Historic Structures

Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot, Corvallis Oregon

Date added: September 18, 2022 Categories: Oregon Train Station

The Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot built in 1887, is the oldest inventoried two story, wood frame passenger freight combination railroad depot in the state. In 1910 it was moved to accommodate a new depot. Although the depot has been moved a short distance from its original location near 9th Street and Washington Avenue, it is still located on an active railroad siding.

The events that led to the construction of the Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot begin with Colonel T. Egenton Hogg's arrival in Corvallis in 1871. He was a persuasive man with a vision that Corvallis could be the starting point for a new railroad line to Yaquina Bay on the coast of Oregon approximately fifty miles to the west. His dream was that a great port city that could eclipse Portland would grow from the commerce his new railroad would bring. These were the years of Oregon's first railroad development with lines being built from Portland south to Roseburg by 1872 on the east side of the Willamette River and south to St. Joseph on the west side by 1872. The citizens of Corvallis had no railroad and whole heartedly supported Hogg's plans, realizing that this may be break that Corvallis needed to become a great city. He incorporated the Corvallis and Yaquina Bay Railroad Company in 1872 for this purpose. In 1874 he expanded his plans, creating the Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Company, asserting that now he would not only build to the west, but would also go east to the Cascade mountains. Ground was broken in March of 1877, but little progress was made due to lack of funds. In September of 1880, Hogg created the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company which would control the Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad and enlarged the vision to include plans for a rail line into eastern Oregon to connect with the Union Pacific Railroad and thus provide transcontinental rail service. Competition from the north finally brought a railroad to Corvallis in January, 1880 when the Western Oregon Railway completed its rail line south to Corvallis where it stopped. Unfazed, Hogg was finally able to convince Eastern investors to buy fifteen million dollars in bonds to finance his railroad and construction of the line began in earnest in 1881. The first trains ran between Corvallis and Philomath in 1884 and finally, in March 1885, a train made its way to Yaquina Bay. Soon after the lines' completion, freight and passenger service was begun to San Francisco via steamship from the bay. In 1887 24,000 tons of wheat were delivered to San Francisco and ships returning averaged about 200 tons per trip. Also on January 7, 1887, the Corvallis Weekly Gazette stated that the current depot was nearing completion and that the Oregon Pacific Railroad, with the opening of a new draw bridge, had extended its line east across the Willamette River to Albany. Passengers and freight could now go south from Corvallis to California by rail via the Albany railroad connection or by steamship via the Yaquina Bay connection.

All was not well, however, with the Oregon Pacific Company and attempts to go east ended twelve miles west of the Cascade summit. The owners had over estimated the amount of freight and passengers the railroad would carry and under estimated the costs of construction and the impact of competing railroads. Also, Yaquina Bay proved to be too shallow for large ships. Finally, poor workmanship, maintenance, and mismanagement of funds doomed the venture. On October 26, 1890 the Oregon Pacific defaulted on its interest payments and was put into receivership, climaxing in December 22, 1894 with a foreclosure sale. A. B. Hammond and E. L. Bonner bought the bankrupt railroad for $100,000, resulting in a total loss for the bond holders, and pennies on the dollar for merchants and employees who were owed money. These two, with the intention of hauling lumber, then formed the Oregon Central and Eastern Railway in 1895 and then reorganized as the Corvallis and Eastern Railroad in 1897. Westbound daily passenger service to Yaquina Bay was maintained and at least three times a week a freight would run. In the summers, beach excursions at reduced fares were popular. On December 18, 1907 the rail line was sold to the Southern Pacific Company. Passenger travel increased to two trains a day west as well as locals to Albany and freight runs. In 1910 a new depot of cast stone construction was erected in Corvallis close to the site of the original depot which then was moved nearby to 7th Street and Western Boulevard and used to house freight. By 1927 the depot had been moved again to its present site at the corner of Southwest Washington Avenue and Southwest 7th Street. Activity on the line waned with the increasing use of automobiles, had spurts of activity during the two World Wars when good quality lumber was in demand and then after WW II virtually ceased.

The coming of the railroads brought optimism and growth to Corvallis. Although the Oregon and Pacific may have failed in its grand schemes, it played a large part in generating a construction and population boom in Corvallis during the 1880's and early 1890's as evidenced by Benton County's new courthouse (1888), first college buildings on what was to become the Oregon State University Campus (1888-89), a new public school (1889), flour mill (1890), Corvallis City Hall (1892), and the first brick hotel (1893). Residential housing also flourished as did new subdivisions. The panic of 1893 ended the boom years for Corvallis. Growth rates slowed and the town found its niche as an educational and commercial center servicing local needs. By this time the great battle of the railroad companies had begun to sort itself out as the Southern Pacific Company became dominant. Portland had fended off all attempts by other towns to become the commercial and population center of Oregon. The Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot serves as a reminder of these exciting and turbulent times when citizens of Corvallis strove to become the major commercial and transportation center in Oregon.

