Hanford, CA (HNF)
Erected in 1897, the depot is one of only three built by the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad to survive. Today it houses a waiting room, offices and commercial space.
200 Santa Fe Avenue #A
Hanford, CA 93230
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 201,098
- Facility Ownership: City of Hanford
- Parking Lot Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Amtrak stop at the Hanford depot is located a few blocks southwest of the tree-lined Civic Center Park, which is bordered by the historic King County Courthouse and the Civic Auditorium.
Hanford’s depot was erected by the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad (SF&SJV) in 1897, a year before the rail line was completed through the valley and two years before the rail line was purchased by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF). It is one of three stations built by the SF&SJV that is still standing. The one-storey structure, constructed of red brick, is capped by a long gable-on-hipped roof with a low rise clerestory containing vents. The deep, bracketed eave that encircles the building protects passengers from inclement weather as they wait outside for the arrival of the train. Along the track and street facades, the roofline is broken by four pairs of cross gables that show a touch of Dutch or Flemish design in their stepped parapets; each gable is punctuated by a small oval window used to ventilate the attic space.
Originally, the south end of the depot contained a covered, open-air waiting room common to many of the stations built in the warmer climates of the Southwest and California. The roof was supported by large brick piers framed by delicate classical columns, but the space was later enclosed during a 1991 renovation. Adjoining the outdoor waiting room was an indoor passenger area and offices for the ticketing agent and the station master. In old photographs, the placement of the station master’s office is indicated by a three sided bay that projected onto the platform area. Located beneath one of the cross gables, the bay’s large windows allowed the station master an unobstructed view down the tracks so that he could monitor traffic on the line.
The offices acted as a barrier between the passenger areas on the south end of the depot and the freight room to the north. In historic photographs, a raised platform is visible along the trackside façade. It would have easily facilitated the movement of crates and parcels between boxcars and the freight room by eliminating a change in elevation. The cross gables denoted the placement of the freight room doors, which were extra wide. At the far north end of the station, a covered, open-air freight dock kept goods from getting wet. As in most depot designs, the freight area contained only a few windows that were placed high on the wall to increase security. The depot property also included a large wooden water tank to supply the steam engines.
In celebrating Hanford’s centennial in 1991, city leaders decided to undertake a rehabilitation of the historic depot so that it could better serve passengers and be reorganized to provide office space. Major projects included a rebuilding of the freight section and the enclosure of the outdoor waiting room. A wide, curving canopy was added to the trackside façade to provide travelers with better protection from the sun and rain. Interior modifications resulted in a new layout that accommodates a passenger waiting room and leased office and commercial space.
In 2006, ATSF successor BNSF Railway right-of-way through Hanford was double-tracked; subsequently, a passenger platform was added to the west side of the right-of-way. In addition to the new concrete platform, two open-air pavilions with seating were provided for passengers. They feature shallow hipped roofs supported by end walls composed of buff colored concrete masonry units accented by white Tuscan columns.
While BNSF undertook work on the tracks, the city moved forward with improvements to the adjacent bus bays that accommodate local and regional lines and Amtrak’s Thruway Motorcoach service. The $1.5 million project relocated a circa 1880s Southern Pacific (SP) wooden freight depot to the site. The small structure was rebuilt to provide a waiting room and ticket desk for bus passengers, as well as needed office space; a red brick addition to the north provides public restrooms. Other work included a new parking lot, canopies, and benches.
Hanford is located near the center of the San Joaquin Valley in the vicinity of the former Tulare Lake. Spanish explorers traveled through the region in the late eighteenth century and encountered the Tachi Yokut American Indians who inhabited the lands around the sizeable body of water. The Yokut population was spread throughout the valley, and “tachi” was derived from the word for “mud hen,” a duck native to the area’s wetlands.
Tulare Lake was named by a party of Spaniards that remarked on its large stands of tule, a type of bulrush that grew along the shore to heights of up to 10 feet. The Tachi Yokut used the sedge to build boats and baskets, and the lake also provided abundant food resources. Marshes supported diverse ecosystems that attracted grizzly bears, deer, and elk that came to feast on the fish and smaller wildlife. Migratory birds such as ducks, geese, pelicans, and swans made annual pilgrimages to the waters.
The valley was not settled by European-Americans until the 1820s. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, much of the land in southern California was broken up into large estates that were often doled out to friends of those in power. Although isolated from populated coastal areas due to the mountain ranges, the San Joaquin Valley was used for grazing. The Gold Rush of 1849 attracted adventures to California from the eastern and Midwestern United States. Many dreams of gold came to naught but the settlers remained in the west and built lives. Subsequently, many of the Yokut were driven off their land and onto designated reservations.
