The Santa Anita Train Depot and the Age of Railroads

By Anvar Akhmetov and Kai Xiao (SMHS ‘20)

In my Honors US History class, I learned much about the Cold War and when done with this learning, my teacher encouraged me to search the internet for evidence of the Cold War within 50 miles of the school. He then encouraged me to describe my findings in a Local-History Blog Post.

In the Local-History Blog Post that appears below, I describe the role that Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory played in the creation of Explorer 1, the first satelllite ever launched by the U.S. I also describe how the creation and launching of Explorer 1 marked the beginning of something called the Cold War’s Space Race.

Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located six miles from the school.

In my Honrs US History class, I learned much about something called “the Age of Railroads” and when done with this learning, my teacher encourage me to search the internet for evidence of the Age of Railroads within 50 miles of the school. He then encouraged me to describe my findings in a Local-History Blog Post.

In the Local-History Blog Post that appears below, Kai Xiao and I describe the Santa Anita Train Depot, constructed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1890. We close out our blog post by describing how in November 2019, we went to the Los Angeles County Arboretum to see the depot up close, reconstructed and refurnished in the 1970’s with turn-of-the-century housewares and period railroad equipment to recreate the ambiance of the bustling station stop it once was.

The Santa Anita Train Depot is located four miles from the school.

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In our Honors U.S. History class textbook this past year, we learned about the Age of Railroads.

As it relates to the age of railroads, the textbook starts off by describing (on page 236) the building of the transcontinental railroad. It then goes on to describe the creation of something called “Pullman towns.” Thereafter, it describes the consequent rise of new markets and “the Credit Mobilier Scandal,” a notable odium at the time. The textbook closes out the section on the Age of Railroads by explaining the U.S. supreme court case of Munn v. Illinois and how it relates to the Granger Laws and the Interstate Commerce acts that followed.

Given what we learned about the age of railroads, we decided to search the internet for local historical sites that relate to this age. In this regard, we learned about the Santa Anita Train Depot of the 1890’s.

The 1890’s Santa Anita Train Depot

In our search for a nearby depot we have stumbled upon a railroad company called Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company who owned and ran a transcontinental railroad. Part of this railroad was the 1890s Santa Anita Train Depot. Only a few miles from our homes, it is the epitome of an American railroad depot at the turn of 20th century.

First constructed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company in 1890, this train depot is a typical-for-its-time, half-passenger, half-freight train depot with living quarters upstairs for the agent and family.

Described in the local Sierra Madre newspaper in August, 1890 as “an elaborate two-story depot built with one hundred thousand bricks from the nearby E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin brickyard,” the Santa Anita Depot cost an estimated $5,000 to construct and it remained an active local station stop for both Baldwin Ranch and nearby Sierra Madre residents for many years

Today, the Santa Anita Train Depot of the 1890’s has been relocated to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden and reconstructed with original bricks as well as salvageable doors, trim, and balcony.

After learning so much online about the Santa Train Depot online, we decided to go see the depot for ourselves.

Our Tour of the Santa Anita Train Depot

Upon our arrival, what we have read and learned about this depot immediately gained significance. The depot was part of a larger park and to find it was troublesome; however, as we saw the sign that read “Santa Fe” and matched the picture we saw online we realized we had stepped back in time, into a fragment of U.S. history.

We decided to venture inside the depot. It could be said we literally went back in time. There were two antique benches in the middle, nearby a pendulum clock that was still working. To maintain such an ancient timepiece shows how committed the workers are. Such an insignificant piece of furniture also serves as a significant symbol of innovation.

The cicerone (guide) then walked us into the kitchen and we were awestruck.

The design for this kitchen seemed so similar yet so different. The guide quizzed us on what each object’s purpose was and we couldn’t get one right. The object in the bottom right-hand of the corner of the picture above is a peeler that peels potatoes. It was attached to the table which we found strange but we both recognized and acknowledged the immense difference between the time then and now.

At last, we finally followed the guide and entered the room where the tickets were sold. The guide began to quiz us about another artifact but to this one we knew the answer to. It was a phone. It was nothing like the phones that we see in the modern era, not even a traditional dial phone. It was even more fascinating because shortly after, we found out that it was still working. We both tried to listen to it, and a stream of white noise could be heard, confirming that it was working.

As our tour came to and end, we both thanked the guide and expressed how our so short a trip has been so significant and memorable. We both concluded that our trip certainly changed our perspective of U.S. history. Something that may seem so dull and monotonous in reality has so much significance and history that you can build a person connection to and associate with. We encourage every student to venture out and find local historical sites and make connections with it. In our case, we could see how the topics we learned at our U.S. history class, the Irish immigration boom and the Mexican-American war, could have impact and prevail through time. Not only is it beneficial to develop the skill of going one step further and finding greater meaning in anything you do, but it is also a great way to learn of U.S. history. It is an opportunity, one that is so rarely offered and required at schools in America today, to find meaning and purpose in history of this nation.

SOURCES

“Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atchison,_Topeka_and_Santa_Fe_Railway.

Danzer, Gerald A. The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century. McDougal Littell, 2009.

Rails, American. “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.” American-Rails.com.

“Rancho Santa Anita.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancho_Santa_Anita.

Solomon, Brian. Railroads of California. Voyageur Press, 2009.

ACADEMIC HONESTY STATEMENT

We declare that this work is our own work and that we have correctly acknowledged the work of others. We further declare that this work is in accordance with SMHS Academic Honesty Policy and its guidance on good academic conduct and how to avoid plagiarism and other assessment irregularities.

  • Anvar Akhmetov
  • Kai Xiao

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Peter Paccone

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.