Promontory Summit, Utah, may have hosted North America’s most famous final-spike ceremony, but the event on May 10, 1869, was not unique. Not all railroads had a completion “moment:” the New York Central is an example of a railroad formed through a series of mergers and consolidations, and others were built on multiple fronts and gradually placed into service.
Our research turned up 26 other last-spike events, some predating the Transcontinental Railroad, and one as recent as 1956. We suspect this is not an exhaustive list and welcome information on additional such ceremonies.
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Jan. 6, 1893, Madison, Wash. (now Scenic, Wash.) Only two GN o¬fficials are present for the spike-driving ceremony, according to “The Great Northern Railway: A History” (Hidy, Hidy, Scott, and Hofsommer).
Spokane, Portland & Seattle
March 11, 1908, at Sheridan’s Point, Wash., milepost 50.5. Completes the Portland & Seattle’s line from Kennewick, Wash., to Vancouver, Wash.
Nov. 1, 1909, Keddie, Calif. The last spike is driven “without ceremony” on the steel bridge curving over Spanish Creek, according to David F. Myrick’s “Western Pacific: The Last Transcontinental Railroad.”
July 15, 1923, North Nenana, Alaska. President Warren G. Harding misses twice before connecting to drive the spike home. In poor health, he dies in San Francisco on the return trip from the ceremony to Washington, D.C.
Pacific Great Eastern (BC Rail)
Sept. 12, 1952, milepost 369.1 near Ahbua Creek, B.C. June 10, 1956, milepost 26.2 near Britannia Beach, B.C. On the first date, a silver spike marks the completion of the route from Squamish, B.C., to Prince George; on the second, a copper spike marks the completion of the extension from Squamish to North Vancouver.
Grand Trunk Pacific
April 7, 1914, 1 mile east of Fort Fraser, B.C. Completes route from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert
Nov. 7, 1885, Craigellachie, B.C. Donald Smith, later known as Lord Strathcona, drives the last spike.
Jan. 23, 1915, Basque, B.C. Completes route from Montreal to Vancouver. Bankruptcy of Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern, among others, led to creation of Canadian National in 1918.
Aug. 22, 1883, Independence Gulch, Mont. A formal ceremony with four trains of guests, including former President Ulysses S. Grant, is held at the more scenic Gold Creek, Mont., on Sept. 8, 1883, fulfilling NP President Henry Villard’s desire for a large event to generate publicity.
March 29, 1909, just east of Missoula, Mont. Completes the railroad’s Western Extension. Last-spike ceremonies were not held until May 19, 1909, at Gold Creek, Mont., 7 miles west of Garrison, Mont.
Central Pacific/Union Pacific
May 10, 1869, Promontory Summit, Utah. The most famous of all Last Spike ceremonies, completing the Pacific Railroad.
Denver & Rio Grande
March 30, 1883, west of Green River, Utah
Fort Worth & Denver City
March 14, 1888, at Union Park, New Mexico Territory (near the present Folsom, N.M.) Completes the route between its namesake cities.
Texas & Pacific
Dec. 15, 1881, Sierra Blanca, Texas. Jay Gould drives a silver spike to join the T&P to the Southern Pacific, according to an agreement reached by Gould and SP’s C.P. Huntington on Nov. 26, 1881.
Jan. 12, 1883, Pecos River bridge, near Comstock, Texas. Completes Sunset Route from California to New Orleans.
Kansas City Southern
Sept. 11, 1897, near Beaumont, Texas. Completes through route from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Texas, for the predecessor Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad.
Green Bay & Western
December 1873, Marshland Junction, Wis. (near East Winona, Wis.) Completing predecessor Green Bay & Minnesota’s route from Green Bay to the Mississippi River, built in 25 months. Roadmaster B.P. Roberts, who had driven the first spike, also drives the last at a junction with the Chicago & North Western.
Minneapolis & St. Louis
Nov. 12, 1877, Albert Lea, Minn. Completion of the main line between the namesake cities. Don L. Hofsommer’s “The Tootin’ Louie” notes the last spike is driven “shortly before the arrival of a splendidly appointed excursion train from Minneapolis, which stopped only briefly before hurrying on to ceremonies at the state line and then returning for a ‘sumptous repast’ and jovial ‘speech-making’ at the Hall House.”
New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road)
1882, Bellevue, Ohio. Chicago-Bu¬ffalo route is completed Sept. 1, 1882. Taylor Hampton’s 1947 book “The Nickel Plate Road” says Bellevue held an elaborate ceremony with a nickel-plated spike at its roundhouse (without specifying a date), but an article on the City of Bellevue website quotes a 1932 Bellevue Gazette article saying the spike was never actually driven (without explaining why).
Sept. 27, 1856, south of Eff¬ingham, Ill. Marks completion of the original charter lines, a Y-shaped system from Dunleith in northwestern Illinois and Chicago in the northeast to Cairo. At the time of its completion, the 705-mile railroad is the world’s longest.
April 19, 1851, at Cuba, N.Y. Completes the line between the Hudson River and Lake Erie for predecessor New York & Erie.
Feb. 15, 1854, Horseshoe Curve. Completes the Mountain Division, allowing through service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. While several books note the event, none mention an accompanying ceremony.
Baltimore & Ohio
Dec. 24, 1852, Rosbys Rock, near Moundsville, W.Va. Completes the original line from Baltimore to the Ohio River; a celebration of the opening is held Jan. 11, 1853, in Wheeling, W.Va.
Seaboard Air Line
June 2, 1900, Richmond, Va.
Last spike is driven at Main Street Station, symbolizing the completion of the SAL as a consolidated company.
Jan. 29, 1909, west end of the New River Bridge, Glen Lyn, Va. The celebration of completion was not held until April 1909 in Norfolk, Va.
Feb. 8, 1915, at Trammel, Va. Last spike was at the south siding switch. A “golden spike” ceremony was held the next day.
2 thoughts on “The Golden Spike and other notable track completion ceremonies in the U.S. and Canada”
The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was the first railroad to cross Missouri starting in Hannibal in the northeast and going to St. Joseph, Missouri, in the northwest, paralleling an established stagecoach route.
Construction on the railroad began in 1851 from both cities and met on Cream Ridge, west of Chillicothe, Missouri, on February 13, 1859. A Golden Spike ceremony was held, and a cast marker the railroad placed at the site now resides at the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad Museum in Galesburg, Illinois. The railroad is famously been recognized for carrying the first mail from Hannibal to the Pony Express in St. Joseph on April 3, 1860, from a train pulled behind the locomotive “Missouri.”
This graphic does not mention the meeting of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads on March 8, 1881, at Deming, New Mexico Territory. Media at the time called the event the completion of the Second Transcontinental Railroad. There was said to be a silver spike driven to mark the occasion.
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