On Jan. 24, 1902, the first Lenox railroad station, at the intersection of Housatonic and Crystal streets, burned to the ground, an event regarded as a tragedy to some and a blessing to others. Originally constructed around 1850 when the Stockbridge and Pittsfield Railroad (leased by the original Housatonic Railroad) came to the area, Lenox station was one of three within the town, the others being at Lenox Dale and New Lenox.
The original patrons of Lenox station were locals and visitors traveling to and from stations ranging from Pittsfield to the north and from Bridgeport, Conn. and New York City to the south. Local commuters and shoppers could take the train to most major towns in the county. Connections could be made in Pittsfield for east-west trains headed between Boston and Chicago and further points west.
However business travelers and, as today, tourists from the lower New York and Connecticut region soon became a major source of income for the inn, restaurant, and entertainment businesses in the area. And, with the impact of the automobile still on the horizon, the railroad was the transportation method of choice.
In December 1868, one daily train in each direction took less than five hours to cover the route from Bridgeport to Lenox. That time span included stopping at 22 other stations along the way. By 1884, the traveler could take a trip via luxurious “drawing-room cars [Pullmans]” from Lenox to Grand Central Terminal in the same five-hour span. By 1902, there were more than a dozen trains each day between Grand Central terminal, Lenox, and Pittsfield, and transit time was down to a remarkable four hours and 15 minutes!
Beginning in the late 1800s, wealthy families from the New York City area built summer “cottages” in the Berkshire Hills, and found the railroad to be a fast and convenient way to bring all of their necessities to the cottages for short summer vacations, usually during the period from late spring until early fall. The Whitneys, the Vanderbilts, the Westinghouses, and their contemporaries brought their families, guests, servants, luggage, horses, and carriages to Lenox on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which had absorbed the Housatonic Railroad in 1892.
William C. Whitney (developer of the New York City transit system and secretary of the Navy under President Grover Cleveland) also brought deer, elk, moose, antelope, bison, and other exotic beasts to Lenox station and then to his summer home and game preserve located across Woods Pond on October Mountain.
Private railroad cars soon became commonplace on the station’s siding. The cottagers also rented custom-made baggage cars from the railroad for the transport of their carriages and horses from New York City to Lenox.
Although Lenox station had been recently remodeled, its plain architecture was not pleasing to the cottagers, some of whom wanted a new station of stone construction. Others wanted a modern depot in Lenox Dale at the foot of Walker Street, which was a more direct route to their cottages than was the site of Lenox station at the foot of Housatonic Street.
However, on Jan. 24, 1902, fate smiled on the cottagers when, as the Pittsfield Evening Journal reported, the “consolidated railroad depot” burned at 1:45 p.m. at a loss of $3,500. The fire apparently started in the overheated basement furnace. The lack of adequate fire fighting equipment (the Lenox fire company apparently wasn’t called) resulted in the total loss of the 50-year-old, dried-out building.
Station agent Fenn and workers from James Clifford & Sons contractors (brick building still standing today as the Lenox Lumber Company, north of the station) saved railroad records, valuables, and furnishings and stored them in the home of Michael Hogan across the tracks (the white house still standing).
A passenger coach was set off for use as a temporary depot. And by Feb. 19, a 120-foot platform was built to serve a temporary station building. But on April 23, the Valley Gleaner reported that the Sloane, Barnes, Bishop, Westinghouse, Wharton, and Sands families intended to use the Lee station for convenience and to avoid using the temporary Lenox station building. Also, they did not want their horses and carriages to have to share Housatonic Street with the soon-to-come trolleys. The Lee station was immediately electrified, as a result of their desires.
By May 28, the railroad had erected a temporary baggage depot at the Lenox site. The railroad yard for car storage was relocated to three-quarter-acres of former James Clifford & Sons property, and the freight station was moved there to accommodate the horses and carriages of the cottagers. Another amenity for the wealthy visitors was the addition of a siding near the station so that they could board their private cars without having to cross tracks.
Obviously, the railroad was adamant about keeping the Lenox station at the Housatonic and Crystal streets location, probably because the Berkshire Street Railway (owned by the railroad) was at the same time, constructing its link to the center of Lenox village up Housatonic Street. On Jan. 27, 1903, The Berkshire Eagle reported that the “... new one likely to be similar to Stockbridge; it was to be erected by the railway and the ‘town cottagers’ who want a stone depot.” The Journal further noted that Lenox station has been regarded as an “eye sore to the cottagers for years” and as a “dingy old station” and that the cottagers wanted to contribute to a new stone depot in the style of the handsome Stockbridge and Great Barrington stations (both still standing today).
No doubt, many of these influential cottagers were also major stockholders of the New Haven Railroad, so apparently to appease them, the railroad had its architects design a unique, half-timbered stucco building of modified Tudor architecture that was unlike any other in the area and probably in the Northeast, as well. (The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, current owners of Lenox station, has obtained microfilm of the original station plans.)
On Sept. 29, 1902, The Berkshire Eagle reported that the construction contract for the new station had been let to James Clifford & Sons and that work would begin immediately. The building was speculated to be constructed of rustic field stone and stucco with a commodious waiting room. The construction was estimated to cost $13,000. Excavation of the cellar hole, located just north of the burned station, began Oct. 8 of the same year.
On Oct. 16, 1902, The Pittsfield Sun reported that the railroad had spent considerable money on a new Lenox railroad yard and an additional $2,000 for a temporary depot. The new station was expected to be completed by April 1, 1903.
There were obvious further delays, because on July 18, 1903, Berkshire Resort Topics reported that the station would be completed in two weeks, which, in fact, was the case, and that the temporary station would be moved further north to become the freight house.
The original Lenox station was of a standard design used in the early 1850s for most of the town stations along the Housatonic Railroad. Today, of all those Housatonic Railroad-built stations, only the one in the village of Housatonic survives for possible use as a station once again. The Lenox Dale station, which stood about where the post office stands today, was torn down many years ago. The New Lenox station, also known as Dewey’s, sat at the the intersection of the railroad and New Lenox Road. During its life as a station, it was also used as a home, post office, and general store. It still stands today as an apartment house.
The 1903 Lenox station continued as one of the major stops in the Berkshires for the affluent cottagers and thousands of locals and visitors of somewhat lesser means. After its abandonment in the 1950s, Lenox station was used as a motor-repair shop, a carpentry shop, and a warehouse for construction materials. In 1986, the building was donated to the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum by George Taylor and Frank Consolini of the then-nearby Restorations Inc. Since then, the museum has expended more than 10,000 volunteer hours and over one hundred thousand dollars to restore the exterior to its near-1903 condition, and has had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is now planning to hold a 100th birthday celebration in honor of the station’s grand opening in 2003, and Museum Curator Jack Trowill is writing a history of the station for publication in that year. The museum would appreciate donations or loans of documents and memorabilia related to any of the Lenox stations and to the railroad yard and freight house at Lenox station. Please contact Jack at 637-2210.
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