The New York Central Railroad opened Utica’s Union Station in 1914, the third station to stand on the same site. Previously, the Utica & Schenectady Railroad built Utica’s first railroad station in 1836 and with the completion of the Syracuse & Utica line, it soon became a way station on the route west. This line soon combined with others to eventually form the New York Central in 1853. Until this point, passengers had largely only been traveling westward on the line, however, when the Black River & Utica Railroad began running trains north, Utica became a transfer point for tourists heading towards the Adirondacks. This same line is still in existence today, now operation as Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern and serving Adirondack Scenic Railroad trains as far north as Remsen.
By 1869 use of rail lines in Utica had grown to the point that a recently constructed store was converted to Utica’s second rail station. The second station was comprised of two brick structures, connected together by a long platform walkway and featured a waiting room and restaurant. The Mohawk River ran only a few yards from the northern part of the present station, presenting a problem in the years to come.
By 1900, the second station had been deemed inadequate. Central New York weather made the open waiting areas for trains impractical and seasonal flooding often covered the tracks. Passengers transferring trains to or from the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and New York, Ontario & Western railroads had to cross Bagg’s Square to a separate depot. A new building had to be constructed that would accommodate the number of rail lines and high passenger demand.
In order to construct a new station close to the tracks but to ensure safety from seasonal flooding, the Mohawk River had to be diverted. Between 1901 and 1907 a new channel was dug a half mile north of the station location. Although part of the old riverbed became part of the Barge Canal, the majority of the channel was filled to make room for additional platforms and tracks.
Construction of Union Station finally began in 1912. To maintain train service while the station was being built on the same location as the old station, a temporary wood-framed station was constructed on the north side of the main line, joined together with the northernmost new platform, umbrella sheds, and an underground passageway. The temporary station opened in winter of 1913, serving as the main station, while the rest of the underground walkway was completed and the old station was demolished.
Utica’s new “New York Central Station” opened in May of 1914. After the DL&W and the NYO&W abandoned their old stations, the newest station became known as “Union” station. Subsequently, an additional platform and two stub tracks were built to serve as additional terminals for these lines.
Designed by Allen H. Stem and Alfred Fellheimer, both of New York City, Utica’s Union station has long been recognized for the architectural beauty of its design and the lavish use of marble on the interior. These architects also designed other famous rail stations such as Michigan Central Station, the Art Deco Cincinnati Union Terminal, and even New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Legend has it that eight monoliths of the marble columns came from New York’s “old” Grand Central Terminal, however, no proof exists to substantiate this claim.
During World War II the station was heavily used, however, with the end of the war, train transport to Utica declined and the station deteriorated badly, to the point that demolition was considered.
The Union Station Restoration Project of Oneida County in cooperation with The Economic Development Administration of New York State started restoring the station in 1978. The marble was restored, as well as new molds made for the rosettas by Utica’s Patrillo & Sons Masonry & Contracting. As part of the restoration work, heaters were installed under the seating benches, meaning that the whole waiting area of the station did not need to be heated while passengers could still stay warm. By reducing energy requirements, the second and later third floors of the station were opened and the design won several awards for innovation and energy efficiency.
Today, Union station is now owned by Oneida County and serves Amtrak, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and occasionally, New York, Susquehanna & Western passenger trains. Greyhound, Trailways, Utica Transit, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and County Offices are now all located in the station.