that these records document; plans for stations and the like in cities throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama are also included within the 217 rolls of L&N architectural plans. For more information on this collection, see the Finding Aid online or contact The Filson at firstname.lastname@example.org.