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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

Changes the Railroad Brought

By 1893, five transcontinental rail lines and a web of other railroads linked the American West to the rest of the country. By that time, the U.S. economy had become truly national: almost any town could receive food and goods from any section of the country within a week or two. Factories could ship their products anywhere. Marketing became a nationwide enterprise. National politics changed as well, as some local differences blurred in the face of broader concerns.

Changes to California

In the early 1880s, the Southern Pacific Railroad bought up and consolidated rail lines throughout California. The “SP” then monopolized access into California from the east and north and dominated access into the southern part of the state. The company became the largest landowner in California. As a result, the railroad controlled the shipping costs of every farmer and business owner. It influenced land prices and wielded a heavy hand in state politics.

The Octopus, by Frank Norris, 1901
The Octopus, by Frank Norris, 1901

Frank Norris’s novel vividly described the abuses of large railroads in setting high shipping prices and controlling land ownership. In the early 1900s, the novels and exposÚs of Norris, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida Tarbell—writers called muckrakers—revealed the dark side of American industry and finance.

Changes to Santa Cruz

The dream of equaling San Francisco never came true, but the railroad brought outside markets closer, speeded the mail, and accelerated tourism. When the Santa Cruz Railroad went bankrupt in 1881, the Southern Pacific snapped it up and converted the line to standard gauge. Travelers no longer had to change trains at Watsonville, and by 1885 Santa Cruz’s tourism and lumber and lime industries surged, while Watsonville enjoyed a boom in agriculture.

Santa Cruz advertisement, Southern Pacific Railroad, 1885
Santa Cruz advertisement, Southern Pacific Railroad, 1885

Santa Cruz became a popular weekend destination for summer tourists. The term “broad gauge” in the poster advertises that passengers from San Francisco could reach Santa Cruz or Monterey without having to change to narrow-gauge trains.

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