Railroad Scarchitecture: 15 Hidden Pieces of Transportation History in the 15 Largest US Cities

Scarchitecture, is a combination of the word scar and architecture, which refers to the remnants of former roads and railways hidden in today's cities, most easily identified in satellite imagery, thanks to the magic of Google Maps. I've already discussed examples in both Chicago and its suburbs. For today's blog, we're going all across the US in search of other examples of scarchitecture left behind by the days of railroading in major cities.

Keep in mind that there are usually many examples of scarchitecture in cities both large and small, and I'm only going to show one for each city, so go and search for others yourself, and let me know in the comments of any interesting examples you find!

1) New York City - Lansing Ave & Edgewood Ave in Queens (40.66426, -73.7475)

There are dozens of examples of scarchitecture in the Big Apple, and this one is of the most visually striking, given the grid system that exists to the southwest of here. Lansing Ave & Edgewood Ave, and the houses on these streets diverge from the grid as a result of a long abandoned Long Island Railroad which hasn't been used since 1934.

2) Los Angeles, CA - Electric Ave & Venice Blvd (33.99044, -118.46353)

Los Angeles was once home to an extensive streetcar and interurban system, and many relics of the line and its railroad past still haunt the city.

The aptly named Electric Ave is one such example, as it, along with Irving Tabor Ct, create a wye where another Pacific Electric Branch to Santa Monica diverged from Venice Blvd en route to Venice Beach.

3) Chicago, IL near 48th St & California Ave (41.80658, -87.69493)

As I've talked about plenty, and a large part of my blog, Chicago's industrial history is well represented in its architecture and visual cues from railroad lines, stockyards and steel mills long gone. This shows many of the rights of way of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad's paths through the city.

4) Houston, TX - Shaver St & Broadway (29.62893, -95.2218)

The two largest railroad abandonments in the City of Houston ceded way for two of its largest freeway projects; The Katy Freeway and the Westpark Tollway.

And yet, in spite of building over its history, it can't hide everything. The right of way of the long abandoned Galveston-Houston Electric Railway is still quite visible, and obviously influenced the building which now has Adriana's Hair Salon in it!

5) Phoenix, AZ - Phoenix Goodyear Airport (33.43194, -112.36223)

Even Phoenix, the desert outpost turned metropolis, has some scars to show the world. But admittedly, not as many as other cities on this list.

A former branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad (with a wye at the bottom) is perfectly visible between the airport and industrial areas, cemented in the desert terrain.

6) Philadelphia, PA - Windhocking St & Oakland St (40.01695, -75.09164)

The Philadelphia area is full of abandoned railroad lines, old alignments of road, and plenty of scarchitecture. The Rail Park keeps some of this history alive. But for other lines in its history, sometimes you just have to look a little closer...

A branch of the Reading Railroad can be easily traced in the awkward construction of the buildings it once paralleled.

7) San Antonio, TX - Guadalupe St & S Comal (29.41766, -98.50847)

While obviously more examples of scarchitecture exist in rust belt cities, the Sun Belt is far from exempt from the phenomenon.

A small branch line from the still active junction served an industrial area on the west side of downtown San Antonio, causing the building south of Guadalupe to be built beside it.

8) San Diego, CA - Coronado Ferry Landing (32.69953, -117.17097)

You can view San Diego's skyline across the San Diego Bay in Coronado, CA, right in the path of a former right of way of the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway.

While the Bayshore Bikeway occupies some of the right of way today, there is still clear evidence of the right of way when it turned south from the Ferry Landing in Coronado.

9) Dallas, TX - Quebec St (32.80365, -96.8659)

An industrial park west of downtown was once served by a small branch of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, leading to several curved buildings on Quebec St. This happens to be one of my favorite examples of scarchitecture and is a can't miss.

10) San Jose, CA - I-280 & Lincoln Ave (37.31904, -121.90748)

Before it became the largest city in Silicon Valley, San Jose had quite a manufacturing history, which is still evident in some of the satellite imagery of the city.

A long abandoned branch of the Western Pacific Railroad nonetheless influenced the design of a parking lot and several different industrial buildings just south of downtown.

11) Austin, TX - Burnet Rd S of Braker Ln (30.38982, -97.72229)

Another Sun Belt City. When you think about the 15 largest cities in the US, does Austin ever come to mind? Does Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, perhaps? Each of those cities for one reason or another has some excellent scarchitecture examples that will nonetheless have to wait for another blog. All that said however, Austin, like every major city, has some architectural scars.

