Author Statement

If you have information on local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stations: Old Felton

The Santa Cruz Mountains town of Felton was not always divided between old and new. Indeed, it was not always even Felton! The origin of the town is found the destruction of Rancho Zayante in the mid-1860s, when Isaac Graham's lawyer, Edward Stanly, began the long process of subdividing the property into parcels that could be used primarily for commercial gain. Large tracts went to the Isaac Davis Henry Cowell, Eben Bennet, George Treat, Thomas Bull, Frederick A. Hihn, and other early entrepreneurs who used it primarily for lime and logging operations. But the area immediately west of the confluence of Zayante Creek into the San Lorenzo River was kept by Stanly for the creation of a formal township, designed and parcelled by county surveyor T. W. Wright.

The area where Felton would develop in Rancho Zayante, as mapped in 1859, showing no parcels and few settlements.
[Bancroft Library]
Felton was only formally called that from 1868 and Stanly named the town after his nephew, John Brooks Felton. The town centered on Baldwin Avenue—named after Stanly's wife, Cornelia Baldwin—and was quite small in its first years. Wright used Bull Creek to the south and Fall Creek to the north as the town boundaries, and the ford across the river to Graham's Grade marked the town center. Before Wright even began, the site already had a small schoolhouse, hotel, and general store—catering to lumber- and quarrymen, and gold miners—but more hotels, a larger schoolhouse, and other commercial and residential structures were quickly erected within the township. The entirety of the town remained on the west bank of the river, with only farms, a few scattered homes, and a fuse factory situated on the east bank.

Stereograph showing the San Lorenzo Valley flume's terminus with the "Santa Cruz" locomotive on the western fork pulling a passenger car. The Santa Cruz & Felton warehouse can be seen at left with the Cremer House in the distance, c. 1876.[California State Library]
By the time that the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad entered the town in late 1875, Felton was already a well-populated area, at least in comparison to other settlements within the mountains. Lumber had become the primary industry in the area and it was lumber that would put Felton on the map. In tandem with the construction of the railroad line from Santa Cruz to Felton, the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company had erected a massive lumber flume network that stretched up the valley for over eight miles to a mill situated north of modern-day Boulder Creek. While originally intended to continue all the way to Santa Cruz, the flume terminated instead at Felton due to a lack of water sources in San Lorenzo Gorge. Thus, just south of downtown, a transfer station was built where lumber would fall off the flume into large piles and then be loaded onto waiting trains. The flume served as the original purpose for railroading in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the town of Felton thrived during these years as lumbermen, carpenters, and engineers came to the town to work at the flume exchange.

The "Santa Cruz" with both passenger cars, c. 1877, parked beside what is
thought to be Old Felton Depot. The reason for the decorations is unknown.
[UC Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
A depot was eventually built at Felton, although when or where precisely remains unknown. No photographs of the depot or tracks on the west bank of the river survive except for photos of the Holmes limeworks. But Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from a later period show that the tracks forked south of town. A stereograph of the flume terminus proves that trains could park on either side of the flume for loading, so it can be assumed that the forked tracks in later maps are the same as these. The western fork was longer than the eastern and probably catered to the depot directly, in addition to the lumber deposited on that side of the flume. Near the eastern fork, the Union Mill and Lumber Company erected a planing mill to improve the quality of some of the lumber shipped out from Felton.

Felton at the intersection of Baldwin Ave. (State Route 9) and Felton Empire Road, c. 1885. [George Pepper]
For ten years, the flume terminus gave Felton life and a purpose, but the purchase of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad by the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1879 signalled impending change. The railroad built a new Felton Station across the river near the fuse factory and rebranded the earlier station "Old" Felton. At the same time, the company was finding the flume to be terribly inefficient, especially since increasing amounts of lumber were being cut at Pacific Mills (future Ben Lomond) and Boulder Creek. To remedy this issue, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was incorporated in 1883 to replace the flume with a railroad. The company wanted to simply run tracks behind downtown Felton, closely following the route of the flume, but the townspeople protested and even incorporated as a city briefly to block the railroad from doing so. The railroad responded by laying out a new right-of-way across the river that completely bypassed downtown Felton. When the new line opened in 1885, the flume terminus was dismantled and the town began to decline. Lumbermen flocked to Boulder Creek while engineers joined the new railroad or moved away.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1895 showing the layout of Felton.
Note the railroad tracks to the right with the abandoned planing mill beside the river.
Also note the two warehouses in the pull-out box across from Maple (Hihn) Street.
[UCSC Digital Collections]
Although never intended to be taken as a judgment, the term "Old" Felton became an appropriate description of the town. After the railroad relocated to the east bank, the town was unincorporated. Soon afterwards, much of downtown burned down in a substantial fire on October 20, 1888. The only building that survives today from before this fire is the Cremer House, which was fortunate to be on the opposite side of the road from where the fire raged. During the rebuilding, Southern Pacific, which acquired the South Pacific Coast in 1887, hinted that they would build a new depot in town, but this never happened. Instead, Felton devolved into a quiet settlement, populated by quarrymen, mountain farmers, and small tourist resorts and ranches. Welch's Big Trees became its primary attraction. In later years, especially after the San Francisco Earthquake and World War I, Felton became a seasonal resort community, with several successful subdivisions popping up south of town along the west bank of the river.

Old Felton Station did not die easily, despite all of these changes. The station point remained on timetables for decades and continued to cater to various interests. The IXL Lime Company used the old Santa Cruz & Felton depot building for storage until October 1893, when it burned down. Meanwhile, the H. T. Holmes Lime Company erected a warehouse along the eastern fork to store lime barrels, at the same time leasing space in the surviving Santa Cruz & Felton warehouse for the same purpose. In 1897, regular passenger service, infrequent as it was, ended permanently and Old Felton disappeared from employee timetables. The Felton Branch became strictly an as-needed line and passengers would have to head over to Felton Station to catch a train.

A section of a 1918 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Standard Oil warehouse beside the now single track south of downtown Felton. Note the limited growth in the town between 1895 and 1918. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Perhaps surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake and subsequent standard-gauging of the tracks did not signal the end of the station and branch line. Indeed, Southern Pacific upgraded the tracks in town and replaced the southern route to Felton Junction with a much more proximate connection across the river beside the Felton Covered Bridge, converting Old Felton into a stop on the Boulder Creek Branch. The town petitioned the railroad to re-route the Boulder Creek Branch through downtown Felton, clearly seeking to correct the misstep of an earlier generation, but Southern Pacific wasn't interested. In the end, the upgrade was done exclusively on behalf of the Holmes Lime Company, but downtown Felton benefited from it nonetheless. Standard Oil, which dominated the national automotive fuel industry at the time, installed a gasoline and oil station at the site of the old Holmes warehouse. The company used the adjacent Old Felton Branch tracks to bring in tanker cars, when necessary, giving the branch line an additional purpose for a few decades while also providing a needed service to the community.

