High on the windswept ridges of Mount Tamalpais stands a rustic gem from another time. A living, working, gas-lit Inn built long ago when steam trains once climbed the mountain. The railroad is gone now, but the Inn remains a haven for hikers and a monument to the rich historic heritage of the region. From its broad porch, a sweeping panoramic view includes much of the East Bay, San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, and a vast Pacific Ocean.
The West Point Inn was a brief stop on the Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway. Built in 1904, it was a place where trains met a horse-drawn stagecoach from Willow Camp (Stinson Beach.) Importantly, it was hospitality for visitors at the westernmost point of the railroad (hence the name.)
The Railroad Grade was built by hand in six months in 1896, from downtown Mill Valley to the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais. With 281 turns the Railroad began calling itself “The Crookedest Railroad in the World.” In 1907 a branch line was finished to Muir Woods.
West Point’s stagecoach service ended in 1915. The Inn’s porch was enlarged in 1916, and the last cabin was built by Dr Washington Dodge of San Francisco in 1918. In 1920, the main lounge (a dining room then) was added.
The West Point Inn and its cabins are the only surviving buildings of the railroad and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The West Point Inn was part of the railroad until 1930, when the railroad abandoned operations and the Inn came under the jurisdiction of the Marin Municipal Water District. Innkeepers continued to lease the Inn, supported by a steady weekend hiking community but was abandoned as unprofitable during World War II.
In September 1943, volunteers began running the Inn. Their ideas were the basis of how we run West Point today.
First known celebrity rides scenic railway to summit of Mt. Tamalpias
Susan B. Anthony
Public domain image
120 years ago on Sept. 16, 1896, Susan B. Anthony was the first known celebrity to ride the new scenic railway to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. She was campaigning for women's suffrage--the right for women to vote in California. She was 76 years old.
In 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting in Rochester, New York. She was born a Quaker, believed in equal rights and peaceful protest.
In 1896, she campaigned in California where an amendment to the state constitution was on the ballot. A few newspapers carried the story of her day on Mt. Tamalpais. The Sausalito News had the right date. The Topeka State Journal had the details.
Women did not win the right to vote in California in 1896. That happened in 1911, and across America in 1920.
Ms. Anthony visited in the first month of operation for the Mill Valley & Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway. She and the two women's groups that rode the train were guests of the railroad--they rode for free. This gives us an idea of the politics of the new scenic railway. 1896 was eight years before the West Point Inn was built.
This is film footage from 1898 of the “Crookedest Railroad in the World” heading up to Mount Tam to West Point Inn. You can see the train backing up the cars up the mountain.
No, the film is not going in reverse. You’ll also notice that it was filmed by none other than Thomas Edison, only three years after the Lumière brothers premiered their first train films in Paris. They certainly liked to film trains back then!
This is a recently published film on the history of the railroad has great footage of the train steaming up the mountain. Grab a cup of coffee and we hope you enjoy watching this twenty-three minute film.
To view this film with closed-captioning, please go directly to Youtube.
West Point Inn #1 c 1904
It is the summer of 1904 and the new Inn has just opened for business. Engine No. 3 makes a brief stop before heading to the the railroad's grand Tavern of Tamalpais at East Peak. It is amazing that this simple Inn still exists. Threatened by fire and eras of neglect, today it is the only place to spend a night high on the slopes of Mt Tamalpais. Rustic hospitality for over a century. Collection of Jim Staley
West Point Inn #8
West Point was the westernmost point of Mt Tamalpais's Scenic Railway. In early notes and plans it was called West End or West Loop. Here the tracks finished their westward climb, made a tight turn in a 252º arc on a narrow ridge, and pointed east toward the mountain's summit, almost 2 miles away. Collection of Jim Staley
Looking toward SF, c 1905
The West Point Inn was built on windswept ridge in 1904. Amazingly, the Inn has changed little in a century. The nights are still lit by gaslight and an old clock ticks on the mantlepiece. It is still possible to spend the night on Mt Tamalpais in the simple, rustic accommodations of the Crookedest Railroad in the World. (Note ruts in stage road from that day's stagecoach to Willow Camp.) Putnam & Valentine Photo, Anne T. Kent California Room Collection, Marin County Free Library
Old advertisement: "A Home Away From Home - From the moment the guest arrives he is agreeably impressed with the cheerful atmosphere, which bespeaks hospitality, home-like informality and comfort."