Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stations: Struve

1913-1914 US Geological Survey map showing Struve.
Like many of the sugar beet-farming families along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, the Struves were actually residents of Santa Cruz County but operated a beet plot in Monterey County. Hans Christian Struve, a natives of Denmark came to California via a long voyage from Denmark to China and then to San Francisco, after which he spent years in the mines of the gold country. Following a few more years harvesting lumber near Redwood City, Hans settled in San José briefly and then moved to Pajaro, where he first encountered the bountiful valley. He returned to Denmark in 1865 to marry Cecilia Marie Storm, and the two of them then returned to California and settled on the the Roche Ranch near Watsonville. Four surviving children were quickly born to them, including Peter, Henry, Edward, and Christina.

The Struves quickly became prominent members of Watsonville society, running a general store in town for a number of years and testing various new farming methods on their property. Their property was a mixed farm, ranch, and dairy. Peter, being the eldest, began working with his father from an early age and in the late 1880s purchased a small farm of his own in the Salinas Valley on a small portion of Rancho Rincón de las Salinas—a virtual island in the middle of the Salinas River near its outlet into the Monterey Bay. This 2,220-acre rancho dated to 1833 and was granted to Cristina Delgado. On this property, Peter began growing sugar beets, probably at the instigation of Claus Spreckels. When the Pajaro Valley Railroad passed through the area in 1890, a special spur was extended out to the island which required a short bridge to cross the narrow river channel. US Geological Survey maps from 1913 and 1914 show that this spur exited to the north, giving credence to the idea that it was built prior to the construction of the Spreckels beet refinery outside Salinas. The stop, simply named Struve, was located roughly 13.1 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.1 from Spreckels. In addition to the spur, the stop also included a wye, probably due to the location of the stop being roughly half-way down the line.

It is unclear when the Salinas Valley farm stopped producing beets but Peter himself moved back to his family home in Watsonville in 1900 when his father retired (Hans died in 1908). Peter himself continued to operate the farm until 1920, when he too retired. Peter leased all his property that year and moved to a small home in downtown Watsonville, where he died in 1925. It seems likely that the Salinas Valley farm, although the spur remained in place until at least 1914, probably ceased its beet operations no later than 1920 and probably many years earlier. The track was removed no later than 1930, when the Southern Pacific Railroad removed all the track of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.752˚N, 121.778˚W

The titular ring in Rancho Rincon de las Salinas is mostly dried up now and can be crossed on simple footbridges. The site of Struve Station, once located off Molera Road near its junction with State Route 1, is long gone with no trace of the stop remaining. The right-of-way has been plowed over for agricultural fields, while the farm itself, although still in use, shows no evidence of any century-old relics.

Citations & Credits:
  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stations: Ranch

Daguerreotype of John Rogers Cooper, 1851.
[Bancroft Library]
The lower Salinas Valley served as a rich source of sugar beets for Claus Spreckels' sugar refineries both in Watsonville and outside Salinas. One of the most productive farms was Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo (or Rancho La Sagrada Familia), an early Mexican land grant that was owned by the Cooper family. The original owner of the ranch was Joaquín de la Torre, a Spanish soldier and the alcalde (mayor) of Monterey. In 1829, De la Torre sold the rancho to John Rogers Cooper, a British-born Massachusetts sailor, for $2,000. John had moved to Monterey in 1823 and was baptised on April 14, 1827 under the name Juan Bautista Rogerio, becoming a Mexican citizen three years later. He soon married Maria Geronima de la Encarnacion, the sister of General Mariano Vallejo. Using his land as a base, Cooper amassed both more land and political influence, eventually obtaining the 9,000-acre Rancho El Sur from his nephew, future governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, and nearly 18,000-acre Rancho El Molina in Sonoma. Cooper also opened a general store in Monterey, today's Cooper-Molera Adobe, and became the city's harbormaster in 1851. He eventually moved to San Francisco in 1865, ultimately dying there in 1872.

Ranch Siding on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, 1912.
The PaRBolsa[US Geological Survey]
Cooper's only son, John Baptist Henry Cooper, continued to operate Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo after his father's death. He was raised at a missionary school in Honolulu before returning after his father's death to take over the vast family properties. He continued to augment them over subsequent decades, becoming at the same time the chairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. His time in both the Salinas Valley and Hawai'i likely brought him into contact with Claus Spreckels, who began constructing the Pajaro Valley Railroad between Watsonville and Cooper's ranch in 1890. The fact that the original right-of-way ended at Cooper's Moro Cojo ranch strongly suggests that it was producing, or planned to produce, sugar beets for the Watsonville refinery.

