Railtown and Sonora– A Bit of Sierra Railway History

On New Year’s Day in 1897, a corporation was formed, named the Sierra Railway Company of California.  That same month, crews started work, and by November, the first train arrived in Jamestown.  It is interesting to note that it wasn’t until 1899 that the railroad made it to Sonora, due to opposition from stage companies and teamsters who feared the loss of business to the railroad, amongst others.  The line eventually made it to Tuolumne, and Angels Camp. 

The Sierra Railway Company was the shortline branch which supported many other railroads, bringing lumber and mining products out of the foothills, and goods in.  The Sierra Railway played a role in the building of the Hetch Hetchy, Tullock, Beardsley, Donnels, Melones and Don Pedro dams.  It hauled lumber products brought out of the Sierras by the Sugar Pine Railway, Westside Lumber Company, and others. 

At times during the history of the railroad, passengers could travel from stations in Angels Camp, Tuolumne, Sonora &  Jamestown, to Oakdale, and on to anywhere in America served by a rail line. 

 In 1938, the railroad ended regular passenger service— as with most passenger service, operational costs exceeded revenue.  However,  freight operations have been continuous throughout the railroad’s 115 year history.   Today,  modern diesel locomotives from the Sierra Northern Railway haul lumber and propane, and a different type of passenger service— excursions— run on 3 miles out of Jamestown, from the old shops and roundhouse of the railroad–preserved as Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

Without passengers, the depots lost much of their use.  When the Sonora depot burnt down in 1946, it was rebuilt as a freight station only.  Today the Sonora Post Office sits at the same location.

1911 Sonora Lumber Company Plant in Sonora-- near where today's Grocery Outlet now stands.

1911 Sonora Lumber Company Plant in Sonora– near where today’s Grocery Outlet now stands.

Looking down onto the depot (seen in the approximate center of image) from the hill above today's JS West.  This photo was probably taken in the early 1940s.

Looking down onto the depot (seen in the approximate left-center of image) from the hill above today’s JS West. This photo was probably taken in the early 1940s.

This unique panorama, taken in 1912 shows the depot on the left, hospital in center (behind cars), and ice plant on the right

This unique panorama, taken in 1912 shows the depot on the left, hospital in center (behind rail cars), and ice plant on the right

Old Sonora Depot.  Wainscotting on the bottom is marble quarried from Columbia-- another product the railroad transported at one time.

Old Sonora Depot. The wainscotting on the bottom is marble quarried from Columbia– another product the railroad transported at one time.

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