Historic Salem Railroad Baggage Depot embarks on its next life

“Dixie’s Depot” will support options in transportation

For more than a century, a small building in Salem stayed standing, despite fires and floods, even despite being moved, mistreated and abandoned (except for hundreds of birds living both

Salem Baggage Depot before renovation.

outside and in). Apparently it had good bones – some of which are being re-used – and now, it’s not only still standing, it’s coming back to life, and even taking on a role similar to the one it had in the beginning.

The historic Salem Railroad Baggage Depot will be part of a multimodal center in the middle of the Willamette Valley, playing a key role in transportation much like it did in the 1890s when it was first built. It still stands next to the Salem Railroad Depot (though the current one is a little newer: it’s a beautiful 1918 Beaux Art building), and it’s still drawing attention – from area residents, train aficionados and history buffs, like ODOT’s Historic Resources Program Coodinator Chris Bell.

According to Bell, one of the many unique aspects of the project is the financial partnership involving three federal agencies, several state agencies, the city of Salem and Greyhound, as well as a private donation. It has taken longer to bring the project to its almost-finished state than anyone thought it would, but the building itself is now restored and ready for business. The grounds around the building need a little more work, and then the new, old building can welcome people in once again.

Originally a place to store bags and process packages

Chris Bell
ODOT’s Historic Resources Program Coordinator Chris Bell

The Salem Railroad Baggage Depot began life attached to the previous railroad station in Salem, one that served both freight and passenger needs. It was used to store bags and trunks for passengers and also to weigh packages and help get freight where it needed to go.

“It was a precurser to what we call UPS today,” said Bell. “They had a station inside to weigh the packages and package-like things and they had a little safe deposit where they kept the money. It really was a primary place for everything from packages to circus animals coming and going through Salem; it was essentially the non-people depot.”

Bell has spent many hours in the past five years at this job site. He found several unique items leftover from the working facility, such as a receipt booklet from the 1920s used to track packages. He also found several architectural items that reflected the Victorian time in which the facility was built – and he helped get as many of them restored for re-use as possible.

“The feeling of preservation today is, ‘salvage as much as you can, re-use as much as you can’ – because not only is this material indicative of this building and period – from style to shape to quality – but it reflects a patina and authentic sense of place, which you can see today, that is impossible to recreate with new construction.”

Siding, brackets, doors and more are on display

The project team hired Bell & Son Paint Removal (a coincidence, but no relation to Chris Bell) to salvage the siding, and Bell spent time with the crew, looking over the worn yet sturdy pieces of wood while old-fashioned nails were carefully removed. After having its lead-based paint removed, the refurbished siding is on the public-facing side of the building so it can be enjoyed. For the other side, the project team called on the Oregon Department of Corrections to create a similar appearance.

“We worked with an excellent and energetic prison crew program that was able to recreate the siding to this exact specification, so it was fabricated to match this precisely,” Bell said.

Sliding door
The historic sliding doors were saved and restored.

Bell is especially fond of the original brackets found under the eaves. The team hired Oculus Woodworks who restored all of them and even helped create some new ones to replace those that were long missing.

“This kind of woodwork requires a master craftsperson,” Bell said. “It’s quite different from what you might see today on ‘new-era’ Craftsman houses, whose brackets are relatively simple miter cuts, if that. These are complex curves and rounded with cutouts: a challenge to embrace, but for the right craftsperson.”

The facility had several large, sliding wooden doors still hanging inside when the restoration project began. The doors opened the facility up to handle large trunks and pieces of baggage. Windows will replace the openings but the doors will hang nearby, complete with original hardware. The restored wood is amazing to see, Bell said.

“The original fir reflects the quantity and quality of the wood we had available in the 1890s.”

Dixie’s Depot will open soon

The restored baggage depot is named for a local resident, long-time educator Dixie Kenney, who valued Oregon’s quality of life and supported environmentally-friendly alternatives. After she passed away in 2008, her husband Steve started looking for ways to honor her. He read about the dilapidated baggage depot and how it would take some combination of funding to restore it; if not, it was probably going to be moved or even razed.

“I called the city and asked about it, learned they needed some funding,” Kenney said, “and that’s when I realized it would be the perfect memorial for Dixie.”

The Kenney family made a donation so the building could not only be rehabilitated but stay where it belonged, at the railroad station – and now, it will be part of a multimodal center.

“That was Dixie – not just words, but actions, and public transportation was a part of that,” said Kenney.

Visitors to Dixie’s Depot will enjoy remnants from a different time, the Victorian era when railroads were the provider of transportation, not one of many – which is what the new depot will help provide: access to trains, intercity and intra-city buses, bicycling facilities, perhaps even car-sharing. You won’t think you’ve suddenly been transported back to the 1880s, but a glint of patina or the austerity of joints covered by a batten might remind you of something way, way back.

And that’s good, ODOT’s Chris Bell said, because “…we wanted to create a sense that this station wasn’t built yesterday – it was built nearly 130 years ago.”

Historic Salem RR Baggage Depot