Building Description

The Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot in Corvallis, Oregon, built in 1887, is the oldest two story wood-frame railroad depot still standing the state. The original two story volume of the structure, which historically functioned as office, warehouse, and an upstairs dwelling unit, is front gabled and is detailed in a Stick/Swiss Chalet style. The composition consists of wide roof overhangs with scrolled rafter tails and bracketed eaves, wood siding interrupted between the first and second stories with a band of vertical stickwork, and gable ends embellished with an inverted picket fence pattern. The second story double hung windows enrich the scheme with chamfered trim and scrolled aprons. The wing attached to the west elevation of the original depot consists of a one story freight warehouse. The western most thirty feet of this wing is most likely the original freight warehouse and waiting room that appears to have once been attached to the eastern elevation of the original depot. An additional thirty foot long portion between the original buildings was also added ca. 1910 when the structure was first moved to an area near Seventh Street and Western Boulevard. These evolutionary modifications to the west elevation, although lacking the stylistic detailing of the original depot, do not detract from the overall harmony of the building because the additions echo the roof pitch, rafter tail scrolling, wide overhangs, and siding of the original depot. Despite the fact that the depot has been moved twice within the boundaries of the Southern Pacific parcel, it is still located on a railroad siding and maintains integrity of setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. The depot reflects both a period of great optimism and pride when railroads came to Corvallis in the late 19th century, and also the utilitarian demands that are required of this type of building.

The Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Depot is a wood frame building that typifies the Stick Style architecture that was used by railroad companies throughout the west during this time period. Evidence of this style can be seen throughout exterior, but is particularly evident on the north and south facades of the original depot. Although not as ornate, this two story depot with freight warehouse wing and loading dock design is quite similar in massing to the Southern Pacific Depot built in 1891 and located in Springfield, Oregon. The structure can visually be viewed when facing the north facade as two entities that are quite compatible in form and function. First to the east, is the 35' foot long two story original depot with its ridgeline perpendicular to the street. Extending to the west, with its ridgeline parallel to the street, is the 60' 8" freight warehouse wing. The building is perfectly rectangular being 40'3" in width. There is a 5' x 23' entry porch on the north facade and an 8' wide loading platform that runs almost the entire length of the south facade and ties into a large (47' 9" x 31' 9") wooden plank loading dock on the western end of the building. Both porch and platform are in poor condition, but are in the process of being repaired.

The gently pitched gabled roofs of the depot with their wide sweeping overhangs are shingled in cedar except for the freight wing where the cedar shingles, due to their deterioration, have been covered in metal on the south and asphalt shingles of the north. The overhangs have exposed solid roof decking consisting mostly of 1" x 4" T & G beaded at the joints. The rafter tails are scrolled, but in some instances have been reinforced with 2" x 4's. The overhang on the south side of the freight warehouse wing has been extended to five feet by scabbing 2" x 4's to the original rafter tails and is braced with diagonal 3" x 4"'s. This overhang has also been extended across the two story portion of this facade. The purpose of this extension was to provide the loading platform with some protection from adverse weather. The barge rafters of the original depot are 2" x 6" and are supported 4" x 4" brackets two per rafter and one at the ridge. As evidenced by historic photographs, intricate scrollwork once decorated the gable ends above these barge rafters culminating in finials at the apex. This trim work was removed sometime in the past, before the present owners took possession of the property. Barge rafters on the freight warehouse wing are also 2" x 6" with a crown type molding covering the rafter. Rafters are supported by 2" x 4" brackets, three per rafter. There are metal gutters and downspouts on the east side of the second story and remnants of wooden gutters on both sides of the freight warehouse wing. Water draining from these gutters was routed back into the interior of the building through two inch galvanized pipe and then into four inch cast iron downspouts.

