Forest Groves Old Train Station celebrates a century

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Nowadays, the train station building at the corner of Main Street and Pacific Avenue hosts a library and a museum.Forest Grove’s latest centenarian is looking good after a makeover — and ready for a big birthday party this Saturday. The Old Train Station, located at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Main Street, was built in 1913 as the Southern Pacific Railroad Station. Its ornate roofline and brick (rather than wood) structure set it apart from other stations in the Pacific Northwest.

Yet its two most distinctive features are now gone: an open waiting platform at the west end and the deep overhang of the original roof — punctuated by decorative knee braces — kept passengers dry as they waited for their trains.While the building doesn’t look exactly like it did 100 years ago, it’s still got plenty of history to share.

Don Skinner, a Friends of Historic Forest Grove board member and the manager of the station, recalls first seeing the building as a child.

“I instantly recognized it as a train station,” even though no trains had come near it for decades, Skinner said. “I’m a closet train buff,” he said. “I really enjoy them.”

The trains that ran to the station in its heyday — between 1913 and 1929 — were considered the nimble commuter trains of their day, said Richard Thompson, an author and historian on Oregon’s street railways.

“They were the freeways of their day because they connected the Willamette Valley,” Thompson said. The train cars were powered with electricity and were called “red electrics” because of their distinctive color. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A station schedule reproduced from 1926 shows the times and routes provided -- but trains never ran on Sundays.

The railroad’s first trial run from Beaverton to Gaston occurred Jan. 5, 1914. Passenger service continued until 1929, when cars, buses and paved roads became the less expensive and preferred mode of transport.

“The so-called interurban era was very short-lived,” Thompson said.

Part of the original Red Electric Line survives. The Willamette Shore Trolley runs from Portland’s south waterfront area to Lake Oswego, courtesy of the non-profit Oregon Electric Railway Museum, whose collection of streetcars is located in Brooks, north of Salem. In 1943, seed-company owners E.V. and C.G. Burlingham bought the property and used the building for office space. They later enclosed the waiting platform to make the building larger.

The building changed again in 1987 with an addition to its west side.

In 2000, current owner Woodfold Manufacturing bought the building, which it has allowed the Friends group to use rent-free since 2008.

Most of the building’s interior has been changed since it was built and all of the ornate peaked roof is missing. But the original cupola is still in place, although it was pulled crooked by a bunch of electrical and communication cables. So is the original brick exterior and cement foundation. And an original bay window on the south side marks the spot where stationmasters used to look out onto the tracks and watch the approaching trains.

Recently, Skinner led an effort to improve the building, with help from volunteers and a $2,346 Forest Grove Community Enhancement Program grant. They repaired brickwork and cracks to the original foundation, painted the front entry and foundation and installed porch lighting, signs and a hand rail crafted by metal artist Eric Canon.

Windows were reglazed and the grounds were landscaped with native plants and a picket fence.

In addition, Woodfold has cut away the heavy cables and is straightening, repairing and repainting the cupola.

Inside, the Friends keep their office and have developed a research library and a museum space to collect and display local artifacts. It’s a transformation that Skinner helped make happen in the last year and a half, said Mary Jo Morelli, president of the Friends’ board of directors.

“Don has a vision. He is really the visionary,” Morelli said.

In 2011, Skinner, who lives in Hillsboro, went inside the station for the first time, in search of photos from the 1960s. Perusing the Friends’ collection, he found a treasure trove of old photos and artifacts from Forest Grove and beyond.

The retired Tektronix employee left feeling compelled to go back and make the space more user-friendly.

“I went home and told my wife, ‘You gotta come see this place.’”

That was when he took off his Tektronix hat and put on his museum manager hat. Skinner and Morelli clearly love inhabiting the building and sharing their local knowledge during tours of the station and its contents.

Looking at historical photos of the station, Skinner says, “Wouldn’t it be neat to have this be like that again?”

In a guest article for the spring newsletter of Forest Grove’s Historic Landmarks Board, Skinner wrote: “Though it would be a very large undertaking, removing the enclosure on the east end of the building and replacing the station’s original roof overhang would help make the station look like it did back in its heyday.”

Meanwhile, he’ll settle for a weather vane — if he can find a donor. Now that the cupola is being straightened and improved, Skinner said, “It just screams, ‘I need a weather vane.’”

Out with the old, in with the new

Are you interested in old houses that are so tightly constructed you could roll them like dice and they wouldn’t fall apart?

Would you like to recreate a 100-year-old train station that makes you feel like you’re on the set of a historical fiction movie? The Friends of Historic Forest Grove is hoping its recent efforts at the Old Train Station and at the A.T. Smith house might catch your eye and get you thinking about how to help preserve Forest Grove’s history.

Don Skinner, a Friends board member and the manager of the station, wants to put the word out to the city’s younger residents and others who haven’t been involved in the past.”A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” Skinner said.

The group’s work and overhead is paid for with income from three annual fundraising events: a garden tour, a Historical Home Tour and a holiday social. A $2,346 Forest Grove Community Enhancement Program grant helped pay for some of the train station’s recent makeover, but labor was all volunteer, Skinner said. Having sponsors to pay for utilities like electricity and Internet would make a big difference, he added.

Now that the interior of the train station is set up as a library and museum, it can host meetings, as well as school groups and other visitors. Skinner hopes some people might have an item or two they’d like to add to the museum’s collection.

“We’re always looking for more things,” he said. “People come in with things, and they’ve got stories to tell ... I’m a big advocate for telling your story, writing it down. Not for yourself but for other people, because once you are gone, your story is gone.”

The Friends’ biggest ongoing project is the Alvin.T. Smith House, at the east end of Elm Street. The Classical Greek Revival structure was built in 1854 with solid oak timber framing, in a manner that latches the building’s supports together like an interlocking cube — a feature that helped it survive years of neglect.

The vacant house got window replacements in 2005, a new roof in 2007 and a drainage system, along with several dozen fruit and nut trees planted outside.

Future plans include turning the house into a museum with a heritage garden.The group rustled up funds to purchase the property in 2005 and has paid off the mortgage, but completing the next phase would be easier with fresh energy from new volunteers, Skinner said. “We need new blood.”

Old Train Station Open House and 100th Birthday Party

n 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17

n Featuring cake and museum displays, including a 19th-century rope bed (threaded by an Eagle Scout) and a story board explaining Forest Grove's connection to the Titanic disaster

n Free

n Regular hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon every Wednesday, or by appointment

n Info: 503-992-1280

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