Friday, January 23, 2015


For most of its existence, the Manresa stop stood alone between Leonard and Ellicott. But in 1918, a firm under the leadership of Donald M. Crist and Irving Carl called the Ferro Products Company established an iron processing plant on the hills above Manresa Beach. The land they purchased had previously been owned by the College of Santa Clara, a Catholic institution that eventually became the University of Santa Clara. The beach, then known as Zils Beach after its original owner, Peter Zils, was known for its black sands, rich in magnetite which was used to make sponge iron and steel alloys. Almost immediately, the new firm was sued by a local, Henry Goetz, who complained that Crist and Carl dumped its refuse material on the surrounding countryside. The partners won the case since they owned the property. Soon afterwards, they began increasing their productivity and petitioned the Southern Pacific Railroad, whose Santa Cruz Branch passed directly in front of their facility, for a siding and stop.

The "Playland Special" near Rob Roy and Cristo, overlooking Manresa Beach, May 28, 1939. The building in the background is the Ferro Products Company refinery. Photo by Wil Whittaker. (Jim Vail Collection)
Initially, the company appears to have used the nearby Manresa station to ship out its product. But upgrades to the facility in late 1920 prompted the railroad company to dedicate a special siding just for the facility. Thus "Cristo"—named after Crist—became a stop in June, 1921, located 90.8 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and 8.4 miles from Watsonville Junction. A freight-loading platform was built for the firm on the northeast side of the tracks. The siding was small, only long enough for three cars. Passenger service via a flag-stop was maintained for local commuters, though it was not listed on the non-commuter schedules. By the mid-1930s, the stop had been removed from timetables except as a casual flag-stop, which means it was footnoted as an additional stop outside of the standard timetable. The station did not have any other facilities and appears to have mostly been a freight stop, despite the option of a passenger stop.

The Ferro Products Company became the Ferro Products Corporation in late 1921, with new corporate offices installed in San Francisco and the company passing under the management of D.C. Jackling. The president of the new company, A.J. Maclean,  took over for Don Crist, while Crist became general manager. The company became a branch of the Triumph Steel Company in early 1925. In 1932, the company shifted to creating stainless steel at a new $150,000 steel plant erected on the site of the old iron plant. Meanwhile, the Triumph Steel Company became the American Alloy and Steel Company.

The railroad siding continued in agency books as late as 1941, after which this historian's records do not extend. Problems with the facility upgrade in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, may have ended the company's presence in Santa Cruz County as newspapers no longer record the company or Crist after October 1932. It is likely the company left Santa Cruz at around the time, abandoning the siding. In this case, the Southern Pacific simply left it in its agency books, awaiting a time when those books would be cleaned of abeyant stops.


  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Manresa & Robroy

Manresa on a 1914 United State Geological Survey map.
In 1894, the College of Santa Clara opened along a stretch of Monterey Bay coastline a Catholic retreat called Villa Manresa. The name was a reference to Manresa, Spain, where Saint Ignatius of Loyola recovered from wounds received at the Battle of Pampeluna. While recovering there, he first conceived of the ideas that formed the backbone of his Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order). For the next thirty years, Villa Manresa was an isolated location, accessible only via San Andreas Road and the Southern Pacific railroad.

The railroad, which passed directly through the property on its branch between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, first established a stop at Manresa around 1907. It was located above the beach and just south of the Manresa Beach railroad bridge. The station had no services, no station structure or platform; it only had a sign. The stop was 90.4 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-off, 11.5 miles from Santa Cruz, and 8.6 miles to Pajaro Junction. It never had regularly-scheduled passenger service but was retained only as a flag-stop.

Manresa did, however, have a 129-foot-long spur which was installed around 1907. What it was used for the first thirteen years of its existence is unknown, but beginning in 1920 it was used by the Ferro Products Company to ship out its products. The company mined iron oxide from the sands nearby and built a refinery beside Villa Manresa. The spur beside the factory was extended to 279 feet in 1912 and was extended again to an unknown length in 1920. A platform was also installed in 1912. How long Ferro Products operated at Manresa is unknown; the company was reorganized in 1921 and may have abandoned the site soon afterwards. The last mention of the facility at Manresa is in March 1923.

