Union Terminal Opens Early
Posted On: 03/19/2017 - 8:52am, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
On March 19, 1933 at six o’clock in the morning, Cincinnati Union Terminal began to function as a train station when, with the clanging of its bell, Southern Railway Engine No. 6455 with engineer George Rowbottom at the throttle, slowly pulled out of the terminal bound for Chattanooga.
There was no fanfare, no bands, crowds, or dignitaries making grandiose speeches about the new terminal. In fact, the Cincinnati Enquirer noted dryly that “There was no oratory, unless a trainman swore.” Present were “only a few passengers and station employees.”
Train arriving on Track 9 at Cincinnati Union Terminal, c.1933.
The brand new terminal was scheduled to have its grand public opening celebration on March 31, and initiation of train service on April 2nd, but the Ohio River intervened and forced a change of plans. The newspaper explained that “Swollen waters of the Ohio River, which a few hours before had risen over the tracks and into the waiting room of the old Central Union Station at Third and Central Avenue, necessitated the emergency use and premature opening of the new terminal.”
Central Union Depot, Central Avenue and Third Street.
On the evening of March 18, the Ohio River overflowed its banks and continued to rise until it crested at 63.6 feet. Three significant rain storms, with only brief intervals in between, swept over the Ohio River Drainage Basin. Rainfall at one point during the storms reached one inch per hour. The resulting flood was one of Cincinnati’s worst up to that point.
The tracks of the Central Union Depot were suddenly covered by the rapidly rising flood waters which shortly afterwards entered the waiting room. The trains were driven out by the water and moved to the new terminal for loading. Taxicabs and busses were used to transfer passengers to the new terminal.
Since Union Terminal was essentially complete, it was able to start handling trains early. Following the loading and departure of No.6455, Chesapeake & Ohio Train No. 5 from Washington was diverted to the terminal. It arrived at 7:10 am, becoming the first train carrying passengers to arrive at the new facility. The newspapers noted that the train was on time. “Tickets were sold, baggage checked, United States mail received and sent out on trains and other incidentals handled in the usual manner by the attendants at the new terminal.” It was decided that all inbound and outbound trains would continue to use the new station until further notice. The exception was trains using the old Pennsylvania station at Pearl and Butler Street which had not flooded.
Officials decided to go ahead with the scheduled grand opening and public ceremonies for the new facility on March 31. The original plan called for the first official train departure from the terminal to be on April 2nd. That train, a specially equipped one, was to carry “notables of the railway world.” Instead, it was ordinary passengers, going about their daily lives, who had the honor of being the first to use the facility. Perhaps that was a fitting start for the new terminal.
Cincinnati Times-Star, March 21, 1933. Cartoon by Claude Shafer.