Site of demolished train station
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A tipster wrote in a few weeks ago to report that the historic train station at the elevated tracks over Baxter Avenue has been demolished. There had been rumors floating around for years that CSX had planned to tear down the brick and stucco structure that had become a popular destination for photographers, the homeless, and graffiti artists, but long-time rumors tend to be forgotten. That is until Louisville’s last urban commuter rail station (that I know of anyway) disappears into the history books.

Baxter Elevated Train Station Before Demolition (BS File Photo)
Baxter Elevated Train Station Before Demolition. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

All is not lost, however, as the metal platform canopy still stands, but it is truly a shame to lose the brick structure dating to 1938. At that time, the L&N operated station, the platform, and over a mile of elevated tracks crossing five streets were built for $1.5 million.

What makes this stretch of railroad even more interesting is the route it takes through the city. These tracks are a spur off of a larger set of tracks near Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium running north through the U of L Student Activities Center skirting Old Louisville and running east along the borders of Shelby Park, Germantown, and Smoketown (among others).

The tracks continue over top of Broadway and Baxter Avenue through Phoenix Hill then curve around east through Irish Hill, briefly touching Butchertown (where a spur runs off towards River Road). These are the same tracks that parallel Frankfort Avenue through Clifton and Crescent Hill and then run through St. Matthews, Lyndon, and Anchorage. They also hit LaGrange before they continue into the countryside.

I would say that’s extremely well connected for an urban rail line. Could you imagine if light rail or commuter rail were one day reinstated on these tracks? Imagine how many places would immediately be accessible around the eastern half of urban Louisville. But that future is, as always, far off and appears hazier after the old Baxter Avenue Station has been condemned to the scrap heap.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

20 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been wondering for years why we can’t take these rails back! When all the kerfuffle over the T2 rights of way (may that project not rest in peace; may it haunt KIPDA to action) I couldn’t help but wonder about: A) the existing I-65 rights of way and escapements, and B) this CSX-squandered rails right through the heart of most everything.

    Seriously, why are we continuing to let CSX to squander OUR infrastructure? When was the last time CSX actually invested in that infrastructure? They don’t care about Louisville… to some extent we are just “roll through territory” for them (increasingly so as Louisville’s traditional manufacturing jobs are outsourced and UPS picks up much of Louisville’s freight).

    It should be easy for us to demand our rail lines back in this city, and to bring passenger travel back to them: how much public money was invested in them?

    It would be nice if there were a public transportation authority that Louisvillians could complain too, but KIPDA seems disinterested in real solutions (and is in the uncomfortable situation of having to report to Kentucky’s state legislature that too often thinks nothing but rural) and TARC is hamstrung in turn by KIPDA it seems.

    I’d love to see one of the mayoral candidates use “Take Back Our Rails” as a platform. If I had any aspirations to mayor, that’s what I would do.

  2. I can’t believe they tore this place down! I’m a recent graduate of duPont Manual’s photography program, and I can’t tell you how perfect this place was for a great photo. For years, kids in the photography classes have ventured up the dilapidated staircases to photograph the crumbling brick, abandoned shoes, and vivid colors of the graffiti. Not only that, but the station was christened with perfect, orange sunlight on an autumn afternoon that yielded excellent pictures. This place will definitely be missed by all the curious kids with cameras around their necks.

  3. Demolition of this station is definitely a tragedy. If security were a concern, I imagine there could have been other ways to shore up the property including sealing off access from Baxter Avenue or blocking up the doorways to the building.

    Thanks, Ryan, for the link to your photos of the actual demolition, I am glad there is a record of it going on even though it’s a little painful to watch!

    Casey and Gary, I like that you’re thinking about how the track structure and right of way could be better used by the community. It just seems too obvious to me that the alignment of the tracks throughout the entire county would make a great light rail line. The two major industry’s it serves, as far as I can tell, are the Ford plant off Westport Road and the D.D. Williamson Plant in Clifton. It’s likely to remain freight rail for quite some time, though.

  4. Casey,

    Great link to the article on using the rr as an elevated park in NYC. That is what is happening to the Big 4 bridge.

    Regarding some of the other comments:

    Unfortunately the building was in such bad shape, it was nothing but an eyesore and a health hazard. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but due to years of neglect, it was unsafe and it needed to be torn down.

    CSX does a lot of positive things for this community. But the reality is, it was a huge liability for them. It was their private property, and based on the amount of graffiti, trash, condoms, liquor and beer bottles, and so on- if someone was injured, raped or killed there, they could be held liable for having a public nuisance, and been sued for a lot of money. Since they owned the property, and after obtaining the proper demolition permits, they had every right to tear it down.

