October 12, 2008

Celebration of 125 years of Needles history

News West

NEEDLES - The Rotary Club of Needles would like to invite the community out for a day of historical education, food, music and fun on from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The event is being held at the roadside rest on Front Street to celebrate Needles' railroad history during Homecoming week.

“There will be retired railroad workers speaking about the history of the trains and railroad,” said Terri Anderson. For more information contact Dr. Ruth Ross 760-326-6544.

According to the Needles' library archives, the city was founded in 1883 as a result of the construction of the railroad, which crosses the Colorado River. But the Southern Pacific in those days was not a friendly railroad. Drastic measures were taken to prevent the Atlantic & Pacific from entering California and the California Southern from crossing its tracks at Colton, in order to reach San Bernardino. After much litigation, the California Southern won the right to cross and San Bernardino was entered triumphantly by a passenger train on Sept. 13, 1883.

The most startling event occurred when the Southern Pacific hastily built a railway fro m Mojave across the desert to Needles and got there before the Atlantic & Pacific reached the Colorado River. The latter was temporarily stopped and so was the California Southern. The arrival of the railroad at the Colorado River in 1883 actually caused the founding of the town on the banks of the river.

The first bridge to cross the Colorado River was built in the area. It was a wooden structure and was eventually replaced by the Red Rock steel cantilever bridge in 1890. The new settlement was named “The Needles,” taken from the sharp peaks at the southern end of the valley.

In the late 1850s, Lt. Edward F. Beale recommended that a fort be established in the area for protection of travelers from Indians. Fort Mojave was built in 1859 and was soon a route along the old Mojave Road, traveled extensively by the military, emigrants to the gold fields of California and adventurers. Once the railroad came to the Needles area, it became a regular stop for the Santa Fe.

Tragedy struck the railroad station in 1906 when the original wooden railway station and Harvey House burned to the ground causing some loss of life.

The station was replaced by a concrete structure, named El Garces, which served as a Harvey House and railway station.

The historic site still stands along the railroad tracks in Needles, and efforts are under way to restore the site.