The approximate location of the first railroad to reach California from the east had its origins in the congressional debate over slavery prior to the Civil War. The precise location of track took years to define. By comparing two sets of historical maps in the California State Archives, this article examines how the route of the Central Pacific Railroad evolved from a plausible engineering concept to the busy track it is today. This occurred at the hands of Congress, a pharmacist, an engineer, and the engineer’s assistant, in response to national politics, local business concerns, balance sheets, and the limits of railway construction technology in the 1860s.
Route Logic of the Central Pacific Railroad, 1861–1869
Michele M. Tobias is a geospatial scientist at DataLab within UC Davis Library at the University of California, Davis. She earned a BA in geography from the University of California Los Angeles, an MS in ecology from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in geography from UC Davis. Her current work focuses on applying geospatial methods to answer research questions in a variety of academic fields.
Darcy Bostic is a research associate at the Pacific Institute, where her work focuses on spatially and quantitatively assessing the impacts of climate change on water resources and suggesting policies for sustainable water management. She earned an MS and BS in hydrologic sciences with a minor in geographic information systems from the University of California, Davis. During her MS program she researched the impacts of sustainability planning on domestic well operation and the governance challenges in sea-level-rise adaptation in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Scott S. Sibbett is a research professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of New Mexico. He holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Oregon Health Sciences University (OGI School of Engineering).
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Michele M. Tobias, Darcy J. Bostic, Scott S. Sibbett; Route Logic of the Central Pacific Railroad, 1861–1869. California History 1 May 2021; 98 (2): 74–99. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.2.74
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