When most Western New Yorkers think of Orchard Park, they think of the Buffalo Bills. But long before there was a football team here, Western New York was a transportation center—once the second largest in the country. A great remnant of that era is the National Register-listed, 1911 Richardsonian Romanesque Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railway Station on Orchard Parks’ South Lincoln Avenue.
The first known non-Native Americans settling in what is now the Town of Orchard Park were Didymus C. Kinney and family, who built a log cabin home in 1803, more than 100 years before the depot was constructed. During the rest of that first decade of the nineteenth century, many Quaker families arrived from New England, purchasing land throughout the town, including much of the current village. The village of East Hamburg was incorporated in 1921, and renamed Orchard Park in 1934. The opening of the station is often credited with turning small, rural Orchard Park into one of Buffalo’s leading suburbs.
The depot at 395 South Lincoln Avenue, constructed by the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railroad, opened in 1912 at the behest of one of the railroad’s head men, Harry Yates, who owned several farms and properties in Orchard Park. Yates moved to Western New York in 1892, and, in addition to owning farms, became a successful entrepreneur running coal mines, iron processing plants, hotels, and railroads. He donated land for the new station, a park, and a lake, and established the country club. Yates was familiar with Henry Hobson Richardson’s 1881 Auburndale, Massachussetts, station, as he traveled there to golf. When he decided Orchard Park needed a similarly opulent train station, Yates acquired permission to use Richardson’s plans, and had the station replicated here.
Romanesque was popular in the late 1800s, and was dubbed Richardsonian Romanesque, because of Richardson, who was credited with the widespread revival of this style. Richardson was the second American architect to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and practiced from 1865 until his death in 1886 at age forty-eight. Richardson designed two of Buffalo’s most iconic buildings: the Dorsheimer House on Delaware and the former Psychiatric Center, now the Richardson Olmsted Campus. Defining attributes of his style were masonry construction, hipped roofs, rounded arches and arcades, and rusticated stone.
Although made of brick rather than the rusticated stone of the original Auburndale station, the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railway Station has some typical Romanesque features, including a hipped terra cotta roof and an interesting eyebrow-arched porte-cochère. Atypical features include rafter brackets and Flemish bond brick patterning, more evocative of the Arts and Crafts period during which it was actually constructed. This is not surprising, as several residents of East Aurora, just a short distance from Orchard Park, were among the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement.
On the track side of the station, there is a 160-foot-long covered platform. The site also contains a freight building about 155 feet from the depot. It, too, is constructed in Flemish bond brick with a hipped terra cotta roof. According to Bob Snyder, chairperson for the depot, “It is one of the very few railroad stations in the country that has its own separate freight house building.” Original plantings around the buildings were designed to emulate Olmsted gardens and include extant catalpa trees.
Typical of its period, the interior of the depot is divided into two lobbies, one for gentlemen and one for ladies, separated by a ticket booth. The oak wainscoted walls, beamed ceilings, and wood floors are complemented by the original passenger benches with armrests that divide them into individual seats. The board for posting train arrivals and departures still hangs, albeit bereft of any vital information.
The Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railroad became part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1932. Passenger service at the Depot ceased in 1955, Harry Yates died in 1956, and the station closed completely in 1977. Acquired by the Western New York Railway Historical Society in 1983, the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Says Snyder, “It physically shows us where people went when they wanted to travel by train in the early twentieth century, and, just as in the past, it continues to be of service to the people in this area.” Chamber events and weddings have been held in the station, and movies have been filmed there.
During the pandemic, restoration of some deteriorating elements has continued. The restored depot with train cars and freight building are a reminder of not just our former transportation glory days, but of a man whose love for Orchard Park inspired its construction and the subsequent growth of the village and town.