In 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad passenger and freight trains reached the Newcastle station from its origin in Sacramento 31 miles away. The drive to complete the transcontinental railroad was still far from over. To get this far, it had already taken more than 30 years.
Talks about a railroad in the United States began in 1830, shortly after the steam trains of Great Britain were invented. The greatest conflict was always the route. Splitting the union into North and South during the Civil War further escalated the difficulty, fearing that the territory bypassed by the main route was left to experience an isolated, economic disaster.
Sacramento Valley Railroad was established in 1852 by Theodore Judah as the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River. Although his railroad company did not survive, Judah remained convinced that a railroad across the Sierra Nevada was possible given the right design and financing. He submitted his first proposal to build a railroad across the Sierra to Congress in 1856 and again in 1859, unsuccessful both times to convince either President Buchanan or Congress of its value.
Dr. C.W. Strong, a pharmacist from Dutch Flat and strong advocate for the new railroad, and Theodore Judah first met in Dutch Flat in 1859 to discuss the viability of building a railroad across the Sierra. Dr. Strong wanted a station in Dutch Flat. Judah studied several train routes to prepare a report on the most practical options. One year later in November 1860, Judah had completed his route studies and the two of them had created a pamphlet describing their proposal for a railroad.
Dr. Strong solicited funds in Dutch Flat and raised $46,500 and needed $70,000 more. Judah traveled to San Francisco expecting to find willing investors. Instead they thought he was crazy. In Sacramento, Judah met several entrepreneurs interested in pursuing the project. Only four investors remained to see the railroad construction through to completion. Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins came to be known as “The Big Four.”
Strong, Judah and the new investors formed the first board of directors. The board met in April 1861 and completed the articles of incorporation for the Central Pacific Railroad two months later in June 1861.
Sentiments about constructing a railroad had changed since Judah’s first conversations in the nation’s capital. Railroad transportation was seen as a positive economic decision and provided an opportunity for more accessible westward expansion. Construction and operation of the railroad line was authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1861 and 1864 during the American Civil War. Congress supported the construction with 30 year U.S. Government bonds and extensive land grants of government lands along the railroad line.
The years of design and construction were filled with controversy, political battles, funding shortfalls and longs delays. Crossing the Sierra and building tunnels through rock was an immense challenge of its own. Judah, the engineer who designed the route through the Sierra that trains still follow today, died in 1863 before the first track was ever laid.
The Newcastle Railroad station is located on the southwest corner of Main and Page Streets in Newcastle.
Read about the “Big 4” railroad barons in Auburn. Visit the Colfax Railroad station site to find out about the Chinese immigrant workers and completion of the transcontinental railroad. Discover the contribution of Dutch Flat to railroad history and that 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.