The West End Street Railway Central Power Station

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If you live in Boston, chances are you’ve heard of the SoWa Open Market and the SoWa Vintage Market. Or just SoWa in general. Located in Boston’s fashionable and posh South End, SoWa (South of Washington St) is home to many old brick buildings, including this one, at 540 Harrison Avenue. Now used as additional parking for the SoWa Markets, this Romanesque/Gothic Revival structure stands as a reminder of Boston’s transportation history.

The building was designed by William G. Preston and built between 1889-1892, and served as the West End Street Railway’s Central Power Station. A precursor to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the WESR created the power station to provide electricity for the growing streetcar system. When it was built, the Central Power Station was the largest in the world, with its (now gone) smokestack reaching higher than the Bunker Hill Monument. The building now stands empty, allowing shoppers to ditch their cars while they peruse the vintage and open markets; but this space was once filled with (at least) six 1000hp triple expansion steam engines, four-pole 250kW railway generators, and who knows what else, all required to keep the streetcars running efficiently. After 1899, the station went on to supply power to the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy).

The CPS was purchased and renovated by 540 Harrison Avenue Realty Trust in 1998. The roofs were restored using the original slates, buttressing was fixed, the facades were restored and cleaned, and new windows were installed to match the original glazing. Now you can visit the CPS whenever you want. Make sure you check out the incredible steel rafters running through the building! It’s a glorious monument to Boston’s architectural and transportation history.

See more of the photos I took on my Flickr page.

Boston Preservation Alliance
IEEE Boston
Boston Herald

The West End Street Railway Central Power Station