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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Politics and Promotion Changes the Railroad Brought
2: Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876

Politics and Promotion

As early as 1867, businessmen began planning a network of rail lines in the Monterey Bay area. Several companies formed to build lines up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. In 1870, Santa Cruz County asked the state legislature for financial aid for a railroad, but was turned down. Undaunted, entrepreneur Frederick A. Hihn sold stock and bonds to finance a railroad between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Despite financial irregularities and some local opposition, construction finally began in December 1873.

“ .the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. not complying with their promises to build a wide gauge railroad, from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, we are forced to conclude that if we want a railroad we must build it ourselves.”
—Frederick A. Hihn, 1872
Frederick A. Hihn
Frederick A. Hihn

Frederick Hihn emigrated to California from Germany in 1849. After starting several businesses in San Francisco and Sacramento, he moved to Santa Cruz in 1851. Hihn had interests in lumber, mining, railroads, and land. As a state assemblyman, he promoted the Santa Cruz Railroad.

Watsonville’s Opposition

Not everyone in Santa Cruz County supported the railroad. Residents of Watsonville, especially local newspaper editor C.O. Cummings, questioned Hihn’s business practices and fought taxpayer subsidies for the railroad. Already connected to the rest of the country through the Southern Pacific, the town of Watsonville voted overwhelmingly against subsidizing the Santa Cruz Railroad.

“If a railroad is all that is required to make Santa Cruz prosperous, we earnestly hope that they may get it. But we do object to speculators bolstering up chimerical schemes for their own benefit.”

—C.O. Cummings, editorial, Watsonville Pajaronian, April 11, 1872

Railroad Construction

Funding was tight. Hihn decided to build the Santa Cruz Railroad as a cheaper narrow-gauge line. Chinese workers, encamped in a cluster of tents about a mile east of Santa Cruz, provided most of the labor. They graded rights-of-way, built bridges, laid wooden ties, and spiked rails into place.

Railroad building, Loma Prieta Lumber Company, California, about 1885
Railroad building, Loma Prieta Lumber Company, California, about 1885

These Chinese workers are constructing a narrow-gauge line. Skilled rail workers labored 10 hours a day, six days a week, and were paid a dollar a day.

The Railroad Arrives in Town

Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 6, 1876,At Last"

“.next week passenger trains will commence daily trips between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.”


Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 13, 1876, “Santa Cruz Advances"

“At last our enterprising young city is in full connection with the rest of mankind. At last she is free from the rule of the sleepy stage coach.”

Santa Cruz Railroad schedule, from Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 17, 1876
Santa Cruz Railroad schedule, from Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 17, 1876
Steam locomotive Jupiter, 1876
Steam locomotive Jupiter, 1876

Made in Philadelphia in 1876, Jupiter was the Santa Cruz Railroad’s third locomotive. Built for narrow-gauge track (36 inches between rails), Jupiter became obsolete in 1883 when the line switched to standard gauge (56 inches). Jupiter was sold to a company in Guatemala, where it hauled bananas for more than 60 years. In 1976, it came to the Smithsonian as a part of the United States bicentennial exhibition.

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