Aside from some jungle-like overgrowth, a set of railroad tracks and the ruins of a craggy building’s foundation this is all that remains of the once bustling Torrence Road train station in Cincinnati. The now defunct depot was built in 1907 as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. While this aged terra cotta sculpture remains mostly intact, Torrence Road Station was not it’s first home.
This 25 feet by 12 feet sculpture was originally installed in Philadelphia at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station where it hung with other massive masterpieces representing every major city served by the aforementioned railroad. In 1932 fire swept through that station destroying everything in it’s path, except for the terra cotta sculptures.
What to do with these artifacts? Fortunately they were able to be saved and shortly after the fire were shipped to their namesake cities. Cincinnati received the piece pictured below, with all it’s age and wear I think the deteriorated decoration has taken on a rather creepy-cool appearance.
There has been much discussion as to what the object represents. Some say it depicts (a now headless) Christopher Columbus because this part of town was once called Columbia. Others say the two figures are from Cincinnati’s pioneer history, Mathias Denman and John Tuttle. Local railway enthusiast Brian Collins says the sculpture indeed depicts early settlers however they are “Major Benjamin Stites and his brother, Hezekiah, which if you look in your history were two of the very earliest settlers.” This makes sense as the brothers headstones (and presumably their remains) are a few miles down the tracks in the historic Pioneer Cemetery.
I found another explanation via an anonymous quote online that goes into even further detail about the artist himself saying it was “created by Karl Bitter for the 1890 Broad Street Railroad Station in Philadelphia. When that station was destroyed by fire in the 1920’s, the panel was removed and brought here for inclusion in the Torrence Station by the Pennsylvania Railroad, owners of the Broad Street Station and the railway that ran on the Oasis line. The panel depicts two early settlers to this region. The sculptor, Karl Bitter, was a prolific New York-based architectural sculptor whose major commissions include the Metropolitan Museum of art in NYC and Biltmore, the Vanderbilt mansion in Asheville, NC.”
Whatever you believe it represents I think we can all agree this fascinating facade still manages to bring wonder to all who see it.