Eventually, the Coopers came to own three railroad stops along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated line. The northernmost of them, simply named Ranch, was located roughly 12.5 miles from Watsonville Depot and 14.7 miles from Spreckels. It had a relatively long siding that ran along the western side of the mainline. Structures outlined on the US Geological Survey map from 1912 suggest that a beat-loading device straddled both sets of tracks on its southern end. Another structure, possible a barn or warehouse, sat near the northern end of the siding. These certainly were still in place in 1914, and likely existed until the end of the railroad in 1930.

John Baptist Henry Cooper, c. 1890s.
[California and Californians]
The younger Cooper balanced his life between Monterey County and affairs in San Francisco for most of his life. His primary residence was an isolated large ranch on the Big Sur Coast, where he spent much of his later life. After Cooper died on June 21, 1899, his wife, Martha Brawley, continued to manage the family estates. She finally liquidated the family property in 1928, but retained an interest in 8,800 acres in Moro Cojo to grow lettuce and artichokes. This suggests that the farm was no longer using the railroad to grow sugar beets by this date. Her son, John Baptista Rogers, lived on the farm as well, helping his mother manage it. Most of the former rancho remains an agricultural plot today which is owned and operated by the Cooper Land Company, presided over by John Roger Cooper's descendants, the Goodwin family.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.762˚N, 121.788˚W

The site of Ranch is publicly accessible via Molera Road south of Moss Landing. Molera Road is, in fact, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way from Monterey Dunes Way southward. The station was located at the narrowest point between the road and Old Salinas River. There is a loading area to the east of the road and a pull-out to the west. No evidence of the stop itself remains and all traces of the right-of-way have been long since paved or covered by agricultural fields.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Stations: Warnock

The history of the Warnock family of Salinas is a little-known story. The family immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1868 and eventually moved to the Salinas Valley, certainly before 1879. Once there, they became farmers along the Old Salinas River midway between Moss Landing and Castroville on one of the county roads. At some point, probably around the late 1880s, the Warnocks were undoubtedly swayed by Claus Spreckels to begin planting sugar beets and allow his Pajaro Valley Railroad to pass through their lands toward Salinas and the Spreckels refinery. The Warnocks owned land on both sides of the river all the way to the beach, so there was plenty of fertile soil on which to plant beets.

Nothing is actually known about the stop and Fabing and Hamman do not mention it in their book, except on a map. It was located approximately 11.5 miles from Watsonville Depot and 15.7 miles from Spreckels on the Pajaro Valley Railroad line. Satellite information for the stop suggests that there may have been a southward-exiting siding or spur on the east side of the mainline, although the stop may have been located slightly further to the south, in which case any evidence for a spur or siding is erased by subsequent farming activity. There is no evidence of a stop on the 1912 US Geological Survey map, which suggests the location was abandoned and any excess track removed by that date. Like Thompson, Warnock appears to have been a relatively early and short-lived station.

By the late 1890s, Robert Warnock was the patriarch of the family, presumably the son of the first generation of immigrants. He married Mabel Moore in 1910. She was a California native born around 1877 to Miles M. Moore and Annie. Miles, born 1836, was from Indiana, while Annie from California, though her parents were Kentuckians. Both Robert and Miles died in the 1920s, the latter at nearly 90 years old, the former around 60. It seems unlikely that Robert and Mabel had any children. Annie lived with Mabel into the 1930s while Mabel herself was still alive in 1949. In December 1931, Mabel sold a large portion of her property to the State of California in for the creation of Salinas River State Beach, alongside lands donated by her neighbor, William T. Sandholdt. She still retained possession of the original farm, however, until at least 1949. Further information on the Warnock family is not presently available.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.777˚N, 121.790˚W

The site of Warnock sits along the north side of Old Salinas River, just northwest of Molera Road near where it crosses Tembladero Slough. The site is marked by the end of the right-of-way that is visible from Thompson Station. A private farmer service road sits atop the route and all evidence of the station itself has long since disappeared.

Citations & Credits:
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1931.
  • State of California–Department of Public Works: Division of Water Resources. Salinas Basin Investigation–Basic Data. Bulletin 52A. 1949.
  • US Census Records, 1870-1930.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Station: Thompson

In the Rancho Bolsa Nuevo y Moro Cojo alongside the Old Salinas River south of Moss Landing due west of Castroville once sat the little stop for the Thompson family along the Pajaro Valley Railroad. The rancho was first created in 1844 as a merger of Rancho Moro Cojo (created in 1825); Rancho Bolsa Nueva (created 1836); and a small parcel of land owned by Simeon Castro (granted in 1837). By 1844, all the lands were owned by María Antonia Pico de Castro, Simeon's wife, whose grant was patented by the Public Land Commission in 1873.

