Located in Shockhoe Bottom, the Renaissance Revival style station opened in 1901 to serve the Seaboard Air Line and C&O railroads; its ornate, domed clock tower is a city landmark.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2023): 121,315
- Facility Ownership: City of Richmond
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Richmond
- Platform Ownership: City of Richmond
- Track Ownership: City of Richmond
Main Street station in Richmond’s Shockhoe Bottom district, a National Historic Landmark, is the second of two rail connections between this southern capital and the greater Northeast Corridor; the first, the Staples Mill Road station, lies north of the city in the Henrico County suburbs. Served by Amtrak and Greater Richmond Transit Company buses, Main Street station houses a Virginia Welcome Center stocked with information about local and statewide tourist destinations, and portions of the building can be rented for a variety of events. The station is also a short walk to the western terminus of the Virginia Capital Trail, a nearly 52-mile multi-use path popular with bikers, skaters, walkers and runners that connects Richmond with Williamsburg.
The Main Street facility opened to serve as a union station for two major railroads, the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Railroad, running north and south, and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railroad, running east and west. The headhouse building and train shed were originally designed by Wilson, Harris, & Richards, famous railroad terminal specialists from Philadelphia, prior to the Spanish-American War, in 1898. Economic hardships following the war delayed construction and the facility was not opened until November 27, 1901. Architecturally, the station presents an excellent example of the Beaux Arts style adapted in what has been termed Second Renaissance Revival, dating from the 1880s and fostered by premier 19th century architect Richard Morris Hunt.
Seven bays wide on its entry sides and three on the flanking sides, the terminal building is veneered with elegant Pompeian brick and many architectural embellishments in stone and terracotta. A five-bay loggia, with Corinthian capitals on its columns and roses carved into the lower face of the arches, sits above the rusticated stone portico with its own segmented arches; an ornate six-story tower with four clock faces stands at the southwest corner of the building—a familiar Richmond landmark to drivers above on Interstate 95. The steeply-pitched hipped roof is covered in red clay tiles and pierced by two rows of dormers. The main body of the headhouse is four stories tall and originally contained the station waiting rooms, ticket offices, men’s and ladies’ rooms, dining and retiring rooms on the first and second floors; and railroad offices on the two floors above.
The 123-by-517 foot train shed on the north side of the station is also historically designated, and was one of the last gable-roofed train sheds ever built, as architects soon switched to longer arched balloon sheds. Built by Wilson Brothers of Philadelphia, the same firm responsible for the mammoth arched balloon sheds of Philadelphia and the Reading Railroad, the structure is one of the earliest examples of riveted steel trusses, which are now standard construction. The newer platform is above street level but rests on its original trestles. This makes it the largest intact train trestle system in the country.
Main Street station was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1970, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 8, 1976.
In 1959, the SAL moved its passenger services to the Broad Street station (now the Science Museum of Virginia) while the C&O retained passenger service through the Main Street terminal as well as offices in its upper floors until Amtrak took over service in 1971. However, after Hurricane Agnes caused the rise of the James River which flooded the first floor of the station, Amtrak discontinued passenger service to Main Street station on October 15, 1975.
The station remained vacant for several years until SWA Development Corporation bought it in 1983 with plans to turn it into a shopping mall. On the eve of the conversion, October 7, 1983, a six-alarm fire destroyed the upper floors and roof of the headhouse. The building was subsequently restored, using replica roof tiles, and the shopping mall opened in 1985 but closed in a short time thereafter. In these interim years between active train service, the station also housed an unsuccessful nightclub—the Shockhoe Bottom area being a center for nightlife at the time. In 1990, the Virginia Department of Health opened offices in the facility.
With the passage of the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which emphasized preservation of existing systems before construction of new facilities, restoration advocate and City Planner Viktoria Badger saw an opportunity to fund the station’s restoration and return it to transportation use. She envisioned a true multimodal transportation hub serving trains, shuttles, buses, taxis, vanpools, and intercity bus service.
The State of Virginia purchased the station in 1995, and shortly thereafter, Badger contacted Harry Weese Associates (HWA) of Washington, D.C. to do the initial feasibility study regarding restoration. The process of moving from study to plans to construction, including multiple approvals and assessments took several years, including transfer of the property to the city of Richmond. Meantime, the HWA Washington office closed and several of the partners moved to Chicago, as architectural firm Gensler purchased the firm following its founder’s death. Fortunately for the project, the team largely stayed intact.
Construction began in August 2001, with six months of interior gutting, because the plaster walls required significant asbestos abatement. Restorations were accomplished thereafter, trying to match original materials and usage of the building—a more complex matter than rehabilitation. Further complicating matters was the lack of as-built plans for the headhouse, which led to surprises such as discovering that some raised platform floors were not made of concrete, but compressed coal ash that fell apart once uncovered. Other surprises included discovering much architectural ornament long covered over and hidden. Some problems during renovation were solved through replacement of outdated materials, but other structural issues were more serious: a steel skeleton was added to support the second floor of the station. Additionally, building codes had changed in the years since the restoration’s original design, and plans had to be altered in some cases as they went along and discovered the applicable code changes.
Modern elements, such as life safety systems, security systems, network wiring, a new elevator, upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades were done as unobtrusively as possible. Another important challenge to interior restoration was the lack of historical paint samples, due to the fires and water damage over the years. Bringing the interior lighting up to modern code—much brighter than the station originally had—caused the proposed historical color scheme to be toned down a little, but it still retained the rich tones of the post-Victorian era. The colors chosen were peach-gold, sea-foam green, French white and a dark ivory typical of the period.