The Manresa property was divided in two in 1925 and the bulk of it was sold to David W. Batchelor who turned it into his Rob Roy resort and residential subdivision. Batchelor was Scottish and wanted to name the community after the famous Highland outlaw Rob Roy; the street names also were all Scottish in nature. The 270-acre property was extensive and included a private beach, a bath house, a deer park, a dance pavilion, bridle paths, hiking trails, and seasonal cottages, in addition to permanent residential homes. The local Hill School relocated to Rob Roy in 1932, marking the community's transition from a resort into residential area. The nearby railroad stop was renamed Robroy—all one word—in 1926 to reflect the change in ownership. Passenger service to the subdivision seems to have never have taken off and it ended by the early 1930s. The station was removed from Southern Pacific Railroad agency books only in 1940.

The Rob Roy subdivision did not thrive in the Great Depression and was eventually bought out in 1935 by Edward G. Burghard who renamed the community La Selva Beach, a reference to the forests that speckle the hills above the beach. The school became the La Selva Beach School in 1936, merging into the Aptos School District in 1942, and a post office was established for the community many years later in 1952. Railroad service only existed at La Selva Beach until 1938 when passenger service along the entire branch line ceased. The tracks, however, continue to pass through the community even today, rarely used since 2011. The adjacent 21-acre beach became Manresa State Beach in 1948 and is no longer the exclusive purview of the La Selva locals. The site of the station is at the bottom of Margarita Road while the spur stretched from that point to the bottom of Playa Boulevard.


  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Leonard on a USGS Map, 1914.
On the barren stretch of the Santa Cruz Coast between Aptos and Watsonville, a man named Thomas W. Leonard owned a farm. The farm was nothing overly remarkable, encompassing 515 acres of the San Andreas Rancho, but it had its merits. In 1878, small deposits of gold were found near the property. This mining continued into the 1880s. The farm also happened to sit directly in the path of the Santa Cruz Railroad as its plotted its course in the early 1870s. Leonard died in 1892, but his three sons maintained the property into the 1910s.

Leonard's property was located quite close to the beach and picked up a post office in March 1883 to service the local tourist crowd. The post office closed five months later but the miniscule community became known as "Leonard's", or rather "Leonard", as a result. Since the railroad passed directly through the property, it made sense to establish a stop nearby, which was built around the same time as the post office, located 450 away. The design of the station is unknown, but it appears to have been staffed, at least seasonally. By the late 1890s, it included a 291-foot spur and a freight platform. This suggests that there was at least some local use of the station as freight. It was permanently a flag-stop, which suggests it wasn't the most popular place in town, though it also implied that passengers could use the stop to pick up trains.

The station was located 10.7 miles from Santa Cruz, 109.8 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction, and 89.7 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off. The stop remained in timetables until the early 1930s and stuck on agency books until World War II or later. The spur was lengthened into a 590-foot-long siding in 1912, a feature reflected on the map above. The siding was on the northeast side of the mainline track.

John Joseph Montgomery and his flying machine, 1905.
Leonard had a brief fame in 1905 when it Professor John Joseph Montgomery, a local university mathematics teacher, successfully flew the first engineless aircraft more than a year before the Wright Brothers had their flight in South Carolina. Three flights on March 16, 17, and 20th, 1905, were conducted on the property of the Leonard Family. The pilot of the flights would die the following month after a flight accident in Santa Clara. Montgomery himself died in a crash in 1911 when he hit what is today known as Montgomery Hill near Evergreen Valley College in San José. The legacy of Montgomery was quickly overwhelmed by the Wright Brothers and has yet to be adequately resurrected.

Leonard's Ranch was annexed to Seascape Beach Estates (later Seascape) in 1969, though there remains a small agricultural parcel near the station site today. The site of the station is near the end of Summer Avenue near Seascape Park.


