With the building of the CP also subsidized through the federal government (being given land grants as well as loans) it was Huntington who would become the principal leader of the group working
with Congress to see that the railroad got whatever it needed. While
building the CP turned out to take much longer and cost much more than
originally envisioned it was completed on May 10, 1869 at Promontory,
Utah and linking with the Union Pacific system. Four years prior to this milestone the Southern Pacific had
been established to connect San Francisco and San Diego, California. In
September 1868, Collis P. Huntington and the rest of the "Big Four"
bought out the original founders of the SP and would combine the
operations of the Central Pacific by 1870.
By the late 1870s the railroad was sprawling out across Southern California and served the state's largest markets including its line through the Southwest, which reached El Paso, Texas by the early 1880s. Throughout the rest of the 19th century the Espee continued to spread throughout the West and Southwest, reaching northern Oregon and serving most of that state's largest cities by the late 1880s.
By the 20th century the railroad continued to expand and was by this time well entrenched into the Southeastern markets of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (it also leased the CP in the 1920s, eventually merging the railroad into its system with its main line becoming the Overland Route). By mid-century it owned a stunning 15,000 miles of track, stretching from the warm and sunny beaches of Southern California and Gulf of Mexico to the deserts of Arizona and mountains of the Sierra Range. Huntington's interest in southern Virginia as having the potential to becoming a major port dates all of the back to his teenage at 16. He had visited what was then Newport News Point during his traveling salesman days and recognized the strategic value of the James River emptying into the lower Chesapeake Bay.
In 1869 he was convinced by Chesapeake & Ohio president Williams Wickham to take over construction and operation of the railroad. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway had its beginnings in the mid-1830s when the Louisa Railroad was chartered to connect Virginia's larger cities. In 1850 the company was renamed the Virginia Central because it operated through much of the state's central regions, west and north of Richmond. By 1867 the railroad was again reorganized, this time as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad when Virginia Central management decided to push the railroad to the Ohio River, eventually reaching Huntington, West Virginia during the winter of 1873 after building a main line through the Alleghenies and the tight confines of the Kanawha River valley.
It was Huntington who saw the growth of Newport News, Hampton Roads, and Norfolk as a major port in the late 19th century originally founded the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company there. He also established Huntington, West Virginia in 1871 as a base of operations for the C&O establishing the Ensign Manufacturing Company there a year later. Huntington became a major terminal along the C&O, all of the way through the 20th century and today still remains so on successor CSX's system (including where the railroad's major paint shop is located). Collis P. Huntington died at the age of 79 in August, 1900 but before his death he helped most of the C&O's original network, such as its extensive reach into West Virginia's southern coal fields. To read more about the life of Huntington please click here.
Huntington was somewhat charitable, giving the Metropolitan Museum of
Art his massive art collection and also donated his Fifth Avenue mansion
to Yale University. Finally, for more reading about the tycoon consider the book The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California
by author Richard Rayner, which tells the tale of how the "Big Four"
built not only the Central Pacific but also laid the ground work of
California's rail network. The book covers more than 200 pages of and
if you have any interest in either the state's railroad history or these
four gentlemen you are sure to enjoy Rayner's book.
Collis P. Huntington