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Edward Gibson Tilton – Railroad Engineer, Merchant & Platter of Las Vegas

February 12, 2014

Edward Gibson Tilton was born in Indiana on March 3, 1853, son of James Tilton and Isabella Hanson Tilton. The family removed to Washington Territory where General James Tilton was first Surveyor-General.

Edward Gibson TiltonEG Tilton was educated as a civil engineer and spent some years working with Henry Meiggs on railroad projects in Chile and Peru before being picked by Andrew Onderdonk to superintend the challenging task of building a railroad through the Fraser Canyon.

Boarding with the Onderdonk’s at Yale, EG Tilton was engaged to 19 year old Florence Judah of San Francisco.

Florence was born April 17, 1862, the daughter of Elmira Smith and Charles D Judah. Her father had been the first lawyer to set up business in Sacramento and her uncle Theodore D Judah, was a surveyor of the Central Pacific Railroad, the first trans-continental railway.

Educated as a school teacher and evidently close to the Onderdonks, Florence was reported in one newspaper to be the "sister" of Mrs Onderdonk, but this does not jibe with other facts which give the maiden name of Sarah Delia Onderdonk as Hilman or Hillman.

  Onderdonk family Yale The Onderdonk’s at Yale.
Young Arthur Onderdonk, on back of trike, was born at Yale, January 29,1881.

EG Tilton and Florence Judah were married November 9, 1881 at St John the Divine church at Yale. The reception took place at the Onderdonk residence and was by all accounts quite an affair. A newspaper reported "Wedding in High Life at Yale." The wedding cake and various accoutrements were shipped up from Victoria on the steamer Western Slope.

In 1882 EG Tilton gave a lengthy interview to a reporter from Oregon describing the challenges of building the CPR in the canyon.

With the most difficult task behind him Tilton retired from railroading at the end of February, 1883.

On Saturday night, March 3, 1883 Edward Gibson Tilton was honored with a lavish banquet at the Cascade Hotel at Yale. George F Kyle acted as master of ceremonies.  James Leamy was among those praising Mr Tilton.

At the conclusion of addresses, Tilton was presented with "an elegant watch and charm."  The watch was inscribed:

"Presented to Edward G Tilton, contractor, chief engineer and general superintendent Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia, by his friends and the employees on the works."

EG and Florence Tilton moved from industrious and boisterous Yale BC down to genteel Victoria on Vancouver Island.

1884 04 04 Marvin & Tilton Marvin & Tilton - hardware store - VictoriaAt Victoria EG Tilton bought into the long-established hardware business of Edgar Marvin.  An American, Marvin was also US vice-consul in Victoria. He set up his store in 1862. 

By advertisement dated January 1, 1884, the company would be known as Marvin & Tilton.
Following the death of Edgar Marvin in July 1891, Tilton purchased sole ownership of the firm.

Marvin & Tilton served the home improvement trade in the city as well as dealing in mining and lumbering equipment and agricultural implements.

The mother of EG Tilton and Howard Tilton died March 25, 1896 at the residence "Roccabella" in Victoria. Isabella Hanson Tilton had been  born at Washington DC in 1822. Her husband General James Tilton had died in 1878 and she lived in Victoria since 1883.  A third son, James Jr., a civil engineer, resided in Seattle, home also of Howard Tilton.

The following year, in May 1897, EG Tilton advertised he was going out of business and was set to auction off his inventory. The store was purchased by WS Fraser, who took over in November that year.

The Yukon gold rush of 1898 lured EG Tilton back into railroading as President of the Miles Canyon & White Horse Tramway Company.  This was a 3-foot gauge ascending road, running 4 1/2 miles in bypass of the rapids on the Lewis River.  It operated during the seasons of ’98 and ’99.

By 1903 EG Tilton had moved down the coast as assistant engineer in the construction of  the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, where in 1905 he was Chief Engineer.

EG Tilton map of Las Vegas townsiteOn Jan. 23, 1905 with the railroad nearing completion and the pressure of townsite speculation mounting, J Ross Clark, President of the railroad company, wired a hasty telegram to Tilton:

"Mr. E. G. Tilton, Chief Engineer. Dear Sir: It is important that the matter of surveying townsite Las Vegas be rushed. Will you kindly put someone at work laying out of this townsite at the earliest possible date. Very truly yours, (Signed) J. ROSS CLARK"

EG Tilton had the plans for Las Vegas drawn up in his offices at Los Angeles.

Goodsprings Nevada - SPLA&SLRR 1904On January 30, 1905 the completion of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was signified with a "last spike" ceremony at Good Springs, Nevada.


"Mr Tilton with three quick hard blows sent the iron spike deep into the oaken crosstie and Los Angeles was, generally speaking, twenty-four hours closer to Salt Lake City than on the day before."


Tilton’s mother-in-law, Elmira E Judah died in San Francisco on May 24, 1905.

Tilton remained with the Salt Lake railroad for the next few years as Chief Engineer. He was residing in San Francisco when he passed away on January 8, 1924.

His obituary read:

"On January 8, at San Francisco, after a brief illness, at the age of 70, Edward Gibson Tilton, formerly of Victoria. Deceased leaves surviving him his widow, Mrs E.G. Tilton, of Victoria, and two daughters, Mrs W.F. Pease, resident in England, and Mrs H.J. Davis, of Victoria."

Florence Tilton, widow of EG Tilton, lived on in Victoria until her death on June 20, 1950 at age 89.  She died at the family home, Ardmore, North Saanich. Born in San Francisco on April 21, 1862. She had lived in British Columbia for 70 years.


Living in the James Tilton  family household at Olympia in the 1850’s was Charles Mitchell, famous in 1858 as a “runaway.”

Genealogical links, see James Tilton family at

Map links-

May 8, 1905 map of Las Vegas townsite signed by EG Tilton chief engineer.
Good Springs and Las Vegas on the route of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad.

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