John immigrated from Kildare, Ireland, around 1853 and worked in Boston until 1855, when he moved to San Francisco. Later that year, John and his wife, Mary Cummings, relocated to Watsonville and John became a superintendent on a ranch near the coast. He became a renter in 1865 and eventually purchased 100 acres in Santa Cruz County. Over the following years, he added adjacent property to his parcel, first 100 acres, then 200 more. He also purchased 150 acres on the Salinas River from Pico de Castro and 200 acres nearby to use as pastureland. By 1892, the family owned nearly five miles of land in Santa Cruz County alone.

The house and gardens of Peter J. Thompson in Watsonville [Harrison]
Over the years, John and his family thrived, building a spectacular ranch house three miles from Watsonville where he spent the rest of his life. Harrison waxes poetically about the house and a rodeo that was held there during his visit to the town. Together, John and Mary had twelve children, most of whom became or married into prominent ranchers and farmers in the Monterey Bay area. Christopher Thompson, born in 1869, eventually inherited the farm from his father and produced three daughters with his wife, Anna Quinn of Monterey. His eldest brother, Peter John Thompson, inherited most of the family lands in Santa Cruz County and became a county leader by the 1890s.

Lithographs of a rodeo on the Thompson Ranch in Watsonville, c. 1892 [Harrison]
The Thompson family split its duties between farming and stock-raising. Presumably, it was because of his farm in the lower Salinas Valley, which undoubtedly grew sugar beets for some of these years, that John was able to obtain a registered stop on the Pajaro Valley Railroad line when it passed through the area in 1890. The station was located roughly 10.9 miles from Watsonville and 16.3 miles from Spreckels. There is virtually no available information on this stop since Fabing and Hamman do not reference it in their book. However, satellite imagery of the site suggests that it had a siding that ran along the west side of the mainline, directly adjacent to Old Salinas River. At this stop, there would certainly have been either a mechanised or manual beet-loader and beet hoppers probably parked on the siding awaiting pickup during harvest season. No evidence of any of this, however, survives. The 1912 US Geological Survey map does not show a spur or siding at Thompson, suggesting any additional track at the stop was removed prior to that time. The mainline tracks would have remained in place at Thompson, only to be removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1930 after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was abandoned.

The ultimate fate of the Thompson family and its presence in the Salinas Valley is unknown. While many descendants of the family still live today in the Pajaro Valley, no information on John, Peter, or Christopher is forthcoming. The Salinas Valley property remains today an agricultural field.

Thompson site
(Google Maps)
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.784˚N, 121.793˚W

Most traces of Thompson Station are now gone except for an especially wide section of undeveloped land between a large field and Old Salinas River. The original Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way still exists, visible from Google Maps satellite view on the east bank of the river beside a private service road for the nearby farm. However, only the space for the former siding remains – there is no physical evidence of the siding itself having ever existed there.

Citations & Credits:
  • Guinn, James Miller. History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1903.
  • Harrison, Edward S. History of Santa  Cruz County California. San Francisco: Pacific Press Publishing, 1892.
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County California with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stations: Beach

USGS Map showing the location of Beach Station, 1912.
Beach Station is perhaps the most obscure railroad stop along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, as well as the most difficult to research due to the simplistic nature of its name. The stop was located roughly 6.2 miles from Watsonville Depot and 21.0 miles from Spreckels, immediately adjacent to the outlet of the Pajaro River. The river mouth has moved significantly in recent decades, but a 1912 US Geological Survey map shows that the stop was originally located beside a sand embankment that protected the track from the river. This embankment and the presence of a nearby structure may also give a hint as to the purpose of this stop.

A Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad locomotive with crew posing for a photograph, c. 1900. [Adi Zehner]
The sometimes wet winters and constantly misty weather conditions in the Pajaro and Salinas valleys would have certainly made sand for traction essential for smooth operations of a railroad. The large sand embankment located immediately beside the tracks at this location may have made sand quarrying quite an easy task for railroad personnel. The station sported a relatively long northward-exiting spur, visible on the USGS map. The exit direction suggests that it was built prior to the sugar beet refinery's transfer from Watsonville to Spreckels in 1898. However, no other similar stop along the beach appears after that date, which, after also considering the continued existence of the spur on a 1914 USGS map, suggests that Beach continued to be used by the railroad for its original purpose possibly as late as 1929, when the railroad ended operations. Local farmers may have also used the stop, but information on such usage is not forthcoming and there are few farms noted in the immediate area. The beach may have served as a flag stop for beachgoers and it has been popular with fishermen for over a century, but it seems more likely that the main beach at Moss Landing served this purpose for the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad. The stop was definitively abandoned in 1930 when the tracks of the railroad were removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It seems likely that the current severe erosion of the beach may be due to this early mining effort.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.847˚N, 121.805˚W

