By the time that the doors to the Oregon depot were finally closed to the train-traveling public in 1971, its presence had affected many lives over the course of its 58 years of service. Some lives were of travelers, some were of employees, and some were of ordinary citizens of the community. The information and stories included here provide only a narrow glimpse into those 58 years.
CONNECTING PEOPLE WITH THE OREGON DEPOT
Among the most revered travelers who passed through the depot were the many soldiers who began their long journeys, going off to distant wars; the lucky ones returned to the Oregon depot after the war years were over. During wartimes, military supplies as well as soldiers passed continuously through Oregon.
Some of the most frequent travelers to the area were those whose positions in life were such that they could maintain summer homes in or around Oregon. Included in this group was former congressman and presidential contender Frank O. Lowden who served as Governor of Illinois for the 1917-1921 term. Former congressman Medill McCormick, and Chicago Daily News publisher Walter A. Strong also had homes in the area.
Over the years, a broad spectrum of other celebrities passed through the Oregon depot: members of the Eagles’ Nest Art Colony, including sculptor Lorado Taft who designed and erected his concrete statue of Chief Black Hawk on the nearby east bank of the Rock River, and author Hamlin Garland; author W. Somerset Maugham; sculptor Leonard Crunelle; illustrator and author Dwight Perkins; poet and playwright Percy Mackaye; early editor of Poetry magazine Harriet Monroe; first female reporter for the Chicago Tribune Ella Peattie; naturalists and authors, American Donald Culross Peattie, and Englishman Ernest Thompson Seton; first American Nobel laureate in physics, Professor Albert A. Michelson, and renowned archaeologist and head of Egyptology and Oriental History, Professor James Henry Breasted, both of the University of Chicago; former mayor of Chicago Carter Harrison; and former congressman Robert Hitt who had served as a secretary to Abraham Lincoln.
According to a story told to Bob Rees by former depot cashier, Harold Nance, on one of the trains making an Oregon stop, Ernest Hemingway was seen at a vestibule window just as you might expect…in his bathrobe and smoking a cigarette. Harold told of another time when Judy Garland passed through; she was in a room at one end of the car, and her traveling companion was in a room at the opposite end, apparently because of a lovers’ spat. The telegraph always kept everyone along the line informed when celebrities were on board, and at those times the railroad made extra effort to be on schedule.
The bustling Oregon depot required operation 24 hours a day, so there were three men who shared responsibilities on rotating shifts of eight hours each: Roy Sharick on first trick, Ed Miller on second trick, and Bob Robertson on third trick. R.I. Short was the agent at the freight house, and Harold Nance was the cashier. Other depot employees included Milard Wilson, Virgil Butcher, Steve and Pat Beard, Russ Hansen, and Dick Lee. Hank Fruit and Oscar Knarr worked as dinky switch engineers. According to Sharick, there were two local men who filled the tender of the dinky with coal on weekends, using shovels and a small conveyor.
The depot served as more than just a stop for the traveling public. The telegraph was housed there, and citizens would commonly gather inside to await the results of national elections. For years the depot was Oregon’s primary link to the rest of the world.