In 1878 construction of a new rail line was started from Oakland around the shores of San Francisco Bay, through Martinez to connect to the Central Pacific at a point three miles to the east of Ellis. The line had been built to make possible greater efficiency by avoiding hills and to eliminate the expense of helper engines. The result of the new rail line was the founding of Tracy on September 8, 1878, named for Lathrop J. Tracy, a grain merchant and railroad director in Mansfield, Ohio.
Tracy continued to grow as a railroad center. A new line through Los Banos was the fastest and least expensive to Los Angeles. In March of 1894 railroad headquarters at Lathrop were moved to Tracy. All of the railroad equipment including engines and buildings were moved. Thus, Tracy’s beginning is in fact the story of a railroad.
Businesses were initially centered on Front Street (today’s Sixth Street). After the turn of the 20th Century, commercial activity moved north on Central Avenue. As 11th Street became Highway 50, a busy thoroughfare, it fostered the creation of a number of businesses, including the historic Tracy Inn, completed in 1927. In the 1950s, businesses began locating on both sides of Central Avenue on 10th Street to complete the present downtown business district.
Tracy was incorporated in 1910 and it grew rapidly after the first irrigation district was established in 1915. Although railroad operations began to decline in the 1950s, Tracy continued to prosper as an agricultural area. Today, the City seal reflects this history of railroads and agriculture.
A major city improvement project completed in 2007 provided reconstructed streets, new street trees, expanded landscaping and redesigned sidewalks to the downtown. Also in 2007, the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts was created from a 1923 theater and three adjoining hotels. The City of Tracy Transit Station, opened in 2009, provides a handsome new anchor — and venue for community gatherings — at the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue on the southern end of downtown.
In addition to its role as a commercial center, Tracy’s downtown also is the center of community activities. It hosts the weekly Farmers’ Market, the annual Wine Stroll, holiday and homecoming parades, and much more.