Golden Spike Ceremony, Promontory Summit, Utah

1994 Poster
May 10, 1869 Golden Spike Ceremony

On May 10, 1994, a ceremony was held to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the "Driving of the "Golden Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah where 10,000 people were expected to attend. The original golden spike was "driven" into a tie by Leland Stanford, the governor of California and president of the Central Pacific Railroad. Back in 1869, this marked the completion of the trans-continental railroad connecting the Central Pacific from the west to the Union Pacific from the east.

The "Golden Spike" Location

Promontory Summit and Point Locations

In movies and on the internet you will often hear that the location of the meeting of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific was at Promontory Point. This is incorrect. Promontory Point is a location near the Lucin Cutoff that was built to bypass the original path through the summit. It is a peninsula in the Great Salt Lake. The correct location of the Golden Spike is called "Promontory Summit". It is located in the mountains north of the Great Salt Lake and Promontory Point.

The Laurelwood Tie Location at the Summit

The photo to the right is a picture (looking east) of the "tie" where the golden spike was placed (at the summit). Obviously, this tie is only a replica of that original tie.

How Many Golden Spikes Were There?

Most people assume that there was just one, single golden spike that was driven into the last tie when the trans-continental railroad was completed. This is not the case. There were actually six spikes that had something to do with the original ceremony. Those six spikes were:

  1. Hewes Golden spike number 1 from California
  2. Hewes Golden spike number 2 from California
  3. San Francisco News Letter Golden spike from California
  4. One solid silver spike from Nevada
  5. One iron spike with silver placed on the shaft and gold plating on the head (with elaborate engraving) from Arizona (pictured to the right)
  6. A regular iron spike ("Lemon Spike") which was the only spike driven into the tie

Also, the gold and silver spikes were never actually driven into a tie. Instead, they were temporarily placed in holes in a laurelwood tie specially made for the original ceremony. The last rail laid was also pulled up after the original ceremony and sliced into several sections. At least one of those sections survives today (in private possession). Four of the five gold/silver spikes are known to exist today. According to several accounts, the original laurelwood tie was hacked to bits by those gathered at the ceremony after the locomotives backed off.

Hewes Stanford Golden Spike

Hewes Golden Spike #1 (Hewes Stanford Gold Spike)

David Hewes had two gold spikes cast in 1869. The first one was quickly engraved and sent with Leland Stanford for use at the ceremony at Promontory. After the original ceremony, the first of the two golden spikes from California traveled back to California in a second, polished laurelwood tie aboard Stanford's coach. En route, a group of army officers riding with Stanford attempted to "drive" the spike into the tie with the pommels of their swords, which accounts for several small round indentations on the spike's head.

The large sprue attached to this golden spike had been removed shortly before the Ceremony. David Hewes took the sprue and had it made into four small rings and seven, one inch long watch fobs. The rings were presented to Leland Stanford, Oakes Ames (Union Pacific President), President U. S. Grant, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Several dignitaries and Hewes relatives were presented watch fobs, including nephew Tilden G. Abbott, whose fob is on display at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Following a brief time on display, this golden spike was returned to David Hewes. Hewes kept it until 1892, when he donated his extensive rare art collection, including the golden spike, to the museum of the newly built Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, CA.

Hewes Golden Spike #2 (Keepsake Gold Spike)

David Hewes had two gold spikes cast in 1869. This, the second one did not make the trip to Promontory Summit for the ceremony (at least there is no record of it doing so) and was not engraved until after the ceremony. It also remained with the sprue intact. This spike remained with the Hewes family for over 100 years. In 2005 it was discovered that this second golden spike had been held for 136 years by the Hewes family and descendants. It is now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

San Francisco News Letter Golden Spike

The whereabouts of this gold spike is unknown. It was present at the ceremony. It had been speculated that the spike was given to one of the Union Pacific dignitaries, but there was no mention of the spike in any of their memoirs. It was also possible that the spike was returned to the San Francisco News Letter newspaper. If so, its fate is most likely the same as the newspaper company, when, in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed the News Letter Building. The fate of this spike remains a mystery.

