The largest passenger railroad station in the South was the Jacksonville Union Terminal. During its pinnacle, the terminal was the official gate to worldwide travelers to downtown Jacksonville. On average as many twenty thousand passengers and 200 trains would pass through each day. In 1986 it became part of the Prime Osborn, III Convention Center, completely blocked off, the main terminal no longer welcomes thousands of visitors but instead is used for an occasional special event.
Designed by New York-based architect, Kenneth M. Murchison, the massive Neoclassical Revival-style rail complex is a Florida anomaly. Mr. Murchison was commissioned to design three other railroad stations for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company:
- The Delaware Lackawanna Station in Hoboken, New Jersey
- Both the Lackawanna Terminal and the Lehigh Terminal in Buffalo, New York
- The Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore, Maryland
Following the design of the Pennsylvania Station in New York, the terminal’s design featured a façade of fourteen stately Doric columns anchoring the main waiting room with a seventy-five-foot cathedral-like grand barrel-vaulted ceiling. The initial design could move a maximum of five thousand passengers and twenty-five trains an hour.
On November 17, 1919, the $2.5 million terminal quietly opened its doors one minute after midnight. Serving as the spine of pedestrian connectivity throughout the entire complex was a centralized passenger concourse and subway. The design access to All eight platforms under its title-roof and steel-framed passenger concourse. Without the use of an elevator or stairwell, the terminal subway was designed as a twenty-foot wide tunnel that ferried the passenger’s underneath to an additional five island platform. Tying the subway together were platforms that were eight-foot-wide with eighty-foot-long ramps.
The design served several purposes:
- Lower construction costs.
- The platforms allowed the ramps to be shared between a pair of tracks.
- Passenger convenience. The tunnel system allowed passengers to avoid walking across working railroad tracks between platforms and from going under the railway lines.
- All of the terminal’s tracks were accessible from a single street-level entrance.
Famous people to have traveled through the terminal include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1941. And every president since Warren Harding passed either through the concourse or its platforms. At its peak in 1944, nearly forty thousand trains passed through the terminal carrying nearly ten million passengers. By this time, the Jacksonville Terminal Company employed over two thousand people and was the second-largest employer in Jacksonville.
In 1971, Amtrak took over private railroad passenger train operations, and three-quarters of the country’s passenger rail services were eliminated in one day. The immediately reduced the need for grand trail terminals in cities all across the country. At the end of 1973, there were just a handful of Amtrak employees and only two tracks were used for passenger trains.
Amtrak 93, formerly the Seaboard’s Floridian became the last passenger train to use the Jacksonville Terminal on its way to St. Petersburg, Florida on January 3, 1974. Shortly thereafter, the terminal closed its concourse, subway, and doors for good.
While the station has been renovated, the tunnels have been buried and forgotten. They remain in tack but are currently filled with three to four feet of water, roaches, rats, and various other critters.