Standard Oil probably left around 1926, which is when Old Felton Station was officially abandoned by the railroad. Whether or not the tracks to the former station site remained in place after this time is unknown—the Holmes kilns continued to periodically use the tracks further to the south until 1939. By this point, Felton was rebounding and entering its third life as a year-round commuter town. The influx of people after World War II ensured that, while the railroading history of downtown Felton may be forgotten, the town itself would live on.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.0512N, 122.0730W

The site of Old Felton station is not known with certainty. Since it was intended to be usable by the public, it must have been located on the western side of the tracks near the end of the western fork. This would situate it across from Kirby Street at the modern site of Kathy Nails. The original Santa Cruz & Felton warehouse was further to the south, approximately where the Mountain Community Resources building is today. The flume would have been situated behind this, terminating around the site of the Felton Presbyterian Church. No remnants of this period survive except for the Cremer House.

Citations:

Friday, November 9, 2018

Freight Stops: Holmes Lime Company

The town of Felton initially had two businesses that spurred its growth and the advent of the railroad in the San Lorenzo Valley. The first and most famous was the lumber industry, which dates back to the 1820s or earlier. But the second is the lime industry, the remnants of which still are scattered across the Santa Cruz Mountains. Felton was a hotbed of lime quarrying in the 1860s and 1870s, initiated by the efforts of Eben Bennett, who also ran and helped finance the toll road between Felton and Santa Cruz in order to bring his lime products to port more economically. Eben and Stanley Bennett owned a mill on what became Bennett Creek, while another early quarrier, Thomas Bull, built a kiln nearby on Bull Creek. Around 1869, a San Francisco investor named Henry Thomas Holmes entered the scene and began buying up tracts of land above Felton from Edward Stanly and other local landowners. Holmes incorporated  H. T. Holmes & Company in 1871 and quickly bought out or entered into partnerships with all the smaller local lime interests except the IXL Company, which operated along Fall Creek. Bull eventually left the industry in 1876 and the Bennetts left in 1879, after Eben died.

View of the H. T. Holmes lime kilns with a South Pacific Coast Railroad locomotive behind the main warehouse, c. 1900.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Holmes Lime Company grounds on a Sanborn Fire
Insurance Company map, 1908. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
The coming of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad in 1875 did not have an immediate impact on the lime industry. There is only inconsistent evidence that the railroad hauled any lime at all during this period and no documentary evidence shows the precise railroad layout of the downtown Felton area. More importantly, Holmes was still using the Bennett kilns for most of his operations until 1885. Reincorporating as the H. T. Holmes Lime Company around 1880, Holmes gave day-to-day operations to William Russell, a local store owner. Production was increased with improved facilities erected throughout the early 1880s, and by 1885 up to 65,000 barrels of quicklime could be produced per year and the kilns were employing 65 men in kiln operations, lumber-cutting, and coopering. The numbers reached a peak around 1890 at 110,000 barrels per year. By this point, rail transportation was essential and the South Pacific Coast Railroad upgraded and maintained its track into Felton from the south in order to support the increased load. A warehouse was erected beside the old Santa Cruz & Felton depot to store outgoing lime barrels, while the old depot became a storage space for empty barrels. Both of these were located across from Maple (Hihn) Street. Whether filled lime barrels were sent to the Railroad Wharf in Santa Cruz or over the mountains to San Jose is unknown, but much of it went to building San Francisco in the years prior to the great earthquake.

Expansion of the railroad lines into the Holmes property probably occurred around 1895. A 1908 map, depicting the site immediately before its upgrading to standard-gauge later that year, shows a spur splitting on either side of the storage warehouse, mill, and cooperage, with the western track running between these buildings and the kilns and the eastern track passing beside a second warehouse. Various storage facilities are scattered across the area, some with easy rail access, others not. Photographs of this operation show boxcars parked on these tracks, indicating the type of rolling stock used to export the lime from the refinery. When the tracks were upgraded, it seems likely that the same configuration was retained within the facility, although the tracks in Felton itself were redirected over the San Lorenzo River beside the Felton Covered Bridge so that the mile-long branch line south of town could be abandoned. Indeed, the Holmes company was the only justification for tracks on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River in Felton at all, revealing the importance and profitability of this business.

Holmes Lime Company main refinery, with kilns at left and bricks and barrels in foreground, 1908. Photo by Ravnos. [Margaret Koch – Santa Cruz MAH]
The San Francisco Earthquake negatively impacted the Holmes Lime Company. Henry Holmes himself died in 1902 and his company began a long series of transfers and mergers. Meanwhile, lime was quickly being replaced with Portland cement as the best construction material, leading to declining sales. In 1914, the company rebranded itself as the Holmes Lime & Cement Company, reflecting new acquisitions elsewhere in the state and new investment in Portland cement. Operations continued in Felton sporadically for the next twenty years, although the site was used primarily for quarrying rock rather than kiln work during this time. In 1936, the facility finally shut down, at least partially due to competition from the Granite Construction Company, which operated a large sand and rock quarry high on the hills overhead. Indeed, Granite Construction actually purchased the former refinery under a subsidiary, Pacific Limestone Products, but whatever they intended to do there did not succeed and they closed the operation in 1938. The facility was dismantled in July 1939 and the tracks to Old Felton and the Holmes kiln, including the bridge over the river, were pulled in October. The area was soon parcelled into housing blocks and the Holmes kilns faded into memory.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0486N, 122.0773W

The site of the original Holmes warehouse is now occupied by Felton Chinese Food and the Felton Center on State Route 9. The site of the kilns is now a small housing area up Hihn Street, just beyond the southwest turn in the road. Significant remains of the kilns can be viewed behind the homes on the hill side of the street. The long steep driveway at the Hihn Street turn marks the site of the dump tramway, while the road itself closely matches the route of the railroad spur into and through the Holmes Company refinery.

