New London, CT (NLC)
Designed by famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, New London Union Station offers easy connections between Amtrak, commuter rail, intercity and local buses and ferries.
27 Water Street
New London, CT 06320
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 158,700
- Facility Ownership: Union Station Development, LLC
- Parking Lot Ownership: N/A
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Situated at the head of the Parade, a public plaza where State Street terminates at the Thames River, New London Union Station is the heart of the city’s Regional Intermodal Transportation Center (RITC). The historic structure accommodates Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and high-speed Acela Expresstrains, the Shore Line East commuter rail service that links coastal communities, and local SEAT buses. In the immediate vicinity, travelers can also access intercity bus lines as well as ferries with destinations such as Fishers and Block Islands.
After New London’s main depot suffered a devastating fire in 1885, the city’s two railroad providers decided to construct and share a new “union station.” The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad—commonly known as the “New Haven”—and the New London Northern Railroad (then part of the Central Vermont Railway system) ambitiously turned to the renowned Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson to design a suitable replacement. Opened in 1887, the impressive structure trumpeted the railroads’ regional power and influence as well as the city’s status as an established port and business center.
Richardson gained a national reputation in 1877 upon the consecration of Trinity Church on Boston’s Copley Square. The ecclesiastical building displayed many hallmarks of the architect’s personal design aesthetic, which was characterized by squat, compact buildings usually constructed with unfinished stone in dark red, tan, brown, and gray hues. The asymmetrical compositions were often pierced by deep-set, round arches reminiscent of Medieval Romanesque structures found in Europe; polychrome decoration was also a common feature.
New London Union Station, designed at the end of Richardson’s career, is markedly different from his earlier commissions: its principal facades are highly symmetrical; key features, such as the windows, emphasize the rectilinear; and the material palette is limited to deep, rich red brick. In an interesting design move, the second floor is greater in area than the ground level and thereby creates an overhang that establishes visual tension.
On its State Street facade, Richardson highlighted the contrast between the building’s vertical and horizontal axes. The two story structure is dominated by a steep, tall, hipped roof whose extensive shingled surface is only broken by two chimney stacks and a set of elongated hipped dormers that flank the gable of a slightly projecting central section. The width of the central section is equivalent to half the length of the façade, thereby tempering the vertical thrust of the gable and its three narrow, round-arched windows. Further highlighting the horizontal, a bold, wide band course runs across the central section; across its middle, large letters spell out “Union Railroad Station.”
The centrally located entryway is embellished by a large, wide arch constructed of brick that seems to radiate outward like a sunburst. Following the interior curve of the arch, molded brick creates a rounded edge accented by an outer layer laid to resemble dentil molding. In the gable, the bricks are skillfully arranged to create interesting geometric patterns, which in the absence of contrasting materials and colors, give great visual interest to the station. First floor windows, large and small, are grouped together to form grids with three or four columns. On the second floor, the windows of the projecting section are grouped into sets of three and placed in recessed wall panels set off by frames of decorative brick.
The trackside façade mirrors its counterpart but for the arrangement of the first story windows and entryway. At the center of the projecting section there is a bowed bay window that introduces a major curved element to the station design. According to historical accounts, this originally served as a ticket booth. The lower windows have transparent glass while the upper area is divided into a grid, each square filled with a piece of circular bottle-bottom glass that diffuses the sunlight. From the platform, which is sheltered by a canopy, passengers passed through doors to either side of the booth. The rectangular entryways are flanked by sets of paired windows that observe the established grid system.
Inside, the waiting room’s wooden beamed ceiling is complimented by tongue and groove wainscoting around the perimeter. The lustrous quality of the dark wood surfaces is enhanced by the rich red color chosen for the upper portion of the wall, as well as the ample sunlight that enters through the numerous windows. To the north of the station is a one-storey brick addition that served as a baggage room.
Post World War II, New London, like many Northeastern cities, experienced an economic downturn. In an attempt to revitalize the city, many older buildings were torn down to make room for larger, modern structures. The railroads, which had long dominated and defined the region, were also undergoing great change as federal transportation policy shifted in favor of automobile and air travel. In 1969, the New Haven ceased operations when it was forcibly subsumed into the newly formed Penn Central Railroad. Stations and other rail infrastructure suffered from disinvestment as the railroads struggled to maintain service.
