A Tale of Two Railroads

Source: "Wikimedia Commons". Railroads have played a significant part in the formation of the valley as we know it today. While the history of the railroad in Sonoma Valley consists of at least 15 known railroad companies, there were ultimately two lines that ran through the valley by 1889.

The first railway line was the "Sonoma Valley Branch" of the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad which at that time ran from a connection at Ignacio all the way through Sonoma to Glen Ellen. This line was also referred to as "The Donahue Line" for Peter Donahue who appears to be the principle businessman behind its establishment.

The second railway line was the "Santa Rosa Branch" or "Sonoma Valley Branch" of the Northern Railway which ran from Santa Rosa to Napa Junction.

Ignacio to Glen Ellen

Petaluma & Haystack

While this railroad was not located in Sonoma Valley, it is part of the ancestry that lead to the development of rail lines into Sonoma Valley. Chartered in 1862, Petaluma & Haystack Railroad was the kernel of what was to become the Sonoma & Marin Railroad.

Sonoma & Marin Railroad

The efforts of the Sonoma & Marin Railroad to connect Petaluma with San Rafael were seminal to the linkage of Sonoma Valley to San Francisco. However, the line to San Rafael was only partially completed (i.e., only graded) when it went bankrupt and Peter Donahue purchased and consolidated it's assets into the San Francisco & North Pacific Railway in 1876. This was the beginning of what locals would call the "Donahue Line".

San Francisco & North Pacific Railway

Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway

Sonoma Valley Railroad

Sonoma & Santa Rosa Railroad

Marin & Napa Railroad

San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad

The line to Sonoma Landing was abandoned in ????.

Glen Ellen and Los Guillicos Railway

Northwestern Pacific Railroad

The Glen Ellen Branch

Southern Pacific

The Stops

Today, the "Ignacio to Glen Ellen" or "Donahue Line" is commonly known as the Northwestern Line. You can see the stops along the route if you visit that page.

Santa Rosa to Napa Junction

Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad

The Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad was incorporated on March 25, 1887 with the intent of building a line from Napa Junction to Santa Rosa. On May 15, 1888, before any of the Napa-Santa Rosa line was complete, the SR&C was merged into the Northern Railway.

Northern Railway

  • In 1888 the Kenwood Depot is established, initiated by the SR&C and completed by the NRC.
  • The Warfield Depot was established in ???? by ????.
  • On May 31, 1888 the 36.7-mile line from from Napa Junction to Santa Rosa, referred to as the "Santa Rosa Branch" and later the "Sonoma Valley Branch" was completed by the Northern Railway.

Southern Pacific

The Stops

Today, the "Santa Rosa to Napa Junction Line" is commonly known as the Southern Pacific Line. You can see the stops along the route if you visit that page.

Beginning of Abandonment

  • On Jan. 15, 1934, Southern Pacific abandoned the route from Santa Rosa to Los Guilicos, 8.3 mi.
  • On Jan. 15, 1934, Northwestern Pacific Railroad abandoned the portion of its "Sonoma Valley Branch" from Yulupa (Madrone) to Glen Ellen, 2.54 mi.
  • Northwestern Pacific Railroad took over the Southern Pacific line at this time installing a switch at Yulapa (Madrone) going thru Glen Ellen and on to Santa Rosa.1
  • On Oct 10, 1941, The "Southern Pacific line was cut back to the Glen Ellen Southern Pacific Station...and Glen Ellen again became the end of the line."2
  • On Sept. 15, 1942, Northwestern Pacific Railroad abandoned the Glen Ellen to Sonoma segment, 6.59 mi.
  • The rails were re-used on the Richmond Shipyard Railroad running from the Richmond Shipyards to Oakland, California during WWII.

The branch was abandoned in a large number of short segments between 1934 and 1975, but the 16 miles from Ignacio to Schellville remained in service as the connection between the Northwestern Pacilic and the Southern Pacific until 1996(?).

Union Pacific

  • In 1996 Southern Pacific merged with Union Pacific. In 2009 Union Pacific began renovation of the section of track that ran east from Ignacio through Schellville to Napa.

The Family Tree

Rand McNally Atlas, 1911. Source: Chip Roberson The family tree diagram and the map from 1911 Rand McNally Atlas show the results of 50 years of railroad development in and around the Sonoma Valley. Source: Chip Roberson under CCA-SA License 3.0



1. http://www.geezerworks.com/Glen%20Ellen%20Engine%20Facility%20History.pdf
2. http://www.geezerworks.com/Glen%20Ellen%20Engine%20Facility%20History.pdf