Slow Start for Sausalito

By Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

We recently told the story of how William Richardson lost his Sausalito holdings to the Sausalito

Land & Ferry Company in 1869.  The new company ambitiously had a survey made and drew up a map showing future streets and lots available to the public. They named the streets mainly in honor of themselves and quickly staked out prime lots for their villas overlooking Richardson's Bay.

But, as Jack Tracy reported in his book Moments in Time, “The company struggled into the seventies with infusions of cash by the partners, who strained their lines of credit in San Francisco’s financial community. Although a few lots were sold and a few homes were built, people were not flocking to the new Utopia as had been hoped.”  Here are some excerpts from Tracy’s account of the struggles to get the project off the ground:

Samuel Throckmorton tried to foreclose on the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company several times, but each time the determined businessmen successfully evaded the hammer. At one desperate point, in order to raise money, they transferred all the remaining property to Maurice Dore for one dollar. Dore, whose land auction business had prospered, was the only one whose credit was still good. The company held auctions from time to time, trying to drum up enthusiasm for Sausalito lots, but they were competing with cheap land in many new towns around the Bay Area, many with railroad connections. In an effort to lure newcomers with capital, every new town around San Francisco Bay was promising prosperity, healthful climates, rapid growth, and boundless opportunity.

Still the prospects looked good to the men of the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company. Completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869 injected new vitality into California, and San Francisco had become the financial center of the West. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had established regular routes to the Orient from San Francisco, and a thriving California grain trade filled the bay with ships from Liverpool and New England.

As grain ships were laid up in Carquinez Strait and Richardson's Bay waiting for the grain to be harvested or for the price to go up in home ports, their masters and crews became enamored of life in California. Many of the earliest settlers in Sausalito were British, who perhaps preferred the quiet country life to that of dynamic, raw San Francisco. Some were sent to represent British companies, some came from the vessels themselves. Others came to seek their fortunes in the legendary land of California. Most of the English residents of Sausalito were "second sons." That is, they came from landed wealthy English families and although they usually had sufficient annual stipends, they had no titles. The eldest son stood to inherit the title and property in England, leaving the other sons and daughters to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The men took positions in banking and brokerage houses, and the women often married American businessmen.

At last on April 12, 1873, an event occurred that seemed to secure Sausalito's future. Amid much enthu­siastic cheering, a groundbreaking ceremony took place in Sausalito, marking the start of construction of the long-promised railroad that would link Sausalito to the lumber empire to the north.

Railroads were the key to growth for towns all over the country, and California was no exception. New towns struggling for existence suddenly prospered when even the thinnest of rail links was established. San Rafael was one of the first to have its own line, the San Rafael and San Quentin Railroad. This single broad-gauge track be­tween the ferry landing at Point San Quentin and the center of San Rafael gave an invigorating boost to local commerce.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad, incorporated in 1871 with the aid of a public bond issue in Marin County, had a grand plan to run a line through Marin connecting the emerging towns, and continuing up the coast to the vast redwood stands along the Russian River in Sonoma and the Gualala River in Mendocino County. The Sausalito Land & Ferry Company directors, sensing that this could be the breakthrough for their town, gave the financially feeble railroad company thirty acres along Sausalito's waterfront as an inducement to make Sausalito the south­ern terminus of the new line.

Because the bond issue called for a southern terminus at Point San Quentin rather than at Sausalito, a legal battle ensued. After considerable legal fireworks, Sausa­lito won out, and in 1873 construction began. One work gang commenced at Tomales, moving south. Another gang worked at Fairfax, and a third started at Strawberry Point where a trestle was constructed across Richardson's Bay to Sausalito. The trestle connected with Alameda Point (later Pine Station), approximately where Nevada Street meets Bridgeway today.

Engine Number One, the  Saucelito,  was a Baldwin eight-wheeler. She is shown here in service with the White Lumber Company c. 1880.   Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Engine Number One, the Saucelito, was a Baldwin eight-wheeler. She is shown here in service with the White Lumber Company c. 1880.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

North Pacific Coast Locomotive Number One "Sau­celito" was shipped by sea to Tomales in 1874 as work progressed on the rails. Ambition being tempered by the lack of cold cash, it was decided that Tomales would be the northern terminus for the time being. On January 7, 1875, another ceremony marked the passing of the first train over the completed line.

With the railroad came more people, laborers at first, then merchants from many national backgrounds.  Added to the Americans and British were families from Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Portugal, from China, Ireland and Greece – all contributing to the character of Sausalito.