As a native Californian, I learned early in life about the Transcontinental Railroad. The enterprise was envisioned and spearheaded by San Francisco businessmen Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, known as the Big Four.
The Last Spike
On January 8, 1863, California’s newly elected governor, Leland Stanford, hefted the first shovelful of dirt at the Central Pacific groundbreaking ceremony in Sacramento. Just six years, five months and two days later, Stanford drove the celebrated Last Spike into the final tie when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met at Promontory Summit, Utah.
After the celebratory joining of the two railroads, the Last Spike, or Golden Spike as some call it, was returned to San Francisco businessman David Hewes, who provided it. He gave it back to Stanford in 1892. From 1936 to 1954 it was displayed in the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. It’s currently on display at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Click here to see it.
The Lost Spike
For decades, many wondered about the existence of a second Golden Spike. The engraving receipt shown below, which is on display at the California State Railroad Museum, indicates that two spikes had been engraved.
As seen in the plaque below, which contains the story of the two spikes, a second spike had indeed been manufactured and engraved. The second spike surfaced in 2005 when descendents of David Hewes put it up for auction.
The museum acquired the Lost Spike and put it on display, so visitors can enjoy this long-hidden piece of history. I spent several minutes in front of the glass case drinking in the site. A trip to the Cantor Arts Center to see the Last Spike is on my Places I Must Visit list for sure.
“The Lost Spike” painting by Thomas Hill and the Lost Spike itself are but two of the many treasures at the California State Railroad Museum. If you’re ever able to visit Sacramento, I highly recommend including the museum as one of your stops.