Friday, March 27, 2015


1915 USGS Map showing Elkhorn.
To most people living around the Monterey Bay, Elkhorn is a slough and nothing more. It's primary settlement is the town of Moss Landing and its power plant is its primary industry. But inland just beyond the boundaries of Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the small town of Elkhorn still survives with an estimated population of 1,500.

Elkhorn was originally named after elk that were found in the area by the early Spanish settlers. The Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the area in 1872 when it built its mainline between Gilroy and Salinas. When precisely Elkhorn was established as a stop is not known. The station catered primarily to local farms and agricultural firms, with grain being the primary crop in the area. In 1931, oil drilling also was attempted in the area, with dozens of wells being installed along the slough near Elkhorn.

Unfortunately, not much more is known at this time regarding Elkhorn's station or relationship with the railroad. The stop existed into the 1950s. Beginning in 1971, the Nature Conservancy began purchasing land around the slough for use as a nature reserve. Since then, various groups and the state and national governments have organized 1.48 square miles of land as a protected estuary managed by the California Department of Fish & Game. The Moss Landing Wildlife Area extends that protection the region around Elkhorn's station site.

Official Railroad Information:
Elkhorn was located 105.8 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José and 5.4 miles from Watsonville Junction. It included a 64-car-length spur (approximately 2,560 feet long), a passing siding, and the station offered both passenger and freight services. In the late 1940s, the spur was extended to 106 car-lengths (approx. 4,204 feet).

The Elkhorn station point with farm house in the background, possibly a dairy. (Monterey Free Libraries)
The 1899 station book notes that Elkhorn had a class-D station, meaning that it was a freight stop with no platform or spur. Therefore, the spur was only added after that year. Unfortunately, further station book information on Elkhorn is not available at this time.

Elkhorn likely appeared as a stop in the 1870s and remained on timetables until the late 1950s.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚ N 49' 28", 121˚W 44' 26"

The site of Elkhorn station is on the main Union Pacific branch line between Watsonville Junction and Castroville. The tracks are completely surrounded by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and access is restricted, though probably not enforced. An unpaved road off of Elkhorn Road on the south side of Kirby Park is the only access to the station site.

Citations & Credits:

  • Help me find better sources!


  1. From what little I have found, I believe that the Salinas River flowed through here until sometime between 1908 and 1910, and entered the bay north of Moss (Moss Landings). The channel at Moss Landings was cut in 1946 since the original mouth of the river would have been a mile or two farther north and probably converted to farm fields. I've read that farmers were always filling in the riverbed during the dry season as something of a land grab making the redirection of the river of regional economic interest.

    I expect a much larger original railroad bridge at Elkhorn. I never bothered looking for any spur or much of any industry in the slough itself, but I knew nothing of its history. There, of course, was (is?) a long link to the power plant along the south side of Dolan Road.

    I was always fascinated by this one last structure out in the middle where the stop was located and I expect that that is it in the photo. In the early 80s it was painted red with plenty of windows, large, sat within a grove of trees, and was used for a gun club. I missed my up-close inspection by a week or two; nothing but dust, tractor tread marks and freshly splintered wood.

    1. Mistake: North side of Dolen Road.

    2. I'm not sure what a dairy should look like, or how much land is needed, but that is what I would call this operation (in the photo). This building was on an island in the delta with no developed land nearby for farming purposes. Located on the west side of the tracks only limited the usable land, but maybe that was a better choice for other reasons.

      I am not familiar with industrial buildings of this era, so I look to the Brookdale hatchery as a model. The 'Elkhorn Dairy" is a large building with many large windows for light prior to electrical connections, the eaves are small to allow for more light, a vent on the roof for cooling, probably glossy white paint inside to distribute any light, a fireplace for heat, it sits apart from the tracks yet presents a front door and even a porch in that direction. The hatchery was built in 1905, and this was built at an unknown date.

      There is still a dairy (I think) up along Dolan Road, so they are plausible. Any grain delivered would come from the hills to the east by wagon or truck. I remember seeing an old map that showed a small spur, maybe a double-ended siding, maybe some structures, and maybe all on the west side; but it is all too vague to be exact. I knew that something would be here, but I would not have expected a spur of such length as described above.

      I have never seen a map of the original path for the Salinas River, but now I can see that it ran through Moss Landing and simple remained apart from the bay by a ridge of sand dunes. How the slough became as vast as it is remains a question for me.

  2. The photo is of the now-demolished Empire Gun Clubhouse, on today's Elkhorn Slough Reserve. The train stop predates the Empire Gun Club (which bought the property in 1902), but once the club was established, the club used the stop for its SF Bay Area members when they visited to hunt.

  3. If one looks closely at the 1915 USGS map, the creator went through the trouble of making the railroad twice as thick; I'm seeing a siding of around eight-hundred feet and a team track and maybe a structure. The road out to this area went east-west as indicated by the dotted line, the structure was probably a platform, and all of this was east of the main tracks. The siding was probably left empty for the local freight to sort things for the team track. The west side of the tracks was simply the Empire Gun Club, which acted as a passenger stop; although the graded right-of-way extends wider than usual (in the photo), and the wooden fence looks a little too dilapidated if only a decade or two old. 1915 seems like it would have been the peak for any activity in the area.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.