Sacramento Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad

Image of a historic-looking train. Sacramento is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad.

Sacramento Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Transcontinental Railroad

January 24, 2019 | By The Railyards

2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and Sacramento is celebrating.

On May 10, 1869 the final “golden” spike was driven into the tracks that connected the Central Pacific railroad – originating in Sacramento – to the Union Pacific Railroad, completing the cross-country track that connected America from coast-to-coast.

This spring, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of this historic event.

Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad

Whether you enjoy a celebratory event or take in an exhibit, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the Transcontinental Railroad’s 150th anniversary in Sacramento.

Sacramento Area Exhibits

California State Railroad Museum Exhibits

Judah Map – on display through May 31, 2019
For the first time the 66’ map charted by Theodore Judah – the first engineer to systematically explore the western Sierra Nevada and map the Central Pacific Railroad route – will be on public display in its entirety.

Gold Spike Exhibit Redesign – permanent exhibit
The California State Railroad Museum is home to one of the original Gold Spikes and has given a fresh new look for the Gold Spike section of the museum.

The Chinese Workers’ Experience – permanent exhibit
Designed to fully immerse visitors in the experiences of the Chinese Railroad Workers who laid the Central Pacific tracks, this exhibit serves to promote understanding, empathy, tolerance, and reflection.

Sacramento Area Exhibits

Many local museums are in on the fun, featuring historically significant exhibits that tie in with the sesquicentennial, including:

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Preserving the Legacy of the Railyards Central Shops

Preserving the Legacy of the Railyards Central Shops

The Railyards is dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of the Central Shops while creating a new community filled with food, drink, entertainment, and more.


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Sacramento Area Events

Heritage Rail Conference in Sacramento – April 25–27, 2019
Railroad historians and supporters from throughout North America will gather to kick off the anniversary.

Sesquicentennial Community Day – Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Old Sacramento State Historic Park will be host to free outdoor festivities, beginning at ten in the morning.

Sesquicentennial Gala benefiting the California State Railroad Museum Foundation – Saturday, May 11, 2019
Enjoy an evening of dinner and dancing that commemorates one of the most foundational and influential moments in both California and U.S. history.

Waterfront Days – An Old Sacramento Heritage Event – Memorial Day Event, May 24-26, 2019
Three days of engaging, educational festival fun that you won’t want to miss.

Spring in Sacramento will come alive with events and exhibits that educate and celebrate the anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The significance of the impact this event had on both California and the United States can not be overstated.

The Transcontinental Railroad: a Brief History

The Transcontinental Railroad revolutionized travel and industry throughout the United States.

A group of Sacramento business men – which would become known as The Big Four – created the joint incorporation that was the Central Pacific Railroad (CPR), selected by congress along with the Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) to forge a route across the country.

The first spike for the Central Pacific track was driven at a groundbreaking ceremony at Front and K Streets in Sacramento, California on January 8, 1863. Approximately 690 miles of eastward track was laid by the CPR, mostly by Chinese laborers. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific headed west, employing mostly Irish American laborers to lay its 1,087 miles of track.

On May 10th, 1869, both railroad lines converged in the town of Promontory Summit, Utah, where CPR founder Leland Stanford drove the symbolic Golden Spike into the track, thus completing the nations first railroad that spanned from “sea to shining sea”. (Actually, it was from sea to shining Sacramento – it wasn’t until 1870 that the final connection to San Francisco was complete.)

The nation celebrated this landmark event.

The time it took to journey from East to West Coast had just been reduced from a harrowing six months to one short week of travel. The cost of traveling across the country dropped from $1,000 to $150.

The Railyards in Sacramento

For decades, Sacramento was a hub of innovation and economic railroad activity.

The coming of revolutionary cross country train travel brought with it the need to build, maintain, and service train cars. Built in the 1860s, the Sacramento shops began as a humble railroad maintenance and repair facility consisting of 3 buildings.

By 1877 the Sacramento complex had grown to 50-acres; by the 1930s the complex reached its current size of over 200-acres.

There is no arguing the important role that the Transcontinental Railroad played for industry and travel throughout the country.

Forever leaving a lasting impression on Sacramento, California, and the United States of America, The Transcontinental Railroad’s 150th anniversary is something to celebrate!

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