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Interpreting the Evidence

Grand Central Station, New York City, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Grand Central Station, New York City, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Grand Central Station in New York City, circa 1900.
Historical Context
New York City's Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan is one of the best-known train stations in the world.  The original structure, Grand Central Depot, was built by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Designed by John Snook, Grand Central Depot was the largest rail facility in the world at the time of its completion in 1871.  In 1898, three stories were added to the terminal building, giving it the appearance in this photograph.

Just twelve years later, the old Grand Central Depot was demolished in 1910 and replaced with the current Grand Central Terminal, which opened to the public in 1913.  The new Grand Central is the largest train station in the world based on the number of platforms and tracks it services. These platforms and tracks are on two underground levels, with forty-one tracks on the upper level and twenty-six on the lower.

Grand Central Station has a few unique characteristics. One is the unusual ceiling, which shows an array of constellations. Another is the beautiful four-sided clock, which sits on top of the information booth in the center of the main concourse.  This clock has become the meeting place for many travelers.

Over the years, Grand Central Station has declined and deteriorated. In the 1930s, the ceiling was covered over because some of the plaster was falling off; it was easier and cheaper to cover the ceiling then to repair it.  However, in 1998, a twelve-year restoration revealed the true beauty of the original building, including the ceiling. When restoration of the ceiling began, many people thought the original ceiling was covered with coal or diesel smoke, but tests showed that the entire ceiling was concealed with tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains; it was left untouched by renovators to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.  If you ever visit, look for this little patch on the ceiling.

Essential Question
How is architecture influenced by technology and economy?
Check for Understanding
Describe the structure in the photograph and explain how technology and economy influenced the design.
Historical Challenges
Compare the building in this photograph to the Grand Central Depot in a picture on the New York Public Library's website ( The buildings look different; however, they are both the original Grand Central Depot. Which photograph came first? What changes were made to the Depot in the time between the two photographs? How can you tell that the buildings in both photographs are the same building?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Research the constellations that are depicted on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Are the images accurate or distorted? How?
Social Studies & English Language Arts: Design a travel plan for AAA, demonstrating how to cross the country by train, ending at Grand Central Station.