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Salem's Railroad Depots

1871 Depot
The Oregon & California Railroad reached Salem in 1871. The local towns people wanted the station located close in, convenient to the business and residential areas clustered around Commercial Street. However, they balked at paying the additional $30,000 the railroad wanted for laying track to the center of town. So the station was built on the north-south route, over a mile east of downtown, amidst the hay fields and groves of trees. That station burned in 1885.

1888 Depot
The citizens complained about the distance they had to travel to deliver and pick up passengers and their baggage "way out on 12th Street." Fortunately, in 1888 Salem had its first horse-drawn street railway, owned by the Oregon Land Company. The Salem Street Railway Company operated the first line from the corner of State and Commercial. The State Street line extended to 12th Street and eventually along 12th to the Southern Pacific depot. Electric trolleys quickly followed. By 1889 there was a new station - at the same location but with a new name. The Southern Pacific Company obtained control of the route May 12, 1887. Just prior to World War I the 1889 station burned. The replacement station was completed in 1918.

1918 Passenger Station

This Beaux-Arts structure conveyed all the ideals of the "gateway to the city". Passengers entered the station from the west, passing through colossal columns encompassed by large Roman arched windows, to reach the tracks on the east. The building is dominated by a large rectangular central pavilion which houses 1500 square foot passenger waiting area. Smaller wings house functions including ticketing, baggage and rest rooms. The floor plan of the station reflects the new 20th century need of the women’s waiting room.

The deep west entrance is comprised of four pilaster colonnades, with the four columns directly in front and a three-arched recessed entranceway and double doors at the center. The more shallow track-side entrance incorporates a colonnade of lonic pilasters with a large metal canopy offering shelter to waiting passengers. Decorative plasterwork, coved corner entries, period radiators and Terrazzo marble floor patterns also add to the elegance of the structure.

The concept of the railroad station as a point of civic pride was by the this time essential to any city which wished to favorably present its social and cultural merit. Salem, capital city of Oregon, was no exception. The depot was designed by Southern Pacific architect J. H. Christie and built by Stebinger Brothers of Portland for a cost of $25,000. It reflected the importance at the time of making a good impression, worthy of the capital. The Beaux-Arts Classicism of the new station seemed a natural choice of style for this up-and-coming city. Whistle stop tours brought dignitaries through the community and was a place of gathering to see the famous or infamous traveling through Salem. Competition from the Oregon Electric Railway, which opened in 1912 and offered Portland to Eugene service, also warranted such an grand statement of architectural style.

The 1999 Salem Depot Project by the Oregon Department of Transportation was a full rehabilitation of the 1918 depot. Ceilings and architectural features were restored to their former state. The work also includes improvement of parking facilities, some rail-side pedestrian features such as waiting shelters, lighting and landscaping for high-speed rail systems and park and ride operations.

The 1889 Freight Depot/Baggage Shed
Next to the 1918 Depot stands freight depot which was once part of the 1889 station and depot. When the 1889 depot burned just prior to World War I, the freight portion was saved and moved south along the tracks. Now 100 years old, the former freight depot/baggage shed maintains a high degree of architectural integrity both inside and outside. The exterior continues to display one of the finest features: triangular, scroll-sawn brackets placed among the overhanging eaves surrounding the building. The peak of the roof features gablets or small gables protruding from the end points which tied it to the Queen Ann railroad architecture of the 1889 station. This building at one time housed the Salem Telegraph Express and store room.

Compiled by Monica Mersinger

Historic Marion, Marion County Historical Society


Salem Southern Pacific depot
Salem Southern Pacific depot with a new McKeon gasoline coach, 1912
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1890 map of original station location.

1890 map of original station location.
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