The service plant held the key to the railroad’s new operation, for it provided the electric power for the engines in and out of New York. Research by the industrial archaeologist Thomas Flagg indicates that it was also used to supply heat, light, elevator hydraulics and refrigeration for the station as well as compressed air for braking and signaling. It even incinerated the station’s garbage.
The mid-block building, 160 feet long and 86 feet high, is divided by a north-south fire wall with boilers for power generation on the west side and power distribution, offices and other elements on the east.
The station and the service plant were designed by McKim, Mead & White, specifically Charles McKim and partner William Symmes Richardson. Writing in Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers for October 1910, Richardson said that, on the station itself, “all unnecessary detail of ornamentation was omitted.”
For the service building the architects assembled some of the simplest elements from the station in the Stony Creek pink granite.
The Roman Doric exterior, a row of severe pilasters bracketing ventilation windows covered with iron grills, is about as plain as a building can get and still have an identifiable style. Cleaned, it could be a post-modern historical society or a crematorium.
All photos care of the Library of Congress: