In the late 1800s, Birmingham’s rapid growth and industrial expansion attracted new railroads to the District. While competing for the area's rich mineral resources and manufacturing output, these rail lines also provided passenger service to a growing population that traveled almost exclusively by rail. As the demand for service grew, the number of trains soon exceeded the crowded capacity of Birmingham’s Union Station. Struggling to compete and operate its trains on time, five of the tenant railroads formed Birmingham Terminal Company to build and operate a new station to handle the increased demand for passenger service.
Hailed as the "great temple of travel" at the time of its opening in 1909, for more than a half-century Birmingham Terminal Station stood as the principal gateway for rail passengers passing through the "Magic City." Built at the then astronomical cost of $3 million (equivalent in 2015 to nearly $80 million), the three-block long station complex was considered to be the finest and most extensive railroad station in the South, and one of the grandest in the nation. The structure's European design incorporated Byzantine and Beaux Arts elements, and its 100-foot tall central dome was reminiscent of Turkey’s Hagia Sophia, a former Christian patriarchal basilica. Unlike the centuries-old European cathedral, however, unbelievably Terminal Station would survive for less than a century.
During its early years, Terminal Station handled up to 56 scheduled trains a day providing the finest in passenger accommodations. Through two world wars, millions of passenger passed through the station. Tired and worn from four decades of hard use, in 1947 the station received a much-needed facelift. But too late, for by then rail passengers were deserting trains in droves for the convenience of the private automobile and emerging air travel.
The number of trains calling at the station steadily declined through the 1950s and 60s. By 1960 the number of trains had dropped to 30, and by the late 1960s only 10 trains called at Terminal Station. The final blow came in 1967 when the U.S. Postal Service switched bulk mail from rail to truck. Within two years, the station was all but abandoned of its trains.
Seeing that the end was near, the Terminal Company's managing railroad, Southern Railway, began looking in earnest for a buyer for the property. Meanwhile, a small but committed group of civic leaders and rail enthusiasts tried to rally support to save the station, but the lack of an economically feasible rescue plan and the absence of support from the business community doomed their efforts. In July 1969, the Alabama Public Service Commission ruled that the station was no longer a public necessity.
In November 1969, demolition began to make way for a planned Federal building and office complex, and by the following March the station had been reduced to a pile of rubble. As fate would have it, the deal to sell the property fell through, and a half-century later the weed-infested lot that once was the site of Terminal Station is still for sale.
Please enjoy the following sample of images from Terminal Station appearing in "Great Temple of Travel."