Historical Markers
Reading Terminal and Market Historical Marker
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Reading Terminal and Market

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
On site at 1113-33 Market St. Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
September 1, 2003

Behind the Marker

Old Broad Street Station exterior.
Old Broad Street Station.
When the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) erected its fortress-like Broad Street Station on the west side of Philadelphia's City Hall in 1881, envious officials of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad decided that they, too, wanted a palatial terminal for their passengers. Pushing this agenda was the Reading's energetic but enigmatic president, Archibald A. McLeod, who in 1890 had ascended from vice-president to the top post on the anthracite-rich railroad.

Besides competition, the Reading had another reason for planning a new passenger facility. It was operating inefficiently from three separate stations in Philadelphia, and wanted to consolidate them at a location nearer Center City. In 1889, city officials approved the Reading's plan to build a station at Twelfth and Market Streets, just east of the new City Hall, then under construction.
Exterior of Reading Terminal.
Exterior of Reading Terminal.

The Reading hired architect Francis Harry Kimball for the station and Wilson Brothers and Co. to design the arched shed and build the entire station. Work began in 1891 on a complex that included three major elements: an eight-story station and head-house, which also served as the headquarters for P and R offices; an arched-roof train-shed; and an elevated-trackage approach, twenty-five feet above ground level, that eliminated at-grade crossings with city streets.

Reputed to be the largest iron single-spanned roof in the nation at the time, the ninety-five-foot-high train-shed measured 256 feet wide (spanning thirteen tracks). Its length of 559 feet guaranteed that entire trains could park at covered platforms. Finished with an exterior of pink granite, pink brick, and cream-colored terra cotta trim, the eight-story head-house was constructed in the style of the Italian Renaissance Revival.

For decades, Twelfth and Market had been the location of an existing farmers" market. Personally negotiating the relocation of the vendors, McLeod agreed to provide space for a new market on the ground floor of the train-shed - the location of today's Reading Terminal Market -and acquired the property at a cost of $1 million.
The streamline Crusader crossing a Railway Bridge
Crusader Crossing Railway Bridge.

The first train departed the new station on January 27, 1893. Just a month later, the Reading entered bankruptcy (the third of four times), in part because of McLeod's grandiose acquisition of connecting railroads that extended into New Jersey, New York, and New England. McLeod's subsequent departure as president, and the retrenchment that followed, did not prevent the Reading from using its new station as a base from which to challenge the PRR on its routes to Jersey City, N.J., across the Hudson from Manhattan, and to the summer beach resort towns in South Jersey. In a speed war that broke out with PRR, the Reading regularly ran trains at ninety-five miles per hour or more on the Philadelphia-Atlantic City run, racing the PRR all the way.

After the opening of the new Reading Terminal, longer-haul travelers could take trains from there to Reading, Pottsville, Shamokin, Williamsport, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre, Buffalo, Toronto, Harrisburg, and Chicago. But most travelers were commuters on Reading's lines to the north and northeast suburbs along routes that reached Norristown, Lansdale, Doylestown, Jenkintown, Hatboro, Newtown, and West Trenton. Commuter service was upgraded, starting in 1931, after Reading decided to electrify most of its suburban routes into Reading Terminal at a cost of more than $20 million. Cleaner trains, faster turnaround, and more efficient operation were the result.
Route to Schuylkill schedule
Route to Schuylkill schedule

With the return of prosperity after the end of the Second World War, the Reading dressed up its fleet of regional passenger trains based at Reading Terminal. It added the gleaming stainless-steel Crusader streamliner to the Jersey City, N.J., run in 1937. After the war, in 1948, the Wall Street joined the Crusader on that route, while the Schuylkill was added on the run to Pottsville. In 1949, the Reading added King Coal on the run to Shamokin. A $1 million renovation in 1948-49 brought a neon-lighted façade to the lower level exterior of the terminal, added escalators inside the Market Street entrance, and installed a semicircular "streamlined" ticket counter to the upper-level concourse.

In 1971, following the collapse of its anthracite traffic base, the Reading declared bankruptcy for a fourth and final time. By then, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) had already begun to take over Philadelphia-area commuter rail service. A city-sponsored plan to unite SEPTA's former stub-ended Pennsylvania/Penn Central and Reading suburban services resulted in construction of the $330 million, 1.7-mile-long Center City Commuter Tunnel. A new underground station, Market Street East, replaced Reading Terminal, and the last train - a nine-car "Farewell to Reading Terminal" excursion special chartered by the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society - departed the terminal on November 6, 1984.

In 1993, the City of Philadelphia bought the head-house. It restored the station's soaring shed roof and converted it into a grand entrance for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which opened a few years later. The Convention Center's adjacent Marriott hotel later expanded into the head-house, opening 210 rooms there.
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