The Illinois Central Railroad was one of the first and most important railroads in the United States. Started in Illinois, it was the first railroad to receive a land grant for construction. At the time, tracks spanned only the state of Illinois.
During the railroad boom of the 1870s and 80s, the railroad expanded to connect Chicago with cities such as New Orleans, Louisville, and Sioux Falls. On these rails, crops travelled from fields across the midwest and south to a shipping station in Chicago where they would be sent all over the United States.
Rail cars in Hammond were laden with strawberries grown in Hammond and the surrounding towns. So many berries went out that the area was given the nickname “The Strawberry Capital of the World.” A festival, celebrating the delicious fruit and its contribution to the area, is held every April in nearby Ponchatoula.
While useful and economically necessary, trains were neither the safest nor most pleasant device to enter towns. For this reason, railroad companies avoiding building their depots in the center of towns. The Illinois Central was no exception.
This building was completed in 1912 based on a design by a railroad employee. The three brick units feature hipped roofs with large eaves in order to appear larger and offer shade from the Louisiana sun. They are linked by breezeways to protect passengers in case of wet weather.
The center unit features an octagonal turret. It originally served as the ticket office and had two waiting rooms, a common feature of Southern commercial structures prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Passengers could set down their luggage and dine in the unit on the right, while the unit on the left was an express office.
Today, Hammond is the only Amtrak stop in the State of Louisiana outside of the City of New Orleans. Passengers still enjoy the shade of the eaves and breezeways while waiting their turn to ride the rails.