Opinion

MAY IS NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION MONTH: With railroad tracks laid, Creswell is set in motion

May is National Historic Preservation Month. As we traverse the streets of our town we encounter a number of things that have been part of this town far longer than we have. The museum and the old schoolhouse have been discussed in previous articles in The Chronicle this month. They are a part of the heritage of Creswell, which also includes its rich railroad and timber history.
As early as the 1850s, proposals for a north-south rail line were explored, but none of the potential projects gained much steam, with money being the greatest obstacle to progress.
After a great deal of legal wrangling, and some not so legal, the Oregon and California Railroad, headed up by Ben Holladay and backed by over $10 million in bonds sold in Germany to complete the line to the Oregon-California border. Initially the project moved at breakneck speed. But as the mountainous terrain slowed track construction, Holladay could not make interest payments to the German investors and Henry Villard entered the Oregon railroad picture on behalf of the German interests and at Holladay’s expense.
In January, 1885 the Oregon and California line was in the hands of receivers, resulting in the May 1887 takeover by the Southern Pacific Company of the Oregon and California ?? and shortly after, construction was completed over the Siskiyou Mountains into California and the rest of the United States.
As the O & C passed through the newly platted town of Creswell in the early 1870s, the opportunities were immense. There now existed the means to move people, products and livestock both to and from the north. The unincorporated town of Cloverdale, a few miles east of Creswell, moved all of their businesses to have access to the railroad.
The locals were ecstatic when Southern Pacific constructed a depot on the east side of the tracks where a Dari Mart store stands today. The depot, built around 1900, was removed before 1950.
In the 1940s and 1950s, rail shipments of lumber and veneer filled boxcars as local mills helped in the war effort and the housing boom that followed the war. Aerial photos from that time period show loading docks for wood products adjacent to the spur lines from the SP mainline. In the area once occupied by the depot, a large pole yard had a similar arrangement.
There is still a spur line going into the south end of what was the Bald Knob veneer plant. The Southern Pacific railroad gave a huge boost to the local wood products industry and helped Creswell grow.
The Creswell Historical Museum is a shiny gem for local historians and history buffs. The Old Schoolhouse is currently the primary focus of the Creswell Heritage Foundation. The railroad tracks are seldom mentioned, except when preceded by a tirade of expletives that we wouldn’t repeat in the presence of our mothers, when the presence of an untimely train makes some of us late for work.
All of the aforementioned and many more, have made enormous contributions to our town’s history and heritage.