Opened on October 4th, 1914 on what was then the corner of Calhoun and Main, Memphis’ Grand Central Station was built by the Illinois Central Railroad for $1.5 million dollars as their primary headquarters and station for all IC passenger lines.
“The building is of the Roman Doric type of architecture, the main motive consisting of a colonnade of Bedford stone three stories high, from the sidewalk to the first cornice, above which the office portion of the building, in brick walls with terracotta trimmings, continues an additional five stories. Above the second floor of the building is devoted to offices of the Illinois Central and Yazoo & Mississippi Valley roads, including those of the passenger and freight traffic departments, the general, division and terminal superintendents, the superintendent of motive power and the claims department.” - Illinois Central Magazine, February 1915.
The Central Station also served the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley, Rock Island, and Frisco Lines until the late 1960s. The station thrived for decades during the height of the passenger rail travel in the 20th century, boasting more than 50 arrivals and departures daily at its height. The Central Station’s success lead to a marked rise of the surrounding neighborhood, with stores, dining, and hotels springing up to capture the volume of traveler traffic coming to and from Memphis. You can still see physical evidence of this boom time all around the station, such as the world famous Arcade Restaurant just across the street and still in operation since 1919.
Due to the drastic decline in passenger train travel in the 1960s, Amtrak remained as the only rail tenant by 1971. Central Station fell into disrepair over the next two decades, its downfall evident in its effects to the surrounding South Main neighborhood. Then, in 1995, the Memphis Area Transit Authority gave Central Station new life, leading a $20 million renovation to save the building and resolidify Central Station as the lynchpin of the South Main neighborhood. The investment paid off, bringing new generations to the South Main area and giving birth to Memphis’s very first arts district.
Today, The Central Station Hotel remains an active train station, served daily by the City of New Orleans and the local Main Street trolley line.