Artist captured train station

Published 12:06 am Saturday, June 2, 2012

Every spring when my husband and I camped at Tannehill Historic State Park, we visited artist Dan Conger in one of the rustic cabins on the grounds. He was usually at work at his drawing board, but Dan always had time to chat with people who wandered in to look at his drawings hanging all around the cabin. It was there that I found one that I just couldn’t walk away from—a drawing of the Birmingham Terminal Station.

I was a little girl the first time I saw the terminal. It was a massive building with a 7,600 square ft. central waiting room covered with a central dome 64 feet in diameter topped with an ornamental glass skylight. The lower 16 feet of the walls in the main waiting room were gray marble. An underpass tunneled below the center of the building, allowing streetcars to pass.

The announcements of the trains’ arrivals or departures reverberated throughout the building. At first sight, the size of that waiting room overwhelmed me. As time passed and I became more familiar with it, I never lost that sense of awe when I entered the building. For several of my high school years, I walked to the terminal every day after school to board a train that took me to my home in a community approximately 25 miles from Birmingham. If I went there straight from school, I had time to stop by the terminal refreshment stand for a snack before my train was called. If I walked downtown and rode a city bus back to the terminal, I sometimes found myself in a mad rush through the terminal to catch my train just minutes before it steamed off.

In 1954, I returned to my parents’ home near Birmingham to wait out my husband’s one-year tour of duty in Alaska. One special day in 1955 I arrived at the terminal station with our infant son to meet the train that brought him back home to us. My heart leaped with joy when I saw my handsome, smiling soldier stepping from a train onto the platform. Within seconds, his arms enveloped me and the 10-month-old son he was seeing for the first time.

So you see why I just had to have that piece of art work. Down in the corner above the signature on his drawing, Dan had printed “Birmingham Terminal Station, Born April 1902, Died Sept. 1969.” Yes, that wonderful, majestic landmark was demolished in 1969. Rail traffic had peaked at 54 trains per day during the 1940s. However, as more and more people bought cars and air travel gained popularity, rail travel began to fall off. By 1960 only 26 trains went through Terminal Station daily. At the beginning of 1969 the number of trains reduced to seven.

Preservationists tried in vain to save the station. It’s gone but I still hold it in my heart. I’m thankful Dan Conger saw fit to preserve it in his very special way.