  5. Jim, what a fascinating and in-depth look at the station’s history, thanks for putting that together. I was particularly interested in the proposed Walnut Street underpass that appears to have been built in the elevated train structure. Assuming property acquisition weren’t an issue, would it be possible to create such a street alignment today?

  6. Branden, Thanks for your kind words.
    Assuming property acquisition and building destruction wasn’t an issue, yes… it would be possible to actually create the Walnut Street (Muhammad Ali) extension.
    🙂
    Of course, there’s little chance that the businesses currently located in the direct path of that extension would sell and vacate, and (I would guess) even less chance the city would pay to purchase the properties… raze the buildings… build a bridge over Beargrass… and finally lay the road. Plus, I’m not sure how much would be gained (at least at this time-period). Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it was never fully implemented…..cost-benefit just wasn’t there?

  7. Thanks, Jim. I am always interested in the historic street grid and the proposed changes or improvements that have occurred over time. Like you said, it would be really tough to pull off today, but it’s interesting to discover that such a route was proposed at one point.

  8. In regards to the train platform, it was well overdue. I believe sealing it off would only make it hard for those that appreciated it. And would pose no barrier against those that wanted to get in anyways. And the money that it would cost to shore up all angles would probally cost in similarity to that of the demo. I have lived in Irish Hill more many years and have enjoyed having a photo shoot on that platform and taking many other beautiful photos and sunrises. It would be a lie for me to say that it isn’t painful in some way to see it destroyed. However. Even though I am a historic and nastalgic buff. But, some things I have to let go. Especially when the people that frequently occupied the area were not with the best of intensions. I’m glad to see it gone and I think it will make the neighborhood a little safer. I understand some can not understand that. But, I was robbed there walking underneath those tracks. And lost every bit of money and even my shoes.

  9. Pity to see that old art deco style station become just another cavity in Louisville history! As a kid, I caught quite a few trains there to Cincinnati Union Terminal enroute to New York. At least that magnificent station was spared the fate of this one. A light rail system would have been a blessing to the city – speaking as one who has dealt with rush hour interstate parking lots in the past. Thanks for the pictures!

  10. @Jim Snyder – Perhaps returning the city’s light rail system to its former glory will one day motivate the reconstruction of this station. The future possibilities of mass transit in Louisville are endless!

  11. A year ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Memphis and riding the restored streetcar line along the waterfront. There were beautiful old steel and wood cars that ran through the Beale street area and down along the river. The old Crescent hill rail corridor, now single-tracked, would be one nice place to put a light rail line. Chicago is another example of how light and conventional passenger rail systems help improve the quality of life. My brother lives in metro Dallas, and often rides their light rail system to go shopping. I spent several years stationed in Germany and remember those neat Strassenbahn cars in places like Munich and Nuremburg. Those old phony downtown busses tricked out to look like streetcars don’t cut it for me!

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  13. I always enjoy different points-of-view on the various subjects on this site, but I felt the need to reply to some of the comments on here. First is the comment by Max Battcher, about “taking back our rails”. The rails at Baxter Avenue Station, are, and have always been, privately owned by the railroad (L&N, Family Lines, Seaboard System, and now CSX), and were the never Louisville’s property to “take back”. Yes, I would LOVE to see light rail here, but we can’t force a private company to cooperate. The infrastructure referred to by Max (Baxter Avenue Station) has been out of service for longer than it was in service, so I don’t know if I would say that CSX squandered anything. It had been long abandoned before they were ever thought of. It was a HUGE liability for them, in today’s lawsuit society. ll it would have taken would have been for someone’s kid to get hit by a train up there (the tracks on either side of the station are still very much in use) for there to be a lawsuit, even though the person who got hit was breaking the law. This brings me to my second reply to another comment above. Becca Barhorst lamented the station being torn down for the fact that it was a great place to take pictures. I agree, it was. However, again I’ll remind everyone that railroads are private property, and therefore are off-limits to non-railroad employees. In fact, the CSX employee manual even prohibits EMPLOYEES from being on railroad property, unless they are working. Railroads can be very dangerous places for the folks that work there, exponentially so for people that don’t. Trains will kill you. That is about as simple as it gets. Add in the distraction of trying to get just the right angle, or having earbuds in, or a plethora of other possibilities, and it becomes very easy to not notice the train approaching, even if you’re facing that direction. As a history fanatic and railfan, I hated to see the station go as much as, or more than, most folks. As a former railroad employee, I really hated to see people around tracks. Yes, I spent a lot of time around train tracks when I was younger (I have always been a train geek), but I was there to look at the trains, so THEY had my attention, not stuff around the tracks. Baxter Ave. really was a neat building, that will be missed, but I understand why it’s gone.

  14. AW, such a waste, i tried to go into that station once but a homeless man screamed and scared the crap out of me. looked cool, still not sure why this isn’t a light rail station…. makes too much sense

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