The Dayton Historical Depot Society’s mission is to maintain and use its primary artifacts, the Depot building and the Boldman House, for interpretation/ education of local history. In keeping with their historical status the Depot and Boldman House will serve as resources for community use.
The Depot Society will continue the conservation of photographs, archives, video histories, and historical artifacts and also serve as a resource to encourage the preservation of local history. The Society’s collection will enhance its ability to educate and interpret without degrading the Depot’s or the Boldman House’s historical designations on the Local, State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Agriculture in Columbia County was transformed in the early 1880's by the arrival of the railroad. Prior to the existence of the railroad, local farmers had to haul their grain overland to Walla Walla. From there the grain was shipped by rail to the Columbia river and downstream to Portland by boat.
In May of 1880 Henry Villard, the president of the Oregon Railway & Navigation (OR& N) Company visited Dayton and announced the company's plans for linking the wheat country more directly to Portland by rail. A short branch line would be built into Dayton, if citizens would donate the right of way and a depot site.
The arrival of the OR&N line in the summer of 1881 ensured sustained economic vitality for Dayton as a shipping center of farm products. Dayton's handsome new wood framed passenger depot, designed in fashionable Stick/Eastlake style, was erected in 1881 along the main line, across the Touchet River and south of downtown. On July 19, 1881, engine No. 439 pulled the first passenger train to leave Dayton for Walla Walla.
Originally, Dayton was the terminus of the track. Service was later extended to Turner, 20 miles to the east. The Union Pacific Railroad took control of the OR&N line and depot in 1887.
Two years later in 1889, a second railroad entered Dayton. The new right of way altered the character of downtown Dayton and changed the nature of its future development.
It was not until 1899 that the then nearly 20 year old OR&N depot was moved on roller logs pulled by horse and winch to a new location on parallel tracks at the Commercial Street right of way. The train station served as a nucleus of downtown until it was closed in January 1, 1972. The Depot was reopened to the public in July, 1981 as a heritage building museum.
The Depot has been altered only slightly in the 120 years of its existence. It is a two story framed structure with a cross frame gable shake roof. The second story, formally the station master's quarters, provides access to the balcony running on three sides of the building. The wood brackets that support the balcony are a prominent feature of the structure.
A three sided bay window on levels of the north side provides a view of the tracks to the east and west. The interior walls are the original beaded board, typical of the area. All of the rooms have high ceilings and wainscoting. The freight scale is intact and useable.
This oldest surviving railroad station in Washington State was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September, 1974. The Dayton Historical Depot Society, a non-profit corporation, was formed in August of 1974. The Union Pacific Railroad donated the depot and adjoining property to the Dayton Historical Depot Society on May 23, 1975.