All that remains of the Ashland Railroad Depot and Hotel is the one-story “eating house” at the left end of this photograph. - Courtesy Southern Oregon Histori

Cooking at the depot

It wasn't the first time the smell of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes had wafted into the air over the railroad tracks, but this breakfast was the first meal ever served in the Ashland railroad "eating house," a practical but bare-bones name for a restaurant.

On a Wednesday morning, Oct. 3, 1888, the grand, three-story Ashland Depot Hotel opened its doors to the traveling public. At its south end, the eating house was all fired up and packed with hungry riders who had just stepped off the southbound express.

For a little more than four years, travelers had been stuck with a tiny, kitchenless depot and very little time to stretch their legs, but that was before the Southern Pacific Railroad finally rolled into town.

Ashland had waited nearly 35 years for a railroad, and just as it arrived from the north in 1884, wouldn't you know, the railroad ran out of money, forcing a reorganization and the end of any dreams of a California connection.

Even if Ashland was just the end of the line, that wasn't really so bad. Half a loaf is better than none, grandma would say. It sure would be a smooth ride now to Portland.

In April 1884, when the first line of railroad cars rumbled into town, the first passenger train was still two weeks away, but still it was time to celebrate.

"We can take a Pullman coach from Ashland in the evening and arrive at Portland the next evening," said an excited Ashland Tidings reporter. "Making a close connection at Portland with the fast mail train, passengers may be carried from Ashland to New York City in less than seven days. To the people of Southern Oregon, who are accustomed to the stage coach, this seems like traveling by telegraph."

Early in 1887, with the Siskiyou Mountains not crossed and 51 miles of track not finished, the Southern Pacific took control of the railroad and began to build. Early on a wind-chilled December evening, they were done.

"Colonel Charles F. Crocker, vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, stepped forward with the golden spike in his hand," said a reporter, "and struck the three blows which announced that the two great States of the Pacific Coast were finally united."

Within a year, a railroad roundhouse, the Depot Hotel and the little eating house were all in place. The old depot was taken apart and swapped out for another line of track.

By 1930, the bulk of railroad traffic, including the best passenger service, had shifted over to the Natron Line that ran through Klamath Falls. With less business, the Depot Hotel fell into disrepair and in 1937 was abandoned.

"To us," said a reporter, "its tearing down means only the making of a beauty spot out of what was becoming rather an eye-sore."

To the town's surprise, the old eating house became the new train and freight depot, and there beside the tracks it stood until 1990, when developers bought the building and moved the little eating house across the street and into the world of business.

The smell of breakfast is a long time gone, but the little old eating house is doing just fine.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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