LELAND STANFORD, eighth Governor of California, and President of the Central Railroad Company, was born in the County of Albany, State of New York, March 9th, 1824. His ancestors were English. They settled in the valley of the Mohawk about the beginning of the last century, and for several generations were classed among the substantial and thrifty farmers of that region. His father, Josiah Stanford, was a prominent citizen of Albany County, where he lived for many years, cultivating and improving the old homestead farm, called Elm Grove, on the stage road between Albany and Schenectady. His family consisted of seven sons, of whom Leland, the subject of this sketch, was the fourth and one daughter who died in her infancy. Being in the prime of his life at the time that De Witt Clinton had successfully urged upon the people of New York his great project of canal navigation between the Hudson river and the lakes, the mind of Mr. Stanford was keenly alive to the importance of the enterprise, and he watched with absorbing interest the completion, in 1825, of the extensive work. This was the beginning of that great system of internal improvements which has made the State of New York an empire within itself.

      A little later the practicability of railroads as a means of expeditious transit was freely discussed, but not until 1829, when the success of steam locomotives upon the Liverpool and Manchester road was established, did any project of the kind find much favor among business men in the United States. About this period a scheme was set on foot, and a charter obtained from the Legislature of New York, to build a railroad from Albany, to the old Dutch town of Schenectady. The project, at the onset, had but few friends among the farmers; but Mr. Stanford satisfied in his own mind that the lands of Elm Grove and of all the valley would be doubled in value by the advent of the road, became one of its warmest advocates, and argued its advantages with all the vigor of which he was capable. The work was finally commenced, and Mr. Stanford, leaving the duties of the farm to be attended to by his elder sons, took large contracts for grading the line, and pushed them forward with characteristic rapidity and success.

      During this time Leland was attending school near his father’s farm, and doubtless watched, in the intervals of his lessons, the progress of the, to him, novel work which was being prosecuted in the neighborhood. He little dreamed in those youthful days, that his manhood would be devoted to a kindred enterprise, the magnitude of which would attract the attention of the civilized world. Confined in his boyhood’s experience to the limits of his own county, the shores of the great lakes, but a few hundred miles away, were to him distant West. The country between the Mississippi and the Rocky mountains, was looked upon as a vast unknown region, inhabited only by Indians, while the unexplored ranges and plains beyond seemed as inaccessible and as inhospitable as the frozen solitudes of Siberia. The Erie canal, which was then floating the products of the lake shore to the waters of the Hudson, had, in its infancy, been looked upon with distrust by some of the most sagacious business men of that period; and yet, ere the boys of that day had matured into manhood, those distant and solitary plains had been explored, the ranges of mountains had been pierced and made to yield hundreds of millions of precious metals, and a new empire had been battled for, occupied and peopled, on the Pacific coast; while the wants of commerce had demanded and secured railroad communications between the two oceans that make the Eastern and Western boundaries of the United States.

      Until the age of twenty, Leland’s time was divided between his studies and the occupations incident to a farm life. He then commenced the study of law, and in 1845, removed to the city of Albany, and entered the office of Wheaton, Doolittle & Hadley, prominent members of the legal profession in that city. Early in 1848, he determined to seek in the Western country a desirable location for the practice of law. He visited various localities in the vicinity of the lakes, and finally settled at Port Washington, in the State of Wisconsin. Here he remained for the period of four years, and while here, in 1850, was married to Miss Jane Lathrop, daughter of Dyer Lathrop, a merchant of Albany, whose family had been among the early settlers of that town. Soon after Leland’s arrival at Port Washington the reported discoveries of fabulous mineral wealth in California were a constant theme of the newspapers in the West, and the eyes of half the young men in the land, of all trades and professions, were eagerly turned towards the alluring deposits of the Pacific slope. Five of his brothers had arrived upon the banks of the Sacramento, and were successfully engaged in mining and in trade. They, and hundreds of others of his friends, were anxious that Leland should join them; but he had selected a residence in the growing State of Wisconsin, and his temperament was not so sanguine as to cause him so soon to give up the comforts of a permanent home, which he was just beginning to enjoy.

      It was not therefore until the Spring of 1852, that he came to the determination to push his fortunes in the new field to which so many of his friends had been attracted, and where so many of them had met with success. He arrived in California, July 12th, 1852, and at once proceeded to the interior, being determined to examine into, and to engage by himself in, practical mining. He tried a number of locations in various parts of the State, and at length settled at Michigan Bluff, on the American river in Placer County. With his mining interests at this point, and the mercantile house with which he was connected in company with his brothers at Sacramento, he soon found himself possessed of a rapidly growing and lucrative business. He has never entirely relinquished his mining interests in California, although for some years they have received but a small share of his personal attention.

