Union Station - 50 East Jefferson Street
Union Station is a two-story, Bedford limestone, Neo Classical Revival style structure designed by noted railroad station architect Jarvis Hunt in 1912. Adam Groth, a highly-regarded stone contractor and builder, was the contractor for the project.
The station is built as an oblong hexagon with wings extending from the longer axis. In a design unique to the Midwest, the station faces the track intersection.
The street façade includes three great Romanesque style windows located atop three entry doors leading from the waiting room area to the open balcony. The Romanesque window placement is repeated on the track-facing elevation. The street and track façade are symmetrical. Ornamental, flat-roof canopies frame the buildings entry ways.
The broad, simplified lines of the building exterior give great character to the structure and help to distinguish the site as a focal point of the Joliet City Center. Union Station also stands as a visible reminder of Joliet’s former dominance as a major railroad center. At the time of construction, Joliet was served by four trunk line railroads. The railroads had depots scattered throughout the city. Two major lines crossed at an acute angle near the site. The new, consolidated station design is well-adapted to the conditions present at the time.
The walls of Union Station are constructed of fireproofed steel, faced with smooth, Bedford, Indiana limestone on the building exterior and marble on many of the interior walls and floors. The track level waiting room exhibits influences from the French Renaissance period. The room has high, arched ceilings and a parabolic design which carries sound from one end of the room to the other.
The mural located on the lower level of the station was designed by Alejandro Romero, a native of Mexico City, in 1991. The Kiep clock located outside the station was formerly located at the Kiep Jewelry Store in the Joliet City Center. A small, Bedford stone Art Deco style service station, located in front of Union Station, is now demolished.
In the late 1870’s, the Rock Island Railroad tracks ran right through the courthouse square, and as early as 1875, the City began to pressure the Rock Island RR to remove the tracks. The track elevation project began in May 1908, and was completed at a cost of three million dollars. The Union Station ground breaking was on July 31, 1911, and the new station (a $250,000 project) and track elevation projects were both complete in October 1912.
Union Station replaces the Rock Island Station, built in 1854 at the site. Several U.S. presidents stopped in Joliet at the Rock Island Station, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke to crowds gathered at the station on October 8, 1900 and on June 3, 1903.
Union Station was later the staging point for troops departing for service in both world wars. In more recent times, President Gerald Ford launched a whistle stop tour of the Midwest after addressing a large crowd gathered at Union Station in October 1976.
In 1978, Union Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Following a period of underutilization and disrepair, in 1987, the station was jointly purchased by the City of Joliet and METRA. An extensive, public-funded renovation of the station was complete in October 1991. The station consists of 35,000 sq. ft. of usable space. 15,000 sq. ft. is dedicated to Amtrak operations and 20,000 sq. ft. is leasable space. A coffee shop, restaurant/bar, and quasi-government office are also located in the station. The former passenger waiting area is now a private banquet hall.