Bicyclists and walkers today cover the ground that once hosted a vital Manteca economic link to United States markets.
The 3.4-mile Tidewater Bikeway -named in honor of the former Tidewater Southern Railroad that operated trains into Manteca as late as 1983 - was dedicated in 2002. It slices through the middle of Manteca going from Lathrop Road in the north to Spreckels Avenue in the south.
The first railroad was the Southern Pacific that provided the vital transit link to ship milk to San Francisco and produce and sugar to the East Coast markets.
The Tidewater Southern was launched in 1912 with the idea of providing a second route to Southern California to compete with the Southern Pacific. That dream, however, was never realized as only 33 of the envisioned 150 miles were built.
The main line opened to freight service in October of 1912 from Taylor Street in Stockton to Modesto. Overhead catenary electrification of the main line began in May of 1913 and was completed in November of that year to allow the running of three green interurban cars.
The Tidewater during its operations ran steam, electric and diesel engines.
The Modesto to Turlock segment was completed in July 1916 while the eight miles from Hatch, located west of Turlock to Hilmar was finished in July 1917. The 6.6-mile branch line to Manteca went into operation by May of 1918.
The new Manteca line brought freight and passenger service the same year the city was incorporated.
The Modesto to Stockton trip was scheduled at an hour and 45 minutes. This topped the competing Southern Pacific whose passenger trains were on four-hour availability and required 15 to 30 minutes of travel between the two cities.
The interurban service ended in 1932 but the railroad lived on. Western Pacific obtained it as a feeder line while Union Pacific took control in 1983 when it acquired the Western Pacific.
The Southern Pacific and Tidewater tracks ran parallel in Manteca from a point midway between Alameda Street and Center Street to Spreckels Road.
There were eight fruit packing sheds at one time along the stretch of competing railroads.
The Tidewater main line is still part of the Union Pacific system and is used extensively in the Modesto area. The San Joaquin County portion of the line that runs from Escalon along Highway 120 and then up French Camp Road to the Ace Tomato packing shed before heading north into Stockton is still used to occasionally move agricultural products.
Manteca purchased the 3.4-mile section of the Tidewater right-of-way within the city limits to create the bike path and a 35-acre urban green belt. For years, the abandoned railroad right-of-way was a haven for the homeless, vandals, and those who wanted to dump trash creating a scar down the middle of the city.
Plans call for eventually extending the bike path south into Ripon. A similar bike path exists between Interstate 205 and a farm on Stewart Tract that allows Manteca residents to access Tracy via the Mossdale Crossing bike path.
The city opted to eliminate the raised bed of the Tidewater and make a meandering path to provide more privacy for neighbors and to make the path interesting.
The Tidewater was designed as the backbone of what initially was envisioned as a 20.5-mile separate bike path loop of the city.