The location of Beach Station is publicly visible from the northern curve on the gravel portion of Giberson Road at the outlet of the Pajaro River. Indeed, Giverson Road follows the right-of-way of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad for its entire length as it runs alongside the beach. The station site sits just beyond the northern end of Zmudowski State Beach, but no trace of the site remains. A field now occupies the location of the spur while the mainline right-of-way is now a private access road for farmers.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Stations: Jensen

Location of Jensen Siding, 1912. [US Geological Survey]
The history of the stop known simply as Jensen along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line is quite mysterious. Undoubtedly named after one of the numerous Danish Jensens that moved to the Pajaro Valley in the 1880s, it is unclear precisely which Jensen occupied this parcel located near the mouth of the Pajaro River in 1890, when the railroad tracks were first installed along the southeast bank of the river. The most likely candidate is a mysterious Dane named Chris (or Christ or Christian) Peter Jensen. Jensen was an unimposing man who first enters records in Watsonville in 1885. He became a US citizen in 1892 and is active in property sales throughout the region a few years afterwards. Although he is never explicitly linked to any property in northern Monterey County, Jensen was the owner of at least one ranch in Corralitos and was closely associated with numerous farm owners from the north Monterey region, suggesting that he may have owned property there. Jensen was also an active member of a number of local societies, including a founding member of the local branch of the National Master Horse-Shoers' Protective Association. As some final evidence of his probable association with Spreckels and the railroad, Jensen is also the inventor of a sugar beet cultivator filed with the patent office in June 1899, alongside James H. Rowe. This places him solidly in the sugar beet industry and suggests that he owned a parcel that produced sugar beets for sale to the Western Sugar Beets factories in Watsonville and, later, Spreckels.

Patent image for sugar beet cultivator invented by C.P. Jensen and J.H. Rowe, 1899.
Little information is known of the stop itself. Satellite views of the site as well as USGS information shows that the stop was located in a sink between two sandy bluffs at a location intersected by the southern border of Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano. The station was located 21.6 miles from Spreckels and 5.6 miles from Watsonville Depot. The station, the structure for which consisted of a small building beside the tracks, supported a 23-car length siding that ran along the southeastern side of the mainline tracks. These tracks were installed in early 1890 and remained in place until the line was demolished by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1930. While the stop was undoubtedly used in the early years, it is unclear how long Jensen owned the property and if later owners continued to grow beets there and ship said beets over the rail line.

Chris Jensen was seriously injured at Port Watsonville in 1906 when a riptide dashed him against one of the piles of the pier there, although he apparently recovered. His ultimate date of death is not known. The patent filing shows as a witness Julius C. Jensen, a man also referenced in the early 1900s as a Watsonville resident and a likely relative of Chris.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.855˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Jensen station is now occupied by an open field that sits alongside the Pajaro River beyond the end of Jensen Road. The right-of-way in this area has mostly eroded into the river itself, although traces of it remain and can be seen from Google Maps satellite imagery. Nothing survives of the stop itself and the property is currently privately owned.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Morning and Weekly), 1885-1930.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Stations: Gravel Pit No. 1

A mule cart at the Logan quarry, c. 1905, demonstrating the likely gravel
quarrying operation at Gravel Pit No. 1 around the same time. [Graniterock]
The route of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was punctuated by two stops simply named "Gravel Pit No. 1" and "Gravel Pit No. 2" on its main line. The northernmost of these pits, located along the Pajaro River near its outlet into the Monterey Bay, was in fact a small gravel quarry located on Trafton Road near its junction with Bluff Road. Along the railroad route, it was located 5.4 miles from the Watsonville Depot and 21.8 miles from Spreckels, near Salinas. Because of the heavy industrial nature of this site, a long 32-car spur was built that ran parallel to the main track and originally existed to the north. This spur hosted at various times hopper cars that would be filled with gravel obtained at the quarry. A second portable spur split from the track at the stop and went northeast into the quarry itself, with its route shifted periodically to access new gravel sites. Since gravel was not a necessary resource used in sugar beet refining, it can be assumed that this quarry provided much of the ballast used along the right-of-way when it was built between the Watsonville beet sugar refinery and the Spreckels refinery in the 1890s. It may also have been used when the railroad was extended from Spreckels to Alisal Canyon in 1902. Quarrying here was likely done using small horse- or mule-driven hoppers that then transferred the gravel via a dump chute into a waiting railroad hopper, such as depicted in the image above from the nearby Logan quarry.

