The DeWitt Museum
The DeWitt Museum in Prairie City, housed in the National Register-listed Sumpter Valley Railway Depot building, is home to a collection of significant local historical artifacts and serves as an event space and gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The building itself is a rare example of multi-story rural depot, and serves as an important vestige of the area’s most significant period of development.
News and Updates:
Restore Oregon staff visited the site and met with local constituents to discusspossible avenues for Restore Oregon’s seed grant.
November 13, 2015
Listed as one of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places
The Sumpter Valley Railway Depot, which houses the DeWitt Museum’s collection of artifacts, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The building is a classic example of a rural depot from the early 1900s.
Originally built to transport timber for the Oregon Lumber Company, the the Sumpter Valley Railway began with a route from Baker City to McEwen in 1891, continued to Sumpter in 1896, Whitney and Austin in 1901, and finally Prairie City in 1910.
This little railway linked the John Day River Valley to modern transportation, stretching 81 miles through three mountain passes from Baker City to Prairie City. The railway not only hauled logs, but was the key to continued delivery of mail and passengers traveling to the area, and allowed ore from the many mines in the area to reach Baker City and the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad. The line to Prairie City closed in 1933.
Early in 1973 the Depot was scheduled for the wrecking ball. Community stakeholders came together to raise funds to restore the building. In 1979 volunteers began to restore the building, eventually listing it in the National Register and adapting it to museum use.
The section of the Sumpter Valley Railroad between Sumpter and McEwen has been restored, and during the summer months carries passengers in an old-fashioned Pullman car behind one of the line’s original steam engines.
Why it’s Endangered
The depot building is in immediate need of repair. The primary areas of concern on the exterior include damaged siding, lack of paint, inadequate flashings, damaged chimneys, and damaged doors and windows. In addition to these visible exterior deficiencies, the wall and attic insulation needs to be removed and an appropriate insulation system installed. Failing to address these concerns will accelerate the decay of the structure and continue to harm the collection.
Restoration and repair work undertaken in 2007 utilized faulty materials and techniques that have left the building in a compromised condition. Freezing and thawing moisture has severely damaged the wood trim and siding, leaving some elements too degraded to restore. The roof of the depot building is in need of replacement or repair, and birds, insects, and other pests are nesting in the structure and causing damage.