For at least a century – from 1863 to about 1963 – it was impossible to get through a single day in the Santa Clara Valley without hearing the whistle of a train. Railroads were one of the most visible innovations of the Industrial Revolution. They helped people in America move across the wide prairies of the West and up and down the state of California, long before the automobile became affordable and the freeway practical.
Southern Pacific had a rail line through Los Altos beginning just after the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, and in 1913 the community got a really nice downtown station near the corner of what is now First and Main streets. When it opened, the Palo Alto Times said the Craftsman-style depot was one of the prettiest on the Peninsula and “had all the modern conveniences including the latest in drinking fountains.” This may have been a polite way of telling readers the station had public restrooms. The building still stands and is a City Historic Landmark.