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.
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 womens 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
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