The Sacramento Valley Railroad; Part 6 – The Rails Reach Placerville, But at a High Cost

Lawsuits and Lawsuits, But Success at Last

In 1873, the holders of the P&SVRR bonds sued the County of El Dorado and the City of Placerville, to recover the entire amount due in principal and interest. The county defended the suit but lost in lower court. Finally, through the efforts of H.S. Morey, A. Mierson, and Judge Williams, the whole of the bonds and coupons, with accrued interest, amounting to $239,135.37 were surrendered for the sum of $200,000, which was paid in new bonds running 20 years but only bearing 5 percent interest. The city of Placerville had a simpler solution to the problem.

City Council disappears

When the telegraphed news of the bondholders winning the suit reached the City Council, they all simply resigned, leaving no one in charge or responsible for the payment. The pages of the minute books of the City Council of Placerville are empty from that point into the 1900s, when apparently, the whole problem had become forgotten history and the City Council thought it safe to return.

Placerville finally gets its railroad

The Central Pacific through the Shingle Springs & Placerville Railroad (incorporated May 10, 1887) gave a bond of $100,000 to continue the tracks to Placerville. The county had finally won a railroad to Placerville but at a high cost to its taxpayers.

The last 11.6 miles to Placerville were completed March 29, 1888. The first passenger train arrived on April 9, 1888, while the first freight reached the depot on April 18, 1888. The occasion of the arrival of the first passenger train brought out nearly all the residents of Placerville and the surrounding towns. With only five days advance notice, the city was cleaned up and preparations for the celebration had been made. As the 500 excursion passengers pulled into the station, they were greeted by the boom of cannon, the blare of brass bands, and the cheers of the thousands assembled there. A large group of local citizens delivered welcome statements which were followed by an extended oration by Gov. Waterman. Festivities continued with a large parade and finally concluded with a huge banquet.

The occasion marked an important event in the romantic annals of transportation to and from Placerville which had commenced with pack trains only 40 years earlier.

Without the foresight and vision of men like Col. Charles Lincoln Wilson, Theodore Judah, and Lester Robinson, the transcontinental railroad might still have been a dream in the 1860s. They fought to build the first commercial railroad west of the Rockies and opened many eyes with their success. The challenge given the Central Pacific by Lester Robinson and the Sacramento Valley Railroad only sped the progress of the western builders of the Pacific Railway across the summit of the Sierra far sooner than would have happened otherwise. To these companies, the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad, the Sacramento & Placerville Railroad, and the men and women behind them, we owe the saving of precious time in the building and settlement of the West.


The Sacramento & Placerville RR operated the Shingle Springs & Placerville RR under lease until May 15, 1888. On that date the 60.7 miles from Sacramento to Placerville were consolidated with 10 other local valley railroad organizations to form the Northern Railway of 1888, all under control of the Southern Pacific hierarchy.

The historical Placerville line became an important feeder branch line after the turn of the century for the Southern Pacific, producing hundreds of carloads annually, mostly lumber and refrigerated loads of deciduous fruits.

In 1986 the Placerville, Camino and Lake Tahoe Railroad, owned by Michigan California Lumber Co., abandoned its line from Placerville to Camino. The Michigan Cal. Co. had been delivering the majority of traffic at the far end of the line. Southern Pacific soon filed to abandon the line from Folsom to Placerville.

El Dorado County, with support of many smaller rail-shipping businesses, was successful in defeating the abandonment, both before the ICC and in federal court. Southern Pacific responded with a $750 per carload surcharge, which the ICC upheld. Most of the remaining railroad shippers reluctantly shifted to trucks as their means of transport.

Ironically, the last train operations all the way to Placerville ended in 1987, just one year short of the line’s 100-year anniversary.


Douglas J. Noble was born and raised less than a 100 feet from the Santa Fe tracks in Pasadena. He has always had a deep fascination with the railroads and Western history. His grandfather, who had come to California in the 1880s. furthered this feeling with tales of early railroad building. Doug moved to El Dorado County in the early 1970s where he worked as a county planner. In 1987 he was requested to write a short history about the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad for inclusion in the arguments against the abandonment of the Southern Pacific line from Folsom to Placerville, which El Dorado County was opposing before the ICC. This history was an integral part of the county’s submission which resulted in the ICC and Federal Court refusal for abandonment. Doug also writes columns for the Mountain Democrat and Sierra Heritage Magazine.


Dunscomb, Guy L., A CENTURY OF SOUTHERN PACIFIC STEAM LOCOMOTIVES, G.L. Dunscomb Publications, Modesto, California, 1963.

Gwinn, William H., THE FREEPORT RAILROAD 1863-1865, Sacramento County Historical Society, Sacramento, California, 1971


Kneiss, Gilbert H., BONANZA RAILROADS, Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 1941.

McAfee, Ward, CALIFORNIA’S RAILROAD ERA 1850-1911, Golden West Books, San Marino, California, 1973.

Mountain Democrat, SOUVENIR EDITION OF THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD, Mountain Democrat, Placerville, California, January 24, 1898.

Mountain Democrat, SEVENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY SOUVENIR REVIEW EDITION, Mountain Democrat, Placerville, California, January 6, 1928.

Placerville Times, 1938, THE BIG YEAR, Placerville Times, Placerville, California, December 29, 1937.

Sioli, Paolo, HISTORICAL SOUVENIR OF EL DORADO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, Paolo Sioli, Oakland, California, 1883.

The minutes of: Court of Sessions and Board of Supervisors, El Dorado County, 1850-present; Placerville Common Council and City Council, 1854-present

The files of: The El Dorado County Historical Museum; The El Dorado County Library; The Mountain Democrat 1854-1987.

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