The Return of Peter Donahue to Tiburon
by Robert L. Harrison
Peter Donahue first came to Tiburon in 1882 to prepare the vacant area at the end of the peninsula for a terminal of his San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad (SF&NP). The first train left Tiburon on May 1, 1884, after meeting the ferry from San Francisco.
Donahue died about a year after that first train’s departure. Though he will not be returning to Tiburon in person, a life-sized bust of the great builder will be unveiled at 1:00 pm on March 31, 2019 at the Donahue Building, home of the Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum. The bust was sculpted by Howard Lazar as commissioned by the Belvedere Tiburon Landmarks Society. Lazar’s work can be seen at museums around the country, including the American Jazz Museum where five of his busts are in the permanent collection. In an interview he said: “I’ll find a subject that is famous but really didn’t get the spotlight that they were due.” Peter Donahue did achieve some fame in his time but, as described below, deserves the continuing recognition that Lazar’s sculpture and the display in the Tiburon Railroad Museum will provide.
Peter Donahue, perhaps the most important California industrialist in the 19th Century, was the individual most responsible for the manufacturing development of the Bay Area. His Union Iron Works, employing up to 3,000 mechanics, built and repaired dozens of ships, both civilian and military. This enterprise later became the Bethlehem Steel Ship Yard. He founded the San Francisco Gas Company, (forerunner of PG&E), and in 1869 he started the first cross town streetcar line, the Omnibus Rail Way (now the San Francisco Municipal Railway).
But Donahue’s greatest love was building railroads. In 1862 he built the first railroad in California from San Francisco to San Jose. By 1869 he was buying and building railroads in Sonoma County. He extended his SF&NP railroad from Sonoma to San Rafael and then to Tiburon. The Marin County Tocsin wrote: “Peter Donahue has left behind him a monument greater than a sculptor’s cunning could ever design.” He founded Tiburon.
The Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum will open for its regular season on Sunday March 31, 2019 at 1:00 pm. The regular Museum hours are 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Wednesday through Sunday from April through October. In the winter months November to March the Museum is open on sunny Sundays and Holidays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.