Historic Structures

Transcontinential Terminus Train Depot, National City California

Date added: October 5, 2018 Categories: California Train Station

On June 15, 1868, Frank A. Kimball, a builder and contractor from New Hampshire met with Francois Pioche, the owner of Rancho de la Nacion. Kimball had moved west in 1861, first settling in San Francisco where he and his brothers enjoyed immense success in business. However, due to ill health, Frank had to seek warmer climates, and in 1868 he traveled to San Diego. While in San Diego, Kimball had the opportunity to view Rancho de la Nacion fronting on San Diego Bay. It was Kimball's belief that the rancho, with its miles of coastline and favorable climate, would be an ideal location for a new city.

The rancho, an original Spanish land grant, had changed hands several times prior to Francois Pioche's ownership. Kimball purchased the land which included 23,623 acres and six miles of waterfront from Pioche for $30,000, and renamed his acquisition, "The National Ranch".

Located immediately below the City of San Diego on the San Diego Bay, National City was laid out on the National Ranch in 1868 by the Kimball brothers. The city grew slowly at first with a small boom in the 1870's spurred by the announcement that the Texas and Pacific Railroad was to locate its terminus there. Some grading was started before this early effort was crushed by the Central/Southern Pacific's "Big Four" and a national depression.

The Southern Pacific's directors Governor Leland Stanford, Collins P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, known collectively as "The Big Four", had publicly stated their intention to never allow a competing railroad into California. Through manipulation and political maneuvering the Southern Pacific was very successful in their efforts for many years.

Like many far-sighted businessmen during this era, Kimball recognized that his hopes for the creation of a permanent settlement in National City depended upon his ability to procure a railroad link for his fledgling city. As early as 1869, Kimball corresponded with railroad officials in an attempt to interest them in his plan. Kimball ascertained that his best hope for success lay with the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad Company which was determined to run rails from the East Coast to the Pacific Ocean, but had not yet committed to a specific area for their West Coast terminus. Kimball had been corresponding with Tom Nickerson, president of the Santa Fe, since March of 1879. It would take another full year of negotiations, however, until the Santa Fe organization would agree to a separate railroad. The California Southern Railroad was chartered on October 12, 1880 by the stock holders of the Santa Fe Railroad. The board of directors of the California Southern Railroad was identical to the board of directors of the Santa Fe Railroad with the exception of Frank Kimball, who sat only on the California Southern Railroad's board of directors.

The Santa Fe was attracted to the San Diego area and National City in particular for many reasons, chief among them was that San Diego Bay was one of the finest natural harbors in the world, and second only to the San Francisco. All that was needed was a transcontinental railroad. The West Coast terminus was to be located in National City in an arrangement worked out with the Kimball brothers who owned the 26,632 acre National Ranch fronting on San Diego bay. The agreement called for the Kimball brothers to give the Santa Fe $25,410.00 in cash, 17,356 acres of land, and 486 lots in National City. The land that was given to the Santa Fe included three miles of bayfront. This bayfront land was crucial to the Santa Fe in their competition with the Southern Pacific as they wanted to have the closest port on the West Coast to service the east as well as a shipping point to the orient for the terminus of their transcontinental railroad.

The terminus facility (Station) was crucial to the Santa Fe's efforts to break up the Southern Pacific's strangle-hold monopoly of the transportation of goods and people in the State of California.

The Santa Fe decided the best course of action was to have the materials, including locomotives for the railroad, delivered by sea to the terminus grounds surrounding the Station, and to construct the railroad north and east from National City to meet up with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (controlled by the Santa Fe) then building across Arizona. A large wharf was constructed by the Santa Fe at the National City terminal and grading was begun on December 20, 1880. The first rail was laid at National City in June of 1881. In July of that year, the San Diego Union reported that the California Southern Railroad had spent approximately $2,500,000 towards the building of the railroad with the bulk of the funds spent in the San Diego Bay region, "giving work to anyone who wants to work, increasing the value of real estate, building wharfs, etc."

The first locomotive was unloaded at the National City wharf on July 13, 1881. The Southern Pacific was vigorous in their efforts to stop the work on the Santa Fe railroad. They refused to allow the California Southern to cross their tracks at Colton, California. A crossing frog was constructed at the terminal grounds to be installed at Colton. The Southern Pacific obtained a court order to stop the installation of this crossing frog and sent a deputy to National City to confiscate it. When he retired to a hotel room for the night, the California Southern loaded the crossing frog onto a flat bed and transported the crossing to Colton. The Southern Pacific kept three engines continuously moving over the location to prevent use of the crossing. The Santa Fe prevailed in court and the first link was completed in California of the Santa Fe Route the Pacific. By October of 1882, the California Southern Station at National City was completed. Service to Colton from National City began in August 1882.

The Southern Pacific continued to do everything within its considerable power to block the Santa Fe's efforts to reach the Colorado River. Through dogged efforts and some deft business moves the Santa Fe was able to overcome the Southern Pacific and the first through transcontinental train left the National City Station on November 14, 1885. The first train from the east arrived on November 16, 1885.