Railroads? On King’s Mountain?

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 3/1989

The Open Space folks and parallel interests like to think they saved the mountain from developers, and perhaps they have in recent years. But before that, for more than 100 years the mountain was protected by a combination of the ravages of nature and the ravages of capitalism’s economic panics. For example it was the Panic of 1893, one of our country’s worst-ever that wiped out the dreams and finances of the Summit Springs and Mount Portola Railroad Company. They not only planned to build a railroad up King’s Mountain, they bought the land, had the plans approved and were just starting when the Panic of 1893 wiped out the backer’s.

Imagine how different life might have been here today had the railroad gone through. The company’s founders dreamt of a “sanitarium” at Summit Springs (500 yards below the intersection of King’s Mountain Road and Skyline. President Ernest Lichau and crew planned a European style railroad that would run straight up the mountain, modeled after one at Lake Geneva – parallel to and just northwest of King’s Mountain Road – through what is now Huddart Park. They bought the 250 acres from the Greer estate and budgeted $350,000 to build the line. Supposedly, “This route will enable patrons to reach the Springs within two hours ride from San Francisco, thus avoiding any staging and the dusty travel incident to same.”

At the top they planned, “A hotel with the latest improvements in hygiene and comfort for guests… lighted by electricity and heated by the hot-water system. The dining-room and kitchen will be in a separate building, free from the hotel; the dining-hall will be built adapted to dancing, speaking, literary, musical and other entertainments. A railroad depot, an observatory, livery cottages, etc., will also be built. The bathhouse and swimming pool will comprise all the latest improvements in that line… Besides the waters of the Springs, there will be in stock a full assortment of all the celebrated mineral waters of Europe and America… Care will be taken in the dieting of patients, especially if the family physician gives orders to that effect.”

It seems, to them, a sanitarium was where rich folk went to be pampered, for a newspaper account reassures readers, “Patients suffering from tuberculosis, or from any other contagious disease, epileptics or persons afflicted with any-form of insanity will not be received.” It may have been the folks cooking up this scheme who were the insane ones. Fortunately for us the Panic of 1893 wiped out The Summit Springs and Mount Portola Railroad Company, and the finances of the men behind it. Shortly thereafter the land was sold to J. M. Huddart, after whom Huddart Park is named. Below is a xerox of the 1894 Official Map of San Mateo County. This copy I’ve taken from Gilbert Richards’ great book, Crossroads, which, while it doesn’t cover the railroad, has a lot of mountain history sprinkled throughout and is available at the San Mateo Library. On it I’ve circled the proposed railroad line as well as a few other historical points of note such as Nathan Comstock’s 140 acres, John Harkins’ land (father of George Harkins), and finally note that in those days, Skyline didn’t go south past King’s Mountain–that didn’t happen until the 1920s. Another time! Another story!