Santa Paula Times

Today marks important anniversary in Santa Paula

January 19, 2007
January 19, 1887, the railroad came to Santa Paula
By Wally Bobkiewicz City ManagerCity of Santa PaulaFriday marks an important anniversary in Santa Paula. On January 19, 1887, the railroad came to Santa Paula. This occasion was hailed as the most important event of the 1880's in our community. Now, 120 years later, it is interesting to reflect on the impact this momentous event had in Santa Paula and what it meant for the future of Santa Paula and Ventura County.Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson in her 1980 book, "From Metates to Macadam: A History of Santa Paula from Prehistoric Times to 1917," captures the mood of Santa Paula in 1887. The arrival of the train in Santa Paula was part of a rail line from Ventura to Newhall. The train brought regular mail service for the first time to the community. Santa Paula could now ship out and receive goods another way other than a wagon.People now longer had to rely on the stagecoach alone for travel.Construction of the line began in 1886 with 500 Chinese laborers laying tracks and driving spikes. The construction moved slowly down the Santa Clara River Valley and the closer it came Henderson writes, "the more intense was the pitch of anticipation of the townspeople."
At 1:30 PM on the afternoon of January 19, 1887, "Old Number Two" arrived in town greeted by dozens of Santa Paulans, many in fringe-top buggies at the spot where the new railroad depot was soon to be constructed. That depot still stands in Santa Paula today. The occasion was officially marked with a telegram sent from Santa Paula to the offices of the Ventura County Star-Free Press reporting "The railroad and train have just reached town and everybody smiling and happy." By late February, Henderson writes further, passenger and freight trains were arriving daily and the new depot opened in early May. Passengers were charged 10 cents per mile and the trip between Newhall and Ventura took just two hours (where by stagecoach it had taken all day).Rail service in Santa Paula was a critical component in the development of the citrus industry here and throughout Ventura County. Orange and lemons were farmed in great numbers here in part because of the efficient rail system to ship the citrus to markets around the country.The development of the agricultural industry in Ventura County became a backbone of the area's development long before US 101 became the magnet for residential, commercial and retail development years later.The arrival of train service and the connections it brought to the larger world are even more remarkable today given the interconnections we all take for granted with cell phones, the Internet and satellite television. Santa Paula's world was opened 120 years ago by the arrival of train service. Santa Paulans have fought mightily to keep the small town character enjoyed then, alive today in our community. These efforts have succeeded in keeping Santa Paula the jewel of Ventura County. But the town we enjoy today really can trace its character and roots back to a January day in 1887 when the train came to town.