A Tale of Two Railroads
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.
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
- In 1876, Using the assets of the now defunct Sonoma & Marin Railroad, Peter Donahue's newly formed San Francisco & North Pacific Railway began building a standard-guage line south from Haystack Landing to a ferry connection in San Rafael.
Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway
- In 1876-7, the first effort to connect Sonoma with San Pablo Bay was the Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway, a monorail, from Schellville to the steamer landing at Norfolk.
Sonoma Valley Railroad
- On July 24, 1878, Sonoma Valley Railroad purchased Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway and began converting it to a conventional 3-ft (narrow) gauge.
- In 1879 SVR extended what had been the Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway into Sonoma (assuming from Norfolk).
- In 1880 Sonoma Depot is established.
- It is assumed the Vineburg Depot was also established about this time.
- On August 23, 1880 SVR opened its line from Sonoma Landing to Sonoma (1889, pg. 288)
- On August 15, 1882 SVR opened its line from Sonoma to Glen Ellen (1889, pg. 288)
- It is assumed that Glen Ellen Depot was established about this time.
Sonoma & Santa Rosa Railroad
- On August 15, 1882 the Sonoma & Santa Rosa Railroad extended the Sonoma Valley narrow-gauge from Sonoma to Glen Ellen.
- In 1887 the El Verano Depot was established, presumably by the S&SR or the S&GE.
- The Boyes Springs Depot was established in ???? by ????.
- The Fetters Springs Depot was established in 1913 by NWPRR.
- The Eldridge Depot was established in ???? by ????.
- The Glen Ellen Depot was established in ???? by ????.
Marin & Napa Railroad
- On June 1, 1888 the Marin & Napa Railroad extended the Sonoma Valley narrow-gauge 8 miles from Sears Point landing to a San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad connection at Ignacio.
San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad
- In March 1889, the Sonoma Valley Railroad and the Marin & Napa Railroad were merged into the SF&NP and became known as the "Sonoma Valley Branch".
- Around April, 1890 the Sonoma depot was moved one block north to where it currently resides and is now home to the museum of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society.
The line to Sonoma Landing was abandoned in ????.
Glen Ellen and Los Guillicos Railway
- On March 22, 1890, the Glen Ellen and Los Guillicos Railway was incorporated but no other information has been uncovered about this railway. Since Kenwood Depot was designed to be a union station, it is assumed this company was created with the intention of extending the ["San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad'] from Glen Ellen to Kenwood which was known as Los Guillicos. There it would union with the Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad.
Northwestern Pacific Railroad
- On January 8, 1907 The San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad was consolidated into the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1907. The Sonoma Valley Branch was now part of the NWP.
The Glen Ellen Branch
- In 1975, the main line of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad ran from Schellville to Eureka making Schellville its interchange with Southern Pacific. The segment of the "Sonoma Valley Branch" from Ignacio to Schellville was not part of the main line leaving the segment from Schellville north through Sonoma to Glen Ellen to become known as the "Glen Ellen Branch" though it had already been abandoned by that time.
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
- In 1888 the Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad extended eastward to link Santa Rosa with the national rail system.
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.
- 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.
- On April 14, 1898 the Northern Railway was merged into Southern Pacific.
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(?).
- 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
- Narrow gauge railway
- Northwestern Pacific Railroad
- San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad
- Southern Pacific
- Union Pacific
- The Glen Ellen Branch at Abandoned Rails
- Map of The Glen Ellen Branch
- Valeri Shere Mathes and Diane Moll Smith, Images of America: Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Valley Historical Society (2004).
- George Woodman Hilton, American narrow gauge railroads, pg. 335 (1990).
- Kneiss, Redwood Railways, pp. 64-68;
- Robert D. Parmelee, “Sonoma Valley Railroad,” The Western Railroader, 25, no. 9, issue 273 (1962);
- Wald Sievers, “Sonoma Valley Prismoidal Railway,” The Western Railroader, 22, no. 3. issue 231 (1959).
- Donald B. Robertson, Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: California, Volume 4 (1998).
- Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of California for the year ending December 31, 1888
- Tenth Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of California for the year ending December 31, 1889
- Twelfth Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of California for the year ending November 1, 1891