The Dayton Historic Depot is a museum showcasing history of not only the local area’s railroading history but also its past in general. The depot itself, located in Dayton, Washington, is of Union Pacific heritage (although not originally built by the UP) and the museum features railroading artifacts including an original UP caboose on the grounds, railroad displays, and local historical pieces. The depot is owned and maintained by the Dayton Historical Depot Society, which also maintains a nearby historical home as well (this structure can also be toured). Overall, the depot and grounds do not feature a lot in the way of exhibits and things to do but if you are interested, generally, in simply history you will certainly enjoy yourself there.
Today, the Dayton depot is the oldest surviving such structure in the state. It was constructed by Oregon Railway & Navigation Company and opened on July 19, 1881. According to the society the building was designed in the Stick/Eastlake style, and almost resembles a house. It is two stories in height and features elegant trim and woodworking. In any event, Dayton sat along a branch constructed by the OR&N which diverged just north of Walla Walla at Bolles and connected to Turner (Dayton was located about halfway along this branch). The point of this line, according to then OR&N president Henry Villard was to tap the region's vast wheat harvest and transport it to Portland, Oregon. Only a few years after the line was opened the UP took over the OR&N in 1887 through its subsidiary the Oregon Short Line (the OSL controlled much of the UP's trackage west of Granger, Wyoming).
Despite being only a small branch along the Union Pacific's system, which stretched nearly 10,000 miles by the mid-20th century the Turner Branch remained a part of the Class I's system until the 1970s when it was closed on January 1, 1972. Fortunately the building was spared and UP donated the depot and nearby property to the Dayton Historical Depot Society in May of 1975 (the building had already been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September, 1974 and that same year the historical society was formed). Just six years later in July of 1981 (on its 100th birthday) was reopened as a museum, the Dayton Historic Depot, and completely restored.
Today, the two story depot is an important part of Dayton's rich heritage and it currently stands almost completely untouched, in its original condition after more than 120 years. In its restored appearance the building is bedecked in a beautiful dark yellow and ochre with a wrap-around porch along the second story. The building really doesn't seem like your typical railroad depot but it is beautiful nonetheless. In its heyday the building's two stories served separate purposes. Given Dayton's location it was far out along the UP system. As such, the second story was used as quarters for the station agent while the first floor was for general business (a small waiting room, ticket booth, freight bay, telegraph station, agent office, etc.).
Interestingly, the tracks through Dayton are still in place and in use today, as things haven't really changed all that much after more than a century since the railroad first arrived. The Dayton Historic Depot is open year-round although the historical society cuts back the hours during the winter months. When you step inside the first floor is filled with historic items and displays (including more than 2,500 dated photographs), and they have tried to keep as much original equipment and artifacts in place as possible (for instance, the original freight scale still resides in the building). The first floor also contains the museum's gift shop.
For more information about the Dayton Historic Depot please click here to visit their website which provides in great detail everything you can find there. Finally, the grounds surrounding the depot are kept in amazing condition by the historical society and they offer the entire facility for parties interested in using them, rather that be either for a wedding or some other special occasion. In any event, if you are in the area consider stopping by to see this incredible piece of preserved history, the town is quite proud of their depot, which one can see through its immaculate condition.
For more reading on the Union Pacific you might want to consider Union Pacific Railroad from noted author Joe Welsh. Of course, being that the Union Pacific is so well known and has been around for so many years, hundreds of publications (many quite good) have been written about it detailing various subjects of the railroad. However, this book will at least give you a general overview and history of the UP (filled with many, excellent, historical and colorful photographs) at which point you can decide if you are interested in further books of study on the railroad. Even if you are a historian of the UP and have not seen this book I'm sure you will enjoy it! Also, for more information and reading about excursion trains and railroad museums you might want to consider picking up Tourist Trains Guidebook from the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. The book lists and reviews over 400 excursions and museums found throughout the country and is an excellent resource, which has received superb reviews by readers, if you're looking for one to visit. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.