Chapter 1: A New Depot is Built
The first train depot built in Woodland was located near Lincoln Avenue and College Street and was built by the California Pacific Railroad in 1869 when the California Pacific Railroad built a branch rail line from Davis to Yuba City, through Woodland. The tracks were laid west of the center of town along College Street which was then known as Railroad Avenue. There is a plaque on the Midtown Building at Dead Cat Alley that shows where the track ran. This building was two stories and had a long uncovered platform.
In 1872, the tracks were relocated to the east side of town along East Street and a depot and freight shed were built just south of Main Street by the California Pacific Railroad, a precursor of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This new depot, was a two story wooden building with a one story freight shed extending south. The waiting room and ticket office were downstairs and the station agent lived in an upstairs apartment. This depot was used heavily as Woodland grew and there are many pictures of it. It was served by the horse-drawn Woodland Street Railroad which ran down Main Street. A restored horse car from this railroad is on display at the Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland. In 1906, it served as a staging area to send relief supplies and the local National Guard unit to San Francisco after the earthquake and fire.
By 1910, however, the business community thought that the old depot, now nearly 40 years old, was outdated and that Woodland needed a new depot with larger waiting rooms. In February of that year, a delegation from the Chamber of Commerce went to San Francisco to talk to Southern Pacific Railroad officials. When they returned on the midnight train, they had a commitment from the railroad to build a new depot, but no firm date as to when it would be built. Several other towns in the region remained ahead of Woodland on the list to receive new depots.
Rumors of the new depot persisted in the newspaper until February 1911, when SP Superintendent Sheridan informed Woodland Station Agent John Fingland that a new depot was to be built. The recent news that the Northern Electric Railway (later known as the Sacramento Northern) was building a rail line into Woodland with a new depot at Second and Main Streets probably hastened this decision. Southern Pacific decided that the new depot would be located south of the old depot, straddling Lincoln Avenue. This location was chosen so that long trains could stop at the new depot without having to uncouple at Main and Oak Streets for roadway traffic. This decision was controversial but was approved after community leaders met with Superintendent Sheridan.
Construction of the new depot was begun in April, 1911, and completed Monday August 7, 1911. It was built using the standard Southern Pacific colonnade design with Colonial Revival and Craftsman elements which were popular at the time. For the most part, Southern Pacific crews were brought in by train and were used to construct the depot with one exception. A construction document found in the depot and newspaper reports show that local plasterer W.M. Williams was contracted to plaster all the walls and ceilings, and construct the cement floors in the waiting rooms and restrooms for $220. This was probably done as a concession to the business community for building the depot across Lincoln Avenue which they originally opposed.
Constructed of prime redwood and Douglas fir, the new depot was equipped with “every modern accommodation” according to the Woodland Daily Democrat newspaper, including electricity and indoor restrooms. It also had a larger waiting room and a separate women’s waiting room, an attic store room, baggage room, and ticket and telegraph office. The 156 foot long arcade platform was 40 feet longer than the old depot and was supported with 13 cast iron columns. As was the new custom, there no longer were living quarters for the station agent, and Agent Fingland and his wife moved to a residence on Depot Street east of the depot.
After some controversy and delay, Woodland finally got its new train depot, and more. As part of the construction project, the Southern Pacific Railroad rebuilt its rail yard around the new depot, and moved the old depot southwest of the new one to be used exclusively as a freight depot. New roads were built to provide access to the depot and new landscaping was planted. The old hitching posts were moved to the new depot since it was still primarily served by horse-drawn conveyances.
When the Historic Woodland Train Depot was built in 1911, trains were the primary form of long distance transportation, women were organizing to get the vote, Woodland City Trustees voted to close the city’s saloons, and automobiles were still a novelty. Mark Twain had died just a year earlier and the Titanic sank a year later. Woodland was a growing city with the new train depot as its main point of entry and connection to the outside world. The Historic Woodland Train Depot was brand new and just beginning to experience its 100 years of history.
As part of the depot’s birthday celebration, the Sacramento Valley Historical Railways posted the “Depot Diary”, a day-to-day report by the Woodland Daily Democrat newspaper of the construction of the depot in 1911, on its website www.SVHR.org.