Since early railroads were the cogs that drove growth and development in towns along their routes, it’s not surprising that residents of these communities took great pride in their train stations.
In the case of the North Penn Railroad, the line’s supervisors early on cautioned against building permanent stations until they could determine which stops actually had the potential to expand.
That was typical up and down the NPRR in the 1850s and 1860s. Most depots were glorified wooden shelters just big enough to offer some protection from rain and snow.
As time passed these primitive structures were replaced by better accommodations. Most of the second generation stations were still made of wood, but there were exceptions – case in point the brick North Wales station which was constructed in 1873.
For whatever reason, Lansdale’s second station was still of wood construction, even though it served as the junction between the Bethlehem line and the Doylestown spur. The depot was too small from the start, and to make matters worse it doubled as a freight station. It was built during the 1860s, some sources say as early as 1861, others as late as 1868.
Despite the high volume of trains passing through Lansdale, a new station wasn’t in the works until 1902 when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, successor to the North Penn, announced plans for two new stations, one for passengers, the other for freight.
Drawings of the passenger depot were especially impressive. Locals touted it as the finest new station between Wayne Junction and Bethlehem. A sketch by architect Lewis C. Hickman appearing in the April 3, 1902 Reporter showed a building that looks very much as it does today. The big difference: Originally it featured a 305-foot covered platform on the west side (think the length of a football field).
It had every amenity of the era – a men’s smoking room, a ladies parlor room, modern lighting and rest rooms. The waiting room with its 19-foot ceiling was finished in quartered oak. The cost would be $40,000.
The passenger station was the centerpiece of a complete makeover of the Lansdale operation by the P&R. The new freight station was to be built south of Broad Street to avoid excessive congestion at the passenger depot. Lansdale mason George Boyles crafted the stone work which is remains impressive today. A new water tower, signalization system and track relocation were included in the package. The total cost: $75,000 – big money in 1902.
The new passenger station was to be constructed on the site of the 1860s depot so to make room for it the existing structure was jacked up and rolled closer to Main Street for the time being.
From accounts in the Feb.12, 1903 Reporter, the new station opened with little official fanfare. That is not to say local residents weren’t interested: They came by the dozens to inspect the building and give it their stamp of approval. Later that spring, the railroad and community volunteers established colorful flower gardens adjacent to the station that were maintained for many years.
As for the old station, a demolition crew immediately tore it down, removing the last of the debris within two days. The editor of The Reporter commented that change came so fast “people who had gone away for a couple days didn’t know where they were when they arrived home.”
Dick Shearer is president of the Lansdale Historical Society.