The Santa Clara passenger depot, built by the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company in late 1863, was the oldest continuously operating railroad depot in the State of California until the ticket office was closed in May 1997. It was placed in the National Register of Historical Places in 1985.
The depot was one of two "way depots" built between San Francisco and San Jose. The original 24'X50' passenger portion of the depot was constructed on the east side of the railroad tracks, adjacent to the south side of Brokaw Road. The political influence exerted on the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company by the Santa Clara University board of trustees, who were stock holders of the railroad, was a decisive factor in having this "way depot" built only three miles from the railroad terminus in San Jose. The first regular through passenger service to San Francisco started on January 17, 1864.
Southern Pacific Railroad absorbed the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad and its property in 1870. In 1877, the original passenger depot was moved from across the tracks to its present location and attached to an existing 32'X50' freight house that had been constructed several years earlier. At that time, because of the large volume of agricultural freight that was being shipped from the depot, the freight house was increased in size to its present dimensions of 32'X160'.
The depot was constructed using clear heart redwood lumber milled from trees taken out of the local coast mountain range. Square nails were used in all phases of original construction. The fact that the depot survived the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes attests to the soundness of the original construction techniques used by our forefathers.
The State of California, through Caltrans, acquired the depot from Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1983. In November 1985, the South Bay Historical Railroad Society (SBHRS) entered into a lease agreement with Caltrans to renovate and preserve the depot and occupy the property in lieu of rent. Renovation work was done in accordance with standards set by the Secretary of Interior, the State Historian, and the State Architect, using donations and a volunteer work force. Exterior renovation was completed in 1990.
In 1992, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB), a quasi-governmental authority comprised of representatives from the three counties through which the commute line to San Francisco passes, acquired the property from the State. Although the building no longer provides active passenger or freight handling service, Caltrain commuter trains still stop at the depot and serves passengers seven days a week. The Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) trains have also began stopping at the Santa Clara Depot to improve service to the west side of the San Francisco bay and the central California valley by connecting with the Caltrain service.
After renovating the depot, the SBHRS now offers a unique railroad museum featuring static railroad artifacts and a library on railroad history. The museum also features operating N and HO scale model railroad displays that depict our local and regional railroad heritage.