Gravel Pit No. 1 probably went out of use when Gravel Pit No. 2 was built south of Spreckels in 1905. With this new source of gravel directly on the path of a new branch line, the need for an older, possibly depleted pit over 20 miles away to the north seems unlikely. This second gravel pit would have been responsible for the ballast needed to create the short Salinas Branch in 1908 and for later ballast replacement processes used until the line was demolished in 1930. The United States Geological Survey map for 1912 shows no spur, siding, or quarry at the site of Gravel Pit No. 1, suggesting it had gone out of use at that time and the railroad machinery there had been removed and relocated to Gravel Pit No. 2. Since it was only an industrial stop, it never appeared on railroad passenger timetables or promotional maps of the route. Unsurprisingly, no images of the pit seem to have survived.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.860˚N, 121.799˚W

The site of Gravel Pit No. 1 is along Trafton Road just before its end at Bluff Road. The site is clearly visible on satellite maps as a large undeveloped, overgrown quarry straddled by two large agricultural plots, its southern neighbor being Far West Fungi. The former Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way terminates at the quarry stop, which is currently occupied by a single small home accessible via an access road that passes through the old quarry. The site is private property. Trespassing is discouraged.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.
  • Hilton, George Woodman. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford: University Press, 1990.
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County, California, with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Curiosities: Railroad Hotels

Wherever there has been a railroad, there has been a railroad hotel. This has been a constant since passenger railroads first became mainstream in the United States in the 1840s. Naturally, as the railroad spread throughout the Monterey Bay area, hotels sprang up with them. But while some hotels prompted stops of their own—such as Casa del Rey, Del Monte, Capitola, Forest Grove, Alma, Tuxedo, and Swanton—others were built to accompany an already existent stop. What made railroad hotels unique, though, were their clientele. Unlike other hotels, railroad hotels catered specifically to people engaged in railroad-related activities, including freight crews, lumberjacks, and itinerant workers. Santa Cruz and Watsonville both sported titular railroad hotels over the years, and they all fit this model.

Even as the dreams of the San Lorenzo Railroad were dashed by years of litigation, the Santa Cruz Rail Road Hotel opened in January 1872 at the corner of Cooper and Front Streets in downtown Santa Cruz. Owned by Christopher Patten under lease from Dan Wente, the two-story Rail Road Hotel began advertising in local newspapers the merits and commutability of the railroad a full four years before any route to San José was available. Advertisements for the hotel focused more on meals than lodging, but both were relatively affordable for the time. Lodging and board for a week cost only $5.00 per person (25¢ more if you want a bed), while meals were a quarter each. Patten's gamble did not seem to pay off. Advertisements for the complex disappeared after April 1872. When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad finally did pass through town in 1875, the company was forced to switch to horse-drawn rail cars to get the lumber to the Railroad Wharf, a tactic that proved unsustainable. A tunnel was bored under Mission Hill and the tracks were rerouted around downtown, five blocks away from Patten's hotel. Patten died in 1893, although his wife, Maria Natalia Dodero, lived until 1922.

A lithograph sketch of the Germania Hotel as it appeared in the late 1870s. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
A new and more appropriately-named hotel popped up not far from the Santa Cruz Railroad's end-of-track on Park Street in 1877. Built by Robert K. Whidden with logs harvested on Granite Creek, this two-story hotel was one of the most conservative establishments in the city, declining the fade of houses of ill-repute and instead becoming one of the more respectable institutions. For the first few years, it was known as the Germania Hotel and was run by Frank Pratchner and then J.P. Krieg, who both favoured German-speaking customers. But when the South Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the Santa Cruz & Felton in 1879 and installed a passenger facility on Cherry Street, traffic increased dramatically and the establishment was rebranded the Railroad Hotel. It became the haunt of railroad passengers and employees. Men and women had segregated smoking parlors, and a waiting area was built to cater to passengers waiting for trains. Around the time that the Union Station was built in 1893, the Railroad Hotel was renamed the Santa Cruz Hotel since the railroad station was now further away and nearer to other hotels. The Santa Cruz Hotel has always been synonymous with good food, and from the 1950s it became primarily an Italian restaurant owned by a series of individuals including John Righetti, Louie Facelli, Al Castagnola, Amigo (Friend) Arevalo, Don Stefani, Stella Pera, George Goebel, Anton Suk, George Philipps, Jack Campbell, Dan Robertson, Keith Wilkinson, and Frank Cardinale, among other more recent owners. The hotel became a bar and grill in 1976 and joined the Cardinale chain of restaurants in 1983. It has also served as The Red Room lounge and is currently Planet Fresh Burritos.

Santa Cruz Railroad Exchange Hotel, 1917. [Sanborn]
A truly-dedicated two-story railroad hotel would not be erected until around 1902, about a decade after the Santa Cruz Union Depot was built near the junction of Center Street and Pacific Avenue. The Railroad Exchange Hotel first appeared on Sanborn maps in 1905 on the site of the former Centennial Flour Mill (and built using recycled wood from that mill). It was a multipurpose complex that included a bar, bowling alley, wine house, outside cabins, and upstairs lodgings. The Italian-born Antone Pelizza, Jr., and his wife took over operations of the hotel in 1909 and began extensively remodeling and expanding the facility. The results of this renovation was the addition of a large lodging space between the bar and the wine house. The Pelizzas owned the hotel until the early 1920s when they sold it to partners Angelo Di Marco, Steffani Grossi, and Julius Grossi.

Newspaper advertisement for the
Depot Hotel, 1935. [SC Evening News]
Prohibition had an ill effect on the Railroad Exchange Hotel and the business was cited in 1921 for failing to remove a sign advertising Excelsior Beer, thereby violating the Volsted Act. The hotel was raided numerous times, as well, and each time police discovered evidence of violations. Angelo was fined for possession of contraband drinks in 1929 and again in 1931. In 1930, Steffani and Julius were both fined for bootlegging. Nonetheless, the hotel continued to thrive and its restaurant, focused on Italian dinners, brought an increasing number of customers to the establishment. The restaurant was rebranded the Depot Hotel around 1930, although this new name only became official in 1935 when advertisements for it began appearing in local newspapers.

Do-Drop-In newspaper advertisement, 1953. [SC Sentinel]
By the mid-1930s, the hotel had become one of the city's hot spots under the management of Earl Harris "Hux" Huxtable. By this point, the establishment was more restaurant than hotel and catered to local businesspeople and entrepreneurs rather than low-income workers. The restaurant temporarily shut down over the winter of 1936-1937 to be modernized and upgraded as the Lido Cafe, named after the famous restaurant in San Francisco that burned down in 1933. Management of the hotel was run by E. Malatesta and Leo Pera, who desired to transform the business into "the area's most attractive, moderne dining and dancing resorts." The facility was briefly renamed "Micossi's Hotel" in the late 1940s before returning to Lido. It was renamed the "Do-Drop-In" in 1952 after Ernest Canepa purchased the restaurant. However, Ernest relocated to Portola in 1959 with his frequent partner, George Ghio. The history of the Railroad Exchange Hotel disappears at this time. The building was demolished no later than the 1980s and the site is now occupied by Chris Bordner's Auto Body shop on Center Street.

Railroad Hotel on Beach Street across
from the Watsonville Depot, 1902.
In Watsonville, a Railroad Hotel existed from at least November 1901 when a robbery occurred there, causing it to be mentioned in the Sentinel. Sanborn Insurance maps from 1902 show the hotel as a cluster of buildings located directly across the street form the Southern Pacific depot at the south-west corner of Beach Road and Walker Street. Nothing is known of the ownership of this facility. The hotel was demolished at some point in the late 1910s. No known photographs exist of the hotel, although a number of early photographs of Watsonville Depot appear to have been taken on its second-story balcony or in front of the hotel.

Watsonville Railroad Exchange Hotel, c. 1900. [Adi Zehner]
Railroad Exchange Hotel on Walker
Street, 1902. [Sanborn]
Across the street and down half-a-block from the Railroad Hotel was the similarly-sized rectangular Railroad Exchange Hotel. This hotel was thirty feet by forty feet and two-and-a-half stories tall and included a large downstairs dining room and a separate saloon near the main entrance. The hostelry was erected by Dalmatian immigrant Duro Strazicich in 1893 and operated by his two siblings, George J. and Anka Korotaj. Duro had purchased the land around 1880 soon after he migrated to Santa Cruz County after learning that the Southern Pacific planned to purchase the Santa Cruz Railroad. George only migrated to the county in 1886 but quickly became engaged in the family business. It was expanded by another fifty feet in 1898. Further renovations were made in 1907, including the installation of electric lights. George leased the hotel to Catherine and Paul Boudry in 1909, who sold the lease to William Sersen in 1910, who transferred it to John B. Labas in 1911, who passed it on to J. Lazar Jalovica in 1912, who returned it to George in December 1912.

