Collis Potter Huntington
1821 - 1900

Collis P. Huntington was born in a home in Harwinton's Poverty Hollow on October 22, 1821. When he reached 14 years of age he was already working and, at the age of 28, he set out for the California gold fields. In 1861, while the Civil War was getting underway, he, along with partners Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford and the Crocker Brothers, incorporated the Central Pacific Railroad of California. He secured government land grants and attained financial aid to build a rail line from the Pacific coast to a meeting place with the Union Pacific. Later he focused his attention to the building of the Southern Pacific Railroad which was nearly 10,000 miles in total length.

He was, without question, one of the greatest men our country produced, not only because of the vast amount of money he made (he left a $75 million estate) but by reason of his tremendous service to the country as a builder of railroads. He knew how to earn, save, spend money wisely and how to make things happen. According to Charles E. Russell, "C.P. Huntington was the greatest railroad genius of his time and one of the greatest masters of transportation in the world."

In his early years he helped his father at the Poverty Hollow farm and in the mill they ran. In the wintertime he attended the Poverty Hollow School. Miss Eli, his teacher at the school once reported that "Collis was very poorly clothed, and not well cared for, as the family was in dire circumstances." Finally, his father could no longer meet the payments required to maintain the farm and moved his family to a small house more towards the center of town. Here he attended the Center Schoo,l now restored and maintained by the Harwinton Historical Society.

In 1834 the Huntington family became so poor and destitute that the Harwinton selectmen removed Collis and his oldest brother, Solon, from the Harwinton home in order to improve the condition and relieve the family. This event would remain with Collis all of his life and he made a comment, 53 years later at the dedication of his chapel, that would indicate that his memory was unforgiving. (See Footnote at end of this story)

He was placed on the Orson Barber farm in the Clearview District and attended the Clearview School for about four months, the last four months that he would ever attend school.

With a small savings he started a clock business. In 1842 he entered into partnership with Solon, in the general merchandise business at Oneonta New York. He left for the sunny shores of California six years later. In Sacramento he began a business selling mining implements from under a tent to the forty-niners. A store soon followed. This hardware store was called Hopkins and Huntington, named, in part, for his newly found friend and partner Mark Hopkins. This store would prosper for 24 years.

So how in the world did he get involved with railroad building?
Theodore D. Judah, another Connecticut born entrepreneur went to California in May of 1854. Not a single railroad track was in place west of the Rocky Mountains at that time. He started laying track for the Sacramento Valley Railroad in 1855 after providing a survey. He next was asked to survey a wagon road over the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way to the Nevada silver mines. This route is still in place today as a well traveled road. It was Judah who spawned the idea to run a railroad over the mountains heading east and became so obsessed with the idea people began to refer to him as "Crazy Judah". He made numerous attempts to solicit businessmen to assist with the required finances to fund such an endeavor. Finally, in Sacremento, he held a meeting with about twelve business men in a little office upstairs in a building housing the Hopkins and Huntington hardware store. The men in attendance included Leland Sanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Collis P. Huntington. It was at this meeting that funding was acquired and on June 28, 1861, the formation of the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California occurred.

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