The siding scheme is predominantly 1" x 6" drop siding installed horizontally with five inches exposed to the weather. Except for an obvious patch on the north side of the original depot where a loading bay door was replaced with a window, all the first story elevations of the building are sided in this fashion. Also on the north facade of the freight warehouse wing, a 4" x 20" board with a 2" x 12" board above has been installed at ground level to protect the structure when loading and unloading freight. On the north and south facades of the original depot at the second story level a rather simple Stick style detailing begins. A horizontal 1" x 8" and 2" x 2" watertable breaks the siding pattern, above which there is a band of vertical 1" x 6" siding with 1" half round battens running the entire width of the building ending at window sill height, where a 2" sill piece also runs the entire width. Beneath the sill of each window two corner blocks with a bullseye pattern and a scrolled apron in between add detail. Above the sill level, 1" x 6" horizontal drop siding extends to the midspan of the gable where an inverted vertical 1" x 6" picket fence trim nailed over the siding completes the composition. All corners of the entire building are trimmed in 1" x 6" boards.

There are four entry doors in the original depot. Three are 3'0" x 6'8" glass doors with a single panel below and a 15" x 3'O" transom window above. The fourth door is a 2'10" x 6'8" five panel door. Although the door openings appear original, the doors do not appear to be original. Three doors are located on the north facade and one on the south. The windows in the original depot currently are one over one double hung on the first floor and four over four double hung on the second floor. Windows on the upper floor appear to be original but windows on the first floor were probably installed ca. 1910 when the building was moved and the freight warehouse portion was switched from the east elevation to the west elevation. There are two transom windows on the south elevation. These were added when the bathrooms were installed. All windows are trimmed in 1" x 6", Symmetry in the window and door placement can only be found on the second floor of the north elevation and first floor of the east elevation. All doors in the freight wing are site built doors in either four panel or two panel configuration with rails and stiles of 1" x 5" boards and 1" x 3" T&G boards nailed diagonally to the back to form panels. The doors are hung and operate on overhead roller hardware. There are three freight doors on the north elevation, one on the west, and two on the south. All openings are approximately 7'0" x 8'0" and are trimmed in 1" x 6" boards. There are no windows in the freight warehouse area.

The depot has two brick chimneys. An exterior chimney located on the south elevation and an interior chimney that is centered on the eastern side of the interior north-south partition of the original depot. Photographs give evidence that neither one of these chimneys are original and that the original chimney was located on the interior side of the west wall of the original depot. Three water barrels, originally located on the ridge of the building and most likely placed for use in fire suppression have also been removed.

The interior spaces of the depot can be viewed as two distinct areas. Office spaces were most recently located in the two story portion to the east while freight storage areas were located in the one story wing to the west. The ground floor office area in the original depot is twenty feet in width and is completely free of partitions for its full forty foot length except for an area consisting of a counter and steel caged 6' by 6' customer service room at the entrances on Washington Street. This partitioned area does not appear to be original to the structure. The floors are finished in worn linoleum (not original), walls in 1" x 4" beadboard (original), and ceilings in plywood panels with 1/4" x 2" battens over the seams (not original). Windows and doors are cased in 1" x 6" boards. Baseboard is also 1" x 6". All walls, ceilings, and doors are painted. A bathroom is entered by a door located on the south end of the west partition. Another door on the west wall leads to the original freight area. There is also a 5' x 6' safe with heavy steel doors located on this wall. The ceiling has been lowered from its original height of 11'6" to 9'6". On the west side of the office partition from south to north is a bathroom finished in beadboard, a storage room with walls and ceilings finished in galvanized sheet metal, an open area leading to the freight warehouse and stairs, in their original location, leading to the upstairs. The original western most wall has been removed in this area opening this part of the original depot to the freight warehouse wing. Ceiling and wall framing are exposed in some areas, but at one time were painted. Flooring is 2" x 6" lapped decking.

The upstairs is presently divided into three office spaces, a storage room, and a bathroom. Partitions that divide the two main offices surrounding the stairwell are not original and are finished in 1\4 inch sheetrock. At one time the majority of the upstairs appears to have been one large open area, with only the interior partitions in the southeast portion being original. All original walls and ceilings are finished with 1" x 6" T & G boards and most are painted or covered with 1\4 inch drywall. The original walls of the western most office have small remnants of fabric and wallpaper remaining indicating that this area at one time was finished living quarters. Flooring is original T & G fir and linoleum which is not original. Windows are trimmed in 1" x 6" boards, but unlike those downstairs, they do have sills. The baseboard is 1" x 6". The ceiling height is 9'6". Doors upstairs and down vary in style from five panel, to two panel, to site built of T & G boards.

The freight warehouse is one large open space with three posts carrying a beam that helps support the roof load. All roof and wall framing is exposed and is painted. Horizontal 1" x 6" boards are skipped sheathed on the wall up to seven feet to protect wall framing. Flooring is 2" x 6" lapped decking. All evidence of the original waiting room has been removed.