The Fascinating History of Lathrop, CA

Both Stanford Crossing and the surrounding town of Lathrop are steeped in a long history of railroading innovation, pioneering higher education and much more. Let’s dive into the history of Lathrop to find out how one of the fastest-growing cities in California, and its popular planned community Stanford Crossing, became the places they are today.

Why Call It “Lathrop”?

Lathrop’s origins can be traced back to the California Gold Rush. It was the promise of prosperity and the chance to innovate that drew Leland Stanford — the 8th governor of California — and his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford, to the West Coast. After arriving in California, Stanford quickly built a booming business empire, becoming a notable early innovator in the construction of railroads throughout the state. Lathrop itself started small. It was little more than a schoolhouse and a store, before the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad around 1870. Once the railroad began construction, the town actually began to grow as a result of a dispute between Leland Stanford and the City of Stockton. Stanford had originally planned to build the railroad through Stockton, but due to disputes that arose with city officials on where exactly the railroad should be placed in town, he decided to simply go around it and build a new town along the railroad’s new route. The station he built was originally known as Wilson’s Station. Wilson’s Station was renamed to Lathrop in 1869 to honor the family of Stanford’s wife and brother-in-law, Charles Lathrop, who worked as a civil engineer on the Central Pacific Railroad.

Today, a marker at the northeast corner of Lathrop Skate Park records this history.

Lathrop, CA history marker
With Lathrop now cemented as an important stopping and division point for the railroad, the town experienced steady upward growth throughout most of the 1870s, reaching a thriving population of 600 by 1879. The town opened an official post office, as well as a hotel next to the railroad station, which was one of the largest hotels in the state at the time. Unfortunately, the hotel was destroyed in a fire some six years later, seeming to mark the start of the town’s period of decline through World War I.

Population and economic growth dwindled slowly, and residents of Lathrop struggled up until World War II, when the influx of manufacturing factories and workers to the town revitalized the economy and supported growth like never before. This growth continued until finally, in 1989, Lathrop was officially incorporated.

Our Connection to the Stanford Family: How Stanford Crossing Got Its Name

The town founders, Leland and Jane Stanford, did so much more in their lifetimes than lay the foundation for the Lathrop of today. As the 8th governor, Stanford helped alleviate the state’s debt, opened what would later become San Jose State University, and advocated fiercely for the conservation of California’s stunning natural forests.

What you likely know the Stanford name from, though, is Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. After their son passed away in 1884, the Stanfords in their grief wanted a way to commemorate their son’s memory. On October 1, 1881, they opened Leland Stanford Jr. University, and following Leland Sr.’s death in 1893, Jane Stanford effectively took control of the university, spending her time there advocating for the admission of women, an emphasis on arts and academic freedom. Stanford University, in fact, was a co-educational institution from its very first day. She continued to serve the institution actively until her death in 1905, and funds from her collection of jewels, which she left to the school as a permanent endowment, still support the purchase of books in the university’s library today.

When we were first dreaming up Stanford Crossing, we knew that our name needed to reflect the same passion and commitment to education, growth and innovation that the Stanfords so staunchly exhibited. More than simply the town founders, Leland and Jane Stanford pushed the limits of academics and the railroading industry in ways that have shaped our state to what it is now. So, the name Stanford Crossing was born, a name inspired by both the Stanfords’ educational legacy and by Lathrop’s own deep roots as a railroad crossing station.

History Steeped in Innovation

From the beginning, Lathrop has embraced innovation. The history of Lathrop is one of progress, resilience and forward-thinking; traits still present today in everything we do. Here at Stanford Crossing we likewise strive to innovate, foster growth, and preserve the City of Lathrop’s fascinating history in creating the state’s premier master-planned community.

That’s why we’re confident you’ll find the best things in life here — where we’re always growing. Whether you’re moving for excellent Bay Area career opportunities, top-notch education for your family or simply to find a better community, you’ll find the best of it all right here in storied Lathrop.



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