Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Santa Clara passenger depot held the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating railroad depot west of the Mississippi until the ticket office closed in May, 1997.
Constructed in late 1863 by the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company as one of two "way stations" built between San Francisco and San Jose, the original 24 foot by 50 foot passenger portion of the depot was built on the east side of the tracks. The first regular through passenger service to San Francisco started on January 17, 1864. When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the first shipment of fresh fruit, a carload of pears from the Santa Clara depot, was sent from California to the eastern states in October, 1869.
Southern Pacific Railroad absorbed the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad in 1870. In 1877 the original passenger depot was moved across the tracks and attached to the existing 32 foot by 50 foot freight house which had been constructed about a decade earlier. Because of the large volume of agricultural freight being shipped at that time, the freight house was then enlarged to its present size of 32 foot by 160 foot.
Constructed of clear heart redwood, milled out of local coast-range trees, the depot is a one-story board and batten structure with a side gabled roof The roof eaves are wide, overhanging and supported by wood brackets with curved brackets defining the roof corners. The freight house is also of board and bat construction.
In 1985 the South Bay Historical Railroad Society entered into a lease agreement with Caltrans to renovate and preserve the depot. Using donations and a volunteer work force that put in over 25,000 hours, the exterior renovation was finished in 1990. The Society received a Governor's Award for Historic Preservation to recognize their efforts.
The two-story Santa Clara Interlocking Control Tower is one of two unmodified Harriman Standard No.4 towers still standing in California. The building was built in 1926, but it was not put into operation until the fall of 1927 due to a last minute management decision to change the local area signals. On the upper floor of the rower is a General Railway Signal Company Model 2 unit lever type electromechanical interlocking machine. This machine controlled many switches and signals from the north end of the Santa Clara yard to the junction switches and signals controlling the tracks to and from both San Francisco and Oakland. The tower's lower half originally housed the relays and batteries for the tower mechanism. These were moved in the late 1960s to adjacent sheds, and the lower half became the signal maintainer's shop and work area.
The tower and its interlocking machine were used around the clock for 65 years. On July 17, 1993, control of all switches and signals on the Peninsula line was transferred to the Control Center at the San Jose depot, signaling the end of an era for the tower.
In 1996, the South Bay Historical Railroad Society
, in conjunction with the City of Santa Clara, received an Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act grant and started the renovation of the tower and the two adjacent maintenance-of-way structures. As a result of their efforts, the community is able to appreciate these surviving railroad buildings and the contribution they made to past railroading practices. The group also built and maintains onsite HO and N scale museum-grade model train layouts.
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m.
1005 Railroad Avenue
Santa Clara, CA 95050