The first white settler of Polk County traveled by horse and wagon. Heavy goods were carried by river boats.
Starting in the late 1870s, railroads began to extend into the county. Over the intervening years, there were six railroads that spanned the county in one way or another.
They were:
The Southern Pacific West Side Branch, built as a main north-south trunk railroad by Henry Villard in 1879 and 1880. That railroad, which ran south from McMinnville through to Corvallis, now the Portland & Western Railroad, and is the only trunk railroad line remaining in service in the county.
Salem, Falls City & Western Railway was built by Gerlinger interests in 1907. It linked West Salem and Falls City, and was used primarily to haul logs and lumber. It later became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. It since has been abandoned except for a short link that connects Dallas with the P&W Line near Rickreall.
Oswego, Dallas & Roseburg Railroad Co. survived as a spur line between Buman, on the Salem Falls City & Western Line between Dallas and Falls City, and the Portland Cement Co. rock quarry and the Dallas Lime Plant southeast of Dallas. It was abandoned in the late 1960s.
The Valley & Siletz Railroad Co. was intended originally to run from Independence to Newport via the Luckiamute River. It got as far as Valsetz, which became its westerly terminus. The line was abandoned except for a short siding in Independence.
The Oregonian Railroad Co. Ltd. was a narrow-gauge railroad. It was started in 1877 by a group of farmers in the Dayton, Sheridan & Grand Ronde Railroad and was intended to facilitate getting farm produce to market. The company went into receivership after 20 miles was built. It was taken over by the group of Scottish investors and was realigned to run south on the westerly side of the Willamette. It was in extended from Portland through Dallas and Monmouth to Airlie, the site of a large mill, when construction ceased. The road was widened to regular width and became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. rail network in 1882. It was abandoned in 1929-30.
The Independence & Monmouth Railroad Co., touted as the nation’s shortest railroad line, was organized by 10 local businessmen in 1889 and made its initial run from Independence to Monmouth in 1890. The initial run featured a weak steam engine and a heavy passenger load. It stalled on Beeler Hill at the east edge of Monmouth and the passengers had to get out and push the train up to level ground. The I&M later maintained passenger service over the Southern Pacific tracks to Airlie and Dallas. It was abandoned in June 1917.
Information from this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society at the Polk County Museum, located at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesdays, Sundays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors, $1 for children aged 6 to 17. Younger than 6 or older than 100 are free. Society members are free.

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