Santa Clara, CA – Transit Center (SCC)
Passengers use a platform adjacent to an historic 1863 depot, considered one of the oldest in the state. Santa Clara University and Mission Santa Clara are just a short walk away.
1001 Railroad Avenue
Santa Clara, CA 95050
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 33,870
- Facility Ownership: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
- Parking Lot Ownership: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
- Platform Ownership: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
- Track Ownership: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
In the late 1980s, the state of California decided to make significant investments in intercity passenger rail. With a service area that spans eight northern counties, the Capitol Corridor was inaugurated in 1991 and envisioned as an alternative to congested Interstate 880. For many years, Capitol Corridor trains stopped at the nearby Santa Clara-Great America station while the Santa Clara-University station was used by two commuter services—Caltrain and Altamont Corridor Express (ACE). Capitol Corridor service to the Santa Clara-University station began on May 21, 2012. Although the historic San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF&SJ) depot stands on site, rail passengers only use the adjacent platform. Connections are available to local buses run by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Airport Flyer to San Jose’s Mineta International Airport.
Constructed in 1863, the SF&SJ depot features vertical board and batten siding of clear heart redwood that was felled in the nearby mountains. A simple gabled roof with large overhangs supported by brackets protected passengers from inclement weather as they waited for the arrival of the train. The depot originally stood on the east side of the tracks, but was moved to the west side in 1877 and attached to the north end of an existing freight house. The move brought the building closer to Santa Clara University and the town center.
Early on, the SF&SJ was absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). In 1983, the state of California, through Caltrans, acquired the building from the railroad. Two years later the South Bay Historical Railroad Society (SBHRS) leased the depot from the transportation agency and set out to restore it. Volunteers donated 25,000 hours of labor, which included removing debris, replacing support timbers, and painting. SBHRS now maintains a small museum in the station, a model railroad display, and a library focusing on railroad history. Recognized as one of the oldest railroad depots in California, the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the Spanish first explored the area along the southern end of San Francisco Bay, it was inhabited by the Ohlone American Indians who moved between the uplands and the shore where they hunted amid the wetlands and gathered grasses to construct shelters. In the latter half of the 18th century, the Spanish Empire based in Mexico began to make greater efforts to secure the California coast. Franciscan missionaries worked toward the conversion of the region’s American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization.
In January 1777, the friars established Mission Santa Clara and set out to work among the Ohlone, teaching not just religion, but also practical skills such as woodworking and tanning. While some Ohlone willingly participated in the mission system, many were forced into compliance. Due to their lack of immunity against European diseases, many American Indians died during the mission era. The Franciscans chose the Santa Clara Valley because its grassy expanse, dotted with sturdy oaks, was interlaced with springs that could be used to irrigate fields and support herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. Santa Clara was also meant to balance the mission at San Francisco, thereby creating a strong Spanish presence on the lower half of San Francisco Bay—one of the best natural harbors on the west coast of North America.
Two years later, the first mission complex was flooded by the Guadalupe River, and the friars decided to move it upland. The cornerstone for the permanent church was laid in November 1781 at a ceremony presided over by Father Junipero Serra, who is considered the founder of the chain of 21 missions that eventually stretched from San Diego northward to Sonoma. Mission Santa Clara was at the heart of a vast landholding that included fields for agriculture and ranching that were meant to support the priests and their Ohlone converts. Earthquakes severely damaged the mission buildings in the 19th century, and a devastating fire in 1926 finally destroyed the church. The structures that currently stand on the grounds of Santa Clara University are enlarged replicas dating to the 1920s.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, most of the mission properties were secularized and broken-up into “ranchos” or ranches that were subsequently granted to the friends and family members of important Mexican officials. The friars retained control of Santa Clara until 1836, after which it fell into disrepair. Squatters occupied the buildings and surrounding acreage, and the American Indian community dispersed.
In the next decade, life in California changed quickly and in a dramatic fashion. Following a three year war with Mexico, the United States gained control over the region in 1848. Within a few months, the word that gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill in the Sierra Nevada Mountains spread like wildfire, setting off what is considered the greatest voluntary mass migration of people in human history. Hundred of thousands of Americans and foreigners set their sights on the perceived riches of California and quickly swelled the territory’s population. While only a lucky few actually found gold, many discouraged miners determined that the region’s fertile lands were worth staying around for to farm and establish a new life.
A small community formed around the old mission in the 1840s, and with the influx of settlers due to the Gold Rush, a town site was surveyed in the early 1850s. The approximately 200 residents each received one parcel but were required to construct houses within three months; failure to do so resulted in the revocation of the legal title. A forward-thinking entrepreneur imported 23 frame houses that were shipped from Boston via the Straits of Magellan. A hotel, stores, and houses of worship rounded out the town center. In the early 1850s, nearby San Jose was chosen to serve as the first capital of California. Between its newfound political power and the attractiveness of its fertile farmlands, the south bay region attracted settlers.