      In the earlier years of his manhood, Mr. Stanford was by instinct, by education, and by association, a Whig. While the great free soil movement was gathering strength in the land, he became strenuous in its advocacy and earnest in its support. He was among the few leading spirits who formed the Republican party in California, and by giving freely of his time and of his means, he made his influence felt in the campaign of 1856, when a gallant fight was made by that party, against fearful odds, in the Golden State. In Sacramento, the capital of the State, it was in those days considered an act of temerity to attend a free soil meeting, and speakers were hooted at, pelted, and driven from the stand, who dared to utter sentiments not in accordance with those held by the then dominant party. The State, from its organization, had been under the control of the Southern wing of the democracy, and it was up-hill work to establish a new political party, which if successful must result in the overthrow of the one in power. But the destinies of the great freedom-loving organization were in the hands of men who were undaunted by defeat. Without losing courage by the result of the National canvas of 1856, they determined to organize for the State election in 1857. At this time Mr. Stanford was the candidate of the Republican party for the office of State Treasurer, but the whole ticket was defeated. In 1859, he was nominated for Governor and again defeated. In 1861, the Republicans, confident of their strength, determined upon a vigorous canvass. Mr. Stanford was absent in Washington during the summer, but among the many names mentioned for the nomination, his was most prominent. Soon after his return, the Convention assembled at Sacramento, and upon the first ballot he received the nomination. The contest that followed was the most exciting one the State had yet seen. With two other candidates in the field, he ran nearly six thousand votes ahead of his ticket, and was elected by a popular vote nearly equal to that of his two opponents combined. The result was as follows, in a vote of 119,730: Stanford, Republican, received 56,036; Conness, Douglas Democrat, received 30,944; McConnell, Administration Democrat, received 32, 750.

      Having thus been called upon as a political candidate to traverse the State twice, without a hope of being elected, he was now rewarded, after a third most thorough and exhausting canvass, by a success undoubtedly beyond his expectations. In January, 1862, the Governor was inaugurated at Sacramento, and assumed the duties of his office at a critical period in State as well as national affairs. The country was in the midst of an internal war, the magnitude of which startled the people and paralyzed the various industries of the land. There had been few daring enough to predict its inceptionnone far-seeing enough to foretell how it would end. The mutterings of the impending conflict had been for a long time borne upon every breeze, and the shock of battle that followed the bursting storm was earnest and deadly. The election in California, the previous fall, had been watched with peculiar interest by both the contending parties. The Secessionists of the South were sanguine that the democracy could not be driven from the stronghold they had occupied so long; while the loyal men of the North, hoping almost against hope itself, were earnest in their aspirations that California might declare herself on the side of justice and of right. Mr. Stanford had spent much time subsequent to Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration at the national Capital, and had been cordially received as a leading and representative republican of the Pacific Coast. Among the few who visited the President without seeking office at his hands, he very soon won Mr. Lincoln’s regard, and became his principal adviser in the difficult task of distributing the official patronage in California. His nomination to the office of Governor and his triumphant election, were hailed therefore with delight by all who were connected with the National Republican administration.

      To the deplorable condition of the nation at the commencement of the year 1862, was added a local calamity which devastated the fairest portions of California. A flood unexampled in its destructiveness was, on the very day of the inauguration of the new Governor, sweeping through the streets of Sacramento and hurrying its dread volume of waters over a territory hundreds of miles in extent. Lives were lost, houses were submerged, farms were destroyed, roads and bridges were carried away, till it seemed as if the very genius of disaster had taken within its baneful grasp the destinies of the State. The beautiful homes and gardens of the Capital city were desolated in a day. The Governor and the Legislature were obliged to go to and from the place of the inaugural ceremonies in boats. The latter immediately resolved upon a removal to San Francisco, and the Governor was obliged to transfer his office to the same place.

      It was under adverse circumstances such as these, that the first Republican administration of California entered upon its career, with Governor Stanford at its head. He had, however, been long known throughout the State as a successful merchant and miner, and it was believed that he would exhibit in the management of public affairs the same sound sense he had brought to bear upon his private business. Nor were the people who elected him deceived in their choice. He gave his entire attention to the new duties that devolved upon him; he maintained frequent and unreserved correspondence with the heads of all the Departments at Washington; thus holding California in close and sympathetic relations with the central government. In this way, with the aid of a constituency actuated by the highest and noblest patriotism, the Governor had the proud satisfaction of seeing California occupy a front rank among the sisterhood of loyal States. At the close of his administration, the Legislature bestowed upon him the unusual compliment of a concurrent resolution, passed by a unanimous vote of all parties, in which it “Resolved by the Assembly, the Senate concurring That the thanks of the people of California are merited, and are hereby tendered to Leland Stanford, for the able, upright, and faithful manner in which he has discharged the duties of Governor of the State of California, for the past two years.”

