On May 10, 1869 the first United States Transcontinental Railroad was completed when a 17.6-karat gold ceremonial spike was driven into a railroad tie by Leland Stanford.
Begun in 1863, the “Pacific Railroad” or “Overland Route” was a joint, although competitive, endeavor between the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR), moving east from San Francisco to meet the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) which headed west from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The two railroad lines finally met at Promontory Point, Utah, after workers laid 1,912 miles of contiguous track.
The meeting of the rails was something of a coming-out party for Schenectady, a city which, at the time, was mostly known for its broom production. Indeed, many aspects of the transcontinental railroad – from the locomotives involved, to the railroad magnates, to the governor of California – had strong connections to New York’s Capital District, and to Schenectady County in particular.
The Jupiter and Driving of the Golden Spike
The Jupiter locomotive is perhaps the most famous of Schenectady’s attendees at the driving of the Golden Spike. Manufactured in 1868 by the Schenectady Locomotive Company (a forerunner of ALCO), the 4-4-0 Jupiter was a wood-burning engine designed to travel 4’8.5″ gauge track.
After construction, the Jupiter (Schenectady Locomotive serial #505) was disassembled and shipped to California around Cape Horn. Joining the Jupiter on this voyage were three similar locomotives constructed by Schenectady Locomotive: Storm (SLW Central Pacific #61), Whirlwind #62), and Leviathan (#63). Jupiter was put into service on March 20, 1869, as SLW Central Pacific #60.
The Jupiter’s fame is derived from its participation in the Golden Spike ceremony, and for carrying California Governor and Central Pacific President Leland Stanford to the event. Otherwise, there was nothing special about the engine.
Its fame was unintended as it was not supposed to be the locomotive to carry Governor Stanford. Another locomotive, the Antelope, was meant to bear this honor. However, tragedy struck as the two trains made their way to Promontory Point, Utah.
Jupiter led the way on the trip to Utah with Antelope following a moment behind. As Jupiter made its way through a construction camp, workers either missed or misread the flags posted on the locomotive that noted another locomotive was following behind. Believing the track to be clear, the workers rolled a large log down a hill and onto the track, which struck the Antelope broadside.
While no one was seriously injured, Antelope was knocked out of commission, leading to the Jupiter’s big moment. Governor Stanford and his staff changed trains and continued to Promontory Point, Utah.
After a collection of speeches, four ceremonial spikes cast of gold were driven into the completed track to symbolize both the joining of east and west, and the wealth and prosperity it would bring to the country. As president of the Central Pacific Railroad, Stanford was given the honor of driving in the fourth and final golden spike. Once the ceremony was completed, engineers drove forward the Jupiter and Locomotive #119 cowcatcher to cowcatcher, as shown in the photo, now known as “East Meets West.”
It should be noted that Locomotive #119 was manufactured by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Company in 1868. In 1905, Rogers would become a part of the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) headquartered in Schenectady. The Rogers Company stayed in the ALCO family as a parts warehouse and storage facility into the 1920s.
The Jupiter and Locomotive #119 are just two pieces of the tale that link back to Schenectady and the Capital District. The presidents of both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads have local ties.
The Stanford Family and the Railroad
Amasa Leland Stanford, the 8th governor of California (1862-83), and a president of the Central Pacific Railroad was born in the town of Watervliet in 1824. His involvement with the railroad started early; his father, Josiah, owned the Bull’s Head cattle market between Albany and Troy and was involved in the construction of the railroad between Albany and Schenectady.
It’s not hard to imagine seven-year-old Leland’s mind being fired by the trailblazing trip of the DeWitt-Clinton locomotive in its inaugural run from Albany to Schenectady. And, this was not young Leland’s only brush with the railroad. In 1844, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was ceded land that had been part of Elm Grove, the family farm in Roessleville, in the town of Colonie.
When returning home, Leland would have heard train whistles passing by his house.
