Erie, PA (ERI)
Embellished with geometric Art Deco detailing, Union Station opened in 1927. The renovated building is headquarters of a global logistics company and also houses a dozen businesses.
125 West 14th Street
Erie, PA 16501
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2017): 16,766
- Facility Ownership: LPUSA, Ltd
- Parking Lot Ownership: LPUSA, Ltd
- Platform Ownership: CSXT
- Track Ownership: CSXT
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Passengers at Erie wait for the morning arrival of the Lake Shore Limited at the city’s historic Union Station. Opened in December 1927 by the presidents of the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, officials from the city’s General Electric facility, and the mayor, the Art Deco style station is now the centerpiece of a city revitalization scheme for the surrounding neighborhood which is referred to as Union Square and encompasses Erie’s main post office and Griswold Park.
Like many of the stations constructed by the New York Central Railroad (NYC) in the 1920s and 1930s, Erie’s $3 million Union Station was designed by the New York City based firm of Fellheimer and Wagner. Alfred Fellheimer had been intimately involved in the plan for New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The duo had become well-known for their work on train stations and in the same period that they designed the facility for Erie, they were also working on structures for South Bend, Indiana and Buffalo, New York.
Many of their stations from the late 1920s onward exhibited then-popular Art Deco influences such as stylized, geometric detailing executed in terracotta and metal. Their famed Buffalo Union Station with its soaring tower and the later Cincinnati Union Terminal remain symbols of the railroads’ power and glory in the first half of the twentieth century. Although these larger stations receive more attention, the architects also designed a number of smaller facilities such as the one at Erie which was served by the NYC and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Union Station is a three-story structure of tan, buff brick with a stone base. The cornice line is enlivened by a striking, raised geometric design of small inset triangles nestled between larger triangles. The varying surfaces of the cornice create interesting opportunities for the play of light and shadow which provides a sense of movement that is vital to the Art Deco aesthetic. A simple band of coping finishes the cornice line and provides a sharp and clean edge to the roofline.
The station may be visually and functionally divided into two parts. The main portion of the station on the corner of Peach and 14th Streets housed the passenger waiting room, concourse, and concessions. A two-story freight house connects to the back of the station and extends down 14th Street; a deep overhang would have sheltered trucks and workers from inclement weather as goods were transferred to and from the trains.
A rectangular structure, the passenger building has a very regular rhythm of bays. Each bay contains a wide two-story window with a marble panel indicating the interior break between the first and second floors. These large windows are topped by three round-arched windows on the third floor, and most bays have a decorative brick spandrel between the two-story window and the arched set. Curved accent brackets visually support the spandrels and also help to break the rectilinearity of the large windows.
Projecting pavilions on both Peach and 14th Streets break the roofline and strongly indicate the location of the main entrances and add a vertical emphasis to the otherwise horizontally oriented structure. The pavilions feature recessed walls of glass: the doors at the street level, and continuous windows above. The beveled wall surfaces framing the void repeat the cornice pattern while the top edge is crowned by closely spaced, implied round arches. Considering this arrangement of arches and those on the third story windows, the overall design appears to have Romanesque or Byzantine overtones, just a few of the exotic motifs which found their way into American Art Deco design. Below the cornice large letters spell out “Union Station” which is framed by inset circular panels of purple marble—the same stone found on the large windows of the bays. To finish off the entrance pavilions, marquees extend over the sidewalks to protect arriving passengers from rain, snow, and sun.
Inside, travelers encountered a spacious, two-story hexagonal rotunda supported by broad arches which sheltered various concessions or gave onto hallways leading to other areas of the station. Since the Post Office operated Railway Post Office service on the NYC and the Pennsylvania Railroad, Erie was a busy mail hub; tunnels connected the station to the city’s new main post office across 14th Street. Interestingly, the station also houses a two-story bomb shelter that is still stocked with rations. Not long after the building opened, it was visited by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 on a whistle-stop tour conducted as part of his campaign for the presidency; President Harry Truman stopped at Union Station in 1948.
In 2003, a local entrepreneur named Jim Berlin purchased Union Station to house his company—Logistics Plus—which focuses on international shipping. Berlin replaced the roof and renovated the third floor, which had been vacant for nearly thirty years, to house his business. The second floor is rented out as office space, and the ground floor is occupied by small local businesses such as a brew pub and a café. Although new uses have been installed in the building, Berlin retained original features that preserve the Art Deco styling of the interior. The exterior received a colorful addition with the placement of various flags at the parapet—they represent the countries in which Logistics Plus operates.
