Oct 21

1894 First Southern Pacific train service to San Luis Obispo


This has to be on any top ten list of big things to hit San Luis Obispo County.
The Tribune was almost 25 years old by the time Southern Pacific opened service by pulling into town May 5, 1895.
railroad-arrives-5-6-1894.jpgI can’t say it was a shining moment in The Tribune’s career.
Back then the custom was to load the front page with advertising and national news. Page 2, more advertising, church notices, fashion news from New York and a whiny article about the Pacific Coast Railway having trouble synchronizing their schedule with Southern Pacific. (The narrow gauge railway connected San Luis Obispo and the South County with Port Harford.)
If you wanted to read about the biggest news of the era you had to turn to page 3.
Bet you can’t read the story’s second sentence aloud without taking a breath.
Under a tiny headline,

Grandly Successful—Three Thousand Visitors Come to Make Merry With Us.

In the history of San Luis Obispo when its next chapter shall be written, the page which will stand out in letters of gold will be that devoted to the Fifth of May, 1894. It is the culmination of efforts in which most of its citizens, past and present, shared with all ernestness and the only shadow on the occasion of yesterday’s rejoicing was that so many who had toiled through the wilderness for lo, these forty years, could not even, like Moses of old, look over into the promised land before their departure for a bourne where, as we are credibly informed, railroads will be a slow and inadequate means of transportation.…It was the biggest crowd ever gathered in our little town and it was a multitude that required very little amusing.

first-trains-in-slo-s.jpgThe lower part of San Luis Obispo turned into a ghost town, bunting flapping in the breeze, as 5,000 people walked up to the Ramona Hotel and party at the tracks. (Today that would be less than half of a Cal Poly v. UCSB soccer crowd.) The day was celebrated with a band, barbecue and canon fire as the train pulled in. The evening finished with fireworks and a grand ball.
After speeches the steam engine chuffed south, loaded with businessmen and Southern Pacific executives but it would be years before the line was completed to the small dusty towns of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
terrace-hill0072.jpgBeside the railroad story was another front page, uh, page three story. A home that had been built by historian Myron Angel burned down at the corner of Garden and Buchon Streets. The sleepy renter was responding to a crying infant and tripped with a kerosene lamp setting the bed ablaze. She was able to get her baby out but the fire department, called away from the railroad party at the Ramona Hotel, could do little. The nearest hydrant was four blocks away and had no water.
I am a little baffled about the story placement. I confess I have never had to hand set type for a page but it is obvious that selling from news racks was not the top design priority for the front page.

UPDATE: Editor Benjamin Brooks printed a special souvenir edition marking the arrival of the railroad though it was usually his custom at the time to put the biggest local news on page 3.

So here’s my top ten list of monster trends to hit the area, in no particular order.

  1. Missions founded – The central coast is on the European map, literally
  2. Oil boom – Unocal, Chevron, et al and their predecessors bring international industry here
  3. Trains – The iron horse flattens the earth, brings the first tourists
  4. Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant – Any time you pour a few billion dollars into a county things change.
  5. Cal Poly established – No longer an uneducated cow county
  6. World War II – Thousands of trainees introduced to Central Coast, many settle or retire here after the war.
  7. Freeways built – Guadalupe got the railroad, Santa Maria got the freeway. Which town’s bigger?
  8. Internet – You’re using it now aren’t you? I rest my case
  9. Hearst Castle – One of the world’s most opulent homes becomes major tourist attraction

O.K. so I’m out of ideas. Tell me what’s on your top 10 list & if you feel like it put it in order.

I have to tune up the time machine and head back to buy one of those $75 lots for sale next to the railroad tracks.

Related posts:

  1. 1901 McKinley Train
  2. 1910 era San Luis Obispo saloon
  3. San Luis Obispo December 1963
  4. San Luis Obispo, Palm St. 1964
  5. 1963 San Luis Obispo, Monterey St.