Historic Structures

Lebanon Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, Lebanon Oregon

Date added: August 30, 2022 Categories: Oregon Train Station

In 1871, the Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad, the first railroad in the Willamette Valley, by-passed Lebanon and built their track through to Albany instead, 14 miles to the west. Located on the South Santiam River, the town founders sought to use the river as a link to the new rail line. An attempt was made in 1871 to navigate the river with the steamboat Calliope from the Willamette River to Lebanon via the Santiam River. It proved to be unsuccessful for the river was not deep enough to accommodate a fully loaded steamboat. In 1872-73, the Santiam-Albany Canal was completed as a means of connecting the agricultural and timber products of Eastern Linn County to the Willamette River steamboats and the O&C railroad. The town soon discovered that the current was too swift, making it extremely difficult to tow barges upstream. Nevertheless, the canal was still used for shipping products to Albany. Ultimately, the town would need a mode of transportation that would allow them to import goods as well as to export them.

The history of the railroad in Lebanon dates to 1872, when a group of citizens met on September 5th with the purpose of securing a railroad from their town to a point on the O&C Railroad's north-south line, located approximately 12 miles west of Lebanon. This was a direct result of the earlier failed attempt at navigating the Santiam River. Nothing occurred as a outcome of this meeting. But eight years later, the capital needed to fund such a business venture was found. In 1880, Henry Villard, railroad magnate and president of the Oregon & California Railroad, supplied the $200,000 necessary to build a line from Albany, on the O&C main line, to Lebanon.

The Albany & Lebanon (A&L) Railroad Company was incorporated on February 2, 1880. The land for the railroad tracks and the proposed depot in the town of Lebanon was sold to the A&L for the sum of one dollar by Jeremiah and Jemima Ralston, Lebanon's founding family, on May 22, 1880. This land had been part of their third platted addition to the town.

The railroad tracks and a depot were completed by September 21, 1880. Sanborn maps and newspaper accounts indicate that the depot was a small, one story depot built between the double tracks between Sherman and Ash Streets. The line officially opened for service on October 1, 1880. The A & L operated for about eight months before it was purchased by the Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad on May 6, 1881. The O&C made it a branch line to their main north-south track in the Willamette Valley. Later that year, the Lebanon Warehouse Company built a grain storage warehouse on railroad property, a block from the depot facilitating transportation of regional agricultural products.

The O&C remained in service until May 12, 1887 when the Southern Pacific Railroad Company assumed controlling stock. Between 1880 and 1899, the Lebanon population slowly increased as did the business opportunities, evident in the expansion of local industry. In 1888, W.B. Donaca constructed another grain warehouse along the tracks and in 1895, Southern Pacific built stockyard pens alongside the tracks near the depot. In the 1890's, additional industries, such as the Lebanon Paper Mill, an excelsior plant, and the new roller mill had spur lines built to their businesses.

With the start of a new century, and a reliable railroad link, Lebanon experienced noticeable growth. A 97% increase in the Lebanon population was recorded by 1910. Most of this growth was attributed to the railroad companies which promoted Oregon with special colonists fares. Southern Pacific promoted Lebanon to the rest of the nation as a "Land of Opportunity" in Sunset Magazine (March 1912). As a result, newer, permanent commercial buildings were constructed using concrete and brick instead of wood. "Downtown Lebanon...was... transformed almost overnight from a Main Street of frontier wooden...buildings to...concrete, face brick and plate glass." Some of the wood commercial buildings existing at the time were either demolished or removed and replaced with reinforced concrete buildings, the first one built in 1908 as a rear addition to the Lebanon bank building at the corner of Sherman and Main Streets. The wood depot remained amidst the changes made to other commercial buildings. Meanwhile, new enterprises located their factories, industries and mills in Lebanon alongside the Southern Pacific tracks. Such businesses included: the Hazelwood Creamery station, built in April 1905, and located slightly north of the depot; a potato warehouse built in October 1905, and additional agriculture warehouses located along the tracks by 1909. This combined with the additional construction of commercial buildings between 1900 and 1910 along the Sherman Street corridor, west to the depot, made it evident that the depot was a vital economic, freight, and transportation hub for the city.

By 1907, it became evident that the 1880 railroad depot was inadequate for the amount of passenger and freight traffic that arrived and departed from Lebanon. The Lebanon Express-Advance reported on January 7, 1907 that "the Southern Pacific's railroad carpenters arrived in Lebanon to make extensive repairs to the depot which included a new roof, a new floor and new underpinnings." The citizens of Lebanon felt that repairs would be unacceptable and pushed for a larger combination freight and passenger depot.

On July 1, 1907, the Southern Pacific General Manager & Superintendent arrived in Lebanon to consider the condition of the old depot and possibly making improvements or to construct a new one. Between July and December, the decision was made to construct a new combination passenger and freight depot.

On December 13, 1907, several Southern Pacific head officials arrived in Lebanon to scout a new location suitable for the new depot. On May 15, 1908, the city of Lebanon signed a contract with Southern Pacific to begin construction of a second depot at a new location. This depot constructed used Southern Pacific plan #23, which was designed to handle a combination of freight and passenger traffic. While freight was processed and stored in the three southern bays, passengers waited in the northern waiting room for the arrival of their train. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company maintained their city office in between these areas. This depot was larger and chosen to handle the ever increasing traffic that Lebanon was experiencing.