Citations:

Friday, November 2, 2018

Curiosities: Felton Area Resorts

Much like the Zayante Creek basin, the area along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River south of Felton developed over the years into, first, a logging and picnic area and, later, a resort district. Unlike Zayante, though, a number of the resorts remain today, while others have become partially or entirely residential subdivisions. The appeal of these resorts is threefold: they provide easy access to Big Trees (now Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park), they are themselves located beneath and among second-growth redwood groves, and they are only a short distance from the beaches of Santa Cruz. The following are some of these resorts and how they developed, organized geographically from south to north.

Toll House Resort (1866-1989)
The history of the Toll House Resort is vague but begins in 1867, when Eben Bennett, a local lime kiln owner, built a toll road along the upper west edge of San Lorenzo Gorge between Felton and Santa Cruz. At the northern end of the road, he built a toll house, which survives today across from Glengarry Road along State Route 9. Whether this was the original structure or a later building erected at the same site remains unclear.

Throughout its life, the building functioned primarily as a general store and, later, a concessions stand. Bennett lived there for a number of years, operating the store, collecting tolls, and running his kilns from a distance. From 1875 to 1880, the route of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad ran directly below the toll house, after which the Old Felton Branch continued to host trains irregularly until 1909. (Old) Big Trees Road also was built around this time, initially ending at the bottom of the road, just before the river, so that visitors could park and visit the Welch Grove on foot, but by around 1900, a ford was maintained over the river so that people could directly access Cowell's Big Trees.

The Toll House Cafe with a bus parked out front beside the Cowell Big Trees entrance, 1930s. [Jay Topping]
Because of its central location, the toll house has always been an important waypoint, regardless of the structure's purpose. After the toll road was made public in the mid-1870s, the building's purpose was less clear. The newspapers just called it the "Old Toll House", but who owned it or what it was being used for during the final two decades of the nineteenth century is unknown.

At the turn of the century, the Old Toll House had become a saloon. A succession of owners—Charlie Hartman, Peter Pundt, W. R. Adams, H. M. Meyers, George Featherston, and C. O. Stanton—refurbished the structure and operated out of it, primarily catering to visitors to the Big Trees parks. But clearly the business had difficulty making money since no owner kept the building for more than three years.

Santa Cruz Sentinel article for
Nidever's Toll House Resort,
May 31, 1932. [SC Sentinel]
The first time the property was known as resort came in October 1912, when a large barbecue and dance was held on the property. It marked a change in focus for the toll house, likely prompted by the advent of automobile traffic to Big Trees. In 1915, the name was changed to the Big Tree Entree, owned by Florence R. Silbery. Nonetheless, its seedy reputation remained. Silbery was arrested shortly after reopening the business for selling liquor without a license. Seven years later, another owner, F. D. Staggs, was arrested for violating the Volstead Act. The resort was raided in 1923 by federal officers. It was renamed the Toll House Cafe, owned by Elmer Boyea, soon afterwards, and raided by county officials in 1927 for violating state gambling laws. Another Volstead raid came in 1929. E. H. Emlay took over as manager of the cafe in May 1929 and ran it with his wife. For the first time, regular advertisements for the business appeared in newspapers, unmarred by scandal. The cafe sold sandwiches, salads, and Spanish dishes, and catered to picnickers and parties. Later that year, dinner service was added.

In 1931, W. C. Nidever and his son purchased the property as well as nine acres around it to convert it into a formal vacation destination under the name Toll House Resort. The father-son duo erected fifteen three-room cabins with garages and ten tent houses, all of stained redwood. Cabins included kitchens and shower-baths and all were situated beneath the redwoods behind the toll house. The Nidevers also made a clearing for camping with enough space to accommodate twenty-five tents, and another clearing was made for picnickers and group outings, decorated with Japanese lanterns. Across the street from the toll house, Nidevers built a Mobil service station to refuel passing cars. He ran the refurbished old building as a restaurant, general store, and soda fountain while renting out the cabins, tents, and camping spaces to visitors. Oliver Boyea, son of Elmer, purchased back the Toll House around 1934 and their son, Lloyd, managed it.

J. Ted Cress and his wife, Verna, purchased the business on October 12, 1941, continuing offering the same services as the Boyea family, to which he added a beer and wine bar. Beginning in 1943, the Cresses also offered an early morning breakfast for trout fishermen during fishing season. In June 1943, Ted was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government, but he was acquitted the next month. Ted died in November from a pistol wound prompting Verna to sell the property. By 1951, the resort was run by the Furlong family.

Toll House Resort owner Larry Noon outside the old structure, 1995. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
The history of the Toll House Resort as a destination essentially ends in 1952, when it was auctioned and purchased by William C. and Annabelle Oliver for use as a private residence. The cabins in the back continued to be leased, but the main structure ceased to function as anything other than a home. In 1963, one of the old vacant cabins burned down, further marking the decline of the resort. Annabelle died in 1961 and the resort went up for sale again in 1978 and 1985. In 1986, the old structure served as Toll House Furniture & Antiques, which sold beds, sofas, dressers, and other household furnishings, as well as antiques. The Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 permanently ended commercial operations at the Toll House Resort. Larry and Trey Noon purchased it just before the temblor and attempted in 1995 to reopen the resort and restaurant, but they were unsuccessful due, on part, to resistance from the county which did not want further development in the area. As part of this restoration campaign, the site was designated a California State Historic Landmark in 1993.

Sequoia and Cotillion Gardens (1926-Present)
Advertisement for Sequoia Gardens,
summer 1926. [SC Sentinel]
Sequoia Gardens was developed at the bottom of (Old) Big Trees Road as a campground and picnic area for visitors to the Big Trees parks. It was founded by Dr. James Beard and the initial manager was Bobby Burns. The original complex opened during the summer of 1926 and included a restaurant, dance pavilion, tea room, souvenir shop, and cottages for guest lodgings. It quickly became a popular resort for evening dances and for people eager to visit the Big Trees, which were accessible via a river ford or footbridge located just outside the property grounds. In March 1927, I. L. Putman leased the property from Beard for five years and outfitted the cabins with electrical lights and the gardens with a sprinkler system. During its first year, the Pereira family managed the property, but the Mason Brothers took over in 1928.

The Great Depression hit Sequoia Gardens early and hard. By March 1930, the property was up for sale after a fairly slow season in 1929. Beard attempted to keep the business afloat during this time, offering the same amenities that Putman had introduced, but the seasonal nature of the resort and the heavy competition from adjacent resorts made profits difficult. Beard was finally able to sell the property in 1934 to Julius A. and Helen Johnson. Summer seasons remained busy throughout the Depression years. Between Beard and Johnson, twenty-two cottages were erected, each equipped with hot and cold water showers, porches, and gas kitchens. By 1939, parcels in Sequoia Gardens were also being sold for private ownership, the first going to Martin Noone and his wife. Private parcel sales increased throughout the 1940s.