An otherwise unremarkable former spur off of the Southern Pacific on the city's north side influence the adjacent parking lots, as well as a couple buildings in one of the few examples of scarchitecture in the entire city.

12) Jacksonville, FL - Kings Rd & Minnie St (30.3398, -81.67378)

A branch of the Seaboard Air Line snaked around the city of Jacksonville, from a junction to a railyard. Today, much of the right of way is the S Line Greenway. But it's quite easy to tell from satellite imagery that this was much more than a simple walking path back in the earlier days of the city.

13) San Francisco, CA - The Embarcadero and Piers (37.8059, -122.40388)

While San Francisco actually has a ton of scarchitecture, including some interesting examples discussed by others, I chose to focus on the Embarcadero and Piers on the north end of the city, which were once used extensively by the San Francisco Belt Railroad. This is one of San Francisco's landmarks, now served by light rail, and transformed from an industrial area to a mixed industry and tourist destination. It's not exactly scarchitecture, as it can easily be argued that the Embarcadero was more shaped by San Francisco's peninsula, but railroads undoubtedly played a large part in the area's industrial development.

And to think, it could have been a freeway today.

14) Columbus, OH - Dublin-Granville Rd & Westerville Rd (40.08025, -82.93013)

The aptly named Heritage Railroad Trail, a former Pennsylvania Railroad line to northern Ohio, is not the only clue to the railroad history that is hidden away in time on the north side of Columbus.

The buildings along the now trail were obviously inspired to align with the abandoned right of way.

15) Indianapolis, IN - Dr Andrew J Brown Ave (39.79529, -86.13425)

So actually, Fort Worth, TX is the 15th Largest City in the US; but I already did an example in Dallas and decided to go with Indy to finalize my list. Indianapolis, much like other Midwestern cities, has dozens examples of scarchitecture from the many abandonments within its city limits.

And even though the Monon Railroad is long gone, a spur from a tiny branch of it can easily be traced in the satellite imagery of the city today, in addition to many other examples. 

Time leaves scars in ways that might not always be recognizable in the view from the ground, but can easily be spotted from above. I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and as always, thanks for reading!


  1. Arlington & Fairfax Electric Railroad in Virginia, from a wye with the Washington & Old Dominion in Vienna (38.90163, -77.26411), to the end of the line (38.84866, -77.31257). Many parallel property lines are visible in Google Maps "Map" view, instead of "Satellite" view. There is even an historical marker (38.84809, -77.31265). A depot still stands at (38.87947, -77.29688), now a home.

  2. You might want to check Richmond, VA, where there are buildings remaining with cutouts for rail tracks. https://www.google.com/maps/@37.5370013,-77.4232981,329m/data=!3m1!1e3

  3. You might want to take a long look at Atlanta. As one of the busiest railroad cities in the eastern United States, a city that actually took its name from being the southern terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and that had no fewer than eleven rail lines running through the heart of the city, there are all kinds of railroad influences on the layout of the city. One of the largest, which doesn't appear very well from overhead, is Underground Atlanta. Seems there were large numbers of people getting hurt and killed trying to cross the center of town across the eleven mainlines, so the city built a long bridge across the railroads where they ran through the area known as the "gulch" The bridge was built right up against the buildings on both sides and the store owners moved their store fronts to the second story to have access to the street. More bridges were built on nearby streets. This left those stores on the cross streets totally cut off from the main traffic flow, so the city then connected these bridges with other bridges! This entire section of the city now had store fronts on the second story, at the new street level, leaving the old store fronts at ground level under the bridges. The merchants used the old, underbridge, store fronts for deliveries. Now the underbridge areas have been renovated and opened back up, so the buildings have two store fronts, one at street level and a second down below in the "mall" like area under the bridges.

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  5. It's very subtle, but it's there, going from the active tracks south of the Poesten Kill NE through the city past Washington & Hill Streets. Troy NY: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Troy,+NY/@42.7218055,-73.6946849,606m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89de0fa74c108773:0x33117ef9f5a4723c!8m2!3d42.7284117!4d-73.6917851

  6. Rochester NY. Originally the Erie Canal, it was reused by the Rochester Subway. https://www.google.com/maps/place/Rochester,+NY/@43.1748556,-77.6449577,1203m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89d6b3059614b353:0x5a001ffc4125e61e!8m2!3d43.1565779!4d-77.6088465

  7. Syracuse NY, a tiny scarchitecture involving just two buildings. The rails are still there! https://www.google.com/maps/place/Rochester,+NY/@43.0782513,-76.1606959,160m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89d6b3059614b353:0x5a001ffc4125e61e!8m2!3d43.1565779!4d-77.6088465


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