  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Claus & Farley

Claus Spreckels
On a lazy stretch of straight track between Rio del Mar Boulevard and Clubhouse Drive east of Aptos, the Southern Pacific Railroad set up one of its oldest sidings along the former Santa Cruz Railroad right-of-way. In later years, this would become the train stop for the Rio Del Mar community, but originally, it was put up for Claus Spreckels, the Sugar King.

Spreckels was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1848. He began life as a grocery but eventually became involved in the brewing industry and, soon afterwards, sugar refining. In 1873, he began growing sugar beets in Santa Cruz County on a massive 5,380 acre property just to the east of Aptos. Five years later, he founded the Western Beet Sugar Company, headquartered in Watsonville. He was a major promoter and financier of the Santa Cruz Railroad in the early 1870s, primarily because it would link his Rio Del Mar property to the rest of the United States. However, Spreckels didn't just use his Aptos property as a farm; in 1875 he erected the Aptos Hotel on the beach near the railroad mainline. The hotel included numerous cottages and out-buildings as well as two large structures that housed a library, saloon, billiard parlor, and club-room. Numerous aquatic activities were offered, as well. A railroad siding and stop were setup on the south side of the tracks to support both Spreckel's freight needs as well as the needs of the tourists that flocked to his beach resort. However, the resort closed down in 1896 and was meticulously demolished so the wood could be used elsewhere.

The nearby railroad station was originally, if uncreatively, named "Claus". By the early 1900s, Claus was a regularly-scheduled stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Branch line, though it is noted in agency books as being privately-owned. It was located 109.8 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction and 8.5 miles from Santa Cruz. It was also 87.5 miles from San Francisco via Santa Cruz and the Mayfield Cut-Off. A 268-foot-long siding had been installed at some point prior to 1907, though when is not precisely known. Around 1907, the Claus flag-stop was renamed "Farley" in recognition of one of the largest landowners nearby: Michael Farley. Farley was an Irish immigrant who settled in Santa Cruz in around 1890. The nearby Farley Drive is also named after him. All passenger and freight trains stopped at the station, suggesting it remained a freight stop for the local farmers and ranchers even after Spreckels's died in 1908. Evidence for this continued usage is suggested by the lengthening of the siding to 567 feet—six carlengths—in 1912. Oddly, though, the stop had no facilities whatsoever, including a platform. Agency Books record it the least developed stop along the route, not even affording it a station class. In 1909, it was finally classified as type-E, which implies that it had a siding and nothing else except a sign. A platform was finally installed at the station in 1912, but it was removed in 1915, never to return.

Rio Del Mar Estates in the 1930s. (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Not long after the station was renamed, the very nature of the surrounding community changed. Most of Spreckels's land had passed to the San Christina Investment Company after his death, and that was, in turn, sold to the Aptos Beach Country Club in 1925. The organization intended to put up a resort hotel, casino, bathhouse, golf course, polo field, and small town center within the former Spreckels' family ranch. This high-class establishment had no desire to use railroad traffic and the Southern Pacific appears never to have offered it; the station was for all intent and purposes abandoned in 1921, though it remained on timetables for years afterwards. All passenger and freight service to the stop ceased. By 1926, lots in the new subdivision was named "Rio Del Mar" and began selling parcels to the wealthier public. The name means "River of the Sea" in Spanish and was a reference to Aptos Creek's outlet into Monterey Bay. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression ended the anticipated success of Rio Del Mar and the subdivision only slowly grew into the quiet community of today. The station, meanwhile, lingered on official timetables until the mid-1930s when the Santa Cruz Branch was reduced to its operating stops in timetables. When the siding was removed is unknown, though the tracks, now owned by Santa Cruz County, continue to pass by the site of Farley today.

