The clock towers over the Hudson River. A hundred years ago, passengers might have glanced at it as they walked to their train or ferry at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park.
“There’s a real nostalgia here, not only with the train shed but also with the interior. It’s quite beautiful and it is of an era that’s gone by, so there’s a past that we have to appreciate and respect,” said Janet Akhtarshenas, a historic interpreter at Liberty State Park.
The building was constructed in 1889. The terminal was expanded over the years to keep up with the growing demand. By the turn of the century, 30,000 to 50,000 people passed through the doors daily on 300 trains and about 130 ferry runs.
“The area that the trains came into is called the train shed. The ones that we have today are very historic. It’s called the Bush style train shed, named after the engineer who designed them, Abraham Lincoln Bush. The ones that are here are the largest train shed of its type ever built. It’s a 20 track train shed,” said Akhtarshenas.
The train shed was built to protect passengers from bad weather. Not everyone boarded a train at the terminal. There was once a ferry house attached to the building. The stairs, now called the “stairs to nowhere,” once led to the second floor of that building. The ticket windows and luggage racks date back to the early 1900s. Today, passengers can still purchase tickets to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty inside the majestic waiting room.
“The wood ceiling and all of the iron trusses are original to the 1889 building and it’s really fantastic. At the time they were using material in a new way, so you could see using metal there. So it was for support, and again they used it for decoration,” Akhtarshenas said.
The trains often took people to work or vacation.
“And the most famous is the Blue Comet. So the Blue Comet had a very short run. It just ran from 1929 to 1941 to Atlantic City. And it was the brainchild of the president of the Central Railroad of New Jersey at the time, his name was Roy White. He wanted to get some of that Atlantic City market,” continued Akhtarshenas.
It was considered a deluxe train for standard fare and had a dining car.
“Which, for a three-hour trip today, for a plane ride, you’re lucky if you get a bag of peanuts, right?” she said.
The historic terminal now has artifacts on display like original tablecloths and trunks, some of which have religious illustrations inside.
“You have to understand, a person who maybe grew up on a farm, getting on a ship for the first time and going halfway around the world would want to do a lot of praying and have a lot of help,” said Brian Murray, acting archivist at Liberty State Park.
Two-thirds of the immigrants processed at Ellis Island went through the terminal. In the ferry house, there was an area called the immigrant waiting room. There, railroad officials would escort the immigrants to their trains and those trains took them to their new homes.
“Future generations need to be able to see first-hand how their ancestors came here in the first place,” said Murray.
There are no tracks left at the terminal. Akhtarshenas says, the Central Railroad of New Jersey sold them when the business went bankrupt in 1967. Although the trains left the station, staffers are determined to preserve its history.