      Among the most prominent events of Governor Stanford’s administration, may be ranked the commencement of the great continental thoroughfare which connects the Pacific coast with the vast net-work of rail roads that bind together and cement in commercial bonds the Atlantic States. The construction of this important work had for years been a favorite scheme in the Governor’s mind. He was convinced of the practicability of the enterprise, and it was his greatest desire that California should take the initiative steps to secure to the Nation the magnificent results of the noble work. The general idea of a railroad across the continent cannot be looked upon as original with any one person in the land. The project was the result of a national sentiment rather than of individual sagacity. Hundreds of persons had, during the previous twenty years, suggested as many different plans for a Pacific railroad; but nothing of a practical nature was ever consummated, because no united and persistent effort was brought to bear upon the project. From session to session, Congress had been besieged by parties with visionary schemes that looked to national aid, and to that alone, to build the entire road; but not until 1861 and 1862 was any feasible and definite plan presented upon which to base legislative action. During these years, a few wealthy men of Sacramento, the capital of California, resolved to take the matter in hand, and to furnish all the money required to make the necessary preliminary survey. They were all men of first rate business capacity, who had been subject to the vicissitudes of mercantile life in California, who had witnessed its fires and floods, and who had finally realized comfortable fortunes for themselves and families. As businessmen, they examined into and considered this gigantic scheme from a business point of view; and being themselves satisfied of its ultimate success, they determined to show their confidence by risking their entire fortunes in the enterprise.

      Leland Stanford, and his associates, Messrs. Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins, thus enjoy the proud preëminence of being the first parties in the United States to give this project to the country, in a tangible shape. They employed at their own expense the best engineering talent that could be procured, to make surveys over the various passes of the Sierra-Nevada mountains. This frowning range of snow-capped summits had been considered an insurmountable barrier to the passage of a locomotive. Its storms to the emigrant, like the cyclone to the mariner, were looked upon with unmitigated dread; and the winter winds that swept through its deep gorges, and whistled among its peaks, seemed laden with a bold defiance that forbade the encroachments of engineering skill. Reaching, upon its lowest pass, an elevation of seven thousand feet, within a distance of less than eighty miles, the idea of a locomotive, climbing hour after hour with heavy trains the steep ascent, could only be entertained by earnest, sanguine, and practical minds. The summit once attained, the descent upon the eastern slope was scarcely less difficult, to the desert plain beyond. Here was a large scope of barren country, without wood and almost without water, hundreds of miles in extent, with no population to welcome the approach of the iron track.

      With difficulties of such a character staring them in the face, these Sacramentans, few in number, but mighty in faith, with Leland Stanford at their head, came to the determination to commence the work. A practical route had been found to and over the summit, with no grade exceeding one hundred and five feet to the mile. Frequent meetings of conference were held at the residences of Mr. Stanford and Mr. Huntington, and a bill was at length drafted by them which formed the basis of, and was in a great measure identical with, the Pacific Railroad Act, which finally passed through Congress, and under which nearly two thousand miles of railroad have been constructed.

      Much as these few energetic men had accomplished in the incipient stages of this great enterprise, they found that difficulties multiplied when they came to the practical workings of their project. No aid could be obtained from Congress, until forty miles of road and telegraph were completed and in good working condition. To grade this forty miles, to bridge the wide and rapid American River, to purchase iron for the track, and rolling stock for its equipment, was no easy task to be accomplished by half a dozen citizens of a small inland city of California. They had unlimited faith, however, in the ultimate success of their undertaking, and were willing to pledge all they were worth to ensure its success. In 1861, a charter was obtained from the Legislature of California, under which a meeting of stockholders was at once held. Leland Stanford was elected President of the Corporation, and C. P. Huntington, Vice President; positions which they have both held from that time to the present. On the 22nd day of February, 1863, Governor Stanford, in the presence of the State Legislature and of a large concourse of citizens, shovelled  (sic) the first earth, and commenced the Pacific Railroad grade.* From that day, work upon the line has not been delayed for a single week. Obstacles of a serious character were constantly met, but were as speedily surmounted. The war for the preservation of the Union was at its height. The fate of the Nation was hanging in a balance which occasional successes, and occasional reverses, kept constantly swinging to and fro. The national finances were disarranged, the national credit was at a low ebb, and capitalists throughout the country were exceedingly distrustful of untried schemes. Rival enterprises, or those that were considered rival, met the projectors of this national work in the money markets to which they applied, and sought to neutralize their efforts to obtain capital by misrepresenting their intentions, and by discrediting their integrity.

