A.L. Maxwell — we raise a glass to you.

Not much is known about Maxwell, the railroad official after whom the Maxwell Siding railroad station was named. The Hermiston railroad station popped up when trains started delivering freight to Eastern Oregon rather than by freight wagons pulled by teams of mules or oxen. The Maxwell Siding Event Center, sitting in the station’s footprint, bears the station’s name.

Beer aficionados filled the brand new event center on Saturday evening during Maxfest, the first official event at the 4,600-square-foot event space. Their $30 tickets gave them tastes of craft beers and wines from about 20 local breweries and wineries.

We don’t know if Mr. Maxwell liked beer, but one can only hope that he did.

Events center owner Mitch Myers probably would have bought Maxwell a beer had he miraculously stepped through the door. He happily surveyed the crowd. The fading daylight shone in through 16 glass sliding doors that made up the building’s walls. People stood around little round tables sampling microbrews and eating seafood. Others sat at tables in two tents that butted up against the building, staying warm under heat lamps.

A band, the Wasteland Kings, warmed up at the opposite end of the building.

Above, three 10-foot-wide fans dispersed radiant heat around the building. Below, stamped concrete created a faux wood floor.

Myers said ticket sales were brisk. Many came not only for the beer, but also to get a peek at the new event center. By night’s end, 500 people had come through the door.

Myers said the only blot on the night was that he didn’t see any city administrators at the event. During construction, Myers, owner of Mitco Investments, disputed with city building official Chuck Woolsey who Myers said purposely held up the project. Despite the rift, Myers said he had hoped to see city representatives show up Maxfest or the ribbon cutting the previous evening.

“We had lots of people from the community,” Myers said. “We had some police officers. It would have been nice to see the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager or someone from the city council.”

Myers said he has gotten a lot of interest in the facility.

“We’ve already got many events booked through the summer. We had events booked before we even finished the building,” Myers said. “We’re real excited to see what it brings.”

The facility has a maximum occupancy of 300, but opening those $80,000 roll-up doors adds another 600 square feet outdoors for summer events.

A trio of beer connoisseurs, Ashley Lovejoy, Danielle Baldwin and Jordan Richards, sat around one round table sampling microbrews and admiring the scenery.

“It’s awesome,” Baldwin said. “It’s beautiful.”

And the beer?

“So far, so good,” said Richards, who sipped a Peaches and Cream Ale from Laht Neppur Brewing Company in Waitsburg, Washington.

Two couples, Steve and Jane Watson and Nathan and Paula Thompson, sat in the tented area. They said they had watched construction of the event center last summer with curiosity as they visited the nearby farmers’ market.

“I love it,” Steve Watson said. “This used to be an eyesore.”

The facility was set to host the city’s farmer’s market in 2018, but construction was hampered by the dispute between Myers and Hermiston’s building department. Myers plans to host the farmers’ market, rebranded as Maxwell Market, at the new pavilion this spring.

Myers plans to eventually install a replica of a bell that once stood on the property with a plaque telling about the Maxwell Siding.

He said he loves the event center’s connection to the past. He gestured down the tracks and then up.

“Maxwell siding went for about 200 feet that way and 300 feet that way,” he said. “If not for Maxwell Siding, there probably wouldn’t be a Hermiston.”

Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

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