Historical marker commemorating the arrival of Tacoma's first passenger train is unveiled on June 10, 1926.

  • By Amber Brock
  • Posted 6/15/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22978
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On June 10, 1926, Tacomans formally dedicate a stone tablet commemorating the arrival of the first passenger train on December 16, 1873. The historical marker, donated by the Tacoma Woman's Club, is placed near Union Station at 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, the approximate stopping point of the first train. 

Tacoma Welcomes the Railroad

In the summer of 1872, Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) officials spent a week touring Puget Sound in a steamboat looking at potential sites for their western terminus. Several towns entered into a bidding war. Seattle offered the NP 7,500 town lots, 3,000 acres of land, $50,000 in cash, $200,000 in bonds, and the use of the shoreline for tracks and a depot. Meanwhile, the NP started building a line from Kalama north toward Puget Sound.

To the surprise of many, Northern Pacific executives R. D. Rice and J. C. Ainsworth, charged with locating the terminus, decided on Tacoma, which was scarcely a village, because it was closer to the Columbia River and required the least amount of track to be laid. They delayed making the announcement until they secretly purchased as much of the land at Commencement Bay as they could. On July 14, 1873, dignitaries in Seattle were stunned to receive a telegram from Rice and Ainsworth announcing the railroad had selected Tacoma. Over the next few days, Tacoma became a beehive of construction activity as workers raced to complete the rail line before the end of 1873. As railroad historian Russell Holter writes:

"Although the streets of Tacoma were still conceptual, by the middle of November, a depot took shape at the corner of 17th and Jefferson Street. The first construction train rolled down the grade, only to pile up in a heap near the depot ... Later that same week, the first through train from Kalama arrived. William and Alice Blackwell were the first passengers to arrive at Tacoma via train. The Blackwells were greeted by railroad superintendent General John Sprague, who escorted them to their new facilities on the waterfront. Mrs. Blackwell was crestfallen to find their new hotel only half-finished. The only refuge the couple had was inside the cab of a steam-powered piledriver. That evening, they slept on a mattress on the floor of the contraption located next to the wharf where their empty hotel stood" (Holter).

General Morton M. McCarver (1807-1875) drove the celebratory final spike to complete the Pacific Division of the Northern Pacific on December 16, 1873, and the first train arrived later that day. The Weekly Pacific Tribune reported that the first passenger to arrive on the new road was Blackwell with his hotel goods. The paper reported that the first passengers to depart Tacoma were Sprague (1817-1893), Theodore Hosmer and his wife, and Harry Cooke. 

Pomp and Ceremony

On June 10, 1926, Tacomans formally dedicated a stone tablet, donated by the Tacoma Woman’s Club, indicating the stopping point of the first train to enter the city. Situated outside of Union Station at the corner of 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, the marker bears the inscription: "June 10, 1926, Commemorating December 16, 1873, when the Northern Pacific Rails Met Pacific Ocean Sails at Tacoma, Washington." It was unveiled by Mill Julia Harris and Kate Stevens Bates, daughter of the first governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens.

The first part of the dedication ceremony was held inside the Union Station rotunda, featuring opening music by the bands of Lincoln High and Jason Lee Intermediate school followed by songs from the school’s choirs. Chief George Menennick, 89, who headed the Federated Yakama Indian tribe, addressed the crowd. He was one of only a handful of chiefs who favored allowing the railway to pass through their territory. Following Menennick’s address, a brief history of the Northern Pacific Railway was presented. The program then moved outside for unveiling of the marker. 

In 1988, the marker was moved to Pugnetti Park, south of Union Station, in preparation for the renovation of the station. It has remained in Pugnetti Park for more than 30 years. 


HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Scheduled service on the Northern Pacific Railroad between New Tacoma and Kalama begins on January 5, 1874" (by David Wilma), "Union Station (Tacoma)" (by Amber Brock), "Scheduled service on the Northern Pacific Railroad between New Tacoma and Kalama begins on January 5, 1874" (by David Wilma), "Pacific Division of the Northern Pacific Railroad: Labor Wars and Financial Peril on the Final Link to Puget Sound (1871-1873)" (by Russell Holter) www.historylink.org (accessed June 10, 2024).

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