The main restaurant and curio store at Sequoia Gardens, c. 1930s. [Cotillion Gardens]
Jack and Madeleine Morra took over the property at some point around 1950, and it was under their ownership that two great disasters befell the resort, punctuating its history dramatically. First, in 1954, the primary well for the property ran dry, forcing the resort to close for the 1955 season. Then, in December 1955, a terrible storm caused the San Lorenzo River to overrun its banks dramatically, destroying almost the entire resort. The Morra family sold the property and the resort's very name disappears from newspaper records thereafter.

For the next decade, the history of the property is vague. It appears to have been used informally as a recreational vehicle lot for many years without anybody managing the property. It may not have even had a formal name during this time. It was only in 1966 that Gerald "Jerry" D. Firenzo and James Howard got permits to convert the property into a formal resort under the name Cotillion Gardens, which appears to have been the unofficial name for a few years by then. Firenzo and Howard had a lot of work to do in order to bring the property up to code. By 1968, Cotillion Gardens was open for business and two years later RVs and camper trailers were allowed to return with eighty spaces available for use. By 1985, the resort under the ownership of Joan and Gus Isenburg offered a dumping station for RVs, hot showers, picnic tables, fire pits, a swimming pool, and a playground. Larger group picnic areas were also installed and connections were made with hiking trails in adjacent Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The park was purchased by Garry A. and Mary P. Bohn in 2001 and is currently owned by Martin and Callie Minogue.

Smithwoods RV Camp (1920-Present)
Early advertisement for Big Trees Auto Camp,
1927. [SC Evening News]
Urban legend states that Charles B. and Frances Smith fell in love with the site that would become their resort on a trip in 1920 to Clark's Big Trees Auto Camp. While there is no evidence that such a resort ever existed – and indeed 1920 would be quite early for an auto camp to even exist – it is certain that the Smith family purchased and possibly founded Big Trees Auto Camp in that year. Located along the northern side of (Old) Big Trees Road on a thirteen-acre parcel that included numerous second growth redwood trees, this area had served as a brickyard originally for George Treat's lumber mill, although what it had been used for in the intervening years remains unclear.

The park only began heavily advertising its features from 1927, where its chief appeals were the Big Trees parks and the San Lorenzo River, which they dammed for boating. Charles built a number of single-room cabins for use by friends and tourists, while tent camping was heavily encouraged.

The Smiths raised their four children—Bette, Florence, Eric, and Charlotte—on the property, where they built a large home, which used as its base Clark's original mountain cottage. Over the years, the home grew to sixteen rooms and functioned as the office for the resort, as well as the Smith family's home. Bette and her husband, Don Kelly, took over around 1961. It was they who renamed the resort Smithwoods. Two of their children, Doug and Penny, also helped run the resort and watched as it evolved from a campground to an RV resort.  Ownership passed to Brenda, Don and Bette's eldest daughter, in 2005 after Bette died, and Brenda managed the property with her own sons, Chris and Rick, all of whom still operate the park today.

Smith family home at Smithwoods Resort, 1971. [SC Sentinel]
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort (1978-Present)
Santa Cruz Redwoods R.V. Resort is a relatively recent addition to local area resorts although its driveway originally functioned as the right-of-way for the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. Located just to the north of Smithwoods, the resort was founded as River Grove RV Park around 1978. When it was built, it included a large clubhouse, eighty-four RV campsites, a playground, amphitheater, bocce courts, and a campfire area. Some portions of the property were parceled out on long-term vacation leases. In 1983, the property was bought by Advanced Resort Systems, which immediately sought to force out all long-term vacation rentals in order to renovated the site as a modern RV park. At the same time, they changed it into a members-only park, with restricted access to non-members and regular curfews.

Advanced Resort Systems advertisement for Lighthouse Marina and River Grove Park, 1984. [SC Sentinel]
Advanced Resort Systems did not advertise heavily in newspapers and declined throughout the 1990s and 2000s until going bankrupt around 2009. During foreclosure of the property in 2010, it was purchased by Rich and Sarah Martin, who heavily renovated the property, at the same time adding tent camping sites, park-wide wifi, electrical outlets, a dog park, and picnic tables. They continue to operate the property today, which is open year-round for camping and events.

Gold Gulch River Park (1938-Present)
Gold Gulch was for nearly a century pseudonymous with the brief Felton gold rush of the 1850s centered around the stream. But memory of that was fading by 1938, when Joseph R. H. Jacoby oversaw the sale of land on behalf of the County First National Bank around the confluence of Gold Gulch Creek and the San Lorenzo River in order to build a new housing subdivision. By July, properties within the subdivision were selling fast and Jacoby estimated that the entire subdivision would be sold before the end of the summer. A total of forty-eight third-acre parcels were drawn up for the subdivision. Although as a housing subdivision, Gold Gulch River Park did not offer the same features of the nearby resorts, Jacoby did ensure that it included a 1,100-foot community beach beside the San Lorenzo River, which still remains today. In 1941, the Gold Gulch River Park Mutual Water Company incorporated to manage water rights in the subdivision, although it was forced to shut down in the 1970s due to water contamination issues. Initially, the subdivision was composed almost entirely of summer cabins, much like nearby Forest Lakes, but eventually larger homes were built and the community evolved from a seasonal village into a permanent suburban neighborhood. Floods in 1940, 1955, and 1982 severely damaged homes in the subdivision, but residents continue to live there and it remains a popular housing area today.