The building’s exterior was also restored, as the Pompeian brickwork needed extensive tuck-pointing, much of the terra cotta decoration had succumbed to the weather, balustrades were structurally unsound, and stonework was deteriorating. As the tracks running past the station were active during the entire restoration, outside work was required to stop several times a day for safety reasons. Cast concrete replaced the original platform, per code, but the shed’s unique and decorative ironwork was preserved and replacement iron support structures emulated the original as well. Finally, spotlighting the features of the restored structure at nighttime was done not only for safety reasons but because it would have a positive impact upon the neighborhood and called attention to the station’s renaissance.
The headhouse restoration, together with construction of a new elevated platform, a mechanical plant, 156 parking spaces and public art in the first phase of the overall project, was funded at $14.1 million. The renovation of the train shed followed in 2004. More than $53 million of the total $54.1 million spent in restorations was secured from federal, state and local governments. Amtrak restored service to Main Street Station in 2003 and over the years has been in discussions with state and local leaders about service changes in the region that could add more trains to the grand building.
In 2017, the city completed a full renovation of the train shed, highlighting the original metalwork and replacing metal cladding on the exterior walls with panels of glass that allow natural light to flood the space. The shed offers two levels. The upper level is one large, soaring, flexible, open space that provides expansive views of the city; at night, it glows from within, a reborn civic space and beacon for train travelers and those passing by on the interstate. At approximately 40,000 square feet, the upper level can be used for a variety of public and private events, from art fairs to galas.
In 1607, when English explorers from Jamestown sailed up the James to its falls, they found a sizeable settlement of the Powhatan tribal confederacy at the site marking the tribe’s westernmost boundary. The explorers were unable to establish a post on those river islands that lasted past 1610. They did not return to settle until after 1730, when the Virginia House of Burgesses passed the Warehouse Act, requiring inspectors to grade tobacco at 40 different locations, including the falls of the James. Seven years later, William Mayo arrived and laid out the original street plan for the town on the north bank of the James, on land provided by Colonel William Byrd II of nearby Westover Plantation; the name derives from Richmond, England. The town was chartered in 1742, and became the capital of the colony in 1780 and of the Commonwealth when Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 25, 1788 as the tenth state.
During the Revolutionary War period, Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in St. John’s Church in Richmond at the Second Virginia Convention. This speech is credited with convincing the House of Burgesses to pass a resolution sending Virginia troops to fight with the patriots. Shortly after the capital of the colony was moved to Richmond, British troops under Benedict Arnold burned the city, in 1781. Nonetheless, the city recovered and incorporated in 1782.
Its place as state capital and as a major trading center and port at the falls of the James all led to Richmond’s development in finance, government and tobacco processing and trade. Development of the James River and Kanehwa Canal, designed by George Washington, as well as steamboat service on the James, contributed to that growth. In 1831 the industrial revolution arrived in the city with the founding of the Chesterfield Railroad Company, opening its horse-drawn line between Manchester (on the south bank of the James opposite Richmond) and the Chesterfield coal mines. In 1833, the largest iron foundry in the south, the Tredegar Ironworks, consolidated operations with its rolling mills and the Virginia Foundry of Richmond. The first steam locomotive service came with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad in 1836, and the Richmond and Danville Railroad completed its line to Danville in 1854. The Virginia Central, succeeded by the C&O, had arrived in 1851.
During the American Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy as well as Virginia, beginning in 1861 after Jefferson Davis placed it under martial law. The strategic location of the Tredegar Ironworks, third largest in the United States at the time, may have influenced the decision to locate the Confederate Capital there. Tredegar made the 723 tons of iron plating that covered the CSS Virginia, which successfully held the Battle of Hampton Roads against the Union’s wooden ships and later stood against the Union’s Monitor.
In April of 1865, as the fall of nearby Petersburg to Union forces became imminent, the city was evacuated and the Confederate president and his cabinet abandoned Richmond. Retreating soldiers set fire to bridges, armory and warehouses, and much of the largely abandoned city was destroyed. The fire was only checked after the mayor and other civilians went to the Union lines and surrendered the city the next day. Not until 1870 was Virginia readmitted to the Union, and federal troops removed from the city.
Government and finance continued to fuel the city’s economy, and in 1914 Richmond became the headquarters of the Fifth District of the Federal Reserve. Tobacco company Phillip Morris, originally of London, incorporated in the United States in 1902 in New York City. Buying an existing factory in Richmond, it began producing tobacco products there in 1929 and remained a major economic force in the city throughout the twentieth century. In the ensuing years, the company expanded internationally and acquired prominent household products companies such as Miller Brewing, General Foods, and Kraft.
The Shockhoe Bottom neighborhood where the station was built was named for the valley of the Shockhoe Creek between Church Hill and Shockhoe Hill and is part of Richmond’s original settlement. The area was a busy center for trading of enslaved people until emancipation in 1865, and it served as a burial ground for thousands of enslaved Africans, commemorated today by the Trail of Enslaved Africans.
Building a floodwall along the James in 1995 protected Shockhoe Bottom and allowed the Riverfront District to expand, bringing the neighborhood back to life from floods in the 1970s and 1980s. However, on August 31, 2004, another devastating flood roared through the district due to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Gaston pouring down through the Shockhoe watershed; much of the district was declared uninhabitable at the time. Nonetheless, following changes to the area’s sewage system to prevent a reoccurrence, the riverfront has seen successful redevelopment.
Northeast Regional service within Virginia is funded in part through grants made available by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- No payphones
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift