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 This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, December 14, 2018

Stations: Brackney

It must be stated from the start that this is not solely the story of Brackney station, but rather three stations that all appeared at or near the same site within the Brackney subdivision located to the east of California State Route 9 between Felton and Ben Lomond. The Brackney area is unique within the San Lorenzo Valley in that it is one of only two places where the state highway meanders onto the east bank of the San Lorenzo River (the other locale is Ben Lomond). But the river at Brackney is also unusual in that it veers dramatically to the west for a brief moment, creating a high plateau at the foot of the adjacent hill. Steep hillsides fall to the river on either side of this plateau, confining it and keeping it separate from any other place in the valley.

E. J. Rubottom and Will Glass, relatives
and friends who journeyed together during
the Yukon Gold Rush. []
The Felton & Pescadero Railroad was not afraid of the Brackney area when it first graded through here in 1884, but it should have been. The San Lorenzo Valley Flume had wisely built through the center of the plateau. This still required high bridges over the river, but the flume did not also have to contend with landslides. The railroad, undoubtedly seeking to avoid the construction of expensive bridges, took a more dangerous course, drilling and mining a right-of-way along the steep eastern cliffs above the river, cliffs that were proven to be made of sandstone rather than granite. Several graders died while cutting through this section and it remained the most problematic portion of the route to Boulder Creek throughout its fifty years. Even today, this portion of the former right-of-way shows signs of old and recent slides and the roadbed has risen dramatically as a result.

When the grading crews first entered this section, they passed through the lands of Emphrey Jones Rubottom, who had purchased the lands in 1878 from his stepfather, Almus L. Rountree. It is not entirely clear what Rubottom and his family used the land for, although it seems certain that some of it was used for farming since Rubottom filed several patents for farming equipment during this time. Whether Rubottom was granted an unregistered train stop by the Felton & Pescadero Railroad is unknown, and the Southern Pacific Railroad only registered such a station in 1890. It was around this time—and the station is probably a result of this—that Rubottom and his half-brother John Almus Rountree began harvesting tan oak and timber on their two properties, which collectively occupied the entire plateau. How long the operation lasted is unknown, but the stop did appear briefly in 1907 on railroad timetables suggesting it was still active at that time. However, when the tracks were standard-gauged early the next year, Rubottom's stop disappeared.

At the time Rubottom was removed from station books, another stop appeared named Pettis. Employee timetables appear to have mistakenly situated this at the site of Riverside because it subsequently appeared further to the north in the Brackney area. Pettis was only ever listed as an Additional Stop and nothing is known about it. It had no spur or siding and must have simply been a flag-stop for locals in the Brackney area. Even the name—Pettis—is of unknown origin although it likely relates to a local property owner, possibly a family that briefly purchased Rubottom's property.

The history of the area becomes much more clear from this point forward. Alonzo L. Brackney had lived in Felton since 1889, having moved from Pennsylvania originally. He owned land immediately north of Rubottom's tract and when Rubottom died in 1913, Brackney purchased the rest of the plateau from his heirs. Like so many other aspiring entrepreneurs in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Brackney hoped to develop a small resort on his property and it was ideally situated and appropriately rustic for such a purpose. He named the resort Camp Brackney and installed cottages and tent cabins throughout the property. The proprietors of the Hotel Rowardennan in Ben Lomond managed the resort.

The sharp turn at Brackney before heading around the bend toward Glen Arbor, c. 1920. [The Valley Press]
At Brackney, Southern Pacific kept things simple. With the tracks now upgraded and the former spur removed, only a small shelter was needed at Brackney—something that would protect people waiting to board the train but not require anything more. The small cross-shaped shelter supported three sets of benches beneath a roof that had "Brackney" emblazoned on a sign atop it, while passengers would have to use a flag to wave down a passing train. An identical-styled structure was used at Newell Junction, further to the north, and at Asilomar on the Monterey Branch. Because of the sharp turn on the approach through Brackney, a check rail was installed to avoid the wheels from slipping.

The junction where once stood Brackney station. The right-of-way continues to the left down the service road. The shelter was situated just beyond the gate on the left. [Derek R. Whaley]
Brackney never proved itself as a successful resort and, from the beginning, Brackney began parceling out his property for use as a seasonal homes. Out of the way along a route declining in use and popularity, Brackney fully embraced its status as a housing subdivision in the late 1920s. Brackney himself had hoped to start an entirely new small township on his land, which he called "San Lorenzo," but the new homeowners continued on with just Brackney. While a few businesses did spring up both beside the railroad tracks and on either side of Highway 9, no formal township formed on the plateau. The station remained on timetables until the line shut down in January 1934, although all passenger service ceased at the end of 1930. The remnant right-of-way was purchased by the City of Santa Cruz Water Department probably in the late 1950s as a part of their Newell Creek reservoir project and it continues to be used as a service road today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0685N, 122.0786W

The site of Brackney is near the top of Brackney Road off State Route 9. Just after the road turns south, it splits between a driveway and a Santa Cruz Water Department road. The latter marks the former railroad right-of-way and this junction point is the approximate location of the former station shelter. Throughout the Brackney area, the right-of-way survives and can be generally hiked upon, with caution, although it is strictly-speaking water district land. To the south, the former route wraps around the San Lorenzo River, passing through a cut, before ending at the back gate of the Rose Acres Tree Farm. To the north, the road briefly parallels Brackney Road before passing through two gates and on around the San Lorenzo River, ultimately ending at the fence of a home on Fremont Avenue in Glen Arbor. Further exploration is impossible in either direction without trespassing on private property.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, December 7, 2018

Stations: Bonny Brae

The seven-mile-long railroad route between Felton and Boulder Creek hosted a surprising number of stations over the fifty years that the branch line existed. An early stop, established in 1890, was Kent's Spur, located only a mile north of Felton. Brothers James Edgar and Lewis Alphonse Kent were lumbermen in search of timber. In 1889, they purchased a tract of forestland on the east bank of the San Lorenzo River just north of town and soon they asked the railroad to install a spur so they could load flatcars with logs and split stuff. The railroad obliged, although the length, direction, or position of the spur remain a mystery. From the start, the operation at Kent's Spur was small and intended to be short-lived. The Kent brothers finished harvesting the land in 1893, after which the stop disappeared from station books. Half the land was sold to Silas H. Baker, and Baker picked up the other half two years later after the Kents' homes were destroyed in a fire and they moved to Santa Cruz.

A scene from Rideout Ranch along the right-of-way, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
Around 1901, the Bakers sold the land to Ida E. Rountree, a major property owner in the area, who in turn sold a large portion of it to Phebe Abbot Rideout in 1906. Rideout founded the Rose Acres Ranch at the site and operated it until 1932. On the remainder of Rountree's land, between the railroad tracks and the river, a tiny subdivision was developed in 1912 named Bonny Brae, a companion to the Brookside subdivision across the river. The name Bonny Brae played on the Scottish theme of the San Lorenzo Valley and simply meant "pretty hillside" in Scotch English.

A man standing beside the horse paddock at Rideout Ranch, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
The property developers convinced the Southern Pacific Railroad to provide passenger access to Bonny Brae and Brookside and the railroad once again obliged, establishing Bonny Brae Station in 1913. The location was only ever a flag-stop and how much it was used is open to debate. There were only around a dozen parcels plotted out along the tracks here, with two dozen more across the river. Like many other stops along the branch, there was no station shelter or platform at Bonny Brae, just a sign beside the tracks. Unfortunately, no photographs survive of the station.

Rideout Ranch main house, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
Bonny Brae lingered on railroad timetables until the end of the Boulder Creek Branch in January 1934, although passenger service ceased no later than December 28, 1930. The right-of-way became Rose Acres Lane, although San Lorenzo Way remained in place to cater to the homes of the Bonny Brae subdivision. Rideout Ranch was purchased by George Knight who turned it into Rose Acres Dude Ranch & Riding Stables in 1937. At the northern end of Rose Acres Lane, Ron Ballauf purchased half of the Rideout property to establish Rose Acres Farm, which still grows Douglas fir trees for Christmas today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0582N, 122.0755W

The housing subdivisions that prompted the establishment of Bonny Brae flag-stop remain on either side of the San Lorenzo River, sandwiched between California State Route 9 and San Lorenzo Way (accessible via an aging 1912 bridge). The southern end of Rideout Ranch is now called Daybreak Camp while the northern end is still owned by the Ballauf family.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Stations: Riverside

When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad arrived in Felton in 1875, it was situated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. On the east bank, the area was mostly just pasture land—former forest harvested decades earlier by Isaac Graham's logging crews during the days of Mexican California. By 1873, the plot of land beside the river ford was owned by John S. Hager, who decided to build a picnic ground in the low flat created at the confluence of Zayante Creek and the river. In 1881, the location was named Camp Felton, just in time for the arrival of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad, the right-of-way for which passed directly beside the picnic area.

On June 17, 1880, the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel published a short commentary noting the merits of the area as a picnic grounds:
Within a few hundred yards of Felton, just across the San Lorenzo and between it and the Zayante, lies the prettiest spot for picnics and camping parties on the whole San Lorenzo. It has been used by the people of Felton to picnic at for many years, and the grove has been partially cleared of underbrush, avenues and winding walks have been cut, rustic seats put in many places, tables and benches to accommodate a great many put up, a large dancing floor laid, and many other things done to make it pleasant and comfortable, but the place has been known to few besides the Feltonites. Now that the S. P. C. R. R. is in running order, picnic parties have discovered this lovely retreat, and it is occupied from a party from San Francisco numbering some two hundred, who propose to stay some time. They are very comfortably settled, having sent down in advance three car-loads of freight, with men to put up tents and arrange things for housekeeping. They have thirty four white tents among the green trees, and the camp has a very cheerful, animated look. There is a large majority of women and children during the week, but on Saturdays the husbands and fathers come down to spend Monday with their families in the quiet shades of this most beautiful grove. They spend their time hunting, fishing, bathing, gathering ferns, flowers, etc., and in visiting the different lime kilns, mills, big trees — which are only a short mile from camp — go to Santa Cruz and take a plunge in the ocean and come back on the next train.
George Treat, a prominent Felton entrepreneur and lumberman, took over Camp Felton in 1885 and helped develop it into a seasonal retreat. He advertised widely to attract seasonal campers, and the nearby Felton Station was certainly a draw. But other more appealing camping and picnic areas throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains increasingly offered more attractions. Treat leased the property to Joseph Ball in 1891, who renamed the place Maple Grove even though there were no maple trees there. It was under Ball's proprietorship that the Felton Covered Bridge was completed in 1893, allowing the residents of Felton to directly access the picnic area without needing to ford or wade through the river.

An oxen team hauling a log alongside the tracks near Maple Grove, c. 1890s. [The Valley Press]
The direct railroad history of the location begins in 1903, when the Southern Pacific Railroad added a flag-stop for the picnic area under the uninspired name River Station. This stop was intended exclusively for passengers visiting Maple Grove and it appears that no formal structures were ever installed there by the railroad. Just before the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the stop was renamed Riverside and placed on the formal timetable, albeit without scheduled stops. Curiously, at the same time, the picnic grounds were officially renamed Felton Grove and Felton Baseball Ground, under the management of Glass and Draper. It can be assumed that the baseball diamond was installed at around this time. The station remained unchanged until the line was standard-gauged in 1908.

Felton Baseball Grounds beside the railroad right-of-way, c. 1910s. The large, shaggy tree is still standing within the parking lot of Felton Bible Church. [Vicki Wees]
The removal of the Felton Branch and its replacement with a spur across the San Lorenzo River beside the covered bridge seems to have marked the end of Riverside. In 1909, it was seemingly renamed Pettis, but the next year, that location appeared at the site of Brackney further down the Boulder Creek Branch suggesting the renaming was simply an editorial mistake. River Station and Riverside arose during a time that saw a massive expansion of excursion services and summer picnic trains throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, so it is perhaps not surprising that it appeared when it did. However, its rapid disappearance is odd but may be tied to subsequent developments at the site.

In 1910, David and Alice Goulding were running the Felton Grove Planing Mill & Lumber Yard at or near the site, suggesting the picnic area had disappeared by this year. Little else is known about the site throughout the 1910s including whether or not the mill and yard utilized any railroad spur. Ownership may have changed hands several times, and the property itself may have been subdivided.

Felton Grove Auto Camp in the mid-1920s. [Ronnie Trubek]

Things changed dramatically on May 30, 1922, when the Felton Grove Auto Camp opened its doors on the property. No longer dependent on the railroad, the campground now catered exclusively to auto campers who came with camper trailers and tents. The resort included tennis and basketball courts, a playground for children, tent cabins for families, and scenic paths alongside the river and Zayante Creek. The San Lorenzo River was also seasonally dammed to create an impressive swimming hole just downstream from the covered bridge. In 1937, a new central building that doubled as a dance hall was erected near Felton Grove's entrance on Park Avenue.

The entrance to Felton Grove Auto Camp, 1937, with the railroad tracks to Old Felton in the foreground. [Ronnie Trubek]
Despite some minor improvements throughout the 1930s, Felton Grove Auto Camp was hit hard by the Great Depression. All formal newspaper advertising for the park appears to have ended in 1932. In 1934, the resort became a summer camp for St. Joseph's Military Academy of Belmont, who continued to use the location until at earliest 1938. A bad winter storm in 1938 severely damaged parts of the resort, but the resort reopened in May of that year with a large season-opening dance. For the remainder of the 1930s until the start of World War II, Felton Grove Resort served as a popular evening retreat for locals and visitors alike, even while the military academy students continued to camp outside each summer. Floods could not permanently sway the resolve of the resort owners and visitors. The late 1930s was the heyday of Felton Grove Resort, but then the war came and nobody had time to vacation anymore.

Felton Grove subdivision, circa 1928. The railroad right-of-way can be seen at the top of this map. [Ronnie Trubek]
World War II changed the demographics of the San Lorenzo Valley dramatically and also altered the vacation patterns of Americans. As such, small resorts such as Felton Grove could not compete with larger or more rugged campsites. By the mid-1940s, Felton Grove began evolving into a year-round residential subdivision. Amenities originally offered by the auto camp such as dancing and sporting activities continued through the 1950s, but then faded away as Felton itself evolved into the semi-rural commuter suburb that it is today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.0508N, 122.0679W

It is not entirely clear where the location of Riverside was, but it was probably near today's Felton Covered Bridge County Park or the adjacent Valero gas station, which is approximately the point where the Boulder Creek Branch crossed Graham Hill Road. In any case, there were never any structures associated with this stop and, as such, nothing of it survives to the present.

Felton Grove still does survive, although not precisely in the manner it had originally been conceived. The dance hall still sits behind the laundromat on Park Avenue. All of the original camper spots have been converted into residential properties, but terrible winter storms remind residents that the area was only ever intended for seasonal enjoyment, not year-round habitation. The former railroad right-of-way to Old Felton has since been converted into another stretch of squarish properties, but these are not formally a part of the Felton Grove subdivision and were probably parcelled off in the late 1940s.

Citations & Credits: 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Curiosities: San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company

One of the more curious oddities in Santa Cruz County history was the lumber flume that ran for approximately twelve miles from the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River down the San Lorenzo Valley to Felton, where it interchanged with the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. Incorporated as the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company in August 1874, the company intended to cut timber at numerous sites along the San Lorenzo River and its tributaries, drag these cut logs to a large lumber mill near the confluence of King's Creek and the San Lorenzo River, and then float the lumber down the flume to Felton, where it would be loaded onto trains and shipped out on waiting steamships moored at the Railroad Wharf.

People standing atop a trestle along the San Lorenzo Valley flume, c. 1877. Photo by R. E. Wood.
[California State Library]
Construction began in early 1875 and took most of the year to complete. The mill north of Boulder Creek was built first. From here, prefabricated sections of v-flume were constructed and floated down the flume to the end, where carpenters appended them onto the existing flume. This process was continued until the flume reached Felton. Because the flume required a consistent downward grade to avoid pooling, shallow spots, or areas of varying water speed, the flume had to be relatively straight and only changed in elevation by five inches for every eighty feet. To ensure this consistent slope, large redwood bridges were built over the San Lorenzo River and other streams, some of which as beautiful arches such as one at Brackney. To ensure a steady supply of water, feeder flumes were installed up Feeder Creek, King's Creek, Two Bar Creek, Bear Creek, Boulder Creek, Clear Creek, Love Creek, Newell Creek, and other tributaries. The lack of such tributaries south of Felton was the primary reason why the flume company decided to build a railroad for the final seven miles of the route to Santa Cruz.

