Colfax History

Colfax sits at the junction of Highway 80 and 174 in Placer County, California. It has long been part of Western history, with a deep, rich past. Nisenan indigenous people lived along the Bear River for thousands of years prior to the Gold Rush and coming of white men. The settlement that is today Colfax was known as Alder Grove in 1849, then later, as development increased, Alder Grove was re-named Illinoistown. By 1852, Illinoistown was known as a major supply hub for gold mining camps. In April 1852, the Reelfoot Williams Gang robbed a Nevada City stagecoach of $7,000 in gold bullion near Illinoistown. This was the first recorded stagecoach robbery in the gold country. More on the naming of Illinoistown here:

The Central Pacific Railroad was surveyed by Chief Engineer Theodore Judah during the early 1860’s. Judah’s plan called for some 690 miles of track to be constructed through some of the most difficult terrain ever encountered by a railroad, before it could complete its goal of meeting the railroad in Promontory Summit, Utah. The first train arrived in Colfax in 1865—it was the terminus for two years while construction over the summit progressed. Note: Colfax is a genuine railroad town, built on land owned originally by the Railroad, approximately one mile north of Illinoistown.

It’s difficult today to understand the importance of a transcontinental railroad and how this tied a country together as it came out of the Civil War, allowing transport, commerce and expansion between the Eastern and Western seaboard states. The transcontinental railroad is still considered one of the greatest and most ambitious technological feats of the nineteenth century, with Colfax at the critical beginning of the Sierra ascent. Learn more about the Railroad’s history at

Schuyler Colfax was Vice President (1863-1869) and Speaker of the House (1869–73). He was a great advocate for the transcontinental railroad. The City of Colfax was incorporated on February 23, 1910, taking Colfax as its namesake.  The City core is located on what was once Railroad property, near what was then Illinoistown. (See historical resources here)

Colfax Historic Marker Walking Tour Flyer