Access to Rio Del Mar today is via Spreckels Drive or Rio Del Mar Boulevard off of State Route 1. Rio Del Mar State Beach is a subunit of the adjacent Seacliff State Beach. Various small businesses, restaurants, hotels, and private resorts still litter the area, intermixed with multiple waves of seaside residential settlement.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Monte Vista

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company established two logging communities above its primary milling site at Loma Prieta. Both were uncreatively named the same: Monte Vista. The first Monte Vista was founded in 1883 five miles above Aptos at the end of the Loma Prieta Railroad. In the three miles that it took to get to the camp from Loma Prieta via Molino Switch, the railroad had to cross Aptos Creek five times. Two of the trestles that crossed the creek were over 200-feet long and one had a sharp bend in the middle. At Monte Vista, over 200,000 board feet of timber were cut and made into lumber at the small sawmill erected on the site. Other lumber was shipped down the grade to the larger mill to process. The first full harvest season began in 1884 and the mill at Monte Vista operated for the next five seasons as both a logging camp for the larger mill to the south and as a stand-alone milling operation.

The lumber train heading to Monte Vista, 1891.  (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Problems arose in the fall of 1886 when logging crews operating out of Monte Vista found their northward path blocked by the imposing hillsides of Aptos Creek. Despite plans to mill the miles of acreage north of the satellite mill, the company could move no further. The skid road required to reach the upper tracts of the timber field found no footing. This is why the Southern Pacific Railroad joined in and annexed the Loma Prieta Railroad, converting it into a branch line: to get to the timber further to the north. The railroad fought the so-called "Hell's Gate"—an especially narrow section of the canyon—and found a way to the land beyond. In March 1888, the route from Monte Vista to the new lumber tracts was opened, and the mill got up and relocated, taking its name with it, thereby founding Monte Vista #2.

Loma Prieta Excursion Train, c. late 1890s. (Paul Johnston Collection, MAH)
This was quite possibly the most rugged and remote sections of the Southern Pacific standard-gauged network and unfortunately few photographs of the area survive. The new camp was two miles to the north of the old one and the track hugged the west bank of the creek almost the entire stretch. The Southern Pacific Railroad included the new location in its agency books and timetables as the end of the line, placing it 120 miles south of San Francisco via Pajaro Junction. It was classified as an A-type station, which meant it had a platform and siding. A small station structure was erected there as well as numerous worker cabins and a small store for employees. Unlike Loma Prieta, this was strictly a work camp and most families lived in the larger village to the south. Monte Vista was a workers' camp, plain and simple. That being said, it was popular with tourists on weekends and, since the mill didn't run then, groups would visit the small community to enjoy the trees and dance under the stars at night. A tavern built at Monte Vista catered to both workers' and tourists' more base desires.

Only one train was assigned to work between Loma Prieta and Monte Vista, but it worked constantly each weekday, shuttling lumber and split stuff to the sidings at Molino or transferring logs to the planing mill. It was forced to backdown the canyon since there was no turntable or wye at Monte Vista, but it always ran at the head of the train to prevent runaway cars. At least two spurs branched off at Monte Vista, as well as a water tower.

Monte Vista #2 suffered terribly from a winter storm in early 1899. Hell's Gate collapsed atop the railroad right-of-way and the costs to rebuild or repair the track were deemed too much. The lumber camp was abandoned and its salvageable parts removed. Loma Prieta, in turn, was also abandoned and the company looked elsewhere for timber. The Southern Pacific Railroad pulled all the useable track between Molino and the slide, leaving the right-of-way behind to return to a state of nature. The Molino Timber Company would later come and reclaim a portion of that right-of-way to the bottom of its incline grade, but Monte Vista was gone forever. A victim of nature. Both Monte Vistas are located within the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, at undesignated locations along Aptos Creek. The later mill site is likely no longer accessible to the public due to its remoteness.


  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Loma Prieta

A lumber company has to have some excellent connections to be able to convince a massive railroad company to build a dedicated branch line directly to its mill. Yet that is precisely what happened with the Loma Prieta Lumber Company in 1882. Granted three members of the board of directors of the new lumber company were major financiers of the Southern Pacific Railroad, but it still was an unusual feat, especially for Santa Cruz. Previously all railroads in the county had multiple patrons: this would only have one, at least initially. To do things properly, the Loma Prieta Railroad Company was founded first as an independent standard-gauged railroad, and the Southern Pacific took it over in 1887 once more direct funding was required to sustain the mill and track. The track followed Aptos Creek closely until its junction with Bridge Creek. Just south of this junction, the first major section of track terminated at the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's massive planing mill. The mill opened up for business in spring 1884.

