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"Driving the Last Spike"
Last  Spike
by Thomas Hill (detail in gold, front cover).

Driving the Last Spike

Key to the Portraits in the Thomas Hill painting "The Last Spike"

Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper.

Thomas Hill painting, "The Last Spike"
Courtesy California State Railroad Museum.
Thomas Hill's famous painting "The Last Spike" was reproduced as an engraving "Driving the Last Spike" in Johnstone, E. McD. Pacific Coast Souvenir. Oakland, California, E.S. Denison, 1888, a 19th century View Book (top).  The original painting (bottom) was for many years in the rotunda of the California State Capitol, but now is on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.  Thomas Hill (1829-1908) completed painting this amazing collection of portraits on one canvas — the most ambitious portraiture ever attempted — but then was not paid for his work.  The Key to the Portraits (middle) is taken from Thomas Hill's self-published pamphlet, The Last Spike, A Painting by Thomas Hill:  Illustrating the Last Scene in the Building of the Overland Railroad.  With a History of the Enterprise.  San Francisco, January, 1881:
"Kneeling at the feet of Governor Stanford is F. L. Vandenburg, the chief electrician of the occasion, who is adjusting the wire which leads off through the crowd to the telegraph pole on the right.  At his left is J. H. Strowbridge, general superintendent of the work of construction.  The chief men of the Central Pacific railroad, C. P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, E. B. Crocker, Charles Crocker, T. D. Judah, are all represented in characteristic attitudes. and with features accurately portrayed.  Near Governor Stanford are the President and Directors of the Union Pacific, Oakes Ames, Sidney Dillon, Dr. Durant, and John Duff, Hon. A. A. Sargent, who played so important and honorable a part in the legislation that made the building of the road possible, is shown by an admirable portrait at the right. Behind him is Hon. T. G. Phelps, his colleague in Congress while the Pacific Railroad legislation was taking shape, and its friend throughout.  In the same part of the canvas are S. S. Montague, Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific; Colonel George E. Gray, Consulting Engineer; the two assistant engineers, L. M. Clement and Charles Cadwalader; Judge S. W. Sanderson, at present chief legal adviser of the road; B. B. Redding of the Land Department; A. K. P. Safford, then Governor of Arizona; and Hon. Milton S. Latham, United States Senator from California when the road was begun, and at all times its warm friend.  Elsewhere can be found William Sherman, James W. Haynes and F. A. Tritle, United States Pacific Railroad Commissioners ; John Corning, Division Superintendent, afterwards Assistant General Superintendent, and E. H. Miller, Jr., Secretary of the Central Pacific Railroad Company; Robert Robinson, Counsel for the Company; Arthur Brown, Superintendent of Bridges and Buildings; E. Black Ryan, Private Secretary of Governor Stanford; Charles Marsh, one of the original incorporators; Edgar Mills, Master of Ceremonies; Dr. H. W. Harkness, of Sacramento; Dr. J. D. B. Stillman, of San Francisco; A. P. Stanford, brother of Governor Stanford; J. R. Watson, Conductor of the first passenger train on the Central Pacific; Benjamin Welch, Master Builder of the Sacramento Car Works; Stephen T. Gage, of the Chief Executive Department of the Central Pacific; John Casement, Contractor of the Central Pacific, and David Hewes.  The ladies are Mrs. Strowbridge, Mrs. Ryan, and the wives of officers commanding troops in the vicinity…"
(Click here for an extended description of this painting
and the portraits it contains, taken from this booklet,
"The Last Spike," by the artist, Thomas Hill.)
Lewis Metzler Clement portrait detail in the Thomas Hill Painting, "The Last Spike."
Lewis Metzler Clement portrait detail in the Thomas Hill Painting, "The Last Spike."

Images courtesy of:

Individuals responsible for the railroads' construction who (for good reason) were not actually present at the driving of the last spike are included.  For example, Theodore Judah (#55) had died in 1863, Charles Crocker (#52) was busy in Sacramento, and Lewis Metzler Clement (#56) was in Washington, D.C. dealing with the Congress as the CPRR's man on the U.S. Pacific Railroad Commission that decided the urgent question of where the rails should actually meet (the UPRR and CPRR — being paid by the mile — were rapidly grading past each other — by 200 miles — when the decision to meet at Promontory, Utah was made).

Also see: "The Last Spike" (Part 1), January 29, 1881; (Part 2) and "Hill’s 'Last Spike'—Historical Inaccuracies—Humors and Minor Incidents," February 5, 1881. San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser.

Thomas Hill also painted an oil painting of James Harvey Strobridge, portrait at age 60, c. 1881.

Thomas Hill is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, California.


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