Kenwood Depot – 125 years of stone standing strong
One of the earliest photos of the Kenwood Depot, probably from 1897, courtesy of the Kenwood Community Club.
This year celebrates 125 years since the birth of the Kenwood Depot. In honor of this event, the Kenwood Press will publish a series of articles about this historic landmark. The following article about the iconic stone structure gathers information from various sources, including local historians Dee Sand, Robert Parmalee, the late Margaret Wiltshire, and material from the Kenwood Community Club.
In the mid to late 1880s, trains and railways meant growth, expansion and progress. Sonoma Valley was no different, as making the link to Santa Rosa became a priority.
In March of 1887, the Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad was formed to build 36 miles of railway from Napa to Santa Rosa. Plans were designed for depots along the route, with some familiar and not so familiar names – Merazo, Schellville, Elmdale, Yulupa, Hillgirt, Glen Ellen, Warfield, Drummond, Karnac, South Los Guilicos, Los Guilicos, Persic, Melitta and Santa Rosa.
Kenwood at the time was known as South Los Guilicos – Kenwood became the name around 1895.
None of the Santa Rosa & Carquinez line was open yet when the company merged with the Northern Railroad Company in May of 1888. It wasn’t until June of that year that the line was completed and a golden spike driven into the ground in Santa Rosa.
Trains ran through Kenwood before construction was actually finished on the depot. Understandably, the building of the railway and its associated depots was of great interest to local newspapers, which closely chronicled every portion of rail completion, the obtaining of important right of ways, and the determination of depot sites.
On June 20 of 1888, the Santa Rosa Daily Democrat wrote, “The new stone depot at (Los Guilicos) is rapidly assuming its proper proportions, and the (Glen Ellen) station and warehouse are likewise being pushed to completion.”
The Kenwood Depot was the only one on the Sonoma Valley line to be built of stone. Indeed, using stone for depots was rare in California. The stone was locally-cut basalt, and many of the architectural details are the same as a depot that was constructed in San Carlos. Depictions of the two depots appear right next to each other in a book, American Railway Bridges and Buildings, published by the Association of Railway Superintendents of Bridges and Buildings around 1898. It has been noted that the same drawing and lettering styles indicate that both the Kenwood and San Carlos depots were designed by the same architect.
From historical notes, it looks like the depot had a slate roof with materials coming from Pennsylvania. The cost of building the station was $11,500. It’s design was called, “A gem of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.”
The Kenwood Depot was built to be a “union station” which is a term used when a station’s tracks and facilities are shared by two or more railway companies, and there are doors for baggage and passengers on both sides of the building. The thought at the time was that another line (known as the Donahue line) would continue on from Glen Ellen to Santa Rosa, but this never happened. You can still see archways inside the depot today.
After rail service began through Kenwood, it tipped off a colorful period of growth in Sonoma Valley. Visitors from San Francisco would pour off the trains to visit the numerous resorts in the area.
Caryl Coleman, who visited Kenwood as a child in the early 1920s, wrote about the bustle of activity: “As the train slowed, approaching the attractive stone station at Kenwood, a line of wagons and buggies waited beside the tracks. Sometimes the horses reared wildly in their traces, while exasperated men yanked on the reins as the locomotive hissed and clanged and pulsed its way past them.”
Commercial activity had freight cars rolling down the line with items such as fruit (a fruit-drying plant was built across from the Kenwood tracks), and cobblestones quarried at numerous sites along the rail line. Those living in the area at the time remembered long lines of wagons waiting to load stone on the train. Much of San Francisco was paved with stone from Sonoma Valley quarries.
In 1898, the Northern Railway merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad. Eventually, the popularity of the automobile and the use of commercial trucking took its toll on the railroads. Service to Kenwood stopped in 1934, and Southern Pacific abandoned the route.
The depot sat quietly until 1940 when the Kenwood Improvement Club’s Agnes Morton, went to the Oakland offices of Southern Pacific, and convinced them to sell the abandoned depot for $500 with the stipulation that the depot be held by and used for the good of the community. It was given the name Los Guilicos House, which began the building’s history as an important gathering place for the Kenwood Community. The Kenwood Depot was designated a historic landmark in 1980.
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