Historic Freight Station Lives Again At Lincoln Square

 

The 142-year-old train shed between Broad and 15th Streets at Washington Avenue is getting a new lease on life. Construction to rehab and conversion of the old Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad freight station into an organic grocery store is currently under way. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The northwest corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue is swarming with controlled chaos. Cranes heave, contractors hustle, and big loader tractors barrel back and fourth down a narrow dirt road hauling piles of walnut-sized gravel. Lincoln Square, the $100 million mixed-use project led by developers Alterra and MIS Capital, is rising fast and its two major construction projects are in a race for completion. Most visible from the street is a new nine-story residential and retail complex designed by BLT Architects. The boxy mid-rise rectangle will feature 322 apartments, 50,000-square-feet of amenity space, and a four-story parking garage. Down below, 100,000-square-feet of retail will activate the long-dead stretch of Washington Avenue with chains like Target and Pet Smart. Next door, a flinty piece of railroad history is being prepared for a new lease on life where freight cars and funeral trains are traded in for checkout counters.

Most locals and long-time transplants know the corner of Broad and Washington as the place where President Abraham Lincoln’s body was held for viewing following his assassination. The Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad Depot, a passenger station on the same lot as the freight shed currently being renovated, received the Lincoln Special funeral train around 4:30PM on April 22, 1865. His remains were transferred by hearse followed by a procession of mourners to Independence Hall for public viewing the next day. According to newspaper accounts, crowds gathered and a vigil was held throughout the night. In the morning, more than 50,000 people clamored into a line to view Lincoln’s body. Some accounts claimed the mob stretched three miles and the wait to view the body was upwards of five hours long. Philly being Philly, fights broke out and pick pocketing was rampant. Clothing was ripped, people fainted from exhaustion, and a woman’s arm was broken. At the end of the day, police estimated that nearly 300,000 people had showed up to pay their respects. A procession of candles and funeral dirges led Lincoln’s body back to the station at Broad and Washington where the Lincoln Special departed Philadelphia on the morning of April 24 to pass through Trenton and Jersey City en route to a funeral inside the rotunda of New York City Hall. The PW&B Railroad Depot closed for passenger service in January 1882 and was put to freight use. During WWII, the building was demolished by the federal government for the storage of Marine Corps munitions and vehicles awaiting transport.

Left: the head house of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad passenger station that was demolished in the 1940s. Right: the original head house, demolished in the 1960s, of the freight station train shed that is currently under construction. | Images courtesy of PhillyHistory.org

The Late Gothic Revival freight station that survives today was built next to the old passenger station in the spring of 1876 to accommodate an anticipated increase of traffic generated by the Centennial Exposition later that year. The Pennsylvania Railroad took ownership shortly after Broad Street Station opened in 1881. The train shed was decommissioned by the late 1960s and it was sold for use as a warehouse. Between 1968 and 1969, the freight station’s head house and eight eastern bays were demolished. The train shed was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. It was last used by Asian wholesale grocer A&A International Foods. Alterra and MIS Capital purchased the building and surrounding 3.36-acre vacant lot from the Philadelphia Authority of Industrial Development in 2016.

Today, rehabilitation and additions to the old train shed are well underway. The building’s dazzling Fink Truss system that resembles the arched skeleton of a humpbacked whale, an engineering design typically used in bridge construction, has been preserved. Brick has been repointed, windows have been replaced with the original trim retained, and exterior elements like wooden doors, cast iron eave brackets, and corner guards have been restored and repainted. Within the shed, the reconfiguring into a single floor has eliminated a variety of existing floor levels to accommodate the building’s next tenant, Sprouts Farmers Market, an organic supermarket based in Phoenix, Arizona. In a subtle nod to the shed’s original head house, a new glassy addition and entrance is being built on a plaza fronting Broad Street. A walkway between the shed and the parking garage, dubbed “Lincoln Walk,” will connect 15th and Broad Streets. Landscaping, planters, and benches designed by Cairone & Kaupp, Inc. will shape the plaza and walkway into a public gathering and event space. 

The total construction cost for the train shed’s rehabilitation and addition will land roughly at $6.9M. The converted station will yield approximately 32,000 square feet of commercial space. In an ironic twist, bustling Lincoln Square’s staging area takes place in the huge empty lot across the street where developer Bart Blatstein’s lofty plans for a 32-story luxury apartment tower and rooftop shopping mall can’t quite manage to get off the ground.

***

Shedding light on the progress of the old PW&B freight station at Lincoln Square. Photographs by Michael Bixler.

About the author

Michael Bixler is a writer, photographer, and managing editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter with Mountain Xpress weekly in Asheville, North Carolina and a native of South Carolina. Bixler has a keen interest in adaptive reuse, underappreciated architecture, contemporary literature and art, and forward-thinking dialogue about people and place. Follow him on Instagram



10 Comments


  1. This is going to be a great addition as a grocery and a wonderful opportunity for preservation that goes beyond just saving a structure but will be put to good use.

  2. It’s nice to see this beautiful building repurposed. Those are some pretty special corbel’s.

  3. Christopher Dougherty

    Those corbels are great. They’re cast iron made by the Phoenix Iron Company–says so on the sides now that the layers of paint have been blasted off. Nice peace, Mikey Bix.

  4. were the paving stones on the carpenter street side saved?

  5. So great to read about the progress — and great pics, Michael!

  6. the wood roof is 3″ thick, pretty cool restoration

  7. Harvey Clark Greisman

    Most encouraging.

    Some months back a train buff advised me that what is now Washington Ave was once the PW&B main line, which crossed the Schuylkill on a colossus called the Kirkwood (?)Viaduct; I read somewhere in Hidden City that this engineering achievement merited its own monument, once derelict, now repaired and moved somewhere.

    Extraordinary antebellum photographs of this and points South on the old PW&B exist. And, yes, it was over these tracks that Lincoln took a late night train south to DC as America’s not-yet-inaugurated president. The after dark routing advisable on account rioters in Baltimore.

    At some point many years back, the current right-of-way replaced the one served by this old station. Don’t hold me to this, but I think there’s still an old swing bridge crossing the Schuylkill that once carried the line southbound. I’m also advised by the same source that portions of the original right-of-way can be viewed down somewhere south of the airport, still in use by some factory down there.

    Hollywood hasn’t neglected Lincoln’s clandestine red-eye journey through Philly. There’s an old movie from back in the 1940s (?), with Dick Powell in the lead role, titled “Tall Target”, which dramatized the already-dramatic episode.

  8. So glad to see this piece of Philly history being saved and repurposed! I was aware of its Lincoln connection for many years and was always hoping it would someday be recognized for its historic significance! The long awaited gateway intersection into Center City is finally taking shape!

  9. Re the two headhouses—in the above photo the one shown on the right must have been the building attached to the freight terminal, but was the other headhouse located? From the article I’m assuming it was next door and to the south. Was there a train shed to the west of the headhouse and do we know how many platforms it had?
    In any case, its amazing that the freight terminal wasn’t completely torn down and its a real loss that part of it plus that beautiful headhouse was given over to the demo gods.

  10. I am proud to say that my firm, Kelly/Maiello Inc. Architects and Planners is responsible for the restoration and adaptive reuse of this amazing historic Train Shed.

    Co-founder Emanuel Kelly, FAIA and Project Manager Robert Glick, AIA have been passionately dedicated to this special project, and are eager to see its completion this Summer. We are pleased to add this work to our profile of Historic Preservation work in the City, which includes the restoration of Philadelphia’s City Hall, the exterior façade renovation and restoration of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Perelman Building, and the continuous renovations to the Free Library’s Parkway Central Branch.

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