In 1856, Theodore Judah, who would become Central Pacific Railroad's chief engineer, already had completed the Sacramento Valley Line, running from that city to Folsom, California. It was the first railroad west of the Missouri River — an impressive achievement — but Judah already was thinking on a grander scale: a transcontinental railroad.
After consulting with Dutch Flat storekeeper Doc Strong, Judah drew up a route through the Sierra Nevada range over Donner Summit. In 1861, he obtained financial backing from local businessmen Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, James Bailey and Mark Hopkins. Along with this list of backers, Judah took his Sierra Route chart to Washington, D.C.
In 1862, as the Civil War raged on, Judah's vision was finally realized when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act authorizing construction of a transcontinental railroad. On Jan. 8, 1863, ground was broken in Sacramento for the eastbound sections of track. Nine months later, on Oct. 26, 1863, the first spike was driven. As Central Pacific laid tracks eastward, Union Pacific was working westward and the race to Promontory Summit, Utah, where they would eventually meet on May 10, 1869, was on. Judah did not live to see this momentous event. He died in November 1863 after contracting typhoid fever while crossing Panama.
Sacramento — whose name is Spanish for "holy sacrament" — continues to be an economic and cultural engine for California's Central Valley, and is the state’s seventh-largest city as well as its capital since 1854. Sacramento's deep-water port is accessed by a 43-mile-long channel from San Francisco, making it a hub for transportation and industry.
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