On Track: How Railroads Put Lathrop On the Map

March 24, 2023

On Track: How Railroads Put Lathrop On the Map

In the 1860s, railroads and rivers were the primary means of moving food supplies, equipment, livestock, and people throughout California. At the time, Leland Stanford was California’s governor, a railroad baron, and the founder of the Central Pacific Railroad. One of his goals was to bring the Central Pacific line through Stockton to meet with the Union Pacific Railroad, a connection that would complete the Transcontinental Railroad. Stockton’s elected officials could not decide what street the proposed railroad line should follow, and arguments about the proposed alignment held up the progress of establishing this vital link.

Frustrated and out of time, Stanford’s crews began surveying and grading an alternate route along a county road. The road went through the area now known as Lathrop, which had one store and a schoolhouse. Upon the railroad’s arrival, and a switching station called Wilson’s Station, Lathrop became a town. Governor Stanford named the new town for his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford, and his brother-in-law, Charles Lathrop. Lathrop quickly became a commercial success and boasted a roundhouse for train engines and blacksmithing shops, which attracted skilled workers who kept the trains and tracks in good repair.

By 1871, enough people lived in Lathrop that a post office was established to serve the town. In addition, the railroad carried so many passengers that the Central Pacific Railroad built a large hotel for meals and overnight stays. Other hotels soon followed, and by 1879, Lathrop had three hotels, two restaurants, general stores, saloons, a school, several fire companies, a Wells Fargo office, and a newspaper called the Railroad Journal. Despite its early popularity and growth, more than a century later, during the 1989 election, the community voted to incorporate and become the City of Lathrop.

Check out our blogs to learn more about the history of Lathrop. Want to see some of these exciting local spots in person? Explore River Islands’ extensive trail system, featuring signs celebrating Lathrop’s history and heroes!

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