Fern River Resort (1929-Present)
Gene Martin in 1994.
[SC Sentinel]
Along the northern edge of Gold Gulch River Park and on the southern side of the Tanglewood, a small resort sprang up in 1929 known as Griffin's Resort, run by the Griffin family. Virtually nothing is known of the early history of this property or the family that owned it except that a few rental cabins were built on a bluff that overlooked the river. In 1965, it was purchased by Frank and Helen Sherra, but they seem to have liquidated the resort's stock and used it as a private home. In 1971, Eugene and Beverly Martin purchased the property and reopened it as Griffin's Motel, which eventually included a total of thirteen rental cabins. They raised their children on the property and Beverly kept a small stable of horses. Griffin's Motel catered to vacationers year-round, and rooms were also leased during school months to university students, thereby ensuring a steady flow of income. In 1986, the vacation spot was renamed Griffin's Fern River Resort, but the "Griffin's" was dropped from all advertising from 1990 onwards. Around this time, Eugene and Beverly's son Daniel took over the resort and continued to improve it, remodeling structures, modernizing facilities, and building a wedding and events venue. His daughter, Nicole, later took over operations

Felton Acres (1923-Present)
Felton Acres was built at the same time as Forest Lakes on 655 acres of property purchased by George Featherston and R. L. Young from the Pacific Portland Cement Company, which owned the lime kilns on Hihn Street at this time. The residential subdivision is situated primarily along the north bank of Shingle Mill Creek, just south of Felton and across from the modern vehicle entry into Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Felton Acres sales advertisement, May 1924. [SC Evening News]
When it opened in 1924, a rustic wooden arch spanned across Redwood Drive, welcoming homeowners and visitors to the densely-wooded subdivision. Soon afterwards, a dam was created in the creek and boats were supplied. Trout were introduced to the stream for fishing, while small game hunting was offered as an extra incentive to prospective buyers. Young and Featherston also erected a community hall and dancing pavilion, and placed park benches throughout the subdivision, especially along the creek. Other features included a communal barbecue pit, tennis courts, and a small kiosk which survives to this day. Originally, Redwood Drive continued all the way to Empire Grade Road, but this route was soon cut off by the quarry at the top of the mountain. Nonetheless, promoters emphasized the connections between Felton Acres' roads and those of neighboring subdivisions. Within the subdivision, most of the roads were originally logging roads paved over and repurposed for residential use. Advertisements remarked: "Woods upon woods stretch on every hand. The sun smiles down through little glades just right for a cozy home. This is one of the Switzerlands of America."

Children swimming at the Felton Acres concrete pool, 1950s. [SC Sentinel]
Construction began in May 1924 and a number of homes were completed over that summer. Marketing emphasized that homes could be purchased for both vacation use or year-round habitation, which was a marked change from other local marketing campaigns that just promoted seasonal use. A concrete swimming pool was added to the resort in 1925 beside the tennis courts, likely to better rival Forest Lakes. Felton Acres as a distinct subdivision thrived for around fifty years, but by the 1970s, most of the perks were gone and the area was simply another residential area in Felton. Today, references to Felton Acres can only be found in title deeds and on a plaque found on the park's old kiosk, restored by locals in the mid-2000s.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, October 26, 2018

Stations: Fahihn

Only one new station ever appeared along the Old Felton Branch that ran along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River after the South Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad in 1879. This little-known locale was called Fahihn, created out of the initials and surname of Frederick Augustus Hihn, who operated a lumber mill along Boulder Brook from 1895 to approximately 1901.

Lumbermen posing beside a felled redwood tree along Gold Gulch, c. 1895. [History San Jose]
Hihn's operations in Santa Cruz County are legendary, spanning from Laurel near the Summit to Valencia Creek near Aptos to King's Creek north of Boulder Creek. But the mill south of Felton was perhaps the most interesting of his operations. The Valencia Creek mill had shuttered in 1894 after operating for over a decade. Hihn owned or otherwise obtained vast tracts of land in the Soquel Creek basin, purchased from the Martina Castro estate, but these were still quite difficult to access and the property magnate wanted something easier. He turned his gaze upon the Gold Gulch watershed, a relatively minor tributary of the San Lorenzo River that had briefly been the source of a local gold rush in the 1850s that indirectly marked the initial population of the Felton township. Hihn had been one of the earlier profiteers from the gold rush and had maintained a proprietary interest in the area. He also gained a good portion of local land around 1868 from Edward Stanly, who served as the executor for Isaac Graham, the original owner of Rancho Zayante.

An oxen team hauling logs in Gold Gulch, 1898. [History San Jose]
With the closure of the Valencia Creek mill in 1894, the F. A. Hihn Company began the process of relocating to a small clearing beside Boulder Brooke, up Gold Gulch. The narrow-gauge railroad tracks ran over Gold Gulch about a half mile from the site, and Hihn quickly installed a spur up the creek to his new mill. Most of the machinery from Valencia Creek was installed in this new mill. Above the mill, an unusually small mill pond was installed to store logs waiting to be cut. Above the mill, a brick kiln was built that was capable of producing 100,000 bricks per year, mining the ingredients from nearby hillsides. During the 1895 season, 40 men were hired to work the mill, but this increased to 200 by the 1899 season, when a large gang of Japanese were hired. Most milling was done by mule or donkey engine teams and skid roads, with the train tracks only running to the mill due to adjacent steep hillsides.

Poor quality property map showing the railroad right-off-way from Fahihn to the Hihn mill, c, 1900. [Randall Brown]
The stop at Fahihn was little more than a switch for the spur. While there was certainly a station sign there, no evidence suggests there was a siding, platform, or station structure. Hihn had his own small saddleback locomotive, the Betsy Jane, which shuttled flatcars between the mill and the branch line tracks, where passing South Pacific Coast trains would pick up waiting cars.

Gold Gulch proved to be a rather poor investment for Hihn. While the operation made money, there were simply not enough trees in the region to make the mill profitable for more than a few seasons. In 1898, the mill was forced to close early "for want of timber to cut." The next year proved to be the mill's last when crews finished harvesting the remaining strands in the area and work crews were cut to a minimum. In 1900, the only people left working were Japanese gulchers, whose job was to basically seek out anything left behind by the lumber crews that could turn a profit. By this point, Hihn had moved most of his operations to Upper Soquel Creek where he built a mill near Laurel. The tracks to the mill were probably removed in 1901 to be used on the cable tramway at Laurel. Fahihn station itself remained in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books until 1909, when the line south of Felton was removed.

Original property sign for Forest Lakes. [Howard Rugg]
The F. A. Hihn Company began leasing property almost immediately after operations ceased in the area. Various mining concerns attempted to strike it rich over the subsequent three decades following rumours and legends as much as any successful prospecting. Meanwhile, a number of people began moving onto parcels in the area, especially around the mouth of Gold Gulch, where a small residential subdivision soon developed. The company also leased logging rights to various private companies, such as C. H. Jewitt, who both mined and cut lumber along the creek in the 1910s.

