Commemorating the history of the railroad in Colfax

By: Tessa Marguerite, Reporter/Page Designer
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If the tracks of the transcontinental railroad had not been laid on the rocky soil of Colfax in 1865, the town would be a different place with a different name.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862. The Central Pacific Railroad of California, chartered in 1861, was authorized to build a line east from Sacramento at the same time that the act chartered the Union Pacific Railroad Company to build west from the Missouri River. The original legislation granted each railroad 6,400 acres and up to $48,000 in government bonds for each mile completed.
After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, communities along the backbone of the Western United States, and some created by the railroad, were forever changed.

May 10, 2019, will mark the 150th anniversary of driving the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, uniting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads and opening the American West. It was a turning point that revolutionized the nation’s settlement and economic development.

Leading up to the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike, Union Pacific has been celebrating their long-standing partnerships with communities that grew up along the original transcontinental route, including Colfax.

Colfax will be honored with a Commemorative Golden Spike 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 at Colfax Railroad Days. As with other Union Pacific community partners along the transcontinental route, the city will be presented with a commemorative golden spike encased in a glass box. The engraved message will read: “Towns developed, and the bond between UP and the early settlements grew. As we celebrate the 150th Golden Spike anniversary, UP is proud of these long-standing community relationships.”

Another of Union Pacific’s endeavors to celebrate its history is a mobile 7-by-7-foot display featuring historical photos and descriptions which will travel to communities with historical ties to the railroads’ development. A custom panel highlighting each community’s railroad connection will be created and gifted to the corresponding community. Special educational curriculum materials will be available as well.
A brief history of the railroad in Colfax

Before it was called “Colfax,” this railroad town was known as Alder Grove and later Illinoistown by a group of miners from Illinois.

When the Central Pacific Railroad arrived Sept. 1, 1865, the speaker of the house at the time, Schuyler Colfax, was sent by President Abraham Lincoln to check the progress of the tracks. The citizens of Illinoistown were so impressed by his cheerful demeanor and excellent oratory skills that they decided to name the settlement after him. The town remained the end of the railroad line for more than a year.

As the iron rails were winding their way up the steep slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, large, temporary camps were set up to house and feed construction workers. Many of these hard-working laborers were Chinese immigrants. It was noted at the time that the Chinese workers did not get sick as often as the other laborers. One reason may have been because they boiled their water for tea, and thus, had little or no cases of dysentery.

Union Pacific and Auburn have intertwined histories dating back to the 1860s. The first transcontinental railroad spurred growth for Auburn more than 150 years ago, and Union Pacific continues to operate in Colfax today.