Skip directly to content

Upcoming Events

The Oregon Electric Station will open Summer 2014.

History

Color Sketch of OES

As of 1981, the Oregon Electric Station is going for the third leg of the "triple crown" of historic recognition. The Oregon Electric Station was identified as a significant historic landmark by the City of Eugene, and was placed on the Oregon State Register of Historic Places. Today, the Station is officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


The Oregon Electric Station was designed to serve the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Willamette Valley electric train system. The first electric train arrived in Eugene on October 15, 1912, to a crowd of 25,000 and headlines in the local paper declaring this "the greatest day in the history of Eugene." The Oregon Electric line was here to stay, but it was another nine months before the depot building contract was signed and 19 more before the first ticket was sold from the finished structure! The Oregon Electric Station is situated near many famous Eugene landmarks. It's the major building in Eugene's "Depot Area" cluster, which includes Depot Park, the old Southern Pacific Depot and Depot Fountain. It is also close to the historic Shelton-McMurphey house, Skinner Butte, and Eugene's impressive 1939 W.P.A. built main Post Office building. Two of the city's other nationally acclaimed buildings, the Palace (later the Griggs and the Lane) Hotel and the Smeed Hotel, are within walking distance.

Actual construction began August 14, 1912 with the excavation of the site, brickwork started August 31 and ended the 18th of September. The roof was erected by November 1st, with the next week spent electrically pumping over 20 inches of the Willamette Valley's famous rainfall from the basement!

Plasterwork was done by December, the marble terrazzo floor by January, carpentry by February and concrete walks by June. This 19-month saga prompted some cynics to suggest that the Oregon Electric Station, not the Oregon and Southeastern Railway Co. deserved the nickname "Old Slow and Easy!


 

Nobody denied that the finished Oregon Electric Station was worth waiting for. The building is still considered an impressive structure. Because of its historical significance, law requires that the building remain in good condition and in its original character.

The building was designed by A.E. Doyle, of the Portland firm Doyle, Patterson and Beach. Mr. Doyle was Oregon's best-known architect between 1908 and 1928, and his design for the " was as enthusiastically received as were his designs for the celebrated Benson Hotel in Portland, the Northwest National Bank Building, and many others.

The building was designed in the flamboyant Georgian Revival style; a basic rectangular plan with symmetrical facades, hipped roofs with surrounding balustrades, eves detailed as classical cornices, and Palladian windows.

Mr. Doyle's personal flair called for copper clad iron marquees over the south side entrances, stone lintels over windows on the depot wings, stone voussoirs around arch openings and detailed wood balustrades mounted above the wooden cornices that crowned the entire building. The floor was done in marble terrazzo. 


 The Oregon Electric brought more than just competition to the Willamette Valley. It stimulated the local economy and made Eugene easily accessible to thousands. It helped change the social landscape and settlement patterns of the area by promoting migration and various land schemes. Some towns it helped build, others it isolated.

For Eugene, the Oregon Electric Station was the symbol of cultural evolution. John Phillip Sousa ("The March King" after whom the Sousaphone was named) and his marching band enjoyed a brief stopover there. Sousa, of course, is best known for his march "The Stars and Stripes Forever." On the other side of the musical coin, Ignace Jan Paderwski, a renowned pianist and composer of the era, also visited the station.


 Even as the Oregon Electric Station was developing its cultural identity in the Mid-Willamette Valley, the great train empires were beginning to crumble. They were badly overextended; high costs, disintegrating profits, and the emergence of a new transportation force call "automobiles" took their toll. The Station suffered with them.

The Oregon Electric Railway heyday years ran between 1905 and 1925, when the electric railroad field was at its peak. In fact, the industry (which included street railroads and interurban trains) was the 6th largest in America in terms of dollars invested. Much of this investment was made in the years 1903-15, when most of the nation's 49,000 miles of electric track were laid.

The cars were in keeping with the Oregon Electric's plush image. The January 18, 1913 edition of the Electric Railway Journal described the cars in this way: "The sleeping cars for the Oregon Electric Railway are finished inside in handsomely figured mahogany with inlaid lines and marquetry figures in neat design. Floor covering in the main compartment is Wilton carpet. The seats are upholstered in figure frieze plush and the trimmings through the cars are statutory bronze. The ceilings are decorated in green and gold.

The railroad cars had buffet service run by a single porter, individual parlor seats, toilets and drinking fountains. All cars, with the exception of trail cars, had deep tone air chimes that were capable of playing octaves. These chimes were located in the roofs of the cars - in the center of the head (front) end in combination cars and in the middle of the motorized baggage and standard passenger coaches.

The trains were impressive. Each consisted of a baggage car at the head end, a combination car, 3 coaches, and a parlor car. These trains were so "imposing" in length that while going through both Salem and Portland the cars had to be disconnected at one side of the town and rejoined at the other.

To keep a strong ("dignified and very upstanding") image, the cars, originally painted the popular railroad orange, were repainted a dark greenish black!


 

In its top year, 1920, the Oregon electric Railway had passenger earnings of $891,000. In 1932, this had shrunk to only $17,313. The Oregon Electric Railway was on its way out. Only six people came to the Public Utility Commission meeting held in 1933 to hear testimony that led to the discontinuation of passenger service by the Oregon Electric Railway.

Since its peak, the Oregon Electric Station has been used as an office, storage space, and even as the Southwest Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. During these years, many surface changes were made to the building.

The building has since been restored to its original luster. Great pains were taken to base all renovations on the original A.E. Doyle station designs.

We hope you enjoy your visit to a functioning piece of Oregon history.