      Toll roads over the Sierras, the owners of which the Washoe traffic had converted into millionaires, were arrayed against the new and more expeditious route, which would, when completed, destroy the profits of the old ones. Strange as it may appear, in a State the very existence of which would seem to depend upon a Pacific Railway, a violent, unscrupulous, and unyielding anti-railroad cabal was evolved from the various opposing interests that were at this time in the full tide of success. Large amounts of money were raised to litigate the Central Pacific Company at every stage of their progress, and to follow them with annoying law suits from court to court. These embarrassments only seemed to increase the ardor of those who had determined to push the work. The vice-president of the company, Mr. Huntington, established himself in New York, as the financial and purchasing agent of the enterprise, and was early recognized as one of the most prominent and successful financiers of that great moneyed centre. The amount of iron, rolling stock, and material necessary to be purchased, and to be kept constantly on the way, was immense; but although it had to traverse more than half the length of two oceans, the calculations of its departure from New York and of its arrival at the wharves of Sacramento, were careful and exact, and the supply never failed to be at hand when wanted upon the road.

      While the public were apathetic, or at best indifferent, the mangers of the work at the California end were active and on the alert. Always keeping within the requirements of the Act of Congress, as to grades and curves, and as to the general character of the work, they nevertheless found at the termination of each year a greater amount of roadway completed than stipulated by government. On the 25th day of November, 1867, the Summit tunnel was opened, and work was in a good state of progress upon a dozen other tunnels between that point and the Truckee river. Meanwhile, a sufficient quantity of iron, locomotives and cars, for more than forty miles of road, had actually been hauled by teams over a portion of the mountains, so that in the spring of 1868, the Central Pacific Company were enabled to lay track from the East and from the West, until a connection was made near the Summit on the 17th of June of that year. When, a year or two previous, the laying of a mile of track per day was promised, railroad men in all parts of the world wondered at the extravagant proposition; yet two and three miles became an ordinary day’s work during 1868 and 1869, and upon occasion a distance of ten and a quarter miles of track were laid in one day between dawn and dark. Thus the great work progressed without cessation, and at a rate of progress that, in its earlier days, would have been counted as marvelous. Early in 1869 the through line was completed, and a connection made with the Union Pacific road.

      We have dwelt upon this great enterprise in connection with our sketch of Governor Stanford, because he has been identified with it from its earliest inception to the present time. Elected from the first as its highest executive officer, he has attended faithfully to its interests, and has given to the project some of the best years of his life. Now that the work is accomplished, he is directing his attention to similar enterprises of less magnitude perhaps, but still important in the development of the resources of his adopted State.

      Governor Stanford, in his public and private life, may truly be regarded as one of California’s representative men. Arriving upon these shores at an early period, with but moderate means at this command, he at once assumed a prominent position among the merchants and business men of the new State. Without those brilliant attainments which are sometimes the result of a thorough collegiate education, he has at his command a generous fund of useful knowledge; and he has rarely been at fault in his judgment of others, or in his estimate of important measures, whether connected with his official, or in his business career. Never backward in asserting his principles, he is yet willing to defer to the opinions of others; and in his intercourse with men, his object seems to be to gain information upon all points at issue.

      Physically, he is larger than the average of men. Having been inured to labor in the open air in his boyhood, and having avoided, during his whole life, excesses of all kinds, he is at the present time capable of bearing an amount of bodily fatigue, and of travel without rest, that few men could endure. With a retentive memory for facts and details, a keen perception of affairs, and quick reasoning powers, he yet arrives at conclusions by patient mental labor. Not easily excited, nor over sanguine in temperament, he readily grasps large schemes, and usually works out his plans to a successful consummation. His favorite theory in judging of others is, that all men possessed of good qualities, and that our estimate of individuals whom we do not thoroughly know, is generally below the standard which their merits deserve. In consequence of his firm belief in this theory, he is charitable towards the faults of othersnever harboring revengeful feelings, and never indulging in longtime resentments. In considering matters relating exclusively to business, he is reticent to a degree; but he is at all times a conscientious and willing listener. Where some men strive by labored argument to convince, he strives to convince by the ceaseless assiduity with which he labors to accomplish results. In social life, he is unreserved in his conversation, earnest in his hospitality, warm in his friendship, and cordial in his intercourse with all.


*In his address, upon this occasion, Governor Stanford predicted that the Pacific Railroad would be completed in 1870. The result has more than verified his prediction.



Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 35-46.

© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.












San Francisco County