Railroad Repeats

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Colfax looking East     39°6'1.8"N, 120°57'28.02"W


This picture is unusual for Hart since it does not feature railroad engineering but instead shows Colfax as a developing railroad town. In the spring of 1865, the first railroad settlement in the area was Camp 20, built just one half mile from the Gold Rush outpost of Illinoistown. The railroad constructed large tent camps like Camp 20 to feed and house workers. The new town, named after the then Speaker of the House, Schuyler Colfax, was surveyed by the Central Pacific and eventually sold to individuals and businesses in July of 1865. Colfax later became the United States Vice President and was implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. The railroad reached Colfax in September of 1865 and remained the terminus of the line for another year (Colfax Area Historical Society). At the time Hart took this photo, Colfax was four years old. The picture also gives an idea of the cheap, quick construction that dominated California towns into the 1860s. In the far right of the photo, you can see the roof of the depot building. The recognizable nose of Cape Horn in the distance towers over the canyon of the American River. From Crofutt's Transcontinental Tourist's Guide, 1871: "This is a regular eating station, and excellent table will be found at the Railroad House, kept by Curley & More. The company has a large depot here, this being the distributing point for freight bound for Grass Valley, Nevada [City], and a large scope of mining country. The town is named in honor of Schuyler Colfax, one of the warmest friends and earliest supporters of the railroad. Colfax is one of the prettiest and most substantial of the railroad towns. It contains about 200 buildings, some brick, the remainder of wood. There are three hotels, one church, several saloons, Odd Fellows' and Masons halls, etc. The town contains about 1,000 inhabitants, is well watered and has an air of general thrift about it, which marks all the permanent towns along the road" (Crofutt, 169).


Modern buildings and vegetation make any recreation of the original view from the same spot impossible. You can find your bearings by the familiar shape of Cape Horn in the background.