In January 1924, news broke that Fred O. and Jeffie Hihn were subdividing 845 acres along Gold Gulch Creek for use by the Seminary Avenue Land Company, which planned to create a residential and vacation rental subdivision among the rapidly regenerating redwood, fir, and oak trees. The named this new area Forest Lakes, which reflected the series of small terraced ponds that cascaded down from the former Hihn mill pond through a swimming hole and then down the creek to the boundary of the property. George H. Hoyt and J. A. Martenstein were the initial real estate brokers. To support the subdivision, a mutual water company was founded to control and manage well water and the various tributaries of Gold Gulch, including Edelweis Gulch, Tunnie Gulch, and Boulder Brook. Other amenities included a picnic area and barbecue pits at the site of the former brick kilns, and changing rooms and showers beside the swimming hole.

The area continues to grow in population and remains both a part of and separate from the rest of Felton due to its isolated water district. Former sheriff's deputy and Tanglewood store owner Len Ashley eventually became the property manager of the area in the 1930s and continued advertising new and available properties. While many of the vaunted amenities have since disappeared, the water hole built at the site of Hihn's mill survives and remains of some of the terraces can still be seen in the creek below Lakeview Drive.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0385N, 122.0699W

The site of Fahihn is roughly the intersection of Lakeview Drive and Gulch Road in the Forest Lakes residential subdivision south of Felton. From this point, Lakeview Drive more or less becomes the former spur's right-off-way until the road reaches the Forest Lakes community pool, which marks the site of the old mill. The current dam was installed in the 1920s – the original mill pond is located where the parking lot is today. The mill itself was situated at the northern end of the pool, where large old-growth redwood posts still sit in the water. On the hillside above the mill site, a very overgrown pile of sawdust still sits.

Citations & Credits:
  • Report of the State Mineralogist, vol 17. Sacramento, CA: California State Mining Bureau, 1921.
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Harrison, Edward Sanford. History of Santa Cruz County, California. 1892.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Picnic Stops: Big Trees Landing

Five years before the South Pacific Coast Railroad skirted the edge of the Welch Big Trees Grove and erected a stop there to support the local nature park, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad set up an informal picnic stop across the San Lorenzo River from Big Trees. At its core, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad had one explicit purpose: to transport lumber from the flume terminus at Felton to the Railroad Wharf at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. But from the very beginning, the railroad offered informal passenger service between the two points, eventually prompting the railroad to buy two passenger cars to support the influx of seasonal tourists. Big Trees proved to be the most popular stop along the way.

Postcard of the swing bridge beside Big Trees Landing, postmarked May 28, 1907. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Big Trees Hotel, c. 1877, by Romanzo E. Wood.
[Chico State University]
On its inaugural run on October 13, 1875, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad ran its first excursion train to Big Trees, which was accessible via a pedestrian bridge installed over the river at the end of Big Trees Road beside Eben Bennett's Toll House on West San Lorenzo Drive (State Route 9). The stop itself was a relatively unremarkable location situated beside George Treat's lumber mill. As an investor in the railroad, Treat likely used the site as well to ship lumber, and it seems possible that a spur was located there, which would have allowed the two trains of the railroad company to pass one another, it necessary, at a convenient location not far from Felton.

Irregular excursion service continued to the informal drop-off for Big Trees for the next four years. In 1876, the railroad with the support of the Odd Fellows erected a platform and picnic area beneath a nearby redwood grove, which could be used for special events and private group outings. Fowler Pope's diary reveals that either this platform or another was built beside the railroad tracks in April of that year to support passenger service to the site. Pope is also the first to refer to the location as Big Trees Landing, undoubtedly an unofficial name adopted by railroad crews. By August, the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel reported that "It is quite the fashion now for small parties to come up from Santa Cruz each day on cars, bring their lunch along, stop at a station in the woods, and walk from thence to the Big Trees, about a half mile distant." The Sentinel estimated that 9,000 visitors visited Big Trees in 1876, mostly via railroad, disembarking at what it named simply Big Trees Station.

The influx of activity at this site prompted Santa Cruz County to erect a ford across the San Lorenzo River beside the pedestrian bridge in 1876, thereby reducing the route to Big Trees from Santa Cruz by three miles. From the summer of 1877, three moonlight excursion runs per month began operating between Santa Cruz and Felton, and John M. Hooper, who operated the Big Trees Resort, expanded his facilities to support the increased demand. By September, Big Trees had become an official flag stop for the railroad, listed on public timetables. In May 1878, the railroad sought to increase business by blocking access to Big Trees via coach. It erected a fence alongside its right-of-way at the bottom of Big Trees Road, forcing non-railroad visitors to take the long road around Felton to get into the park.

The Giant covered with postcards, with two women posing in front, c. 1875, by Romanzo E. Wood.
[Chico State Univeristy]
The popularity of Big Trees led the South Pacific Coast Railroad to trespass in order to reach the park grounds in 1879. Its grading crews graded the right-of-way directly along the perimeter of the Welch property, causing outrage by the Welch family, which feared destruction and damage to its highly profitable redwood trees. But the railroad pushed on through and crossed the river inflicting little permanent damage, eventually joining the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad at Felton Junction, just south of Big Trees Landing. By so doing, they made the picnic stop redundant since visitors could henceforth ride directly to the grove via the new railroad route. Big Trees Landing disappeared from timetables after November 8, 1879, although railroad tracks continued along this route for another three decades. George Treat continued to ship out lumber from his mill for a few more years, but access to the redwood grove from the west bank of the river over the ford became a thing solely for coaches and automobiles.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.0350N, 122.0613W

The location of Big Trees Landing and the Treat mill is now the site of Smithwoods RV Park and Cotillion Gardens (originally Sequoia Gardens). Access to both sites is restricted to guests, although people are free to walk down Old Big Trees Road beside the Toll House Resort. The wooden mounts for the original pedestrian bridge can still be viewed on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River near the trestle, but the ford that for decades ran across the river finally disappeared, probably during the heavy floods of 1955.

Citations & Credits:
  • MacGregor, Bruce A. 
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 1875-1880.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Maps: Felton Area

Postcard of downtown Felton, c. 1890. [George Pepper]
The town of Felton historically covered less than 2.5 square miles yet some of the most extensive railroading that occurred in Santa Cruz County happened here along the mainline track through the Santa Cruz Mountains and two branch lines. Often considered by local historians as the "Felton Loop," the railroad branches in Felton only actually formed a loop between 1908 and 1909, and the trains along one end were incapable of accessing the other due to differences in gauges.

