Cincinnati was once a major center of railroad traffic – an interchange between railroads serving the Northeastern and Midwestern states with the railroads serving the South. But intercity passenger traffic was split between five stations in downtown Cincinnati, and that just wouldn't do, so proposals to construct a "union" station began in the Gay Nineties, and a committee of railroad executives was formed in 1912 to begin formal studies on the problem. A final agreement between all seven railroads that served Cincinnati had to wait until 1928, after a whole lot of lobbying and negotiations. They decided on a site for the new station in the West End, near Mill Creek, even if it was on a flood plain. They'd fill it in. That took some time, and construction on the terminal building itself began in 1931, with the terminal welcoming its first trains on March 19, 1933, and the official opening of the station on March 31, 1933 – all for a total cost of a bit over forty million dollars.
The principal architects of the terminal were Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, with architects Paul Philippe Cret and Roland Wank brought in as design consultants. Cret is credited as the building's architect, as he was responsible for the building's Art Deco style. At the time of its completion, it was the only half-dome in the Western Hemisphere and the largest in existence. It looks like a big table radio, one of those tube things from the thirties.
German artist Winold Reiss was commissioned to design and create two giant color mosaic murals for the rotunda – the history of Cincinnati – and sixteen smaller murals, and a large world map mural at the rear of the concourse. That took him two years, and they're all still there.
But the trains are pretty much gone – the newly formed Amtrak abandoned Cincinnati Union Terminal in 1972, and now there are only two trains a day, the George Washington and the James Whitcomb Riley. The terminal had a capacity of 216 trains per day, 108 in and 108 out, and once worked at that level. But by as early as 1939 it had become a white elephant, one that the city owned. The city, though, finally found tenants – so that's been fixed. It now houses the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, an Omnimax Theater, the Cincinnati Historical Society Library and the Duke Energy Children's Museum.
But somehow, you can still hear the train whistles.