On New Year's Day, 1899, the first train steamed out of what was then called South Central Station at Atlantic Avenue and Summer Street. Built to replace the four other train terminals south of downtown, the station was physically one of the largest in the world - and for decades served more passengers than any other station in the US. It had 26 platforms, apartments for railroad workers, 45 bathrooms with automatically flushing toilets and a separate women's waiting room with lounge and rocking chairs and cribs.
News photographer Leslie Jones chronicled the station's life in the middle of the 20th century, when trains were the dominant mode of transportation and the station went from Atlantic Avenue to Dorchester Avenue along Fort Point Channel. Here are some of his photos.
Among its other features, South Station had a giant "shed" to protect riders going out to or getting off trains - torn down in 1930 due to corrosion caused by salt from the nearby harbor (see it larger).
Inside the shed (see it larger):
Some trains would enter the station via large bridges over Fort Point Channel, which were eventually torn down for construction of the Big Dig and the Ted Williams Tunnel (see it larger):
Since the train lines never were electrified, steam locomotives chugged into and out of the station in the early parts of the century (see it larger):
In 1917, Jones captured draftees waiting for the ride to Fort Devens (see it larger):
Even at its busiest, South Station had quiet times (see it larger):
Not all journeys to South Station ended well (see it larger).
See it larger:
The post office always had a presence at South Station - Railway Express Agency trains would disgorge mail right into South Station (see it larger):
Today, of course, the state is trying to convince the Postal Service to move from its South Boston facility so more platforms can be added back to the station.
Photographers like Jones knew South Station was the place to capture visiting celebrities and dignitaries on their visits to Boston:
Mae West, 1928 (see it larger):
Al Smith, 1928 - and note the people standing on the el that still ran along Atlantic Avenue (see it larger):
Kate Smith, 1935 (see it larger):
Prince and Princess Takamatsu of Japan, 1931 (see it larger):
Irish President Eamon de Valera (see it larger):
For more information:
South Station History.
South Station Tower 1 and Interlocking System - Discusses the history of the station and its giant switch system.
Time was, trains were guided into South Station via hand-cranked levers.
From trains to cars: The evolution of Park Square - Site of one of Boston's earlier train stations (and one of its first helipads).
When Boston was on track.
Photos from the BPL Leslie Jones collection. Posted under this Creative Commons license.