The History Of the Santa Fe Depot in Perris California
- Site of the Perris Valley Museum
- SANTA FE DEPOT Recognized by the Native Daughters of the Golden West, 1966 Historical building of the Orange Empire Railway Museum since 1969
- Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 1994
The Perris Depot is often described as one of the most elegant of the nation's few surviving small town railway depots. It was designed by noted railroad station architect Benjamin Franklin Levet at the behest of J.W. Nance, a prominent Perris builder and investor. (Mr. Levet was the son-in-law of Frederick Thomas Perris, Vice President and Chief Engineer of the Southern California Railroad and the person for whom the City of Perris was named.)
Built of red brick, the Perris Depot is a classic example of High Victorian style. Most small town stations were built using standard frame construction. The depot is still at its exact original site, and has remained basically unchanged from its original design and construction. Furthermore, it represents a very important architectural genre: Queen Anne.
It is among the very few of the original buildings of this style that today survives intact and unaltered. The property now occupied by the depot was deeded to the Southern California Railroad (predecessor to the Santa Fe Railway) on February 12, 1886 by T.J. Fording, one of the the group of San Bernardino businessmen who financed the founding of the town of Perris. For some reason, it took another six years before the new depot was completed and presented to the railroad company in 1892.
Originally intended to be an important stop on a major transcontinental line, this changed before its completion. Floods had several times washed out many miles of line southward toward San Diego. With the elimination of service to Elsinore and Temecula through Railroad Canyon, the distinction of Perris as a junction point also ended. However, a branch line to Hemet opened in 1888, and the depot served as a transfer facility.
In 1910, underground water was discovered and developed. Cultivation of alfalfa became a major commodity of the valley, and the depot and railroad became the focus of intense activity. World War II also saw more railroad activity at the depot. But, after the war, in 1947 passenger service ended. The coming of imported Colorado River water in 1953 and the introduction of White Rose potatoes revived railroad traffic once again. As water for irrigation became increasingly more expensive, the cultivation of potatoes declined. This contributed to the closing of the Perris Depot as the Santa Fe freight agency in 1969.
The depot structure was given to the Orange Empire Railway Museum for historic preservation. Today it continues to serve the City of Perris as a cultural center, currently housing the Perris Valley Historical and Museum Association and its collection of local history artifacts. Surviving the unpredictable changes during the depot's 100-year history are the names of the leading mercantile houses which existed in the early days of Perris. Written in lampblack, these pioneer family names can still be seen on the freight house walls, indicating the location where all freight for that business was to be left.