The Stanford family connection to Schenectady was expanded in March 1859 when Josiah purchased the Locust Grove Estate. Locust Grove, bordering what is now Route 5 and Balltown Road in Niskayuna, had previously been owned by luminaries including John Duncan, General Philip Schuyler, and John I. Vrooman. Although quite rural at the time, the property has since been transformed into Mansion Square, a commercial shopping center. The Schuyler-Stanford Mansion is now a Berkshire Bank.
Leland Stanford, Governor, and Railroad President
After graduating from the Clinton Liberal Institute in Oneida County in 1841 and attending the Cazenovia Seminary in Madison County, Leland was admitted to the New York Bar in 1848. He moved west to Port Washington, Wisconsin, in 1851, where he set up a law office, which was lost in a fire the following year.
The next year, Leland moved further west to Cold Spring, California, a gold rush town, where he ran a general store. This venture failed as well when the mines petered out. Leland moved yet again, setting up shop in another mining town called Michigan Bluff. There, he ran a general store and was named justice of the peace by the board of supervisors.
It was in Michigan Bluff that Stanford joined the Republican Party of California. He ascended its ranks quickly, and served as the party’s nominee for governor of California in 1859 – ultimately losing the contest. Leland ran again in 1861, this time successfully.
He became friends with Collis P. Huntington through his involvement with the Republican Party of California, as well as William Seward. His dealings with Huntington led to his part in the creation of the Central Pacific Railroad, with Stanford as president, and Huntington as vice president.
Archer Huntington (1870-1955), the adopted child of Collis Huntington inherited his fortune and purchased what is now Huntington Wildlife Forest, part of SUNY-ESF’s Newcomb Campus in the Adirondacks.
Thomas Durant (1820-1885), Stanford’s counterpart in the Union Pacific Railroad, also had Capital District roots, having graduated from Albany Medical School. Durant retired to Blue Mountain Lake after the Crédit Mobilier scandal ended his involvement with the Union Pacific Railroad.
After the Golden Spike
Leland Stanford served as Governor of California for just two years (1862-63) and served part of two terms as a US Senator (1885-1893). He remained president of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads until his passing in 1893. His only son, Leland Stanford, Jr. died tragically of typhoid fever while traveling in Italy.
Leland Jr. was just shy of his 16th birthday. In 1887, on what would have been Leland Jr.’s 19th birthday, Governor Stanford and his wife Jane Lathrop dedicated Leland Stanford Junior University. The Stanfords donated $40 million to the cause and brought in Frederick Law Olmsted to lay out the campus.
Olmstead had Schenectady ties as well, having designed Schenectady’s Central Park, as well as Central Park in New York City, Albany’s Washington Park, and Congress Park in Saratoga.
So, what became of the Jupiter after its role in the Golden Spike ceremony?
It stayed in service with Central Pacific until 1891, when it was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad and numbered 195. It was then acquired by the Gila Valley, Globe and Northern Railway (GVG & N) in 1893, where it became Locomotive #1 and was converted into a coal engine. It returned to the Southern Pacific fold in 1901 when they bought GVG & N. In 1909 it was consigned to scrappers.
In 1974, the National Park Service contracted with O’Connor Engineering Labs of Costa Mesa, California, to build a nearly exact replica of the Jupiter. Completed in 1979, the new Jupiter is on permanent display at Golden Spike National Historical Park at Promontory Point, Utah
Photos, from above: the recreated Jupiter locomotive; East and West Shaking Hands at the Laying of Last Rail by Andrew J. Russell – Yale University Libraries; and Leland Stanford in the 1870s.
Chris Leonard wrote this essay for the Schenectady County Historical Society Newsletter, Volume 63. Become a member of the Society online at schenectadyhistorical.org.
Peter Wisbey says
Several commemorative rings were made from a nugget attached to the golden spike and presented to dignitaries. Two of the rings are here in New York State – one presented to William Seward is in the collection of the Seward House Museum in Auburn and one given to the minister who presided over the joining ceremony is in the collection of the Adirondack Experience. They are both available to be seen on their institutions’ online collections databases.
John Warren says
Very interesting! Thanks for letting us know.
I had wondered what became of that golden spike. Thanks for the info.
I had no idea that TCRR had so much history in NY state. Thanks for sharing!