The shingle mill at Loma Prieta, located directly behind the mill along a spur, 1888.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The mill was able to process 70,000 board feet of lumber per eleven-hour workday. The mill employed 150 men plus 80 contractors, decidedly the largest milling operation in the county at the time. Just above the mill, Aptos Creek was dammed to create an extremely long and meandering log pond. To the south of the mill, a quarter mile of lumber piles flanked three freight spurs. Two dedicated locomotives ferries flatcars between Molino and the mill, passing materials to another locomotive which ran between Molino and the Monte Vista mill sites further to the north.

The town of Loma Prieta with the station at right and the general store at right, c. 1890. (Santa Cruz MAH)
Loma Prieta, however, was not simply a freight stop, it was an entire town. Between the mill and Bridge Creek, and all along both banks of Aptos Creek, the village of Loma Prieta arose, catering specifically to the families of mill workers. A standard Southern Pacific depot building was erected beside the tracks, a structure that included a full-service telegraph office and passenger agency office. The community had its own hotel, general store, and business office, as well as a post office (established in 1885) and a Wells Fargo express station. By the early 1890s, over thirty homes were situated on the hillsides around Loma Prieta. The Loma Prieta School District was founded in September 1885 to cater to the children living near the camp. The railroad station was located 4 miles north of Aptos and 117 miles south of San Francisco via Pajaro Junction.

The Loma Prieta Hotel and the General Store, c. 1890. (Santa Cruz MAH)
A disastrous storm in early 1899 utterly destroyed the Monte Vista mill, forcing the Loma Prieta Lumber Company to abandon its facilities along Aptos Creek. The Loma Prieta town was abandoned and the mill dismantled. The post office closed in October 1901. In 1908, the company returned to the old mill site and constructed a new facility in the place of the old one. Three years later, the Molino Timber Company took over the mill and used it to process the timber harvested on China Ridge until 1918. In that year, the Loma Prieta Company once again took control, using the mill to process lumber harvested from high up Bridge Creek until late 1920. During all of this time, Loma Prieta was only considered a freight stop. The town had long since disappeared, taking with it the post office, general store, hotel, and many other amenities. Aptos became the new go-to town for employees needing a weekend break.

The log pond and the tracks to Monte Vista above the Loma Prieta mill (in the distance). (Santa Cruz MAH)
The site of the town of Loma Prieta today is marked with a plaque in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It is north of the last parking lot along the Aptos Creek Fire Road on the east side of the creek. There is a nearby path that crosses over the creek via a bridge; this roughly marks the southern end of the lumber yard.

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Molino was originally an unremarkable point along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Loma Prieta Branch north of Aptos. In 1910, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company decided that it wanted to harvest the timber tracts on Hinkley and China Ridges, which had hitherto been unaccessible. Thus a group of investors related to the company founded the Molino Timber Company to reach these tracts. At a point which they named "Molino" about three miles north of Aptos, the new milling company built a 30-inch-gauged railroad up along the former Monte Vista mill line to the bottom of an incline cable track that acted to ferry lumber between five miles of track up atop the ridge. The mill at Loma Prieta was reopened to process the timber coming down from the ridge.

Molino switch with Aptos Creek at the right and the main grade at left, c.1890s. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
The Molino switch was located at the spot where the spur line to Loma Prieta split with the mainline to Monte Vista. The track to Monte Vista had been pulled before 1900, but the track to Loma Prieta remained. Thus what Molino became was a rebirth of the old switch between the two mills. Indeed, the name may date back to the 1890s but it did not appear in official Southern Pacific records as such.  It only appeared in July 1914 in railroad agency books at 115 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction, though the company had begun operations the previous year. The switch included a basic freight-loading platform which may have catered to small lumber operations or a nearby shingle mill. A gas-powered locomotive would come down the west bank of Aptos Creek and at Molino take the lumber back up the opposite bank to the mill. The cars were 30-inch gauged, requiring a triple-railed track, but the engine was standard-gauged. All lumber was offloaded beside the tracks at Molino and then transferred via standard-gauged flatcars to the mill or out for shipment.