Early pioneers were attracted to the area because of the fresh water supplied by Tulare Lake. Fed by snows that melted and traveled down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the size of the lake could vary over time depending on snow and rainfall. In the mid-19th century, the lake covered roughly 570 square miles, stretching almost 22 miles from north to south. In fact, it was considered the largest body of freshwater in the western United States. As pioneers began entering the valley and establishing farms, a system of irrigation canals and ditches was created that siphoned water from the lake to the fields. Due to irrigation and drought, by 1891 Tulare Lake had shrunk to half its earlier surface area, and within a few decades it would all but disappear. Once exposed, the lakebed was highly valued by farmers because the rivers and streams that had fed the body of water deposited rich silts that yielded astounding harvests.
Substantial population growth in the San Joaquin Valley did not occur until the arrival of the SP and ATSF in the late 19th century. By the early 1870s, the SP—and the Central Pacific Railroad, which it controlled—were working on a line that would run down the valley to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those cities were California’s two most important ports and political and economic centers for the northern and southern regions of the state, respectively.
Hanford was established by the SP in 1877 as it laid tracks between Goshen and Coalinga. The chosen site was a small sheepherders’ camp. Lots were put up for sale in January and the town was named for James Madison Hanford, long-time paymaster for the railroad; according to family history, he was allowed to pick which new town would take his name, and the honor was bestowed on him in recognition of his honesty and strong work ethic. The SP built a one-storey depot at Sixth and Douty Streets that featured a long trackside colonnade. The freight house now used as part of the bus transit center once stood to the east of the depot; from the 1970s until the mid-2000s, it served as the museum of a local nature center on the edge of town.
For two decades, the SP held a monopoly on rapid transportation within the region, bringing complaints from farmers who had to pay what they considered to be high freight rates. In May 1880, a dispute over SP owned land to the west of Hanford resulted in the death of 7 men. Known as Mussel Slough for the watercourse that ran from the Kings River to Tulare Lake, the land had been offered by the SP for settlement in the 1870s. The railroad promised to later sell the land at rates starting at $2.50 an acre, and noted that the quoted price would not take into account any improvements made by the pioneers. When the railroad finally got around to drawing up the deeds, it charged roughly $25-$35 an acre, and many settlers felt that the rates were unfair, as the land had primarily become valuable due to the irrigation systems that they had constructed.
Taking the case to the courts, the settlers lost again and again as it moved up the judicial ladder. On May 11th, a U.S. Marshall, the land appraiser, and two men who had legally purchased the land from the SP set out to evict settlers. Gunshots were exchanged at the Henry Brewer farm and one of the legal owners and a number of settlers were killed. For many years, the incident was used by anti-railroad and anti-corporate forces to warn against the dangers of railroad monopolies.
Hanford grew quickly as a market center for local farmers, but was devastated by two major fires in 1887 and 1891. The second incident convinced townspeople to incorporate in order to raise taxes for a fire department and water system. Settlers in western Tulare County soon advocated for the formation of their own county. Following an 1893 vote, Kings County was formed and Hanford became the county seat; therefore, the town also became a local government and administrative center and the old courthouse was built on the south side of Civic Center Park. As in other parts of the valley, mainstay crops included potatoes, sugar beets, and grains.
Chinese immigrant laborers played an important role in the building of California’s railroads as well as its agricultural industry. From its earliest days, Hanford hosted a sizable Chinese community that was centered on what became known as “China Alley.” Located a few blocks southeast of the civic center, it contained shops, eateries, and houses. One of the most important structures was a Taoist Temple that was also home to an elementary school. Erected in the 1880s, it now serves as a museum that explores the lives of Chinese immigrants and their descendents, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the fall, a Moon Festival celebration not only helps raise money for upkeep of the temple, but exposes the public to Chinese culture through food, dance, and tours of the historic building.
The primary rival to SP was ATSF, which had entered southern California in the 1880s. In the mid-1890s, the SF&SJV proposed an alternate route through the San Joaquin Valley; by purchasing the SF&SJV in 1899 and securing trackage rights over SP’s Tehachapi line, ATSF gained a route between Los Angeles and the San Francisco bay area. The main line tracks were laid through Hanford in the spring of 1897 and their arrival was celebrated with a parade featuring musical groups and floats representing the county’s agricultural bounty and civic, business, and educational institutions.
A century later, Hanford remains a governmental center and the head of an immensely productive agricultural region that ships its products across North America. Although the town experienced a population boom as the 21st century began, it has not forgotten its history. The charming downtown is often noted as one of the most beautiful in the valley; in part this is due to city leaders and residents who have worked to preserve the historic core. The area around Civic Center Park includes a former Carnegie library that now serves as the local history museum. Threatened with demolition in the late 1970s, the old courthouse was instead turned into shops and offices.
Kings County Homecoming remains a popular annual event that recalls the county’s past while looking towards the future. The week after Mother’s Day includes a kick-off breakfast, naming of a Homecoming Queen, a fun run and walk, car show, history day exhibition, and a parade through downtown that ends at the Civic Auditorium where food booths are manned by local non-profit organizations. The clothing of choice during the week is anything “Western” in honor of the original pioneers, and includes fashion items such as leather boots and cowboy hats.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station. The San Joaquinservice is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority.
- 13 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 20 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
- Bike Boxes
- Checked Baggage
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Shipping Boxes
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift