Life in a Railroad Town
More than a pretty waterfront town, Tiburon has a rich railroad and maritime history, which is captured in the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Museum rests on Shoreline Park with priceless views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Angel Island.
1920 Paradise Drive
Tiburon, CA 94920
Spanish explorers named the area Punta de Tiburón (Point Tiburon) in 1775. One hundred years later, due to its the proximity to San Francisco, Point Tiburon became a major railroad and ferry terminus, maintenance yard and industrial town. In 1884, Peter Donahue, Irish immigrant and industrial tycoon, completed the extension of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad to Tiburon with a ferry fleet to provide faster passenger and freight service between the City and Northern California. Twenty-three years later, the Donahue Line merged with competitors to become the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The last train left Point Tiburon September 25, l967.
With trains no longer running, Southern Pacific deeded its shoreline property and the depot building to the Town of Tiburon for open space and a museum as a condition of redevelopment. In 1995, Tiburon and the Landmarks Society entered into a 99-year lease, and Landmarks became responsible for the care and preservation of the building and installation of a museum. By 1999, the structural work was complete and construction of permanent exhibits began.
The lovely restored gray building at Shoreline Park captures the past in two museums. On the ground floor, a detailed operating HO-scale model shows Tiburon, the railroad town c.1900 to 1910. The model’s scale (1:87) is accurate so sizes of landscapes, buildings, trains and boats are accurate when compared to one another. The only exception to authenticity is the palm tree, which was planted twenty years later. It is included in the model as a point of reference.
The three ferryboats in the model were part of a large fleet that operated between San Francisco and Point Tiburon. The Ukiah was built at the local yard and the Donahue was named for Peter’s son, who succeeded him as president of the railroad company. The Ukiah originally carried railroad cars but was rebuilt after World War I to ferry automobiles across the bay — although not to and from Tiburon. Later renamed the Eureka, it is preserved at the San Francisco Maritime Museum’s Hyde Street Pier.
Upstairs is the Depot House Museum, where the stationmaster’s family lived. Restoration was based on the memories of Florence Bent Palmer, the daughter of the last stationmaster, William Bent, who served from 1913 to 1940. Bent’s family included three children and a dog, as well as his wife, Ann, who sometimes milked cows that had to spend the night in the railroad yard before continuing the journey to San Francisco. School children frequently visit the museum to learn about typical middle-class life in the early 20th century. Among the period details are hanging light bulbs and a coal/wood-burning stove in the kitchen, an ice box and wringer washer in the pantry, a gramophone and several original pieces of furniture from the Bent family.
Items in the museums are donations to the Landmarks Society’s History Collections. Donors also underwrite the cost of scale models, which is based on the square footage of the footprint of original full-size buildings.
Become a member. Be a docent. Make a donation.
Private Group Tours: Landmarks offers group tours for all of our historical properties. Whether for senior excursions, school visits, or just large groups (10 or more) from out of the area – our docents teach the exciting history of this beautiful area and each Landmark. The easiest accessible sites are the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum and the China Cabin. (Old St. Hilary cannot accommodate large buses; therefore, groups need to walk about 100 yards uphill to gain access.) We ask for a donation of $5 per person/per site to be paid in advance to help defray the operating and maintenance costs of each of the sites. For more information, please call Landmarks at 415-435-1853.
We are actively working to complete the Railroad Museum and if you are interested in sponsoring any of the remaining models or rooms, please contact Landmarks at 415-435-1853.
Railroad Museum – Lower Level
This ferryboat model is of the largest ferry to ply San Francisco Bay. It was converted from a railcar ferry to an automobile ferry in the 1920s and renamed the Eureka, which is now anchored at the Maritime Museum at the foot of Hyde Street in San Francisco. The actual boat, some 291 feet long seating 996 passengers holding 14 railroad boxcars makes a very impressive model tied up at the freight slip in the rail yard. The Ukiah was built in the rail yard in Tiburon and launched in May of 1890. The model was constructed in 18 months by Stuart Purvis of Santa Rosa.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $8,000
This 325 foot long structure provided shelter from inclement weather to passengers traveling through the Tiburon Depot. It covers three tracks and in 1909 hosted some 1,500,000 passengers. Three trains could be in service at once in this structure. It has unique features such as water barrels on the roof for fire-fighting and passenger platforms running its length for easy access to train coaches.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $18,900
This structure provided essential storage for Northwestern Pacific Railroad business and maintenance records. As Tiburon was the maintenance base for the whole north coast of California rail operations, histories of engines and railcars were kept here along with spare parts inventories and orders.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $3,600
This is the engine and railcar building where all rolling stock would come for necessary updates and repairs. Also many railcars, passenger and freight were built in this structure along with engines. Just about any form of repair or new construction could be done here.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $14,900
This is the support area for railcar building and repair. It housed large machinery such as axle lathes, driver wheel tire installers, iron furnaces and molds for casting replacement parts. This area was the heavy industry of the Tiburon rail yard. The skilled blacksmiths, mechanics and electricians could create anything needed for the Northwestern Pacific rolling stock to continue operation.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $20,300
Upstairs Museum – Sponsorship Opportunities
The second story of the Tiburon Railroad/Ferry Depot was added around 1890 and used as offices until 1913 when the station master, William Bent, his wife Ann & three children Thomas 13, Zelma 7 & Florence 1 moved in. The Bents lived there until 1940 when Mr. Bent retired.
