A Chicago Architecture Mystery in America’s Loneliest Corner

I spend a lot of time in the lesser-traveled corners of the nation.  Places where the roads are sand, the mines are lithium, and life is weird.

In one of these places where internet service is even scarcer than water, and a plastic jug of gas is $20 a gallon (I shit you not), I found this relic of days past:

Don't believe the signs. You can't get to a station through there.

Don’t believe the signs. You can’t get to a station through there.

Yes, that’s a pair of giant wrought iron… entrances.  And if you can read this, you’ve already read that the entrances lead “to station.”

What station?  The people of Goldfield, Nevada (population 268) who spend their days sitting on the porch in front of the only radio station watching wild burros wander down the main street are happy to offer up an answer: A train station in Chicago.

I never told them where I was from, and they never asked.  But this is Esmerelda County.  A space larger than ten European nations, but with a population of just 783.  It’s the least populated place in the United States outside of Alaska.  If you want to get away from it all, this is it.  While the people here are friendly, people anywhere are often unreliable.

Word from the chatterboxes hanging out around KGFN — “The Voice of the Old West” — is that they were brought to the middle of nowhere by the guy who owns the old fire station.  Who also owns a big-name winery over the hill in California.

I wrote to an e-mail address that was allegedly for the guy and got no response.

So I tried the Goldfield Chamber of Commerce.  Silence.

I wrote to the Goldfield Historical Society and was told that they thought the station entrances were American because “the electrical hardware is of U.S. origin.”  I was again referred to the winery guy.

There aren’t a lot of cities in America that have underground train stations.  And even fewer that would have stations of this vintage.

So if they are, indeed, station entrances from Chicago, where might they be from?

My theory is that they were the original entrances for the Van Buren Street Station on the western edge of Grant Park.

Van Buren Street Station

Van Buren Street Station

You probably know that station better as the one that cosplays the Paris Metro.

The Parisian subway entrance was made in 2003 and dedicated on Bastille Day 2005 in honor of the Windy City’s sister city status with the City of Light.

But before the RATP and the Union League Club brought this slice of quiche to the shores of Lake Michigan there had to be something else there.  My theory is that what used to be the Van Buren Street Station entrance is now rusting away in the high desert of Nevada.

If you have another theory, I’d love to hear it.  E-mail, or leave a comment below.

And if you ever make that seven-hour drive from Las Vegas to Reno and stop at the Dinky Diner for a nosh, wander behind the old fire station and take a look at these iron behemoths.  Then go up the road to the local cemetery for an amusing couple of hours’ reading.  But don’t bother looking for the grave marker for the guy who died eating library paste.  It’s no longer there.

Location: Euclid Avenue, Goldfield, Nevada


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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  1. Someone stole the library paste eater’s tombstone? That is terrible!

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    • Editor

      I’m not sure it’s actually stolen. Just maybe super hard to find.

      Because of the desert sun, wind, and sand the grave markers in the cemetery have to be re-painted every year or two by the Goldfield Historical Society. I think because of all the notoriety that grave got from the interwebs, they may be reluctant to repaint it so it’s not a target of vandalism.

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  2. I looked up the intersection at Michigan and Van Buren in the IDOT intersection photo archive and I found photos dating back to 1936.


    The entrances you found look remarkably similar to the ones depicted in the photos, but I don’t think they are the same ones. I think the entrances you found are way too narrow to be for a terminal station. They wouldn’t handle the number of people that you’d expect to leave the trains at the end of their run.

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    • Editor

      Was Ven Buren the terminal station? I thought that was what is now Millennium Station.

      I agree that the entrances are narrow. I wonder if they were on opposite corners, and perhaps supplemental to another entrance.

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      • As you say, the terminal for most IC suburban trains was Randolph Street, with an auxiliary entrance at South Water. For some reason, at least in their later years, IC’s never-electrified West Line suburban trains to Addison (discontinued about 1931) did terminate at Van Buren.

        I wonder if these might not be street entrances. The narrow width suggests that they might have covered stairways or ramps leading from upper-level platforms to a ground-level headhouse or concourse: the sort of arrangement seen today at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal.

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  3. Hi all
    These two pieces come from the PATE Museum of Transportation Cresson Tx opened in 1969 & closed in 2009.

    They may be from London, but I have not been able to confirm at this time.(I don’t think so)
    It’s a very long trip from London for material that could be produced locally,,,)

    Another possibility would be a prototype or pre-production.
    I have not found so far any similarities of side sets.
    Regarding the width another hypothesis can be conceived …
    A change in the width of the stairs to increase the passage capacity.

    Another hypothesis is that these two rooms were used to reach a station and not a metro station because of the inscription “to station” and not a station name …

    Sorry my bad english (don’t hesitate to correct my sentences)

    Your french reader from Angoulême who love Chicago.


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