The gas-powered locomotive used to ferry cars between the incline and the mill via Molino switch, c. 1915.
(Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
The Molino Timber Company worked the line until 1917 and then the Loma Prieta Lumber Company once again moved in to use a segment of the rebuilt line to reach Bridge Creek and Big Tree Gulch. Molino remained in use in its previous capacity for another four years until this operation, too, shut down in 1921. The Molino station point survived until the end of the branch line in 1928. The site of the switch today is north of the northernmost parking lot in the Forest of Nisene Marks on the Aptos Creek Fire Road, which was originally the right-of-way. The site is marked by a trail that turns to the northwest, while the fire road continues to the northeast.

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).

Friday, December 5, 2014


The Loma Prieta Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad north of Aptos had gone through highs and lows by the 1910s when it was once again in use as a full-time lumber right-of-way. The communities around the Loma Prieta Mill had long since disappeared but the tracks remained behind and the Loma Prieta Lumber Company reactivated the abandoned mill and resumed logging operations in the area in 1917.

Quite a ways south of these operations and about 1.8 miles above Aptos, a new spur was installed that went by the name "Ready" since it sat on lands owned by Ruth Ready, daughter of Tessie Hihn Hall, and a granddaughter of Frederick A. Hihn. Some records alternatively title the spot "Hihn Spur", though that name has been used elsewhere along the line. The spur was used by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, which the Hihn Company partially owned, to access a new mill built on the east side of the tracks. Unlike other operations in the area, the primary purpose of this small mill was to cut split stuff, railroad ties, and small-scale lumber.

Ready first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books in January 1918 at 114 miles from San Francisco via Watsonville Junction. It was recorded as having a class-B freight station, though it did not have a loading platform. This was probably because the loading was all done directly at the adjacent mill so no platform was required. The class-B, therefore, implies simply that there is a spur at the site. It remained unchanged in agency books until the branch was abandoned in 1928. Unfortunately, its history in timetables, if there were any, is not available to this historian at this time.

The operations at Ready were relatively short-lived. The Loma Prieta Company abandoned its Aptos Creek operations after the 1920 logging season. Ready and its mill may have continued in use for part of the next year due to it being the closest stop to Aptos and having a small-scale mill on site. However, by 1921, the site was definitively closed and it was no longer mentioned in timetables or agency books.

The site of Ready today is just before the first crossing over Aptos Creek along the Aptos Creek Fire Road, which also serves as the entry road in to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. A pull-out on the east side of the road still marks the site of the spur and the mill, with the road itself marking the site of the Southern Pacific right-of-way through the area.


  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).

Friday, November 28, 2014


U.S. Geological Survey Map of Aptos, 1899. (USGS)
Aptos was one of the most important railroad stations in Santa Cruz County. This may seem a slightly strange statement, but it's truth is evident simply from the United States Geological Survey map from 1899 at right. Most noticeably, perhaps, is that besides the tracks going to the west toward Santa Cruz and to the south toward Watsonville, there is a third line going to the north, into the mountains. Indeed, a fourth line would soon join these three to the northeast in a few years' time. It was these two lines to the north that made Aptos such an important stop along the line. They brought to Aptos and, therefore, to the railroad mainline precious timber cut and milled by the Molina Timber Company and the F.A. Hihn Co.'s mill on Valencia Creek. The former's importance was so great that the Southern Pacific even built a shortline railroad into the very heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains just for the mill.

However, the history of Aptos Station itself is the topic here, while the histories of the mills will come later. When the Santa Cruz Railroad was completed in 1876, Aptos was a small village with an insignificant passenger stop that only saw occasional passenger usage. Camp Capitola to the west was more popular since it was on the beach. In fact, Aptos Station wasn't even that close to the beach because the track swung inland to keep it on a level grade and to bring it closer to the potential timber tracts up in the hills. Yet for seven years, nothing was done about those tracts. The Southern Pacific took over the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1881, and only in 1882 did the first whispers of development begin. On July 10th, the whispers became a shout as the Watsonville Mill & Lumber Company announced its plans to form, with the cooperation of the Southern Pacific, the Loma Prieta Railroad Company, tasked with reaching and harvesting the vast material wealth above Aptos. To mill the lumber, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company was founded.