One of the arch bridges over the San Lorenzo River along the flume, c. 1877.
[Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The flume was an immediate success. In addition to the flume company's mille, other mills popped up all along the flume's course, including the Peery mill in Lorenzo, Boulder Mill south of Lorenzo, Pacific Mills (Ben Lomond), and smaller operations outside of Felton. But with these additional lumber patrons, the flume began to strain. Soon after it was completed, the company realised that a 40-inch-wide v-flume could not sustain the valley's production of lumber. To make matters worse, the flume was leaky and the water supply ran dangerously low during the summer months, which was traditionally the high season for the lumber industry. A disastrous winter storm in early 1876 also severely damaged both the flume and railroad line, and storms continued to impact both in later years. In 1878, the flume company even incorporated a new subsidiary railroad with the intention of replacing the flume with a railroad line through the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Jose, although this may have just been a publicity stunt. Despite all of this, the flume served as the primary conduit of lumber between the upper San Lorenzo Valley and Felton from October 1875 to 1885.

People posing beside and atop the flume, c. 1877. Photo by R. E. Wood.
[California State Library]
The flume was also popular with locals for personal reasons. From the very beginning, a sport known as flume-riding came into vogue. People crafted various boats and ride them down the flume when lumber was not floating down the line. This concept was first trialled by the flume company itself in 1875, when it used the flume to ship its work camp to a new site via improvised boats. Locals also often used the 12-inch boardwalk that ran along the entire length of the flume as a thoroughfare, despite the fact that it was intended for use only by flume walkers (people who ensured the lumber didn't get piled up) and that there was no guardrail to protect people from falling off (which happened several times).

Flume walkers high up on the flume, c. 1880. [Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad acquired the entire flume operation in 1879 when it leased the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. However, management and operation of the flume likely remained with the original owners since the railroad had other priorities. However, a combination of increased demand and a decreased supply of water in the early 1880s forced the railroad company to direct their attention to the aging flume. In June 1883, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was incorporated as a subsidiary to replace the flume in its entirety, with priority given to the seven miles between Felton and Lorenzo. Construction began late that year, but the flume continued to operate throughout this time. The narrow-gauge railroad route to Boulder Creek (which was chosen as a better site than Lorenzo) was completed in April 1885 and the demolition of the flume along the route was completed in short order.

The flume terminus at Boulder Creek, c. 1886. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
For another three years, a stub flume continued to exist, hauling lumber from the mill two miles north of town to the main freight yard at Boulder Creek. It was a short and temporary solution. The Felton & Pescadero had been incorporated ostensibly to connect the two namesake towns while simultaneously tapping the resources of the upper San Lorenzo Valley, Big Basin, and the Pescadero watershed. For whatever reason, this never happened. The South Pacific Coast Railroad consolidated all of its subsidiaries in early 1887 and reincorporated as the South Pacific Coast Railway, only to almost immediately lease its entire operations to the Southern Pacific Railroad. From this point forward, it seems likely that the flume passed to private hands, probably those of James F. Cunningham, a valley entrepreneur, who appears as the owner of the flume mill from this time. In 1888, the flume was replaced with a logging railroad owned by the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, although some of the small feeder flumes may have continued to exist for several more years.

Almost no verifiable remnants of the flume survives today, although many rumors persist including that the Felton freight depot was built from recycled flume boards and that dams that supported the feeder flumes still survive along Bear and Boulder Creeks. Fortunately, many stereographs were taken of the flume by Romanzo E. Wood and other photographers, allowing us to gaze back at this remarkable time in the history of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Citations & Credits:
  • Robinson, Lisa. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Robinson, Lisa. The San Lorenzo Valley Flume. Boulder Creek, CA: San Lorenzo Valley Historical Association Press, 2013.
  • Rogers, Winfield Scott. "A 14-Mile Flume Brought Lumber Out Of Valley." Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9 February 1972, 6.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

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.


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.


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.