The Town of Tracy

In September of 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad that ran from Sacramento, was built through the City of Stockton, the present site of Tracy, over the Altamont Pass, through Niles Canyon to Niles, and then be ferry service to San Francisco. Once the installation of the tracks had been laid, a coaling station named Ellis was established on the Altamont line, just west of Corral Hollow. Soon houses, hotels and saloons sprang up at Ellis. In 1869 when the railroad came through, the station at Ellis was founded and Judge Hay held Sunday school in the Odd Fellows Hall there.

Construction was started in 1878 by the Southern Pacific on a new rail line from Oakland around the shores of San Francisco Bay, through Port Costa and Martinez, to connect with the Central Pacific east of the Livermore Hills. The connection between the two railroads was completed at a point three miles east of Ellis on September 8. 1878. The result of this new rail line was the founding of Tracy at this connection location. Railroad officials saw no reason for continuing the coaling station at Ellis. Some of the railroad families in Ellis were moved back to Lathrop, while others moved to the new railroad station, now called Tracy. Although history is lacking as to how the name “Tracy” was chosen, it is generally agreed by pioneer residents that an official of the Southern Pacific Railroad by the name of Lathrop J. Tracy was given the distinction of having the town named for him. (It has also been suggested that he never set foot in Tracy.) Residents of Ellis soon realized that their town was doomed and decided that Tracy would become a leading center of Tulare Township. Thus, in 1878 the town of Ellis (4 miles west of town) was essentially moved to Tracy. That’s right, 47 buildings were actually moved mostly to Central Ave at 6th. Four businesses survived that move and several homes still exist at 7th and E. All that remains of Ellis today is a few thresholds and remnants plus a dairy.

Soon the hustle and bustle of city life came to Tracy.  Business, hotels and saloons pooped up on Front Street (now Sixth Street). There were card rooms, slot machines and several brothels. As a train station and important stop on the very popular Lincoln Highway (first continental highway from coast to coast) in the late 1800s, Tracy wasn’t very large.

As a railroad town in the late 19th century, Tracy was an active place. Train crews and passengers were moving in and out of the local depot and a string of small hotels, restaurants and taverns had sprung up on Front Street. It was a lively place.

But from the beginning, there was more to Tracy than the Southern Pacific yard and Front Street. Homes had been built on adjacent streets, and stores had been opened to serve the needs of residents of the new town. Several churches also were opened and Willow School educated Tracy’s youngsters.


In 1945, the H. J. Heinz factory opened.  And in 1948, Tracy Community Memorial Hospital became the first hospital, later it became known as Sutter Tracy Community Hospital.

Part of the flavor of the town was the people, of course. One character for sure must have been Amelia Bodel. She ran “Hazel’s” Brothel. She was very generous with her money and had an open account at the local grocery store just to help those in dire need of food. She in fact was the first and largest contributor to the Sutter Hospital building fund. When gambling and prostitution were prohibited in 1954, Amelia opened a dress shop.  She did not discontinue her other pursuits and was put in jail. After her release she opened a restaurant, still continuing her pursuits. Again she was placed in jail. This time she lost her large home and the First Presbyterian Church bought it to help the underprivileged. They moved it to Tracy Blvd. near Eaton.

At the Methodist Church things were improving also. Stained glass windows dedicated Oct 6, 1946 under the pastorship of the Rev. William T. Menard. While the Rev. Thomas Cuddy was pastor, a new parsonage was built in 1948.  Then during the time of the Rev. Loren Mee, new pews, replacing the ones from the old church, were made by a man of the church and dedicated in 1953. The organ was installed in 1953 and dedicated in 1954.  The church received 89 new members during the conference year between July 1, 1953, and June 30, 1954.

Because of the growth of the church membership, a new building committee was formed.  A successful campaign secured pledges of over $67,000 and in early 1957 a contract was let for the erection of the new sanctuary on 3.3 acres of land on the east end of town donated by Mrs. Grace Fine and her son, Harris.

Between 1940 and 1960 there were as many as 78 trains a day through town (passenger and freight).

The Owens-Brockway glass container plant opened in 1962.

Laura-Scudder’s snack food factory opened in 1964 and Leprino Cheese Company opened in 1975 and became the largest cheese factory in California.

In April 1992, the Great Beginnings Preschool began, expanding the church’s ministry to small children and their families. In 1991, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary of ministry in Tracy.