Known simply as The Clock Tower to many passing its ornate tower on Interstate 95, the Renaissance Revival train station in Shockoe Bottom stands as an historic and current icon of Richmond. Built in 1901 as the city’s premiere railroad destination servicing Seaboard Air Line and Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, the station was designed by the Philadelphia firm of Wilson, Harris and Richards, who were experienced in train station designs. The station stood as Richmond’s gateway for 50 years, before train lines switched to the former Broad Street Station in the 1950s.
During the years that train service was absent from Main St Station, the building passed through many hands and potential uses, including a mall, nightclub, and offices for Virginia Department of Health. Flooding in 1972 and fires in 1976 and 1983 only helped deter a developer’s long term commitment to the site. However the architectural value of the building didn’t waver, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Extensive renovations starting in 2001 modernized and secured some structural systems (such as lack of a steel skeleton supporting the second story and some of the headhouse floors being made of coal ash) with the vision that the station would be utilized in the near future.
For those pedestrians walking under Interstate 95 or drivers passing the building on Main Street in Shockoe Bottom, it is not the clock tower but a grand staircase that welcomes them to the station, lifting the heavy stone base. A Pompeian brick body rests above, seven bays wide with terra cotta accentuations. The loggia, complete with Corinthian capital columns and carved roses on the lower face of the arches, is capped by a steeply pitched red clay tile roof with two rows of dormers. The bright orange and red colors of the building’s skin announce its presence vibrantly in Richmond’s downtown collage. The train shed behind the station is also of significant engineering merit for being one of the last gable-roof train sheds in America as well as one of the first to employ the widespread steel truss system and boasts the largest intact train trestle system in the country, upon which the platform rests.
In 2003, Amtrak resumed train services to Main St Station, and there are currently plans to develop the stop along the high speed Northeast Corridor. There are also tentative plans for a retail intervention in the train shed with an exterior plaza.
Revitalizing America’s Train Stations. (n.d.). Richmond – main st station history. Retrieved from http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/RVM