The Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library is holding a special exhibit through the end of January to commemorate the old Mount Tamalpais Railway.
The exhibit consists of a number of model train cars from the collection of Michael Murray, along with photographs and historic ephemera from the old railway. Murray, who passed away in 2008, was a Corte Madera craftsman who designed and built the model train cars to showcase a long gone but not forgotten piece of Marin County history. The models are on loan from the Gravity Car Barn and Museum, which sits at the East Peak of Mount Tam, where the old railway once brought passengers from Mill Valley. The exhibit was created by librarian Laurie Thompson, with the help of Arlene Halligan, the Special Project Director for the Gravity Car Barn.
The Anne T. Kent California Room is located on the top floor of the Marin County Civic Center, part of the library that is housed under the big blue dome. In 1982, the California Room was named to honor Anne Thompson Kent (1892-1981), who was a critically important figure in the establishment of the Marin County Free Library system. She was the holder of Library Card Number 1 and a major benefactor of the library, donating many historical documents relating to Marin County. The Anne T. Kent California Room features a number of important historical collections, including photographs, oral histories, maps, and clippings from local newspapers. The library is in the process of digitizing much of the collection and making it available online in the California Room Digital Archive. In addition to collections focused on Frank Lloyd Wright, the Mountain Plays, and the Golden Gate Bridge Construction, there is an extensive digital collection about the Mount Tamalpais Railway.
The Mount Tamalpais Railway was built in 1896 to carry passengers from the Mill Valley Depot to the East Peak of the mountain. Originally known as the Mill Valley & Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway, the name was changed in 1907, when a spur line was opened that went down into the newly created Muir Woods National Monument. The railway then became known as the Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway, but for the passengers who thrilled at the experience it was known as "the Crookedest Railroad in the World."
The Mount Tamalpais Railway is long gone now, as are the tracks, the equipment, and most of the trains that used to make the trip from Mill Valley to Mount Tamalpais. One locomotive that ran on the railway was the #9 Heisler, which sits today in front of a museum in the Humboldt County town of Scotia. Efforts are underway to bring this historic locomotive back to Mount Tamalpais and have it be part of the interpretive exhibits at the Gravity Car Barn. The biggest challenge is to convince the townspeople of Scotia that the #9 Heisler has an important historical connection to the Mount Tamalpais Railway. Project Manager Arlene Halligan, along with historian Fred Runner and volunteer coordinator Jimmy Dunn, presented the case to the Scotia Community Services District Board last June, and then returned in October to speak to the general public at the Winema Theater.
The response has been mostly sympathetic, although the process is complicated by Scotia’s onetime status as a Pacific Lumber company town that is now transforming into an independent Community Services District. Mary Bullwinkel of the Humboldt Beacon wrote an informative article that explains the issue from the point of view of Scotia, leaving open the possibility that the locomotive could be transferred to Mount Tam after the Community Services District takes possession of the town's assets. There is still much work to be done, however. Funds will need to be raised to transfer the #9 Heisler to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, where it will be restored and then transported to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais. Estimated costs are from $120,000 to $160,000 to restore the locomotive, plus about $30,000 to move it first from Scotia to Sacramento, and then from Sacramento to the mountain.
The Gravity Car Barn is staffed and maintained by the Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association (MTIA), which is a nonprofit cooperating association that works to support Mount Tamalpais State Park. In addition to maintaining the Gravity Car Barn, they also staff the Visitor Center at East Peak, conduct guided hikes around the mountain, present an Astronomy Program at the Mountain Theater, and hold an Earth Day volunteer work day. MTIA is an all-volunteer organization, an indication of the strong community support that Mount Tamalpais enjoys. MTIA welcomes new members and volunteers, who are encouraged to join like-minded friends and neighbors to show our love for the mountain.