The 9 room 1600 square foot home has 13 foot ceilings & is all wood paneled in rich 3/4 inch tongue-in-groove redwood. The walls & ceiling are painted “Southern Pacific” yellow, a signature color of the railroad. The floors are painted dark red. There are bare hanging light bulbs for light in all rooms except for the dining room, which has a period chandelier. The coal/wood burning kitchen stove & a portable oil heater provided heat. The high ceilings, tall doors with transoms & large, tall windows give the house an open, spacious feeling. The waterside location on the wharf adjoining the busy train yard made this a most unusual home.
The Bent family has donated many large & small pieces to the house. Landmarks Society has recreated this home to represent a middle -income family living at that time period. They have used these pieces as well as local donations & purchases & Florence’s remembrances to recreate the home. Sponsorship room prices are based on square footage
This large corner 3 window room overlooking the bay with views of Angel Island, SF & the Golden Gate Bridge was the center of family life. The handsome oak library table was made by Thomas when he was at Tam High School in Mill Valley. The Steger & Sons upright piano, mahogany floor Victrola c. 1915 & wood tabletop radio provided entertainment. Mrs. Bent’s comfortable rocking chair & Mr. Bent’s smoking stand add character & history to this fine room. A wall desk for bill paying or letter writing & matching bookshelf complete the room.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $12.200
The ruby glass chandelier highlights this room. The handsome heavy, round oak dining table set for the family dinner with period china & glassware is inviting. A child’s oak chair & corner buffet table complete the setting. A collection of Mrs. Bent’s dishes is displayed in the glass front closet. One window captures the views of Belvedere Island & the Golden Gate Bridge. A pair of oak framed Dutch prints adorn the walls from the Bent Collection.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $5,320
Mrs. Bent loved to cook & entertain. Once a week she baked 6 loaves of bread. Her large #12 black iron fry pan hangs on the wall by the black cast iron, wood/coal-burning Dexter stove. An attached water heater provided hot water in the kitchen & bathroom next door. The white enamel sink, Hoosier oak cabinet with zinc top, white enamel top kitchen table & many well used kitchen items, including a glass butter churn, give period character to this room. Collections include spice cans & bottles, coffee cans, cook books & 1920’s green handled utensils
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $5,700
A double steel tubular style bed rests in the corner by the window overlooking the busy train yard. Bent family and other colorful period quilts are changed seasonally. An oak Singer treadle sewing machine sits under the west looking window framing downtown Tiburon & Mt Tam in the distance. This is where Mrs. Bent mended & sewed the family clothes. The Bent’s dark brown dresser & a small oak side table displaying a collection of “ivory” celluloid bureau pieces complete the room’s furniture. A lovely old oil lamp of green glass sits on the bureau with ladies accessories (e.g. perfume, pearls, gloves etc) & a handsome photo of Mrs. Bent.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $6,000
This small room contains a child’s youth bed with a high headboard in the Eastlake style. A blue glass oil nightlight on the wall would glow at night. A child’s oak roll top desk & chair with paper dolls & crayons fills the space. On the clothes rack hangs a little girl’s white organdy or blue velvet dress with matching bonnet.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $2,640
This nice size room with 2 windows overlooking the bay & 1 window framing downtown Tiburon & Mt Tam is very cheerful. The single white tubular bed hugs the corner & has various pretty quilts on it along with a friendly bear. A Bent family oak bureau with attached mirror lines one wall. A white painted child’s school desk from the Belvedere School sits in a corner. Various children’s toys, puzzles, dolls & books are scattered on the braided rag rug. A collection of black iron toys sits on the small bookshelf. Zelma’s Tiburon grade school diploma hangs on the wall.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $6,160
UTILITY ROOM & WATERCLOSET
This narrow room contains a double concrete utility sink & 1914 Maytag washing machine with attached ringer. Above on the wall is a drying rack & shelf with various vintage laundry needs e.g. soaps, bluing agent, sock dryers & washboards. The white wood icebox in the corner lives up to its name. The top left compartment can hold a 12”x12”x18” block of ice. The right side has shelves with old milk bottle of the period from local dairies. Above the icebox is a display of household items such as ice picks, hammer, mousetrap & rug beater. A set of period irons adds interest. Behind the door closest to the window is an oak, working reproduction, pull chain toilet. The other 2 doors have closets, which held food storage items. Sometimes when Mrs. Bent brewed her beer Florence said “it blew”.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $3,000
MAIN HALL & STAIRS
The original 100-year-old stairway opposite what was the bayside front door leads to the upstairs home. It brings you into the large center hall made grander by the high ceilings. The hallway provides access to the other 8 rooms of the home. Above the hall table are black and white photos of the Bent family. An oak wall phone with crank handle & earpiece hugs the opposite wall. Two old chairs invite one to rest after the steep climb. And should the power go out, two Victorian oil and glass oil lamps are mounted on the longest wall.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $4.400
This room of cleanliness has 1 window overlooking what was the noisy, dirty train yard. A gray marble standing sink by the window allows good light for shaving. Mr. Bent’s shaving mirror hangs on the wall beside it. The wonderful old, white painted tin tub with 3 inch oak wood trim looks inviting. A small oak chest provides storage & the top is covered with local pharmacy bottles, a vintage curling iron, early tins of cosmetics and remedies. A double wood seat from the Tiburon School provides seating or a place to leave a damp towel.
Sponsorship available to individuals or groups at $3,740