Railroads Put Salinas on the Map

by Chuck Marriott



The people who influenced the decision to have the railroad go through the Salinas Valley were responsible for putting Salinas, Chualar, Gonzales, and Soledad on the map, and ultimately for making Salinas the county seat of Monterey County. How did they accomplish these major feats?

They did it with shrewd political cunning, an awareness of the power of the new technology called the "iron horse," and a desire to reap economic gains for themselves and their community. They had to get the political strength to influence economic decisions such as getting Southern Pacific to run its line to the Salinas Valley instead of Monterey or Castroville.

Men such as William Vanderhurst, C.S. Abbott, George Graves, James Houston, James Bardin, and Eugene Sherwood put together a political deal to make Salinas the county seat in exchange for making San Benito a separate county. That indeed is what happened in the election of November 6, 1872. Eugene Sherwood donated land for the railroads to have a right-of-way to lay tracks in Salinas. Then David Jacks persuaded the top executives of Southern Pacific to "push their railroad southward to his Rancho Chualar. He gave land for a right-of-way, laid out a town, and guaranteed a large freight business."

Next, Alfred and Mariano Gonzales made plans for the railroad to come to their Rancho, and they donated right-of-way land and mapped out the city of Gonzales. Next, "On December 20, 1872, the railroad reached the site Doña Catalina had selected for a town, which she named Soledad in honor of the brave padres who had founded the now abandoned mission across the river."



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