During this tumultuous period, Union Station, shabby and run-down, was threatened with demolition by the city’s redevelopment agency. Recognizing its artistic and historic value, a band of concerned residents worked to list it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Two years later, many of those same people joined together in the Union Railroad Station Trust, formed to promote the building’s restoration. The station was then purchased in 1975 by the Union Station Associates, a group of investors led by Boston based architect George Notter, an early advocate for the preservation and adaptive reuse of historic structures. Union Station Associates rehabilitated the building, and ensured that it remained open to passengers.
In 2002, the station was sold to the New London Railroad Company, a partnership headed by businessman Todd O’Donnell and preservationist Barbara Timken, a New London native who had been involved with the Union Station Associates. The duo undertook a full restoration of the exterior which included the cleaning and repair of the brickwork, installation of a new roof, and refurbishment of the windows and doors. Inside, the waiting room was restored to its original dimensions and finishes, and mechanical systems were renewed.
New London was officially founded by English colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1646, although settlement had begun the previous year. They encountered a landscape marked by swamps, thick stands of trees, and rocky outcroppings. In 1637, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered at Boston, had successfully fought against the Pequot American Indians in what is now eastern Connecticut, and subsequently considered the land to be its territory. To solidify control over the area, a settlement was authorized under John Winthrop, Jr., eldest son of the colony’s first governor.
Winthrop seemed an appropriate choice, as he had played a part in the establishment of Ipswich and Saybrook. In 1640 he was granted Fishers Island off the coast of Connecticut, and four years later gained additional land at “Pequott,” the present site of New London. With part of his family, Winthrop settled on Fisher’s Island in fall 1646, and transitioned to the new town site the following summer. He chose a plot of land in the area now designated as Winthrop Cove Park. The village was known by various names until it finally acquired the name “New London” in 1658 in honor of the English capital.
As the grantee of the settlement, Winthrop had exclusive privileges, such as the right to construct a grist mill. In 1650, one was erected near his house and it is thought that the current mill building might incorporate some material from the original structure. Located beneath the on and off ramps of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, the mill—which retains its mid-19th century appearance—is often the background to art and music festivals.
Within a few years, jurisdiction over the village and its surrounding lands came under Connecticut and Winthrop became active in colonial politics. By 1655 he had moved to New Haven in order to establish an ironworks, but in 1657 he was elected governor of the Connecticut Colony and therefore relocated to Hartford. Except for one year, Winthrop was governor until 1676; his biggest political success came in 1662 when he won a royal charter for the colony from King Charles II, thereby strengthening the state with specified legal powers.
New London became known for its deep natural harbor, and developed as a ship-building center. Trade grew among coastal communities; horses were a popular export to the British colonies in the West Indies. Around the mid-18th century, a guiding light was erected near the mouth of the river to aid in navigation, and in 1761 it was replaced with a 64 foot high stone tower with a wooden lantern. The first lighthouse on Long Island Sound and the fourth constructed in North America, it was maintained and repaired through a levy on local shipping.
The harbor became a known hideaway for American privateers during the Revolutionary War, and by some estimates, more than 500 enemy vessels were captured and looted by New London based crews. The greatest prize was the Hannah, seized in the summer of 1781 and found to be laden with valuable cargo. That September, a British force led by Benedict Arnold approached New London. His troops landed near the lighthouse on September 6th and proceeded to march on Fort Trumbull south of the town. The defending soldiers quickly capitulated and escaped across the river to Fort Griswold in Groton. Marching on New London, Arnold’s men looted and set fire to the town, destroying many buildings. The fighting then crossed the river and continued in Groton. Fort Trumbull, rebuilt from 1839-1852, is now the centerpiece of a state park.
During the first half of the 19th century whaling was a major source of income for local seamen and merchants. The large mammals were prized for their blubber, refined to produce oil for illumination; bones, heated and softened to form various items; and ambergris, used in expensive perfumes. Whaling journeys—which could last months or even years—were often financed by multiple investors, thus reducing the risk but also spreading the profits. During the height of the industry, roughly 1820 until 1860, New London was a leading whaling center within New England and supported more than 260 vessels that gained cargoes worth millions of dollars.