Nevada Silver Spike

Nevada's silver spike was temporarily returned to Virginia City jewelers: Nye & Co., where it was brightly polished and engraved on one side: To Leland Stanford President of the Central Pacific Railroad. To the iron of the East and the gold of the West Nevada adds her link of silver to span the continent and wed the oceans. The spike was then delivered to Stanford and eventually placed along with the first golden spike in the Stanford University Museum.

Arizona Iron/Silver Spike

Arizona Iron/Silver Spike

It is unclear what happened to Arizona Territory's spike immediately following the Ceremony. It is assumed that the Arizona spike was given to Union Pacific official Sidney Dillon (a Director, and later President of the UP). A photo at Promontory by Central Pacific photographer Alfred A. Hart (#356) shows Dillon holding up a spike - presumably the Arizona spike. Standing in front of him in the photo is Arizona Territorial Governor Anson P. K. Safford, a Nevada politician and just appointed Arizona Governor, who commissioned the spike before he had ever set foot in Arizona. It is unclear whether the spike was made in Virginia City or Carson City, Nevada, or in San Francisco.

Decades later, it became part of the Museum of the City of New York's collection when the granddaughter of Sidney Dillon, Mrs. Arthur Whitney (Florence Dillon Wyckoff Whitney), gave the spike to the Museum in 1943. The Museum then loaned it to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, IA (the official starting point of the transcontinental railroad) for a time.

Iron "Lemon" Spike

The only spike actually driven into a tie at the ceremony was a "normal" iron spike. It is not entirely clear if this spike was the last one driven before the ceremonial spikes or if this spike was the last one driven after replacing the ceremonial tie (and spikes). In any case it is sometimes referred to as the "Lemon Spike" because of the name of the Union Pacific fireman (David Lemon) on the UP 119. This spike was also saved and is now at the Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, CA.

The silver plated spike maul was also given to Leland Stanford and became part of the collection at Stanford University museum. The second laurelwood tie remained on display in Sacramento until 1890. By then, Central Pacific had been reorganized into Southern Pacific, and the tie was taken to the railroad's San Francisco offices at 4th and Townsend Streets. Unfortunately, the building and tie also fell victim to the great earthquake and fire of 1906.

The Cut

Original Central Pacific Roadbed

This photo shows a portion of the Central Pacific grade as it winds through the mountains. The tracks leading to and through Promontory Summit were removed during World War II. Cars can even drive on portions of the original grade (as seen in the photo). Tracks were later re-laid in the Summit area so that the replica locomotives can be run.

Two parallel cuts seen in Google Maps

Both the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific prepared grades some twenty miles past each other prior to the selection of Promontory Summit as the meeting point. The reason they did this was simply because the workers were being paid by the mile and until a meeting point was selected, they wanted to keep making money. Both of these grades can easily be seen winding between Promontory Summit and Ogden.

10 Miles of track laid in a day

Central Pacific's Jupiter

Central Pacific's Jupiter

This is a replica of Central Pacific's #60 "Jupiter" in its original paint scheme. With 10,000 people attending, it was extremely difficult to get a photograph without all sorts of people in my view of the locomotive. I stood at this spot, waiting a very long time for a split-second moment when no one was in my view. I was able to get this split second shot.

The original "Jupiter" was scrapped long ago. Both replica locomotives at Promontory Summit (Jupiter and the 119) were constructed in 1980 for the National Park Service by Chadwell O'Connor Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, CA. Built with $1.5 million in federal funds, these were the first steam engines constructed in the United States in twenty-five years. They were painted and lettered by Disney employees and are incredibly accurate replicas of the originals. They both were built as gas burners. In 1991 both the CP Jupiter and UP 119 were converted to burn their original fuels -- wood for the Jupiter and Coal for the 119.


Jupiter Photos

Union Pacific's 119

Union Pacific's 119

This is UP's #119 in its original paint scheme as it approached the "Golden Spike Ceremony" from its storage shed.

Jupiter and the 119

UP 119 Photos

Web Sites Relating to the Golden Spike Historic Site

All material Copyright ©
Wes Barris