The Buildings that Linked the Nation

It was mostly a matter of editing.

When he set out to compile a book of America’s railroad stations, David Naylor culled through hundreds of thousands of digitized images in the Library of Congress collection.

He made the cut to a few thousand, then took that down by half.  Finally, he trimmed his collection to a slim total of 860.

He arranged them thematically, looking at the geographic distribution of the stations to document the late-19th and early 20th-century growth of the United States.

“It’s part architecture, part culture and part history,” he says of “Railroad Stations: The Buildings that Linked the Nation from W.W. Norton.  “It’s about the role that the buildings played in the Civil War, in settling the West and in establishing the National Park system – if it weren’t for the railroads, we wouldn’t have our National Parks.”

The stations played a critical role in the development of the nation’s cities and towns too, serving as cultural hubs as well as transportation centers.  “You couldn’t have a town without a railroad station, because it provided the clock tower, the telegraph and the mail,” he said.  “If it went away, the town suffered.”

Some of the nation’s best architects were involved in their design, particularly after the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, with its White City, and then the City Beautiful movement that followed.  Those who flocked to Chicago then were exposed and educated to the ideas of what fine architecture could be and do.

Naylor chronicles the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, Daniel Burnham, E. Francis Baldwin of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and San Francisco’s Bakewell & Brown.  Also featured are designs by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who designed Union Station in Omaha as well as a number of National Park lodges.

Naylor defines his task as one of compiling the most complete collection of railroad imagery in the nation, and to show the common threads of their architectural styles.

“You can put Union Station in Washington up against Grand Central up against the station in Asheville,” he said.  “And they all stand up with a presence.  You can also have a very prominent station in a very small town; just because it’s a standard issue building doesn’t mean it has to look like one.”

His book, Railroad Stations: The Buildings That Linked the Nation (Library of Congress Visual Sourcebooks)is due out Nov. 12.

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