Map of the railroad trackage of the Felton Area, depicting all eras of railroading. [Derek R.Whaley]
The original Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad followed the west bank of the San Lorenzo River, terminating just south of downtown Felton near where the Saint Lawrence Orthodox Church is today. At Felton, trains received cut lumber sent from above Boulder Creek along the San Lorenzo Valley Flume, which operated to Felton from 1875 to approximately 1885.

Kilnsmen atop and around a South Pacific Coast locomotive at the Holmes Limeworks outside Felton, c. 1890s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
When the South Pacific Coast Railroad built its route through the mountains in 1880, the former trackage between Felton and Felton Junction, south of Big Trees, was renamed the Felton Branch. Two private spurs broke from this branch, one that catered to the H. T. Holmes Lime Company kilns on what would later become Hihn Street, the other south of town supporting an F. A. Hihn Company lumber mill along Gold Gulch. This branch was renamed the Old Felton Branch in 1887 when the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was rebranded as the Felton Branch (later, Boulder Creek Branch).

Passengers waiting for a train at Big Trees Station, with a car parked
on the spur at right, c. 1890s. [Ken Lorenzen]
Along the east bank of the San Lorenzo River, the South Pacific Coast Railroad built its mainline north from Felton Junction until it met with what the railroad called Felton Station, located a mile to the east of downtown Felton (the old station became "Old Felton"). This short stretch of trackage catered to Big Trees and later to the Santa Cruz Lumber Company's planing mill and lumber yard.

Double-header refueling at Felton Depot, c. 1930s. [Derek R. Whaley]
Beginning in 1884, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad (a South Pacific Coast subsidiary) was built from Felton Station to Boulder Creek to replace the increasingly inefficient flume. Eventually, a seasonal station known initially as River Station and eventually Riverside was erected in 1903 near modern-day Covered Bridge Park to cater to picnickers and people desirous of detraining within a short walk of downtown Felton. However, the branch remained on the east bank of the San Lorenzo River.

The future site of Felton Grove set up for a Red Cross group picnic with the railroad tracks in the background,
25 May 1918. [Carol Harrington]
The standard-gauging of the various routes in the San Lorenzo Valley following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake prompted Southern Pacific Railroad to abandon the Old Felton Branch, but not entirely. The railroad upgraded the trackage south of downtown, only abandoning the route south of today's Monty's Log Cabin.

Sepia image of an unknown switch in the Felton area with wood piled up beside the tracks, 1905. [Carol Harrington]
To reach this upgraded track and bypass the mile-long branch to the south, the railroad constructed a spur that crossed the San Lorenzo beside the Felton Covered Bridge and then turned south, merging with the former Old Felton Branch trackage near today's Quik Stop. The removal of tracks to the south allowed various communities including Tanglewood, Forest Lakes, Sequoia/Cotillion Gardens, Smithwoods, and others to grow south of downtown. The Boulder Creek Branch was later removed in early 1934, but the spur to Old Felton remained in place until October 1939, when the lime operations outside of town finally shut down permanently.

Roaring Camp Station with a caboose, 1970s. [Roaring Camp Railroads]
The standard-gauge tracks on the east bank remain intact today, although some of the sidings and spurs have been removed or reduced. Roaring Camp Railroads added extensive narrow-gauge trackage to the top of Bear Mountain in the 1960s, and later purchased the remaining Southern Pacific trackage as well.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, October 5, 2018

Stations: Felton Junction

Felton Junction represented as much a change in direction as it did an actual location. In 1875, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad drilled its pioneer narrow-gauge railroad alongside the west rim of San Lorenzo Gorge, fighting the landslides, slips, and washouts the entire way. At a place where the San Lorenzo River makes a sharp turn just south of Welch's Big Trees Grove, the railroad grading crews continued on the west bank of the river, never crossing it once throughout the entire course of the right-of-way between Santa Cruz and Felton. The tracks terminated just south of modern-day downtown Felton, roughly at the site of the St. Lawrence Orthodox Church and Abbots.

The location of Felton Junction, looking toward Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, 2012.
[Derek R. Whaley]
Matters changed in 1879, though. The South Pacific Coast Railroad was busy constructing its narrow-gauge route through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the town of Felton proved to be inconveniently situated. The new route ran down Zayante Creek and then to a site the railroad simply named "Felton" (i.e., "New" Felton), bypassing downtown entirely. It then continued along the back of the Welch Grove and crossed the San Lorenzo River, where it met with the original Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad track, which it leased in order to get trains the final seven miles to the Santa Cruz Railroad Wharf.

The point where these two routes connected became Felton Junction, named after the fact that it was the junction point between two tracks, both of which went to the town of Felton (the old depot and the new). The location was not really a stop, just a geographic marker and switching point. It had no platform, no sidings or spurs, and it is unclear if it even had a station sign. The addition of Felton Junction – officially in 1880 – also marked the point at which the last two miles of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad became the Old Felton Branch. Southern Pacific Railroad upgraded this to an official branch in 1892.

The former railroad right-of-way heading away from Felton Junction toward the parking lot, 2012.
[Derek R. Whaley]
It should be emphasised that Felton Junction remained an important switching point throughout the 1880s and 1890s. The San Lorenzo Valley Flume continued to operate from Felton until 1885. In the 1890s, the F. A. Hihn Company began harvesting lumber along Gold Gulch and Boulder Brook, shipping its lumber down this line via Felton Junction, as well. And the various lime kilns in Felton, especially the H. T. Holmes kilns, which had a rail link, used this track and junction daily. Even passenger service to Old Felton occurred at times, again using this switch.

Nonetheless, Felton Junction was not to last. The standard-gauging of the valley's trackage throughout 1908 also led to the abandonment of most of the Old Felton Branch. In 1909, the narrow-gauge tracks to Old Felton were removed and the station was stricken from timetables and station books. Mention of the location by newspapers continued over subsequent decades as a reference point for landslides, which were a common occurrence just to the south of Felton Junction.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0309N, 122.0584W

Felton Junction is easily and legally accessible, and people cross the site regularly on their way to the Garden of Eden swimming hole. Visitors should take the trail down from the parking lot near Glengarry Road along California State Route 9. As the trail levels out, explorers will eventually find themselves atop the former (albeit heavily eroded) Old Felton Branch railroad bed. Where the trail crosses the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway tracks is the location of Felton Junction. Other than the eroded right-of-way and the current railroad tracks, there is no evidence of Felton Junction that survives to the present and there are no known photographs of the site during its active years.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bridges: Felton Area

Felton was home to several railroad bridges of various styles and qualities, running from the massive trestle-truss complex over the San Lorenzo River south of Big Trees to tiny unrecorded bridges over Toll House Gulch and other small seasonal streams. The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was initially responsible for overcoming most of these barriers, but both bridges over the San Lorenzo River in the Felton area came at a later date.

