Did you see the article of historical significance in the Press Democrat (Nov. 30, Section D, 1-2) by Lori Carter, in which she writes about the love by Lauten Williams and Christopher Stevick for trolleys and railroads?? It was titled, “Pair pursue Petaluma trolley dream,” and traces their tireless effort over the years to preserve and restore the trolleys that once carried passengers and freight into and out of Petaluma. Their eventual goal is to run the trolleys on the repaired tracks from downtown to the Petaluma Village Premium Outlet Malls.
The many details underlying the history of railroads and elecrc trolley cars in Petaluma are complicated and intriguing; far too many to include in today’s blog. The text below, however, is based upon extracts from Adair Heig’s “History of Petaluma – A California River Town – 1982.” The third railroad in California was opened by Charles Minturn on August 1, 1864, and ran for two and one-half miles along the west side of Petaluma Creek from Haystack Landing (aka Rudesill’s Landing, near today’s southern most freeway exit for Petaluma), to the steamer landing in Petaluma at 2nd. & B streets.
Peter Donahue, who provided San Francisco with the first railway in 1861, bought the existing Sonoma County Railroad. By 1871, he had regular service running from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and by 1873, the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad extended its service to Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
In 1872, Isaac Wickersham and his partners started the Sonoma and Marin Railroad. They had hoped to extend the old Haystack line and connect with the North Pacific Coast Railroad in San Rafael, but it didn’t work out. Finally, in 1826, the Petaluma & Haystack and the Sonoma & Marin Railroad were added to the San Francisco & Northern Pacific. A railroad swing bridge, built across Petaluma Creek in 1880 enabled Donahue to enter San Rafael. In 1898 the railroad line part of the wooded depot in Petaluma was changed to the California Northwestern and changed again in 1907 to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The current Mission Revival Depot, which just celebrated its Centennial Anniversary, was built in 1914.
The Petaluma Street Railway was started in 1889 and operated for nine years. It went bankrupt and by 1898 its franchise was owned by the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Electric Railway. In 1903, John A. McNear and his partners purchased the existing franchises and established the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Electric Railway. It became a bitter rival to the California Northwestern (Donahue’s line). The Petaluma Street Railway Company ran for the last time on October 2, 1898.The first spike was driven for the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad in 1904.
As you can see, the history of the various railroads built to serve Petaluma and Sonoma County is most interesting and complicated. For additional information and details, go to the Research Library on the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum at the corner of 4th. & B Streets. The important thing is that – today – our community has two very dedicated citizens who are volunteering their time and energy to the restoration and preservation of our earlier days. Hopefully, their long time efforts will prove successful.