The economy continued to expand and additional construction and businesses located by the tracks. In 1913, George McKilligan established a cement brick and tile warehouse one block north of the depot. In that same year, Sherman Street was paved between Main Street and the depot, the first paved street in Lebanon. Water, electric and telephone utilities spread as well, as noted in a 1914 Lebanon Criterion article, which reported that "a Southern Pacific construction gang connected the depot with the city water and sewer system." With the introduction of the automobile in the teens, demand for gasoline led to the construction of gasoline tanks on the east side of the Grant Street bridge and railroad tracks.

The agricultural industry also began to rely more heavily on rail service for exporting their products. In 1913, Claude Murphy shipped the first full car of apples from Lebanon, the first attempt by Lebanon fruit growers to market their product in car load lots, and was an "experiment (that) will be watched with a great deal of interest by all of the growers." Also in that year, fruit growers gathered to discuss the possibility of organizing and operating a cannery in Lebanon. Three years later, in 1917, the Linn Co-operative Cannery filed articles of incorporation and began construction of a cannery west of the railroad freight yards, north of Oak Street.

In addition to agriculture, the commercial timber industry began to figure prominently in the Lebanon economy. The Crandall Bros. established a planing mill in 1905 and in 1907 were shipping carloads of lumber to San Francisco following the devastating earthquake of 1906. In 1907, the Lebanon Lumber Company established a sawmill along the Lebanon canal. Seven years later, in 1914, the company completed a short spur track off the main line to their new mill along the Santiam River. Timber harvested at Crabtree could be shipped to the mill by rail, doing away with the lengthy and expensive log drive on the Santiam River.

In response to the advances made in sanitation and water sewage systems, the depot was altered in 1915. A partition wall was added in the waiting room to create a ladies rest room and a closet for the men on the Third Street side of the building. By 1918, a dozen railroad tie manufacturing plants were located in Lebanon district shipping an average of 15 cars weekly to other points along the Southern Pacific lines in Oregon. In 1920, the Lebanon-Santiam Lumber Co. purchased a block on Oak Street between Third and Fourth Street for a planing mill. Plans called for the purchase of rough lumber from the mills in the vicinity so that it could be dressed at the mill and shipped to the eastern market by rail. In 1929, the Fir Lumber Co. was established between Ash and Rose Streets, on Third Street alongside the west side of the tracks.

Between 1928-1937, Lebanon again experienced another population growth partially due to the expansion and creation of new industries along the railroad line. Among them, the timber industry was key to Lebanon's economic survival during the Great Depression. It was also instrumental in partially alleviating the effects of the increased proliferation of the automobile which was encroaching on freight and passenger rail service.

In February 1928, the Linn County Logging and Lumber Railway sought permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to build a line from Albany, through Lebanon, to Foster to tap into virgin lumber in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The project was later taken over by the Oregon Electric Logging Railroad (OER) in April 1928 with funding from the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railroad Companies. In 1930, the OER signed a common user agreement with Southern Pacific and obtained permission to use their line through Lebanon, thereby avoiding building new track and a depot. With the completion of the missing rail gaps to Foster in 1932, the OER hauled logs harvested in the Cascade Mountains to Lebanon's many existing saw, planing, and paper mills located near the depot.

Additional large scale commercial sawmills were established in Lebanon in the early 1930's, among them: the Fir Lumber Co. in 1931, located on the west side of the railroad tracks between Rose and Ash Streets; the Gleason Mill, and the Tom Russell Lumber Co. in 1931. In addition, timber related industries moved into Lebanon, among them the Crown Willamette Paper Co. which in 1936 expanded their operations which diminished the effects of the Depression in Lebanon.

The agricultural industry also impacted Lebanon's economy. A fire in 1928 had destroyed Lebanon's only cannery, and until 1930 Lebanon agricultural growers were limited to barreling their product. In 1935, the Spencer Packing Co. constructed a new canning plant in Lebanon. "The facility used existing buildings on the north side of Sherman Street along the west side of the railroad tracks, formerly used for the barreling plant and erected a new building just to the west of these track side buildings." Prior to this, area producers were forced to ship their product to other towns. By 1941, the facility added a larger warehouse. In 1937, the Scroggin Warehouse was shipping a large amount of rye grass seed and turkeys.

The period from 1940 to 1945 was accentuated by two major events in Lebanon: World War II and the construction of the world's largest plywood mill in 1940. In 1940, the Evans Products Company built a plywood mill in Lebanon thereby "changing the face of the community." The plant was completed in 1941, and coinciding with the United States entering World War II, the mill employed 580 people. The plant operated at peak capacity from 1941 to 1945, producing plywood for military needs. Employment soared, as did the population which led to an incredible demand for housing. Records during the period of 1940 to 1950 indicate that the population increased by 115%. The city was forced to plat several additions during this period. In response to the demands of World War II, many businesses expanded their facilities. In 1942, G. N. Gillenwater built a 60 x 120 foot building on the railroad tracks, just south of the Scroggin warehouse for his feed and seed business. In 1943, the Spencer Canning Co. built a dehydration plant for the purpose of processing beets, potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas for rail shipment to the armed forces. Freight rail service continued as many of the companies shipped their products by rail to major points of distribution for the war effort. Passenger rail service continued in the form of troop transports and limited civilian train service. Passenger service was ultimately terminated in the mid 1950's.

In 1985, after a long decline in the transport of lumber and agricultural freight from the area, freight service was permanently discontinued and the tracks leased out to the Burlington Northern Railroad Company. The railroad depot remained vacant until 1996 when the City of Lebanon bought the depot from Southern Pacific Transportation Co. with the plans of converting it into a "travel station" for the area.