David Devine, author of “Slavery, Scandal, and Steel Rails,” spoke to the Rotary Club of SaddleBrooke about the history of the southern transcontinental railroad line. The book covers the Gadsden Purchase and subsequent construction of the railroad line through Arizona and New Mexico during the 1870s. Projecting pictures of construction, Southern Pacific Railroad tycoons, and politicians at the time.
Devine focused on the approach to Tucson of the line progressing east from Los Angeles. Tucson had about 7,000 inhabitants then and was the largest city in the region. Its residents became excited about the prospects of a railroad bringing cheaper goods and faster transportation to the city.
Progress was slow through the 1870s with shortages of materials and labor and delays in Tucson approvals. In the summer of 1879, construction stopped at Casa Grande while ties and rails were stockpiled there. With land finally granted through the city and the original depot in the same location as today, the line was completed to Tucson in early 1980.
A grand celebration was planned for the arrival of the first train from Los Angeles on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, complete with a silver spike to mark the occasion. The only hitch: the train arrived early.
March 20 is celebrated as Railroad Day in Tucson. This year it will be on St. Patrick’s Day to be held on the weekend.