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Historic Ashland railway depot found

Ashland’s original 1884 railroad depot has been found intact, hidden inside a shoddy barn several miles from its original site on A Street in the Railroad District where it stood witness to the driving of the Golden Spike that completed the coastal rail line in 1887.

The 24- by 60-foot, two-story, wood frame building served as Ashland’s passenger station and freight depot for four years, until the giant Ashland Railroad Hotel and passenger station was built in 1888, says Ashland historian Victoria Law, a railroad buff.

At that point, the old structure was moved west in the railroad yard and served as the freight depot until the 1960s. Then it was apparently put on a flatbed railroad car and moved to its present location. It was encased in a barnlike structure in the 1970s, in order to hide it from tax assessors, says Law.

Peeking out of gaps in the barn, the original 130-year old corbels and “Southern Pacific yellow” siding is visible — however, the historic building was declared “very maligned” by contractor Jim Lewis, who recently inspected it, according to new owner Stacy Waymire.

The original peaked roof and wood floor have been replaced by modern materials and it was broken into rooms for use by a family, who were the descendants of the original railroad employee who took possession of it and moved it, Law said. That family lived in it until March.

Stacy and his wife, Ramana, Waymire bought the building on a third of an acre this summer and have been cutting back choking brush, cleaning it and clearing it of the family’s belongings and a lot of debris, Waymire said. They are members of the Zen Center and have considered using the structure as housing for Zen clergy and students.

In moving and restoring the big Ashland Railroad Hotel segment on A Street at 5th, Lewis said he considered that building “intact” but, after a close inspection of the Waymire’s depot, including going under the building, he said it was not in that class.

“It’s going to take a long time to clean it out,” said Waymire. “We’re not sure what its fate will be. We’re not sure if it’s structurally sound and can serve a useful purpose. People from the Zen Center (where the Waymires are members) are helping us. We don’t know if it will be part of the center, but our first choice is to have someone move it.” 

Law, the former director-owner of the Ashland Railroad Museum (it closed in 2014), said she dreams of making it the city’s museum, with emphasis on railroads, but the main goal would be that this item of “great historical significance” be saved and serve a purpose in the community. 

“It was here when Charles Crocker drove the Golden Spike and that alone makes it worth preserving,” says Law. “That was one of the most important events in Southern Oregon history. It’s an original O&C depot, the only one remaining. It’s amazing to me it’s still here and had that barn around it to protect it over the decades. I think it’s one of the most important finds in Ashland history.”

If it can’t be a historic shrine, Law said the spacious structure could be put to other uses, including as a commercial complex of the sort that houses a bank, restaurant, brewery, bookstore and such, even if it must be completely disassembled, refurbished and put back together, as was the Dillard depot, rescued with volunteer workers and put in in Roseburg. 

In response to that idea, Waymire said, “Yes, if someone is willing to come and take it away, we’re willing to talk to them. ... If they’re interested in railroad history or want to move it to a farm or put it to commercial uses, we’re definitely interested in talking.”

The Waymires intend to sell off antiques, tools and other old stuff to collectors and dealers — and likely will “part out” the depot if a buyer can’t be found. 

Ashland historian George Kramer said the depot’s emergence into the public eye came as a surprise to him but “it would be really cool if someone bought it and restored it.”

Law said the existence of the building was known only to the owners and a few other railroad buffs — and that she was sworn to secrecy.

Such large, vintage buildings usually represent a big investment of time and capital to make useful and often can’t be given away. When the Ashland Railroad Hotel segment had to go, it was offered to the city for $10 but, says Law, the city turned it down and Lewis took it on. 

Because of its historic value, Waymire asked that the location of the former depot not be published.

— See page A6 for more photos of the historic depot. Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.