Providence & Worcester Railroad Merchandise House No. 1

also known as Providence & Worcester South Freight House

This freight house was part of one of the first major railroad stations in America and one of the few only surviving structures of its architect Thomas A. Tefft

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

The Providence & Worcester Railroad Merchandise House was constructed as a companion building to the Union Passenger Depot, otherwise known as the first Union Station. Both buildings were designed by then-Brown University student Thomas A. Tefft in the Romanesque style and completed one year apart. Both feature the same stylistic Tefft-flair of ornamental brickwork and half-round arched windows.

In fact, sources for the history of the first Union Station reveal that this Freight House was used as an interim passenger station while the larger station was built to the west. One can see how this freight house served as a “sketch” for the larger station, with a similar façade and pediment topped by a round oculus window and those fantastic “drip” cornice details.

The freight house was in heavy use for 60 years (1848–1908) before it started to fall into disrepair. When the East Side Train Tunnel was finished in 1908, above-ground railroad tracks that led out from the Benefit Street entrance to the back of Union Station cut through the freight house. The hulking structure continued to be in light use for storage, but by the 1940s and 50s, truck transport was used for most freight and the nearby train station was used mainly for passenger travel. There was little need for a freight house.

1933 aerial view of the second Union Station showing the freight house and elevated tracks coming from the East Side Train Tunnel. Link to the Union Station property page for more.

The nearby creation of the Roger Williams National Memorial Park in 1965 as well as the creation of the interstate highway started a period of urban renewal. Formerly industrial areas of the city were the easiest to raze and rebuild. Interestingly, the demolition of the freight house had nothing to do with the eventual uncovering of the river and the urban Renaissance that was to come in the mid-1980s. All of the train tracks in the maps would eventually be removed and replaced with an urban park and new development. But in the 1970s when the freight house was demolished, it was just another old structure that outlived its usefulness.


From the Historic American Engineering Record documentation, Daniel E. Clement, 1983

Prior to 1973 the South Freight House was one of the last surviving structures of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Depot complex, built in 1847-1848 from the designs of Thomas A. Tefft. The romanesque style building was a long brick rectangle set on a course granite foundation, composed of a five bay central pavillion [sic] flanked by two ten bay ranges (one on each side). Its cross-gabled roof was formed by the intersection of the range’s north-south gable with the central pavillion’s east-west gable.

Multiple openings on both the east and west side of the structure allowed freight handling from both the railroad and the street. The west front was identical to the east, except the central pavillion did not project outwards and a long wooden loading dock allowed freight to be moved directly from railroad cars. The north and south ends originally contained large round-arched openings so that freight cars at one time could be pulled through the building.

The building had been extensively altered before its demolition in 1973. The northern end received an addition of corregated (sic) metal. A railroad viaduct had been cut through the middle of the south wing extensively altering the roofline of the structure, windows had been rebuilt or boarded up and a floor had been built over the railroad tracks that ran through the building.

Noted as “Condensed from National Register of Historic Places nomination form prepared by Clifford B. Renchaw, III (surveyor-researcher) and Richard B. Harrington (Consultant)” though we have been unable to find the complete National Register nomination form.


  • 1889 Sanborn Map, Volume 2, Plates 48a and 48b (pages 19 and 20) — The building is labelled “Providence & Worcester R. R. Freight Station.” In plate 48a, one can see that the “Arsenal,” or Benefit Street Armory, was on the corner of Arsenal Lane and Benefit Street. Also in 48a, the Freight House no. 2 has not yet been built.
  • 1900 Sanborn Map, Volume 2, Plate 100 (page 12) — The building is labelled the “New York, New Haven and Hartford R. R. Co’s Freight Station No. 1.” The building has been expanded with covered iron decks on the north and south ends. To the north is now “Freight Station No. 2” and a covered walkway runs the distance between both storage buildings. Beef wholesalers, including what would become Blue Ribbon Beef, sit over the Mosshassuck River. The Arsenal has not yet moved but will by 1906.
  • 1921 Sanborn Map, Volume 2, Plate 6 (page 12) — The building is labelled the same as in 1900 but now a “Steel and Concrete Viaduct for Electric R. R.” cuts through the southern portion of the building. The western side of the East Side Train Tunnel can be seen at Benefit Street, and the Arsenal has been moved to the opposite side of the block, now occupying the corner at Meeting Street. Notice the buildings and streets between Canal and North Main Streets which will later be razed for the Roger Williams Memorial Park.
  • 1921-1951 Sanborn Map, Volume 2, Plate 6 (page 12) — The building is labelled the same as in 1900 and has the same viaduct cut through it from 1921. Under the viaduct to the west is now a “R. R. Repair Shop.” The former Freight Station No. 2 is under new ownership and labelled “N.E. Transportation Company.” A small, square office building is added to the south and is in blue indicating cement block construction. A gas filling station is on the corner further to the south of the new office building.

