Looking back in the annals of history, it seems like almost overnight that trains — and the railroads that carried them — began to sprawl across America, spurring explosive growth across cities for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
At the height of the railroad building boom in the late 1800s, more than 40,000 train depots had been built across the country. Today, as cars and air travel dominate our means of transportation, less than half of those depots remain.
Often, America’s train stations were the very centerpieces and gateways to our communities. Here in Pensacola and all along the Gulf Coast, this was no different. The depots built were among the most important and prominent buildings in cities.
Reflecting a vast range of architectural styles, they were often the first sights seen by immigrants arriving in Pensacola and other Gulf Coast cities and they welcomed a new class of tourists to the Gulf Coast that arose at the turn of the twentieth century.
The heyday of railway travel may long be gone, but the nostalgic allure of architecturally inspiring infrastructure and traveling the country by rail has ensured we’ll never tire of seeing the grandeur and timelessness of our historic station buildings.
Here’s a look back at the railroad’s glory days on the Gulf Coast.
1. Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad Passenger Station
The Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad passenger station in Pensacola, located at Wright and Tarragona streets in downtown Pensacola, opened in August 1882. The station was among the grandest in the south and served through the first decade of the 20th century.
The Pensacola Railroad connected Pensacola with the large, prosperous Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The Pensacola Railroad had become a subsidiary of the L&N on October 20, 1880. After the L&N took control of P&A, construction on the station was completed in 22 months .This two-story wooden structure was replaced in 1912 by a larger L&N passenger station of brick and stucco, at the corner of Wright and Alcaniz streets.
A closer view of the L&N station in 1910 looking west towards Tarragona Street, where libations for the parched traveler are a mere stagger away. CSX nows owns the former L&N tracks that terminate at the Port of Pensacola.
2. Louisville and Nashville Depot and Express Office, Pensacola
The L&N Passenger Depot and Express Office was built in 1912 as the major passenger station for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad that serviced Pensacola. The depot was in service until the last passenger train rolled out of the station in April 1971.
The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and is now home to the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel, the CAVU Club bar and restaurant 1912.
3. Frisco Passenger Station, Pensacola
Th St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, commonly known as “Frisco,” built a passenger station at the corner of Garden Street and Coyle Street in downtown Pensacola in 1928.
In the 1920s, the Frisco purchased several smaller logging railroads and extended a new railway to Pensacola Bay. When the new station was built on Garden Street, passenger service was provided to Memphis, the Midwest, and the west coast by the “Sunnyland” passenger trains and Frisco’s famous “Fast Freight” trains.
It was one of two railways that directly served the city of Pensacola, sharing access to the Port of Pensacola with the more popular Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
The last passenger service to Pensacola was in 1955. In 1967, the mission revival-style passenger depot was razed, having never been afforded historic protections.
While most evidence of the Frisco in Pensacola is now long gone, one shining
example of its presence is located on the median of Garden Street. Frisco locomotive #1355 was placed at this location in 1957 in commemoration of the former passenger depot.
4. Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Passenger Terminal, Mobile
The Gulf Mobile & Ohio railroad constructed its corporate headquarters and home terminal in Mobile, Alabama in 1907. The building was designed by P. Thorton Mayre in the Mission Revival style. After the discontinuation of passenger service in the 1950s, the building became home to the GM&O railroad’s offices.
In 1975, the building was placed of the National Register of Historic places. The railroad discontinued use of the building in 1986 and it was left to deteriorate over the next ten years.
In 2001, the City of Mobile and private developers invested more than $18 million to restore the local landmark taking advantage of the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program. Today, the building houses private offices and the city’s Metro Transit Authority.
The Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Passenger Terminal is noted for its architecture. Built in the Mission Revival style, the train station building served as an elegant gateway for the city of Mobile.
5. Louisville and Nashville Passenger Depot, Milton
The original depot built in Milton. The ticket office and waiting room is to the right, while the elevated freight section is to the left. Notice the water barrels attached to the roofline, an early fire-control measure.
6. Molino Railroad Depot
View of Molino, Florida, Railroad Depot, 1918.
7. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Depot, Crestview
Back in the 19th century, if you were traveling across the Gulf Coast by train you’d have made a brief stop at a little make-shift train depot operating out of a single box car which sat at the crest of the hill among the woodlands between the Yellow and Shoal Rivers. This was the future site of Crestview, then called Crest View Station.
In 1890, the P&A Railroad built an official wood frame depot building with waiting areas and freight room the same location.
8. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Depot, Defuniak Springs
Defuniak Springs was founded by the officers of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad, a subsidiary of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.
The L&N did much to develop Defuniak — named after Frederick R. De Funiak, a vice-president of the railroad company — by encouraging the Florida Chautauqua Assembly, an adult education movement in the United States popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.