A South Pacific Coast train crossing the long trestle of the first Big Trees Bridge, c. 1880. [Harold van Gorder]
In early 1875, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad began grading south from Felton. It was a low-budget operation with few long-term plans and, as such, the company built relatively cheaply. All of its bridges were entirely constructed using old-growth redwood harvested from along the right-of-way and from local mills such as George Treat's near Toll House Gulch. Other than their existence, nothing is known about these early bridges except that they were all relatively short and probably followed a trestlework design. At a minimum, relatively substantial bridges were built over Shingle Mill Creek and Gold Gulch, with smaller structures required over Toll House Gulch and possibly other seasonal streams in this section. A total of eleven bridges were required along the entire route between Felton and the Santa Cruz Railroad Wharf, and not all of them have been accounted for and only three have extant photographs. Over the subsequent four years, the railroad reinforced and strengthened all of these bridges, as necessary, and it seems likely that the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which took over the line in 1879, retained the original structures when possible. There is little evidence in newspapers and other records of these bridges being replaced or upgraded during the decades of their existence. All such structures were removed around 1908, when the Old Felton Branch (as it was called by the Southern Pacific Railroad) was dismantled and a new bridge over the San Lorenzo River replaced it.

A scenic view of the first Big Trees Bridge from the river, showing the truss span, c. 1890s. [Bancroft Library]
Throughout late 1879, the South Pacific Coast Railroad erected a substantial bridge over the San Lorenzo River just to the south of Big Trees. This bridge acted to connect the new route to San Jose and Alameda Point to the old Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad line, which it joined at a new location called Felton Junction. The bridge crossed the river at an especially wide point over an old floodplain. Significant trestlework was required on the south side to bring the right-of-way to the grade of the existing railroad line. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which leased the line in 1887, filled in this trestlework and it remains an obvious fill today. Over the actual river, the South Pacific Coast installed an open-deck Warren truss bridge.

The second bridge at Big Trees after it was standard-gauged, 1908.
Note the trestlework beneath to support the truss and tracks. [Ken Lorenzen]
This truss was replaced in 1905 with a rather unique-looking thru double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge that gave much greater clearance under the bridge for the river and debris to pass under. The structure, built by Clarke, Reeves & Company and Phoenix Bridge Company, included two new wrought iron features: Whipple-Murphy truss supports and Phoenix columns, both of which were intended to provide additional support to the structure. This may have been a solution to winter storms, which habitually caused the water levels to rise and likely damaged the truss periodically. Photographic evidence reveals that this truss was expanded to support standard-gauge service around 1908, but the photograph above suggests that the bridge could not sustain the increased weight of the heavier trains, requiring extensive supports in the river to support the span. With destructive river storms a constant threat, cluttering the river with multiple bents and piles was impractical.

The DeWald family standing on the third Big Trees Bridge, c. 1910s. [Carol Harrington]
In late 1908, before winter, the Pratt truss was replaced with a heavy-duty Warren thru truss. This was designed specifically to support heavier trains and to keep the river clear so debris could move freely under the bridge. At a latter point in time, a short open-deck plate girder span was extended on the north side to allow vehicular traffic to pass under the bridge along Pipeline Road. This was in place by at least the late 1910s, as the photograph above makes clear.

Construction of the Old Felton Bridge in 1908, showing the fill and the Felton Covered Bridge. [Press-Banner]
The final railroad bridge in the Felton area is also the newest. Immediately to the south of the Felton Covered Bridge, a standard-gauge truss bridge was installed in 1908 during Southern Pacific's standard-gauging of its lines in order to abandon the majority of the Old Felton Branch, which was deemed too costly to maintain and standard-gauge for its limited use. At this time, the only regular business along this branch were the Holmes Lime Kilns, which was situated just west of downtown.

The Old Felton Bridge during the 1920s. Note the Covered Bridge in the background. [Yesteryear Depot]
This new bridge was not built along the Felton Branch but rather was a part of a newly-installed spur that broke off from the Boulder Creek Branch at what would become the entrance to Felton Grove and continued across the river and south, where it forked, with one spur going into the Holmes property and another ending outside Old Felton Depot. The bridge was composed of a compressed Pratt thru truss perched atop a concrete abutment on one side and a concrete pier on the other. A short open steel deck section connected the pier to a second concrete abutment and the railroad grade on the east side.

Postcard of the Felton Covered Bridge, with the Old Felton Bridge beside it, 1920s. [CardCow.com]
This bridge remained in operation until 1938, surviving even the abandonment of the Boulder Creek Branch in 1934. But the closure of the Holmes kilns during the Great Depression signalled the end for this bridge. It was dismantled and removed by 1940. The concrete pier may have been removed at this time, as well.

The western abutment of the Old Felton Bridge, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The Big Trees Bridge, 2012. [Derek R. Whaley]
Big Trees Bridge (San Lorenzo River Bridge #2): 37.0337N, 122.0582W
Toll House Gulch Bridge: Approx. 37.0327N, 122.0613W
Gold Gulch Bridge: 37.0390N, 122.0705W
Shingle Mill Creek Bridge: 37.0435N, 122.0733W
Old Felton Bridge (San Lorenzo River Bridge #3): 37.0507N, 122.0709W

Only the Big Trees Bridge still exists in its entirety today. The structure is still composed of the 1909 Warren truss bridge accompanied by the shorter plate girder span over Pipeline Road. It is crossed regularly by the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railroad's Beach Train. Trespassing is not advised as the bridge had no guard-rails and remains a part of a live railroad line.

The remnants of the Old Felton Bridge can be viewed from the Felton Covered Bridge on the south side. On the west shore, the concrete abutment is easily accessible on foot, and the fill away from the bridge to the west is also easily noticed, with a driveway to the Felton horse stables cutting through the fill. The eastern abutment is more difficult to see but is intact in the side yard of a home. The ivy-covered abutment has been enclosed with a gate and protects the residence's garbage cans. No remnant of the pier that once sat on the east bank survives—whether it was removed or washed away in a storm is unknown.

No remnants survive of the other four known bridges. They all were removed by 1909 and would have been built almost entirely of wood, so they have either been repurposed or washed away.

Citations & Credits: