Saturday, September 23, 2023

Formation of the Sierra Railway by Zina Abbott


The Sierra Railway Company of California was incorporated on February 1, 1897 by founders Thomas S. Bullock (New York railroader and former owner of the defunct Prescott & Arizona Central Railroad), Prince André Poniatowski (Polish nobleman who became a prominent French financier and industrialist), and William H. Crocker (of Crocker National Bank). Its purpose was to connect the California Central Valley to the Mother Lode Gold Country foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Construction began on March 24, 1897. The first rails were laid in the grain fields just east of Oakdale in May.

The stops included Occidental (Now called Arnold), Paulsell, Warnerville, Cooperstown, Chinese Camp, and finally, on November 8, 1897. Jamestown, California, the headquarters for the rail system. From there, the line was extended to Tuolumne City, some sixteen miles from Jamestown.

 In 1899, it reached Sonora, where it was received with much fanfare. The architecture of the Sonora depot displays its Chinese temple influence. 

The depot burned down in 1946. The current Sonora Post Office was built on the site. The line was also beneficial to the Standard factory in Sonora, which was located next to the depot building. Cut lumber was transported from the company’s mill at Standard via the railroad.

The Sierra Railway also provided much needed passenger service. The Sierra operated to Oakdale, where the cars were attached to a Southern Pacific train bound for Stockton. At Stockton, passengers changed trains for the trip to San Francisco. A passenger could leave Sonora in the morning and be in San Francisco in the afternoon. Locally, special commuter trains were made up for workmen and high school students who commuted daily to Sonora.

By 1900, the line had been completed to Tuolumne City, the same as present with the exception of the abandonment of the Standard to Tuolumne Right-Of-Way. It allowed lumber from that locality to be shipped to points west.

Its historic western terminus has always been in Oakdale where a junction was once formed with both the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and the Southern Pacific. The Santa Fe's (now BNSF Railway) Oakdale Branch provided one freight outlet to the AT&SF mainline at Riverbank, California. The Southern Pacific Oakdale Branch from Stockton was abandoned in 1986 and torn out by 1990.

Like many other businesses, the Sierra Railway was hit hard by the Great Depression. In 1937, the Sierra Railway was sold at a public auction to the new Sierra Railroad Company, and the debts of the original company were settled.

The portion of the former Sierra Railway conveyed by the railroad's historic owners, the Crocker Family, to the California State Park System are with "Sierra Railway", which preserves the original operating name of the entire line and is headquartered at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California. 

Because in 1886, the Sierra Railway was three years away from arriving in Sonora, the characters in my latest release, A Watchman for Willow, still arrived by stagecoach. To find the book description and purchase options, please CLICK HERE


Perry, Patricia. Sonora Remembered: A Nostalgic Tribute to a Gold Rush Town. Sonora, California: Tuolumne County Historical Society, 2003. Page 29.

Gahagan, Michael. Images of America: Sonora. Charleston, South Carolina; Arcadia Publishing, 2007. Pages 73- 74.


Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

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