Steilacoom Railroad Depot named ‘Most Endangered Place’ by Trust

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The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation announced its 2018 list of Most Endangered Places, listing the Steilacoom Rail Depot at the top of its list.

Since 1992, the independent nonprofit has used the list to bring attention to more than 160 threatened sites nominated by concerned citizens and organizations across the state. The Washington Trust assists advocates for these resources in developing strategies aimed at removing these threats, taking advantage of opportunities where they exist, and finding positive preservation solutions for listed places.

Built of clay tile with stucco and brick veneer, the 1914 Steilacoom Depot was designed by noted local architect, Arthur Potter Merrill. The construction of the railroad connected Steilacoom to Olympia and Portland to the south, and Tacoma and Seattle to the north, making it a travel destination. The depot closed to passenger service in the 1960s, and freight service to the depot ended in 1972. The property was purchased by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad in 1970, after which it was mainly used for storage. In recent years, the building has been unused and unmaintained but remains in relatively good condition.

Due to the addition of a second track along the waterfront and modern regulations, the depot is currently too close to the railroad tracks to be safely utilized. Local advocates would like to see the depot moved approximately 80 feet to the southeast onto a parcel currently owned by the Town of Steilacoom. The town supports the plan, if only the local partners can generate enough funding and support for the move and the depot’s rehabilitation. The leading voice for the project, the Steilacoom Historical Museum, successfully rehabilitated the Nathaniel Orr House in 2002 and manages several other historic buildings in town.

The relocation of the depot would keep the building within its historic context while giving enough clearance from the railroad tracks to allow for rehabilitation and ultimately public access. Due to its proximity to the waterfront, the adaptive use potential for the depot is high. Local advocates envision the rehabilitation of the depot as the first step toward a larger reclamation and beautification of the Steilacoom waterfront.

Another local site on the trust’s endangered list is Camp Kilworth in Federal Way. In 1934, William Kilworth purchased 25 acres in the South Sound and immediately deeded the property to the Tacoma Area Council of Boy Scouts. World War I veterans, who were members of the Tacoma Rotary Club, built the centerpiece of the camp in 1935: the Rustic-style Rotary Lodge. Over the decades, several other supporting structures were built, including an outdoor amphitheater that looks out over a dramatic view of south Puget Sound. Today, the property and its shoreline are one of only two places in rapidly growing Federal Way regarded as a highly sensitive environmental area; the high bank coastal forest on the site also serves as a wildlife corridor.

The Boy Scouts owned and operated the camp for over 80 years, but due to declining membership, operations at Camp Kilworth ceased in 2016. In accordance with a stipulation in William Kilworth’s original 1934 deed, ownership of the property reverts to the Kilworth Family Foundations if the property is not used for scouting. The buildings sit vacant, unheated, and unmaintained, raising fears of demolition by neglect. Local advocates also feel it is important for the property remain as open space dedicated to education, as William Kilworth originally intended. The property has provided formative experiences for many over the years and has the potential to continue as a meaningful and historic educational environment for the community if the right stewardship arrangement can be found.

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