December is the month when many design professionals go “miniature.” Building and assembling scale models for a train set provides both fantasy and therapy for those committed to a profession that is top-heavy with relentless rules, regulations and reality.
One common denominator of every traditional train layout is the quintessential “Plasticville” suburban railroad station, with its loading platform, green passenger benches, white stucco walls and brown hip roof with cement chimney. The simple and straightforward representation of this 1950 Bachmann railroad station captured the essence of an iconic building type that is no longer produced.
Railroad stations were once the epicenter of every small town and large city in America. Before the introduction of the automobile and airline industry, and after the demise of the horse and carriage, railroads and their stations played a critical role in the expansion and prosperity of a country barely 100 years old. From the 1850s through the 1960s, the railroad industry designed and built “whistle-stops” along their vast rail lines to provide passenger and freight service to every town and village within their reach.
Architects of renown were commissioned to design this new building type to reflect popular styles of the time. The 110-year building span began with Victorian styles that included Queen Anne, Stick, Second Empire, Shingle, Carpenter Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque, and continued with Gothic Revival, Classical Revival, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. Many abandoned stations have found new life as stores, restaurants and visitor centers.
While the mega passenger terminals like Grand Central Station and Penn Station receive all the acclaim, it’s the small rural stations, along both active and inactive rail lines, that continue to capture our imagination of a time gone by. For more images and examples, visit
  • What makes them unique?: Train station architectural styles are as unique and varied as the popular styles of the time. More than a dozen documented styles exist.
  • What else are they called?: Depots, whistle-stops and passenger terminals are other names associated with train stations.
  • What materials were used?: Smaller rural stations were often constructed of wood; suburban and urban stations were more often masonry, using brick or cut stone.


Gregory J. Scott, a local architect, has more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. Email

strasburg rail road station

The station at Strasburg Rail Road.