"Passenger service to Philadelphia and New York. All aboard!"
—Riverfront Wilmington —
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, rapid growth of the economy and demand for shipping and passenger service created a boom in railroads. Great fortunes were made which led to battles for control and consolidation of railroad lines. The boom inspired ever grander architectural and engineering projects.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad competed for control of Wilmington's first rail line, the old PW&B (Pennsylvania, Wilmington & Baltimore) which had been completed in 1837. In 1881, as the B&O prepared to move competing passenger services to the west side of Wilmington, the Pennsylvania Railroad built a grant new station at Front and French Streets. This building (above left) in the French Renaissance style served the City for about twenty years.
By 1905, the demand for passenger service had increased so much that a new larger facility was needed and the officials also decided to elevate the tracks to eliminate the dangerous at-grade crossings. This Romanesque Revival building (above right), built on the same site, still serves Wilmington as the Amtrak passenger station. The station building and the 3½ mile long viaduct are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Right: This Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station, built in 1881, was
designed by Frank Furness of the Philadelphia firm of Furness, Evans and Company. This view taken about 1898 shows the at grade crossing, which was hazardous for pedestrians, carriages and wagons crossing the tracks. Only the crossing gates in the foreground of the picture controlled street traffic to prevent collisions with oncoming trains.
Far Right: In 1905, Frank Furness was again engaged to design a new station on the same site, this time in the Romanesque Revival style. This style relates to the massive stonework of the viaduct constructed at the same time to raise the tracks and eliminate dangerous at-grade crossings.
Below: PW&B Locomotive #1 and its crew stopped to pose for this portrait in the 1880s. Note the Harlan & Hollingsworth Shipyard in the background.
Above: Taken around 1860, this photo shows the simple PW&B passenger station erected in 1848 on Water Street between French & Walnut. For the first ten years of operation, passengers boarded and detrained directly to and from the street.