The Concourse is used as a banquet hall, and in the spring of 2010, Berlin instituted a “dinner and movie” night; all of the films were chosen around a “train” theme. He instigated the clean-up and renovation of Griswold Park, and the city subsequently spent $1 million on the expansion and re-landscaping of the space. The park is named for Matthew Griswold, the first manager of the General Electric Erie Rail Works who was also involved in the planning for Union Station. Partially due to the rebirth of the station, the city drafted a redevelopment plan for the neighborhood to include new housing, office and retail space.
As Pennsylvania’s only Great Lakes port city, Erie was a prime destination for railroads once they had crossed the Allegheny Mountains. Erie also benefitted because it sat on the shore of Lake Erie between Buffalo, New York—terminus of the Erie Canal—and the bustling cities of Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit further west. The first railroad charter for Erie County was approved in 1842 for the Erie and North East Railroad Company. Surveying took place over the last few years of that decade and the road opened from Erie to the New York state line in January 1852; this line eventually connected with one built in New York from the state line to Buffalo. In 1844 the Franklin Canal Company received a charter to build a line toward the Ohio border where it would connect with another railroad to Cleveland; the full line between Erie and Cleveland opened in November 1852.
Unfortunately, standard rail gauge was not yet common in the United States and the gauges of the lines extending from Cleveland to Buffalo did not match. The section between Erie and the New York state line was the odd section of track—it had a gauge of 6 feet while the rest of the line was built to 4 feet 10 inches. While this was not good for freight shippers or passengers, it was a boon for Erie since freight had to be offloaded from one line and then loaded onto the other by hand—which meant jobs for townspeople. Passengers also had to be ferried from one line to the other and often stopped to eat or spend the night in Erie before continuing their journeys. When the railroads decided to standardize their gauges in 1853 so that they could directly connect, local businessmen and civic leaders were afraid that their monopoly on freight and passengers would dry up. This led to the so-called “Erie Gauge War,” in which citizens purposely destroyed sections of track to prevent the standardized connection. Eventually the state intervened and by early 1854 the switchover was finished.
From 1865-1866, the various railroads serving the city, including the New York Central and the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan, constructed a Union Station. The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad and the Nickel Plate Road continued to use their own station buildings. Constructed of brick with Italianate features such as round-arch windows and a deep eave supported by brackets, the two-story passenger structure was located in the general vicinity of the present Union Station.
From a distance, it was known by its cupola and the distinctive roofline broken by numerous chimneys. A large covered porch wrapped around the building to protect the crowds from inclement weather and the station was accessible by streetcar service. Railroad gates operated from a small tower protected passengers from the at-grade tracks which ran on the south and north sides of the station. By the 1920s, the need for a larger, modern facility was recognized and therefore the first Union Station was shuttered. Many of the small railroads that had served Erie in the nineteenth century were absorbed into the New York Central system and its famed “Water Level Route” providing a smooth and comfortable ride over a wondrous landscape.
Founded in 1795, the settlement at Erie had only been an official part of Pennsylvania for three years. Due to uncertain land claims and boundaries dating to the early colonial period, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut all asserted ownership of the land around the northeastern end of Lake Erie. Pennsylvania purchased the land from the federal government in 1792 after the other two states gave up their claims. Although the area was remembered as “a thick and tangled forest of hardwood and swamp timber,” it had been settled by an American Indian tribe known as the Erielhonan which meant “long tail;” early French explorers later translated this to “Nation du Chat,” or the “Cat Nation,” and often used the abbreviated “Erie” to refer to the tribe. Based on the south shore of Lake Erie, the Erie people were heavily destroyed by warfare in the 1650s with New York-based Iroquois, and many of the survivors were absorbed into the Seneca nation.
In 1753, the French built a fort at the present site of Erie called “Presqu’île,” or “almost-island” after the peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie and provides a harbor for the city. The French wished to defend their territory against the British, but after a 1759 defeat at Fort Niagara during the French and Indian War, the French abandoned “Presqu’île” and burned the fortification. The British built a new fort in the vicinity but it in turn was captured by American Indian forces during Pontiac’s Rebellion, which was a movement against the introduction of British control in the Northwest Territories after the French defeat.
A 1795 act of the state legislature called for a survey of the land in the new territory, and Andrew Ellicott, who had surveyed the District of Columbia, was asked to perform the work. Erie was laid out in a grid system along the lakeshore and the original plan shows three large parks, two of which remain—the central one is now Perry Square. Like many lake ports, the city grew as it developed a fishing and ship building industry.
