By Liza J. Schade, Washington County Museum Curator
Recently, we acquired a pretty great loan from the City of Woodburn!
Earlier this month, I was contacted by Jesse Cuomo, the Recreation Services Manager for the City of Woodburn, to find out if we had room to house a large original railroad luggage wagon. Upon my confirmation that indeed, we could house it, Jesse and I made plans for transport.
Last Friday, on June 23rd, the wagon was picked up at the Woodburn Historical Museum and brought to our facility at PCC Rock Creek campus.
The delivery driver pulled right up to our roll up door on the north side of our building and lowered the winch on the back of his truck. I was instantly surprised at how large the wagon was and what wonderful shape it was in!
As you can see from the above photo, the artifact is a Southern Pacific Railroad luggage cart. It has orange paint, still in great condition with only a few spots of wearing. It had been housed at Woodburn Museum since the early 1980s and came directly there from the old Woodburn railroad depot. It is sized 13 feet long by 4.5 feet wide by 6.5 feet tall, with a wooden bed and iron frame and wheels.
Jesse Holland Settlemier had come to Oregon with his family in 1849. He started Woodburn Nursery in 1863, after acquiring 214 acres of land near Mt. Angel. According to Oregon Historical Society information, Settlemier platted downtown Woodburn and gave 85 acres to the Southern Pacific Railroad, in hopes they would lay tracks through and provide market transport for his fruit trees to Portland. His twelve room Queen Anne Victorian style home was built for $10,000, to house his second wife and seven children, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In Washington County, the Oregon and California Railroad first made an appearance in 1871, carving a right of way, but it bypassed Hillsboro due to refusal of local land owners to give up tracts to the company. It wasn’t until 1908 that the Oregon Electric Railway came through our county, making it finally possible to transport passengers and goods to Portland. In September 1908, newspapers all around the area announced the triumphant arrival to Hillsboro and noted the sheer amount of people that had shown up to see it. After that, the OER stretched out to Cornelius and Forest Grove as well.
Southern Pacific car derailed near Timber, ca. 1910
Due to the opening of the steam logging industry in Washington County, the Pacific Railway and Navigation Company laid tracks between Hillsboro and Tillamook from 1905 to 1911. Logs would be shot down the rivers to landing ponds, where they would be collected and loaded onto steam engines and sent out to market. The Oregon & California route stretched out to McMinnville and Corvallis to get dairy and agricultural products out as well. The area was opening up!
In 1915, the Southern Pacific came to the area and took over the PR & N, along with the O & C railways. According to the book Images of Rail: Railroads of Hillsboro, the company operated those rail lines “roughly for the next 80 years.” In competition with OER, the Southern Pacific tried to run “Red Electric” routes for several years, but they closed down in 1929. The Oregon Electric only stayed open three more years after that.
In the 1990s, Southern Pacific leased out their Washington County lines to Willamette & Pacific Railroad and Portland & Western Railroad. There has been one recent 2013 project however; a track called the “Banks Rail Connection” built to shorten freight times between Vernonia and Tillamook. Local lines are still used today to transport logging and agricultural products, but the traffic has slowed down because passengers are no longer transported, due to public transit lines and vehicle traffic.
Imagine how many times that railroad wagon was used to load people’s luggage and freight goods onto trains! What kind of lives did they live and where were they going? How many of your own ancestors rode the tracks in this county? If you get a bit of time this summer, stop by our Portland Community College, Rock Creek campus facility and check out the wagon in our front lobby!