The history of the Napa Valley Wine Train truly is a long and storied one, dating back almost as long as that of the Golden State itself. The train’s railroad line originated in 1864 and was built by Samuel Brannan, known as the first millionaire to hail from San Francisco. Brannan used the railway to bring guests to his Calistoga spa property. However, Brannan ran into money trouble as a result of a contentious divorce, causing him to sell the line to the California Pacific Railroad.
The line was purchased in 1885 by the Southern Pacific railroad, marking another stage in its history. Over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this historic railroad was pivotal to the overall development of the Napa Valley region, both agriculturally and economically.
Napa Valley’s Wine Train is Rich in History
The dawn of the privately-owned automobile in the United States began to usher in the decline of the rail line, however. The 1930s witnessed the regrettable discontinuation of passenger service along the railway. By 1960, the right of way spanning the towns of Calistoga and St. Helena was abandoned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In time, just a single freight train per week ran on the railway’s tracks. In 1984, the Southern Pacific had given up on the line, selling its ownership interest altogether.
During this time, there were several people who took an interest in the line and who did not want to see it fall into oblivion. Former engineer for the Southern Pacific, Lou Schuyler, had an abiding respect for the railway and what it represented historically. Once he learned of the owner’s intent to let the rail line go, he founded an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the railway. While the ballot initiative he spearheaded did not pass, his efforts sparked significant enthusiasm and commitment from local citizens.
Ultimately, Alvin Lee Block founded the Napa Valley Wine Train Inc., a group pledging to help preserve the rail line in such a way that would help alleviate Valley traffic problems and keep it available for use by future generations of Californians.