The ensuing wealth transformed the town’s landscape, as evidenced by the collection of fashionable Greek Revival houses erected on Huntington Street. This strip of mini temples became known as “Whale Oil Row,” since many of the original residents were intimately involved in the whaling trade. The rigors and dangers of whaling and life at sea were later depicted in a series of murals installed in the post office in 1938. Completed by painter Thomas Sergeant La Farge, they show sails aloft in full wind, men hanging from the riggings in an effort to control the ship. By employing tricks with perspective and foreshortening, La Farge managed to transport the spectator into the scene, adrenaline racing. Whaling started to wind down by mid-century as experienced men headed to California in search of gold, ships were damaged during the Civil War, and the nascent petroleum industry expanded.
To supplement water born prosperity, city leaders also sought overland links to New England’s burgeoning manufacturing centers located along its swift flowing rivers. Railroads offered the best possibilities, and a line between New London and the Connecticut mill town of Willimantic opened in October 1849, with an extension to Palmer, Massachusetts completed the next year. Within a decade, the railroad fell into receivership and was renamed the New London Northern (NLN). By the mid-1870s, the Central Vermont Railway, which had made inroads into Canada, leased the NLN and refashioned the line as its southern division.
An east-west route along the Connecticut coast proved a challenge to rail investors, for any trackage would have to cross numerous rivers and take into account the undulating shoreline. In 1848, the New Haven and New London Railroad (NH&NL) was chartered to build a line between its namesake cities, and it opened in the summer of 1852. At New Haven, travelers could transfer to trains bound for New York City. On the other side of the Thames River, another line was chartered in 1852 to link New London with Stonington, Connecticut, the terminus of the New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad (NYP&B). Five years later, the New London and Stonington Railroad merged with the NH&NL to form the New Haven, New London, and Stonington Railroad (NHNL&S); the long awaited connection with the NYP&B was made in December 1858.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, all of these lines, except the NLN, were absorbed into the New Haven Railroad, which quickly became the dominant freight and passenger line in southern New England, controlling the prime inland and coastal routes between Boston and New York City. By the 1920s, the New Haven had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that it carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic. The right-of-way along the Connecticut coast was known as the “Shore Line” to distinguish it from the main line that passed through Springfield, Massachusetts. The Thames River between Groton and New London remained an obstacle until 1889, when the New Haven’s $1.4 million double track drawbridge opened to traffic.
From roughly 1850 to 1930, New London hosted a summer colony where the river meets the sound. Wealthy visitors, who arrived by train or yacht, stayed at the Pequot House, a beachfront hotel surrounded by lush gardens. Newspapers such as the New York Times recorded the activities of the “Pequot Colony” for a national audience. Noted vacationers included President Ulysses S. Grant and former President Chester A. Arthur. They enjoyed the cool sea breezes while socializing through lawn tennis matches, cycling trips, lavish meals, and parlor games.
New London’s intimate association with the sea was reinforced in 1910 when the precursor to the United States Coast Guard Academy was moved from Maryland to old Fort Trumbull. In 1932, residents donated land north of downtown for the present campus which also houses the U.S. Coast Guard Museum. Across the river at Groton, in 1954, the United States Navy launched the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. Naval Submarine Base New London has been the official home of the Navy’s submarine force since 1916. It contains training schools and facilities where enlisted sailors are instructed in the basics of life aboard a submarine, as well as more advanced programs focusing on specialized skills. At the Submarine Force Museum, scale models trace the evolution of American submarine design over the past century. Visitors can also descend into the Historic Ship Nautilus to tour the torpedo, sonar, and radio rooms, as well as the attack center and the enlisted mess.
In 2008, a three year, $76 million Amtrak project to rehabilitate the Thames River Bridge between New London and Groton reached a milestone when the bascule lift, which dated to 1919, was replaced with a new vertical lift segment.
Amtrak provides ticketing services at this station, but does not provide baggage services. New London is served by an average of 20 daily trains.
- 500 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- High Platform
- Parking Attendant
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift