Special Reports

Historical Perspective: Southern Pacific depot

The railroad was vital to a community's growth and endurance in the last quarter of the 19th century. Nothing was more important.

So it was disappointing when the planned Southern Pacific Railroad took its route up the Valley's middle and bypassed the budding Tulare County town of Porterville. No one felt it more than town founder Royal Porter Putnam.

A native of Pennsylvania, Putnam was born in 1837. At 21, he headed west and found work as an agent for the Tule River Butterfield Stage line. His duties, along with running an inn, included trading goods with settlers, travelers and Indians.

When the stage line was discontinued with the breakout of the Civil War, his agent work ended. He continued working as a trader, opening his own general store.

After the devastating flood of 1862 that wiped out the neighboring village of Vandalia, Putnam paid $200 for 40 acres of land where his store was located. In 1864, he offered town lots to anyone who would move there.

The growth on the east side of the Valley, including Porterville, continued. In 1885, Southern Pacific decided to put a line on the east side. Porterville boomed, with lots on Main Street selling for the same sum as on San Francisco's Geary Street. The rail line came off at Fresno, where the main railroad yard was located, and would pass through places where the towns were eventually established, such as Dinuba, Exeter, Lindsay, Terra Bella and Ducor.

The momentous day for bustling Porterville came on May 10, 1888, when the first steam locomotive pulled into the town depot. In 1913, a new mission-style passenger depot was built at Putnam and D streets, four blocks north of the original depot.

The old depot was used for freight by Southern Pacific. It was sold and moved to another location in town in the late 1950's. It was torn down a few years later.

The passenger depot is now the Porterville Museum.

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