George Strazicich, Sr., c. 1880.
George was a problematic owner because he did not adhere to the expectations of how a hotelier should act. From the 1890s through the 1920s, he and his son (confusingly also named George) violated public policy after public policy. In 1914, one of the Georges lost the hotel its liquor license because he "was not a proper person to conduct the business, because he had allowed disreputable persons to frequent his place and that he had permitted liquor to be served to women." Unsurprisingly, the hotel was also the subject of a raid by federal agents during Prohibition, with a $500 fine slapped on the establishment for multiple violations in 1921. Indeed, despite a stellar review of George and his business in 1925's History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, the elder George had a reputation in the Sentinel as being anything but gentlemanly. To prove this point, the hotel was shuttered from June 1926 until the same month 1927 due to further violations of the Volsted Act, while one of George Sr.'s other sons was arrested for drunk driving that same year, also violating the act. The hotel was eventually purchased by the Lacabre family of King City, who razed the hotel in March 1943. The site is now a parking lot that sits between George's Liquor Store and the Valley Packing Service Inn Foods–US Food Service office.

There were other "railroad" hotels that littered the Santa Cruz Mountains from Boulder Creek to San Juan Bautista. Very little is known about them and many were probably closer to bed and breakfasts in large private homes than anything resembling purpose-built hotels. At least one such structure was on Zayante Schoolhouse Road at Eccles Station and still exists today as a private home. Most of these were built between 1890 and 1910, the boom years of the mountain tourism industry, and most were closed or abandoned in the 1920s as automobiles made traveling a more personalised, shorter endeavor. Railroad hotels were once a major feature of any large-scale railroading enterprise, but, like the rest of the passenger railroading industry, they quickly collapsed as the Great Depression, World War II, and the rise of the automobile made them irrelevant.

Citations & Credits:
  • Koch, Margaret. "The Santa Cruz Hotel: Newest Member of the 100 Year Club". SC Sentinel, 11 September 1977, 25:1-8.
  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California. Chicago: San José Clarke Publishing, 1925.
  • Ninkovich, Thomas (ed.). The Slav Community of Watsonville, California: As reported in old newspapers (1881-1920). Watsonville, CA: Reunion Research, 2014.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1927 – 1936.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Weekly Sentinel, and Evening Sentinel, 1872 – 1992.
  • Siebenthal, Denise. "Local man buys Santa Cruz Hotel restaurants". SC Sentinel, 16 October 1983, 22:1-4.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Stations: Cassin

Michael Cassin was an East Coast immigrant to California who settled in San Francisco in 1859. Not long after his son, Charles Michael Cassin, was born on January 10, 1868, Michael, his wife Mary Anne Daly, and their son moved to north Monterey County on a swampy agricultural parcel adjacent to the Pajaro River. During this time, Charles attended Watsonville High School before enrolling in Santa Clara College in the mid-1880s. He graduated in 1888 and spent three years at Notre Dame and the University of Michigan where he became a lawyer. In 1893, Charles co-opened the legal offices of Cassin & Lucas in downtown Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, his father moved off the Pajaro River farm around 1890 and relocated to a cottage in Santa Cruz.

Charles M. Cassin, c. 1890. [Find A Grave]
It must have been at this time that Cassin station was named, although it is highly possible that the family continued to lease after they left. The Pajaro Valley Railroad first carved its path on the outside edge of the Cassin property in 1890, and the stop it planted there was located 4.9 miles from Watsonville and 22.8 miles from Spreckels. The railroad set up one of its longest spurs here, capable of holding 24 cars. This suggests that the Cassin farm produced sugar beets as one of its primary products since the farm was not much larger than its neighbors, who hosted significantly smaller spurs and sidings. Although information is scarce, it is likely that the station hosted a beet-loading dump and a fair-sized staging area, and the stop certainly could be used for passenger service to Watsonville or Salinas as well. How long the farm remained in the Cassin family is unknown to this author, but the railroad spur and stop do not appear on the 1912 USGS map, suggesting they were already removed by that time. At latest, the station and spur were removed in 1930, after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ceased operations along the line and the tracks were pulled.

Charles M. Cassin, 1906. [Santa Cruz Elks]
The Cassin family remained prominent in Santa Cruz County even after Michael died in 1907. Charles became a city attorney in 1893 and was active in the Elks Lodge and the Native Sons of the Golden West. He married Josephine Murphy, a Watsonville resident, in 1896 and they had six children together, several of whom have descendants living in the county today. In 1913, Charles moved to San José, leaving his son, Charles Jr., in charge of his Santa Cruz firm. He died in 1924 and is buried near his father in the Valley Catholic Cemetery.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.866˚N, 121.802˚W

The site of Cassin is unremarkable today. The site is located on a private access road (the former right-of-way) squeezed between the Pajaro River and a large field adjacent to Trafton Road. The only remnant of the station left is an irrigation channel that passes immediately beside the former stop. There is no physical trace of the stop remaining in the area and the site is inaccessible to the public.

Citations & Credits:
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County, California, with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Stations: Thurwachter

The Thurwachter spur along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad
 right-of-way, 1912 [USGS]
Frederick Thurwachter was one of the many early settlers to move to Watsonville in the 1850s. Born in Rheinpfalz, Germany in 1832 to Johann Thürwachter and Maria Henke, Frederick voyaged to New York in 1850 and lived there until 1854 when he moved to California and worked in the mines for three years. In July 1858, Thurwachter definitively moved to Watsonville where he rented land on a local ranch for the better part of six years. In 1866, he finally purchased a 113-acre farm of his own on Beach Road near the mouth of the Pajaro River. When he bought the property, there was little more than marshy, sandy wastes, but within a short time he converted the entire area into a profitable ranch. Thurwachter was regionally famous for introducing European farming techniques to the Pajaro Valley. He began growing Bellflower apples on fifteen acres with potatoes and barley as his primary cash crops. In the 1880s, the latter two were replaced by sugar beets.

Frederick and Catherine Thurwachter, 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter married Catherine Sweeny of Ireland in 1862 and together they had eight children, three of whom survived the century: Margaret Carolina, Ella Teresa, and Frances Louise. The family built its permanent residence on Beach Road in 1872. It was modelled off of Abraham Lincoln's Neo-Georgian Springfield, Illinois home and was popularly known as the "T-Wester House.' The current, heavily remodelled structure is 3,200 square feet and includes two sitting rooms, a central staircase, a hidden stairwell, and four upstairs bedrooms. From 1929 until 1963, the house became famous because of its Monterey cypress trees, which were trimmed into various artistic styles.

People on a horse-drawn tractor on the Thurwachter farm, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter is unique in that it had the only Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop in Santa Cruz County other than the two Watsonville stops. The railroad's right-of-way ran along the southern bank of the Pajaro River, but directly across from the Thurwachter farm, at the end of an access road that ran perpendicular to Beach Road, a spur line was extended across a bridge over the river. The tracks barely made it into the county, but there was enough trackage on the farm for a few cars to park so that the Thurwachters could load goods. Passing PVCRR trains could then pick up these cars and drop off empty cars for future loading. The spur was probably added around 1900, after the beet refinery was removed to Salinas. Evidence for this is based on the fact that the spur exits to the south towards Salinas rather than to the north. The spur is clearly visible on USGS maps from the 1910s and it leaves a noticeable footprint on stylised maps of the PVCRR route that have been published in recent years. Like the rest of the railroad, the route was abandoned in 1929 when the Southern Pacific Railroad bought out the line. The bridge was probably removed at this time, but the pilings may have stood in the river for many more years.

Large gathering at the T-Wester House, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Frederick and Catherine died only two months apart from each other in 1914. Initially, all three daughters claimed equal ownership of the property, and this lasted into the 1920s as attested by local property survey maps. Eventually, Ella, a confirmed spinster, came to own the whole property, or at least was its sole family occupant. Ella converted the farm from sugar beets to navy bean and lettuce production in the 1930s. She also was the first to introduce blue pod beans into the area. Ella died in 1963 and the home passed to her relative, Roy Folger, who was friends with Ansel Adams, who spent a day photographing the property in 1977. Tim Folger, Roy's son, continued on the farm until 1979, when he sold the property to an agricultural form. Wishing to preserve the home, Tom Mine purchased the house (but not the property) with the intent to renovate it, but costs proved too high. He eventually sold the house to George Mortan around 1988, but Mortan ran into the same problem. Meanwhile, the owners of the farm wanted to get the house off the property so they could use the space for further farming. Mortan finally decided to sell the house for $2 around 1992 via an open raffle. The winner, Darrell Darling, immediately began restoring it and moved north to a new location on San Andreas Road in 1997. Under the stewardship of Susan Van Horn and Brian Denny, who leased the home around 1999, the structure became a bed and breakfast and gained the name The Inn at Manresa Beach, which soon evolved into the Aptos Beach Inn (in 2003) and is now the Flora Vista Inn. It still operates today on San Andreas Road near La Salva Beach.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Thurwachter station is today located at the end of a long private access road that breaks off at the intersection of West Beach Road and Rio Boca Road. The site itself is marked by a large utility yard that sits alongside the river. All trace of the bridge has disappeared from decades of storms and the construction of the Pajaro River levee. The street address for the farm is 2083 Beach Road southwest of Watsonville, which places it a considerable distance to the north from the station. The farmhouse is now located on 1258 San Andreas Road as the Flora Vista Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Citations & Credits: