Rescuing a railroad wonder

Jane Reed and son, Joel, of Eagle Point browse through the Dewitt Museum at Depot Park in Prairie City on June 7. George Reed, an antique train buff, said he brought his family to Eastern Oregon to ride on the Sumpter Valley Railroad and "absorb the history of the area." They were fascinated by the Dewitt Museum and its hundreds of relics.

PRAIRIE CITY - At age 93, the Prairie City Depot begs for a makeover.

Its 11 rooms, four downstairs and seven upstairs, lack insulation. A rustic wood stove substitutes for an adequate heating system. The electrical wiring dates back to when the depot was built, in 1910, when it became the southern hub of the 1890-chartered Sumpter Valley Railroad. In 1983, the building was granted a new purpose. The Dewitt Museum, originally housed at the Dewitt Ranch, gained a permanent residence at the depot.

However, the museum building - listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 - is showing its age. The county-owned building needs $106,345 in repairs and improvements, according to estimates from Pinnacle Architecture of Bend. The architects included fire alarm and security systems in their recommended upgrades, a nod to the value of artifacts of the Dewitt Museum.

On June 7, a contingent of supporters for museum renovations asked the Grant County Court to accept a long-sought $24,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust of Portland.

A sense of urgency pervaded the June 7 meeting. A May 2 letter from the trust had set a deadline of Aug. 1 for local organizers to "have a firm plan in place and this project under way." Otherwise, the grant would be rescinded. Debbie Letosky of Prairie City told the County Court, "They need us to accept the funds to get it out of their hands."

Letosky urged the county to take advantage of its opportunity and applauded Meyer Memorial for its patience and flexibility. The trust's grant originally was awarded on Aug. 2, 2002. What participants depicted as miscommunications and misunderstandings among the parties frustrated efforts to secure the grant money. Meyer Memorial originally wanted to see the first phase of renovations completed by Aug. 1, 2003, but notified of delays, the grantors agreed to extend that deadline to June 15, 2004.

At the June 7 meeting, the County Court committed to securing the grant. On June 12, Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds confirmed that he had issued a letter to Meyer Memorial Trust accepting the money. He also planned to send a letter to thank the trust for extending its deadlines.

Grant County has dedicated $35,000 to the renovation effort. Now, additional grants are needed to pay for the balance of the project. Reynolds estimated that $49,000 in outside grants, paired with local fund-raising, likely would make up the difference, once inflation was factored in.

Early plans for the renovation envisioned improvements by phases: $45,812 would be spent in the first phase for insulating, installing handicapped-accessible ramps and furnishing heating and ventilation, electrical and security upgrades; $17,792 would be spent in the second phase for new windows, a luggage door, weather stripping and repainting and structural reinforcement; $14,672 would be spent in the third phase to cap and abandon the building's chimneys and paint the exterior.

Those plans may change.

"What we actually propose is to shoot for the whole project," Letosky told the County Court.

Economies of scale may justify this approach. However, the parties agreed that the various participants, including about 66 citizens working with assistant museum manager Nadia Schultz and Prairie City and Grant County liaisons, will need to coordinate their efforts. Reynolds pointed out the need to communicate. Lingering questions, such as the extent of local in-kind labor and particulars of the work itinerary, remain to be answered.

Schultz said she is confident these obstacles can be overcome. The appeal of the Prairie City Depot, and its hundreds of unique, city-owned relics, have galvanized the Prairie City History Club into planning a Camp Logan Day re-enactment at Depot Park Oct. 11. A portion of the funds raised from the event will aid the restoration effort.

On June 21, citizens will launch a fund-raising pie sale. Tickets will remain on sale until July 12. The object is to pay for an as-yet unscheduled dinner, the proceeds of which will benefit the renovation.

Anyone interested in helping can contact former Prairie City Mayor Leonard Wolf at (541) 820-3605. The public also can visit with Schultz at the museum during its open hours of 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

GOLDEN DAYS/

SUMPTER DREDGE ANNIVERSARY

SUMPTER - Golden Days will be celebrated on Saturday, June 21, with members of Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge, Oregon State Parks and Recreation and the City of Sumpter hosting the 10th annual Dredge Workers Reunion and Old Timers gathering of longtime and former residents of Sumpter and Sumpter Valley.

The OPRA will also be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.

A memorial plaque will be dedicated and special commemorative buttons will be given for the first 100 visitors.

Other activities will include a gold-panning demonstration by members of the Eastern Oregon Mining Association with visitors having the opportunity to participate, lunch served by the Baker City Lions Club and live music throughout the afternoon by Salt Lick #39, a band from Baker City.

SUMPTER VALLEY RAILROAD

The Sumpter Valley Railroad runs between McEwen and Sumpter south of Baker City Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, with three runs per day. The train leaves McEwen Station at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.; and leaves Sumpter Depot at 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Fares range from $4.50 for children traveling one-way to $20 for a family traveling round trip. For more information, call (541) 894-2268 or access www.svry.com.

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