Santa Clara benefitted from its proximity to San Jose. To accommodate the needs of residents, a college was founded in 1851 by the Jesuits amid the ruins of the old mission. Although the first years were difficult due to lack of financing and varying claims to the mission property, the school eventually prospered and was later elevated to a university. The town also gained prominence as the center of an extensive agricultural zone whose principal products were fruits, including apricots, plums, and cherries.
At mid-century, California experienced a period of railroad fever whose ultimate goal was to link the West and East Coasts. The Gold Rush had swelled the population of San Francisco which from then on was the dominant city of northern California. In 1861, a group of investors incorporated the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF&SJ) to link the two most important cities in the Bay Area; Santa Clara was one of only two intermediate stops. Because it is only about three miles northwest of San Jose, it probably would not have received its own station but for the influence of the college’s trustees, many of whom were stockholders in the enterprise. Ground was broken in May, and the line was completed to San Jose by January 1864. The first excursion ride that month between the two endpoints attracted thousands who crowded into coaches, box cars, and cattle cars. When the overburdened train reached San Jose, it was greeted with a 13-gun salute and city leaders proceeded with the usual speeches and good wishes.
In anticipation of the start of service, the SF&SJ constructed the present one-story depot in 1863. Only four years after the commencement of service, the SF&SJ was absorbed by the new Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). The SP proceeded to construct a line into southern California and then towards the east, eventually linking with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway at Deming, NM in 1881 to complete the second transcontinental railroad. A few years later, the SP consolidated its power over regional railroading by purchasing the narrow gage South Pacific Coast Railroad, which had been constructed in the 1870s to link Alameda and Santa Cruz. It passed through Santa Clara and adjacent farmlands and provided access to stands of timber in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the freight house adjacent to the depot buzzed with activity related to the fruit industry that had grown to cover more than 100,000 acres in the Santa Clara Valley. Chroniclers of the city claim that local orchardist Levi Ames Gould shipped the state’s first carload of fresh fruit to the east after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Over the succeeding decades, a handful of fruit processing businesses established their headquarters in Santa Clara.
Drying sheds were built near the station, and during the harvest season, fruit was cleaned, cut, pitted, and naturally dried in the sun on wooden trays before it was packed up for shipment to the rest of the country. The expansion of the fruit industry prompted the railroad to almost treble the size of the freight house where goods were stored and sorted for distribution. In addition to fruit drying, produce was also canned. Residents recounted that the fragrance of cherries, plums, pears and other fruits hung over the town for months during the height of the drying period. The J.M. Kimberlin and C.C. Morse companies, major seed growers that became some of the largest on the West Coast, gave people the opportunity to try their own hand at fruit and vegetable cultivation. Other local businesses included a lumber mill producing doors, window sashes, moldings, and coffins; tannery noted for its fine leather; flour mill; and brewery.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Santa Clara remained the quieter cousin of bustling San Jose; the second half of the century would bear witness to great change. World War II set off a burst of research into high technology to support the war effort, such as computing, radar and radio, and aeronautics. Post-war, San Jose and Santa Clara developed as the epicenter of semiconductor production. These chips allowed for major developments in the electronics industry, and established corporations and start-ups moved to the area. Orchards were transformed into office parks boasting names such as Intel and National Semiconductor. Between 1940 and 1960, Santa Clara’s population exploded from about 6,600 residents to 59,000. The region also gained a moniker known the world over—“Silicon Valley”—due to one of the major ingredients needed to make semiconductors. In time, the region blossomed into a global hub for high technology, and today hundreds of companies focus on the development of microprocessors, computer software and hardware, and biotechnology.
Although Santa Clara’s growth has been rapid, examples of its past remain. The mission church on the grounds of Santa Clara University may date to the 1920s, but it retains much of the spirit of its predecessors. After the great fire of 1926, it was rebuilt to the original single-tower design, and the façade features statuary and neoclassical detailing such as pilasters. Inside, careful replicas of the reredos were installed behind the altar and the ceilings were painted to approximate the historic patterns. At the university’s De Saisset Museum, visitors can view paintings, statues, and liturgical items that were retrieved from the old mission church before its destruction. During educational programs, school children explore the history of regional American Indian tribes and the mission era by examining baskets, jewelry, hand tools, and religious objects. One of the highlights of these tours is a visit to a conical dwelling representative of those built by the Ohlone from tules and other grasses.
The Capitol Corridor route is primarily financed and operated in partnership with the State of California. It is managed by the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which partners with Amtrak, the Union Pacific Railroad, Caltrans and the communities comprising the CCJPA to continue development of a cost-effective, viable and safe intercity passenger rail service.
Platform with Shelter
- Quik-Trak kiosks
- No ticket sales office
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- No restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift