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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Saving the Kingsburg Train Depot

Mar 23, 2017 11:00AM ● By Kimberly Horg

On Track

April 2017
Story by Kimberly Horg
Photo courtesy of the Kingsburg Train Depot 

The history of  the Kingsburg Train Depot dates back more than 100 years, starting with the 1888 Monson Depot getting moved to Kingsburg from Tulare County. In 1923, it underwent major updates after suffering damages from a fire and became a transportation hub for the valley until the 1980s.

It stood abandoned for years until the nonprofit Friends of the Historic Kingsburg Depot (“Friends”)  was formed to preserve the Historic Kingsburg Southern Pacific Railroad Depot. 

“I first got interested in preserving the depot in 1984,” says Larry Esau, CEO of Friends.

Many railroads and depots were getting torn down all over the state, so he took action. 

“I had three favorite places when I was a boy. The other two were already torn down, so I had to save it,” he said.

The nonprofit got the deed to the property and started building in 2005, a decade-long project of
extensive remodeling.

More than 16,000 hours of volunteer labor, a private fundraising campaign, a federal grant and the hard work of the people hired to rebuild it finally came to life. It was returned to a historic 1923 configuration. Although it is not a running depot, the train still rolls pass the tracks; it has an active mainline between Bakersfield and Sacramento.

“The trains come by every 20 minutes,” he says. “Visitors, especially children, like to wave to engineers.”

The authentic appearance, furnishings and artifacts include a telegraph, the only form of communication back then. Visitors get a sense of what it would have been like to be in the depot in the 1920s. 

“Everyone here wears clothes and talks lingo from that era because 1923 was the last year they made significant changes to the depot,” Esau says. 

The depot was the center of activity for more than 100 years, and served as the bedrock and foundation of economy. Goods were moved by train. All the products that were shipped went through the railroad at that time.  

“It is a time machine. You step back from another day in history,” he says. “It is a very interesting place that helps you understand your past and family.” 

Friends’ mission is to discover, preserve and make known the history and importance of the 1872 San Joaquin Valley Line of the Central Pacific Railroad. It is also to maintain and operate the depot site as an educational center to benefit children of the San Joaquin Valley.  

Shirley Esau has also been involved since the beginning (when her husband, Larry, helped start the project). She took over the education piece, and is now in charge of the history tours and scheduling as well as overseeing education about how it changed the valley.

The depot gives living history tours to preschoolers through fifth graders. A ticket master hands out tickets and passengers sit in a waiting room while they hear how important trains were.

A railroad express agent weighs packages that a “customer” comes in to mail. Also, a Western Union agent and telegraph agent send out Morse Code messages so kids see how it works. 

“It is going over well,” she says. “I love watching kids’ eyes to see their curiosity.”

Then the children go to a freight office to find out about perishable and nonperishable items and how packages are put together. The students then get to weigh packages. Everything in the depot operates. Visitors see all the sights and hear all the sounds they would have experienced in 1923.

  The depot is in the heart of downtown Kingsburg. It’s a community center for all ages that can be rented for events and meetings. Volunteers are always needed.

1465 California Street, Kingsburg • 

(559) 897-5391 •  Office Hours Wednesday’s 8 am-12 pm 

Event space and school tours available