In the News

P&W official demolished past to move river

by Donald D. Breed
Providence Journal | June 21, 1992

In the winter of 1973-74, a wrecking crew hired by the management of the Providence & Worcester Railroad quickly went in and demolished a historic freight station on land it owned.

“I was in shock,” recalls Cornelis De Boer, an architect who did a study of the building. “I wanted to stand in front of the bulldozers, but I was five minutes too late.”

That 1847 station, officially Providence & Worcester Railroad Merchandise House No. 1, had been put on the National Register of Historic Places in May of 1973. It was designed by Thomas A. Tefft, then a sophomore at Brown University but later an internationally known architect. Tefft also designed the passenger station, which burned in 1896, and another freight warehouse, which was torn down in 1980, after a fire.

At the time, preservationists were extremely cross with the P&W and its president, Robert Eder, for taking down the Romanesque structure, even though they admitted restoration would be difficult. De Boer says it hadn’t been properly maintained since 1908, when the rail viaduct leading to the East Side tunnel was built and cut off a portion of the building. (It was not in a Historic District, so the P&W was free to tear it down.)

In any case, the Moshassuck River, which has been relocated, now runs through the site of the demolished building, and a gleaming new Citizens Plaza stands where there were rail lines and a signal house.

The river relocation project, which was celebrated Wednesday morning, could not have happened if Eder had not moved so rapidly — presenting preservationists, who had been trying to raise money for restoration, with a fait accompli.

Today, Joseph R. DiStefano is chairman of Capital Properties Inc., which owns and leases the land under the present and future new buildings of Capital Center. Back then, he was secretary of the P&W, which was the parent of Capital Properties until the two companies were separated. (Eder now heads the railroad.)

DiStefano was asked if the Tefft freight station was taken down with this kind of development in mind.

“I’d like to think I had that much foresight, “ he answered with a smile. “But of course we never contemplated river relocation.”

When he looks into the future, DiStefano is equally modest. He mentions only projects that have been proposed for some time.

One of them is Ten Park Row1, the six-story, 100,000-square-foot office building that First Quebec Corp. plans to build on the road leading from the train station to Canal Street. First Quebec has all the permits it needs, but won’t start construction until it has a tenant.

However, DiStefano says that “we’re hoping to start this time next year” on construction.

He also mentioned the all-suites hotel that ITT Sheraton Corp. would build next to Waterplace, the four-acre park in Capital Center. The all-suites hotel is being pushed by Dean F. Stratouly, president of Congress Group Ventures of Cambridge, Mass., which was responsible for the American Express building in Capital Center. That project needs more financing before it can go ahead.

As for the area north of Park Row, where the last Tefft railroad structure used to be, DiStefano says “there’s nothing on the drawing table.” He says it could offices, stores, residences or a combination of all three.

While he can’t speculate what exactly will happen, DiStefano said he’s sure it will happen before the end of the century.

BREED, DONALD D. “P&W official demolished past to move river.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. REAL ESTATE, 21 June 1992, pp. G-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 20 Mar. 2024.

  1. Not to be confused with what is now located at 10 Park Row, a residential building called “Station Row.” This earlier 10 Park Row was a proposed 23-story, 180 unit apartment tower 59 feet taller than its neighbor, Citizens Plaza. The Architects were Jung Brannen Associates who later designed the Westin Tower addition