Just to the east and up Valencia Creek, another railroad, this one narrow-gauged, was under construction by F.A. Hihn Co. by 1886. The railroad was to access the tracts of timber up the creek, and Hihn built his mill just outside of town to make shipping out via rail easier. After a fire burned down his first mill later that year, Hihn switched from using donkeys to transport his freight cars, to using a small steam engine. For five more years the mill harvested the lumber of Valencia Creek until closing in 1892. A spur for the railroad ran from Aptos to the mill, where narrow-gauged tracks them took over to the current logging camp.

A freight yard did not develop of Aptos until late in 1883 when the Santa Cruz Railroad line was standard-gauged. Indeed, work on the Loma Prieta branch was done in standard-gauge but with narrow-gauged rails until the Santa Cruz Railroad track's conversion was completed. That task was done by November 13, 1883, when the Loma Prieta branch opened to the public. The area around Aptos Depot exploded into a flurry of activity as support sidings were added repeatedly until there were four separate sidings on either side of the main line. In addition, a spur branched into three and led into a lumber yard. A turntable was eventually added in the around 1890, located at the end of a spur that headed toward Watsonville. This was later removed in the early 1900s and replaced with a wye further to the north, using the Aptos Branch track as one corner of the wye. A new spur was also added to the lumber yard, oddly located at the end of the northernmost spur and heading in the opposite direction.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Aptos, 1892. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
The Aptos Depot began as mostly a flag-stop when it appeared in timetables from 1875. It only had a station building from about 1882 with the original structure situated on the west side of the tracks. The building was a standard-issue Southern Pacific station with a platform on the track side and a small bay window facing the tracks to serve as a ticket booth. This building did not change, though it was upgraded and expanded somewhat over the years. A freight house was eventually added in the early 1900s across and slightly to the north of the depot, beside the Aptos Branch track. From 1881, the station had regularly scheduled railroad service and this persisted until the end of passenger service along the line in 1938. The station was 7.8 miles from Santa Cruz and 112.6 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction. After 1908, it was 87.0 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off.

The Aptos freight yard, c. 1910s. (Paul Johnston Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Paul and Christina Johnston outside Aptos
Depot preparing to go on their honeymoon,
1913. (Paul Johnston Collection – MAH)
In April 1899, a massive spring storm destroyed Aptos Branch rail line and led, soon after, to the closure of the Loma Prieta Lumber Co. mill. In 1901, the track was extended once again along a different path to access timber in Soquel Creek and by 1908, the Loma Prieta Lumber Co. was back in business, but the cost of running this new mill was prohibitive and it closed down after only one season. With that, the Loma Prieta Lumber Co. moved to a tract of land near Swanton on the North Coast. The Molino Timber Company picked up the slack and harvested the remaining redwoods beginning in 1910, using once again the old Southern Pacific track. At a point along the line, a steep incline requiring a cable hoist was installed. At the top of the incline, a narrow-gauged track meandered for miles along the top of the ridge where it shuttled lumber from various tracts to the top of the incline, where it was hauled down and milled. The company worked the area until 1917 after which it abandoned its track and sold it for scrap metal. One last operation along the line occurred the following year, when the Loma Prieta Lumber Company returned in 1918 to harvest the timber around Bridge Creek and Porter Gulch. The route was too difficult for standard-gauged traffic so the company took a hint from the Molino Company and used a narrow-gauged train to collect the felled trees. For four summers the company harvested the tracts along Bridge Creek and then in spring 1921, it closed down its Aptos operations for good. The Aptos Branch lingered for nearly a decade before finally being removed in 1928. Whether it saw any service during this time is unknown. Regardless, Aptos quickly returned to a simple passenger stop on the Santa Cruz Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

