King City Depot
In 1884, millionaire lumberman Charles H. King purchased 13,000 acres of San Lorenzo Rancho. King had the crazy notion that grain could be grown on the "Salinas Desert." Neighbors scoffed as he plowed up 6,000 acres and planted wheat. At that time, no farming was done on a large scale, and skeptics declared he would never succeed. Not only that, wheat could never be marketed for the only transportation available were eight mule teams that hauled crops to Soledad, then the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
King surprised everyone with an amazingly successful crop. Other farmers clamored to lease tracts of land. Then King’s old friend, Collis P. Huntington, the railroad magnate, took notice and proposed the extension of the Southern Pacific down the valley from Soledad. Land owners wanted the route to follow the Salinas River which meant expensive construction plus many windings. King realized what the railroad could do for the Valley. He gave Southern Pacific the right-of-way across his ranch with the only condition, "protect my cattle." Today the line runs for eight straight miles over the old King ranch lands.
In May 1886, 1500 Chinese laborers began laying track south from Soledad. On Saturday, July 3, 1886, the first locomotive rolled in to "King’s" City. The following year the Southern Pacific Milling Company constructed a grain warehouse with J. Ernst Steinbeck, father of novelist John Steinbeck, its first agent.
More buildings, including a flour mill materialized. Lots were subdivided in 1887 and the depot was built in 1903. Within no time, King’s Station was South County ’s commercial center.
The depot remained in operation until the 1980s when many of the Southern Pacific depots were sold or destroyed. On June 2, 1989, the depot was moved to its present location and the restoration begun.
The Southern Pacific Railroad played a key role in opening the Salinas Valley to settlement and agricultural development. Over 20 depots were scattered along its route through Monterey County but most had disappeared except for King City’s station. In 1989, this building, too, was threatened by demolition. Thanks to local business man, Bob Meyer the building was donated and the funds to move the depot to its present home, San Lorenzo Park, were covered. The Harden Foundation contributed over $50,000 towards the restoration of the building. The California Department of Forestry crew, the King City Lions Club and many other volunteers worked countless hours to restore the building. On July 4, 1991, the building opened to the public for their use and enjoyment.