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Arriving At Salem
As we make our way into Salem, we discover one of the reasons the Oregon Electric Railway was the most popular of the interurban lines. We are paralleling Broadway street, just a dirt road at this time. Our route will take us to the heart of the downtown area. At the time of the first Oregon Electric trains, all of Salem's wide downtown streets were dirt. Actually, they were mud most of the year, much to the discomfort of Salem ladies, who had to lift their dresses to cross the streets, but not high enough to display the ankles, of course.

The terminus of the line was in front of the Marion County courthouse, having passed the City Hall just a block before. On the other side of the street was the Grand Hotel and the Grand Theater, with a big cupola on top (now removed). The post office (now moved to State Street where it is Gatke Hall at Willamette University) was one block east, and beyond that, Willson Park and the Statehouse (the one that burned in 1935, two years after the Oregon Electric trains stopped running).

Oregon Electric Railway's principal competition was the Southern Pacific, which arrived at the Southern Pacific station on Twelfth Street, clear at the edge of town.

What a great experience it was to board a train at any place in the heart of Portland and an hour-and-a-half later be deposited in the middle of downtown Salem, and for only 25 cents. What was the modern world coming to? The Oregon Electric ran 33 trains a day between Portland and Salem at the height of its service.

Salem was proud of being a railroad hub, not only because it was the state capital but because of its strategic location at the heart of the Willamette Valley. Railroads ran through town in every direction. I t would not be until after World War II that these railroad tracks would be called the "iron ring," and efforts would be made to relocate them.

The Union Street tracks to the north were the first to go. Finally, with the completion of the Salem Civic Center in 1972, the Trade Street tracks were removed, and classes could be held at Willamette University uninterrupted by the trains that went through the campus daily. Then, the Front Street tracks were moved to make way for the Front Street bypass. Now, only the Twelfth Street mainline of the Southern Pacific interferes with the movement of automobiles and foot traffic through the heart of Salem.

Written by Wes Sullivan

See Origins of the Oregon Electric Railway


Oregon Electric Railroad map
Oregon Electric Railway promotional map and routes
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Salem Station

State Street and Oregon Electric Station in Salem
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