An accident near the tracks. Aptos Depot and its freight yard in the background, c. 1920.
(Paul Johnston Collection – MAH)
The extensive sidings and spurs began to be removed prior to 1910 as demand on the line had decreased. Of the four spurs to the east, only two survived by 1908, one as a short maintenance track and the other to the F.A. Hihn Company's freight warehouse. The four sidings in town remained behind for another two decades before they were finally removed as non-essential. In 1909, there were still 3,086 feet of sidings and spurs at Aptos Depot. Even as late as 1941, roughly half that trackage still remained at Aptos, though the wye had been removed by that point. But with no passenger service and little freight traffic, the depot and the sidings became unnecessary.

Locals protesting Southern Pacific's decision to fence its tracks through town,  c. 1960s. (MAH)
When precisely the sidings were removed is unknown, though it may have been as early as during World War II. The freight depot was probably demolished first. Its site later became the Aptos Station shopping center. The end of the Suntan Specials ensured the demise of Aptos Station, which closed in 1962, though it likely hadn't been used for over a decade. The expansion of Soquel Drive soon after forced the demolition of the Aptos Depot, which was located immediately beside the road.


  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Kevin Newhouse, Images of America: Aptos (Arcadia Publishing, 2013).

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Brighton

New Brighton, located on the coast east of Captiola and west of Seacliff, was originally a small Chinese fishing village in the 1850s. Many fishing families, especially those of Italian descent, were moving into the more populated regions of the county, thereby forcing the Chinese into increasingly remote locations. For decades, Chinese fishermen (they did not bring their families with them) fished at the beach, remaining largely isolated from the Santa Cruz and Watsonville communities on either side of them. The beach, then known as China Beach, had calm waves and the fishing crews were able to built extensive docks for their boats in the waters. The Chinese lived on the beach, drawing their fresh water from leaks in the nearby cliffs. They owned no property and had no public recognition of their land, which sat at the fringe of the high tide line. The Chinese Expulsion Act of 1882 slowly drove the Chinese out of the area and by 1900, all trace of them had disappeared.

The Santa Cruz Railroad first made its was through the area around 1873, though it wouldn't be completed for another two years. In any case, the railroad utterly bypassed the beach throughout the 1800s, only establishing a flag-stop there in 1900, likely at the insistence of local property developers. A resort had existed at China Beach since 1877 when Thomas Fallon, former mayor of San José, built Camp San Jose near the site, but any railroad traffic to the resort was strictly unofficial. The name did not attract the crown either Fallon or Santa Cruz had hoped for, so in 1882 Fallon renamed it New Brighton, after the New Brighton Hotel which he built on the property. Fallon died three years later, and the property fell to his descendants who only periodically chose to use or lease the site. It's location was poor for a campground, being atop the cliffs in an open plain exposed to the elements. Camp Capitola, further to the west, was far more popular and was protected from the elements to a much greater degree. The hotel fell into disuse and was eventually demolished.

Railroad service to New Brighton grew by 1908 when the Southern Pacific began officially entering it into its agency books. By 1909, it was also listed in employee timetables at 6.1 miles from Santa Cruz and 85.1 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off. The site had no spur or siding or, indeed, was a regularly-scheduled stop. It only catered to those who wished to embark or disembark at the location. If any station structure existed for the stop, this historian has not seen it. The station remained on timetables into the early 1930s until it was relegated to the flag-stop appendix by 1939. It was completely removed in June 1941, although passenger service by that time had already ended except for special excursion trains.

Curiously, by the last few years of its existence, the stop may have actually served a permanent stop. New Brighton became a California State Park in 1933, though the name itself wasn't adopted for a number of years due to protests from Fallon's heirs. The state beach has been in constant use ever since, usually paired as an informal unit with the adjacent Seacliff State Beach. It encompasses 95 acres of land including a windswept campground. The site of the station goes unremarked, but was along Park Avenue near the current entrance of New Brighton State Beach. E Clampus Vitus recognized the Chinese history of the park in October 1984 with a plaque, while the Pacific Migrations Visitors Center, which opened in 2003, documents the history of the early residents—including the Chinese—in the area.