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Getting There: The Transcontinental Railroad Beginning the Grand Tour

Before they could set out on their European adventures, the Gray-Hewes party faced a significant journey across the United States and Atlantic Ocean. Luckily for them, the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad terminated in Oakland, marking a convenient start to their travels.

Railroads are an important part of 19th Century Californian history, especially in the San Francisco area. The Big Four – Leland Stanford, Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker – famously funded and profited off of these transportation advancements. They even invited Franklina's stepfather David Hewes to join their business ventures. Hewes, however, was the owner of the only steam paddy machine in San Francisco; meaning that he alone could prepare land for road-building. Hewes became so fabulously wealthy that he turned down the Big Four but always kept close professional relationship with them. In fact, it was Hewes himself who gifted the ceremonial "Golden Spike" which joined the rails of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States.

"The Last Spike" by Thomas Hill, 1881. California State Railroad Museum. In this painting members of The Big Four including Leland Stanford, Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, their associates (including David Hewes), railroad workers and interested bystanders gather to witness the ceremonial driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869.

It is important to remember that the Railroad Barons and other successful business men like David Hewes often profited from the use of low-cost manual labor. These laborers were often immigrants from Ireland and China, and were paid on average $1 per day in the 1860s (about $32 in 2020). They often faced backbreaking conditions. Underfed, poorly housed, and medically neglected, they had little leverage as the first railway union was not founded until the 1890s. Nevertheless, these working class men made it possible for Americans to more quickly travel across the country.

An 1869 illustration picturing "European with Asiatic Laborers" from Harper's Weekly magazine (courtesy of the Library of Congress). The use here of ethnic stereotype in depicting Chinese and Irish immigrants was typical of the time period.

All Aboard!

Beginning in Summit, CA in June of 1875 Franklina, David Hewes, Matilda and Aunt Rose traveled East, stopping in various cities and encountering friends and acquaintances along the way. Though the party typically went for the most luxurious travel options, quality of railcar accommodations varied.

The interior of an 1875 sleeper car, similar to those Franklina would have travelled in. Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.
As a passenger on board the Union Pacific railroad, Franklina would have eaten her meals in the dining car and been served by waitstaff.

On board the Union Pacific R.R. Franklina wrote of their "two nice communicating drawing rooms" but complained of technical issues that lead them traveling at a "snails pace." In Chicago, they transfered to the West Shore Railroad en route to Saratoga, New York. She wrote to her fiancé of her new accommodations:

These cars are very inferior to the Pullman. The motion is much greater & the drawing room exceedingly small. We were very uncomfortable last night & in consequence rather stupid this morning."

Though she was certainly traveling in style, Franklina's complaints might remind a modern reader of impatience aboard a long haul flight or car ride. She was ready to kiss rail travel goodbye and get there!

"The end of Our Long Overland Journey at Last!"

On June 17, 1875, the Hewes party finally arrived at the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs, NY where they would stay for one month. Saratoga in the late-19th Century was a high society resort town and the Grand Union was the epicenter of this luxurious and leisurely community. Accustomed as she was to high standards of living, Franklina took note of the "simply palatial" hotel:

It is built around three sides of a large square, the interior of which forms lovely grounds. My window looks out to the court & I can see the fashionables promenading on the broad porches... The fireplaces are lighted this chilly day with French gas blazing over iron logs. Our rooms are large and well furnished having two bath rooms attached. So you see we are very 'toney.'"

This 1871 print from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper shows the cast of characters for a summer in Saratoga. The papas and mammas are in the upper corners, young men at the bottom left, the daughters in the center, and the waitstaff at the bottom right. The composition suggests, and Franklina confirms, that young women were the focal point of this social scene.

The inclusion of the waitstaff here also reveals how important service people were to this way of life. Waiters, porters, concierge, cooks, maids, laundresses, grounds keepers, and musical performers (to name a few) were essential in the running of luxury hotels like the Grand Union.

(Pictured: “At Saratoga” by W.L. Sheppard for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1871, Library of Congress)

"An Account of Our Waiter"

Having stayed a week at the Grand Union, Franklina found herself bored of the "monotony of life in Saratoga." One spark of amusement was her waiter whom she describes as almost comically dedicated to his job.

He pulls out your chair with a profound bow & hopes that your appetite is good. He takes your order with an air of reckless attention and regrets it is so small. If you move, he springs to your side & implores you to 'allow him to again visit the kitchen on your behalf.'"

For working class men, waiting tables at a respectable hotel or restaurant was a desirable job. Not only were working conditions much safer than a day labor job, but employment was also much more certain and the wages higher.

More images of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga. Top Left: The Grand Union Hotel, New York Public Library. Bottom Left: “Saratoga – The Afternoon Promenade,” for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1875, Library of Congress. Right: Grand Union Hotel Dinner Menu, 1881, New York Public Library.

After their time in New York, Franklina and her family embarked from Manhattan aboard the brand new steamship, the S.S. Bothnia. Continue to the next section to learn more about transatlantic travel in 1875.

Franklina C. Gray: The Grand Tour / An Online Exhibit Presented by Camron-Stanford House
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