Skip to main content

Calaveras Railroads

May contain: transportation, vehicle, and train
Angels Branch of the Sierra Railway. Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society.

In the late 19th century, economic development of the Mother Lode depended on it being linked via railway to the commercial networks of the western United States. Calaveras was served by three railroads: the Stockton and Copperopolis, the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada, and the Sierra Railway.

The Stockton and Copperopolis Railroad, originally planned to access the copper mines in Copperopolis, was completed to Milton in July of 1871. The copper boom, which ended in 1867 with the cessation of hostilities after the Civil War, coupled with the expiration of federal funding allocated to encourage the building of railroads during the 1860s, sounded the death knell for completion of the line. From Milton, however, stage lines were quickly established with Copperopolis, Tuttletown, Sonora, Angels Camp, Murphys, and other points east. Absorbed into the Southern Pacific in 1889, the section within Calaveras would eventually be abandoned in 1940.

Impetus for the construction of the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Railroad was the growth of the timber industry in the higher elevations. Planned in 1880 to reach the Calaveras Big Trees, financial difficulties set the new terminus at Valley Springs in 1885, turning the community into a supply and railroad town. Lands near the rail line were developed by farmers as part of a small land boom, and the towns of Burson, Wallace, and Valley Springs were created along its route. Before the end of the century, the Southern Pacific had taken over the line and in 1904 made it standard gauge. The advent of the automobile resulted in the halt of passenger service in 1932. The line remained for freight, notably to and from the Calaveras Cement plant in San Andreas, until that enterprise closed in 1983.

In Tuolumne County, the Sierra Railway Company of California planned an ambitious line reaching from Oakdale to the sawmills of Standard and Tuolumne City and north to Angels Camp. In 1897 the first trains steamed into Jamestown. The Angels Branch of the Sierra Railway left the main line at Jamestown in Tuolumne County and crossed the Stanislaus at the town of Melones, continuing on to Irvine (Carson Hill) and Angels Camp. This difficult route was finally completed in 1902 by engineer W. H. Newell. Although the route was famous for its spectacular scenery, it did not produce the revenues expected by its investors from lumbering and tourist industries. The closure of the mines during WWI, and improvements to roads and in trucking, resulted in the line’s abandonment in 1936.