During the War of 1812, Commodore Oliver Hazzard Perry traveled to Erie where he directed the construction of the majority of the American fleet at Presque-Isle Bay. Perry and the American navy would defeat the British in September 1813 at the Battle of Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio, subsequently securing the Great Lakes for the remainder of the war. Afterwards, the fleet returned to Erie where it sheltered for the harsh winter of 1813-1814 in what is now termed “Misery Bay;” many men had smallpox and died. A monument to Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie was constructed at Misery Bay in 1926. Erie’s main civic square is also named after Perry.
Similar to many cities on the lake, Erie became a center for iron and steel production. Iron ores from Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were shipped across the lakes by freighter and coal from Pennsylvania arrived by rail. As the meeting point of rail lines connecting the East Coast with the Midwest, Erie developed large rail yards and rail related industries such as locomotive shops.
The corporate headquarters of General Electric Transportation has been operating in Erie for almost a century. The 350 acre complex has three million square feet of manufacturing space and the plant still builds diesel-electric locomotives for major North American consumers, including Amtrak locomotives delivered in the late 90s. Those interested in the history of GE’s involvement in the rail industry may visit the company’s museum which features photographs and models and tells the stories of those who made it all possible. Visitors young and old delight in the HO gauge model railroad that features the locomotive test building and the test track from the GE complex. Today Erie is also a leader in the plastics field and has a growing health sector.
Erie has always been a tourist destination due to its location on Lake Erie; because the lake is shallow, it is the warmest of the Great Lakes and its shore hosts many resorts. Presque-Isle was declared a state park in 1921 and attracts over four million visitors a year with its sandy beaches, as well as opportunities to hike along miles of nature trails, fish, sail, bike, or visit the three lighthouses that dot the land. Presque-Isle was formed by glacial deposits, and thus it is always undergoing change by the lake waters and the wind. The peninsula has become an island four times in the past two centuries as natural phenomena severed the skinny arc of land connecting the mainland and the island. This constant change makes the park a unique ecological habitat exhibiting numerous microclimates. The peninsula is a primary stopping point for migrating birds and is considered one of the best spots in the nation for bird-watching. 318 bird species—45 which are endangered or threatened—have made their home at the park or visit during migration periods. At the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, visitors can learn about the ecology of Presque-Isle while researchers pursue their studies in the facilities’ laboratories.
Tourists can get a great view of Presque-Isle, the city, and the lake from the observation deck of the Bicentennial Tower. Constructed in 1995, the 187-foot structure commemorates Erie’s two centuries of settlement and growth. From the top, one might see the masts of the USS Niagara, a wood-hulled, two-masted brig that Pennsylvania has declared its roving ambassador. The ship contains part of the original USS Niagara that was in Commodore Perry’s fleet. After the Battle of Lake Erie, a number of the ships were eventually sunk at Misery Bay where the cool waters would preserve them. Recovered at the centennial of the battle, the ship has been refurbished numerous times. Usually docked beside the Erie Maritime Museum, in the summer the ship sails the Great Lakes and visits ports of call. The museum hosts exhibits about the USS Niagara and the region’s maritime heritage.
Those who prefer dry land can enjoy a trip to the Erie Art Museum located in the former US Customs House; its Greek Revival marble portico presides over State Street near the lakefront. The institution was designated a Regional Folk Art Support Center in 2003 and works to raise awareness of local artists and the traditional arts of northwestern Pennsylvania. Performing arts patrons enter the glorious gilded lobby of the Warner Theater under the glitter of Czechoslovakian glass and crystal chandeliers. Located southeast of Perry Square, the $1.5 million Art Deco theater opened its doors in 1931; Bob Hope was an early vaudeville performer. After reigning for many years as a grand movie palace, the eminent closure of the building in 1976 prompted the city to purchase the facility. Today the restored and expanded Warner is home to the Erie Philharmonic and plays host to other performing arts groups as well as traveling Broadway shows and artists.
Summer brings the Roar on the Shore Bike Rally, an annual event started in 2007 to benefit a local charity. Amazingly, in its first years it has attracted more than 50,000 bikers and enthusiasts to the city to enjoy rides, bike talk, contests, motorcycle displays, live music performances, and great food. At the close of the season, Erieites celebrate their community during the Heritage Festival spearheaded by the Erie County Historical Society. Local museums and civic groups come together to highlight the places and traditions that make Erie unique. A popular “ethnic marketplace” displays the cultures of the many immigrant groups that have made Erie their home over the past 200 years. It includes food concessions, crafts, dancing, and language lessons—a yearly snapshot of the “Bay City.”
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at its facility beneath the tracks and east of the former waiting room, which is served by two daily trains.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- Quik-Trak kiosks not available
- No ticket sales office
- Accessible Restrooms
- Vending Machines
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Parking available
- 5 short-term parking spaces
- 5 long-term parking spaces
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