A majestic train station is a romantic setting like none other. Colorful people pass through it and give it more power. People like Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale.
They all passed through Palmer, MA – the Town of Seven Railroads – making their way through history and perhaps enjoying the stunning Romanesque building built for waiting.
The imposing Palmer station opened in 1884 and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson – himself massive at 300 pounds plus and renowned for his impressive architectural arches and stonework. Richardson was the architect responsible for Trinity Church in Boston, Harvard Law School, the New York State Capitol in Albany and the Marshall Field Building in Chicago. He designed the Cheney Building, also known as Brown Thomson and now, appropriately, as the Richardson, on Main Street in Hartford.
But architecture aside, if you can, this place is about the trains – those icons of all things mysterious, mesmerizing and moving. You can't stop watching. And this is the place for it, with numerous freights, the Vermonter and the Lakeshore coming through at all hours of the day and night.
The Palmer Train Station is now the Steaming Tender Restaurant, run by owners Blake and Robin Lamothe, who understand the lure. Their renovated site, a work in progress, they say, attracts the old timer as well as the newest enthusiast.
“They've struck a good vein here,” says manager Melinda Lastowski.
The restaurant serves American fare in its huge dining room, where you can eat a weekend buffet breakfast ($9.99 for adults, $6.99 for seniors 55 and older and $5.99 for kids 10 and younger), or lunch or dinner, Wednesdays through Sundays, and watch the trains go by. On Thursdays, they offer a prime rib special for $10.99 while supplies last.
The trapezoidal station was sited on a triangular piece of land at the crux of the lines for the New London Northern Railroad and Boston and Albany. At the top of the driveway, a grotto and park, courtesy of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park and Bushnell Park fame. The Lamothes are working on renovating that piece of the property as well. They have acquired a 1915 Porter steam locomotive and tender for display, and the station showcases an array of antiques.
Even on a day when the Steaming Tender is closed, train fans sit at the patio tables outside in hopes of spotting a freight or the Amtrak Vermonter or Lakeshore.
“We call them enthusiasts,” Lastowski the manager says. “We pretty much let them do whatever they'd like to do.”
The Steaming Tender Restaurant in the Palmer Railroad Station is at 28 Depot St. in Palmer, MA. From Route 32 North, turn left just before crossing the overpass into Palmer. The restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For information and reservations, call 413-283-2744 or visit the Steaming Tender site.