Auburn train service from Sacramento began in May 1865 after numerous delays and disagreements between the builders and Theodore Judah, the engineer for the Central Pacific Railroad. The depot shown here was built in 1902 and is the last in a series of four built at the East Auburn Location. The one built in 1865 only lasted until 1870 when it burned.
In 1860 Theodore Judah approached Collis P. Huntington, a Sacramento hardware merchant to discuss his investment in a new proposal to build a railroad across the Sierra. Huntington suggested several other prospective Sacramento-based investors. The four men and Judah formed the first board of directors. Huntington and his business partner Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker a dry goods merchant, and Leland Stanford a grocer. They became known as the “Big Four.”
The "Big Four" as the Huntington, Hopkins, Crocker and Stanford were referred to, also had their own ideas about how to build the railroad. They argued among themselves and challenged Judah’s plans. Judah decided to seek new investors to buy out shares owned by the Big Four, after experiencing years of disagreements, pre-construction challenges and funding shortages. Judah sailed to New York and caught yellow fever during the trip. He died in November of 1863 before a single track was laid and was quickly forgotten.
Construction of the Central Pacific Railroad started the following year. The race was on between the Central Pacific in the West and the Union Pacific from the East, to build a railroad that would cross the continent. What railroad company could lay the most track in a day? The federal government offered land grants and other incentives to the company who laid the most track in a day and in total. The competition between the two companies continued until the very last day. On May 10, 1869, the golden (last) spike was put into the track and completed the transcontinental railroad with huge celebration.
The Big Four ruled the railroad, and as a result, each one amassed huge fortunes and national recognition. For the next 30 years, the Central Pacific Railroad defined and shaped California’s leaders, its government and the policies that influenced the lives of all Californians.
Huntington became a powerful lobbyist in Washington, DC. His fortune established The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens in San Marino, located 12 miles from the heart of Los Angeles. Leland Stanford became governor of California in 1862 and later a U.S. Senator. He established Stanford University in honor of his only son, who died before he turned 16. The art collection of Charles Crocker from his world travels is displayed in his former home, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. He founded Crocker Bank that remained in business for 116 years until it merged with Wells Fargo Bank in 1986. Mark Hopkins relocated to a quieter life in San Francisco. The Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco bears his name.
For more information about the development of the Central Pacific Railroad, visit the Newcastle Railroad Station. Visit the Colfax Railroad station site to find out about the Chinese immigrant workers and completion of the transcontinental railroad. Visit Dutch Flat to learn about its contribution to railroad and its place in the history of Placer County.
To see historic train cars and guided tours, visit the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Placer is a Spanish word describing surface mining. Gold that had been “placed” in streams or on the ground through natural erosion was processed by planning, rocking, and similar techniques. Such mining efforts made Placer County residents some of the richest in California.