Wilmington Delaware’s Historic Amtrak Station is a must see for anyone who loves train, architecture, history, travel and well, yes, politics. But leaving the politics out for a while, this old train station is just a cool building with lots of stories tucked away inside its red stone walls.
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The Amtrak Station named for Joe Biden
The reason I said to leave politics out of it because this is the train station named for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 46th president of the United States. He traveled through this station on an almost daily basis during the 36 years he served as a Senator from Delaware. He had young children at home and since the train ride is about 90 minutes to Washington, DC., Biden made that trip on a very regular basis. Someone counted and said it was nearly 7,000 trips.
There are plenty of people who work at the train station who remember the days when the former Senator rode the train. They’re glad to tell stories about him and how the Amtrak service is used in these parts. Some of these employees like Joe Biden and voted for him. Others don’t and didn’t, and that’s OK.
Now, we’re finished with that, let’s talk about why the Wilmington train station would be considered historic today, even if there was never a Joe Biden.
Why the Wilmington Amtrak Station is Historic
Built in 1907, the Wilmington Delaware Train station was one of about 130 train stations designed by Frank Furness, a Philadelphia architect. He designed more than 600 buildings in his career, but only a dozen or so Furness train stations remain. The Wilmington Station is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as two nearby buildings designed by Furness.
Furness was known for the industrial look that some historians call “muscular.” Basically, they are referring to the exposed beams and rivets you see on the ceiling and support beams. I particularly like the tile artwork designed by Joyce Kozloff and installed in the entrance hall in 1984. It softens that “muscular” look.
In addition to the buildings, Furness designed the furniture, the fixtures and many details we never pay much attention to in buildings. None of those remain in the Wilmington train station, but you can see some at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
This is a fully modern train station with free wifi, spacious, clean bathrooms, and a lovely little cafe/gift shop for whatever goodies you need. A car rental facility is right on site, as well as a spacious parking garage. Take time to walk around the adjacent park located right on the Christina River.
Railroad History in Wilmington Delaware
We love history so were drawn to a big exhibit on the history of railroads in Wilmington that dominates one wall in the Joe Biden Train Station. It tells a lot about Frank Furness, but also why Wilmington has become one of the busiest train stations in the Northeast, which makes it one of the busiest train stations in the country. More than 90 trains a day come through here.
Before there were trains, Wilmington was known as a center for building horse-drawn carriages. The city was home to an inordinate number of talented ironworkers, leather tanners and upholsterers. Obviously, many of those talents transfer well to making trains and later into building yachts, another strong industry for the Wilmington economy.
Wilmington has been home to a railroad since 1832, making this one of the oldest train stations in the country. You know all of the railroads from Monopoly? They were all real railroads and three of the four came through this Wilmington Train Station. I’m easily impressed.
OK, this tidbit is for the serious train geeks out there: Wilmington is the place where electric locomotives and train cars come to be repaired and overhauled. There’s also a big command center here where Amtrak monitors its national operations.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Wilmington Delaware
While in the Wilmington area, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at Buckley’s Tavern. We can’t recommend that enough. Try the mushroom soup. Apparently nearby Kennett Square is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World. I’m told that about 65 percent of the country’s white mushrooms are grown here. Let’s come back for the Mushroom Festival in September.
We stayed at the Fairville Inn, just down the road but across the state line in Pennsylvania. Talk about timing. The owners bought this place and closed on the deal just two weeks before Covid shut everything down in March 2020. So Willie and Xio took that time to do some remodeling and repairs. It’s a wonderful little inn.
We also enjoyed exploring the many gardens in the area, most of them a gift to the community from the DuPont Family. Visiting their homes, gardens and museums is a multi-day activity in the Brandywine Valley.
As always, we didn’t have enough time in Wilmington and the Brandwine Valley to explore and see everything we wanted. So we’ll be coming back. And arriving by train.
Tip: If you love riding trains, you’ll love this trip on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.