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.


Friday, November 14, 2014


Capitola Village—the heart of historic Capitola—has not changed much since it was originally founded by Frederick Augustus Hihn on June 18, 1874. Sure the buildings have changed, the entire nature of seasonal vacations have been altered, and the industrial aspects of the village are no more, but when it comes down to it, Capitola Village is still a resort town. And that is mostly because of the railroad.

Artistic impression of Camp Capitola in the 1880s. (
Samuel Alonzo Hall began allowing seasonal vacationers to stay on the beach outside his farm beginning in 1869. Hall leased the land from Hihn and accepted that the property was popular with the vacationing public. The land was pinched between the Soquel Landing Wharf, built a decade earlier by Hihn to serve as a shipping point for the logging mills of the Soquel Creek basin, and the California Sugar Beet Company mill up on the hill to the east. The name of the town, "Capitola", likely was after a heroine from a series of novels by E.D.E.N. Southworth. The opening of the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1876 accelerated the development of what would become Camp Capitola, though Hall wasn't pushed off of his land until 1879. Standard-gauging of the railroad in 1882 after its acquisition by the Southern Pacific prompted Hihn to formally recreate the property into a summer resort, subdividing the region into parcels for rent or purchase. Before he was done, Camp Capitola was already a popular tourist destination.

Postcard of Soquel Creek with the trestle overhead, c. 1900s.
The initial tent city evolved into a mix of cottages, tent cottages, and more formal structures. The big change came in the 1890s when Hihn hired architect Edward L. Van Cleeck to design a 160-room hotel on the Esplanade. Other permanent structures soon followed. Hihn actively worked to push out industries from using the flat at the mouth of Soquel Creek, accepting the presence of the wharf but otherwise eliminating eye sores from the area.

The first Captiola Depot at its second location, confirmed by the presence
of a siding alongside the mainline tracks. (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The railroad, on the other hand, was a welcomed industrial tool to the camp. When graders first passed through Camp Capitola in 1874, they did so high above Soquel Creek where a massive trestle that included multiple imbedded truss spans over the creek and two access roads. The station for the community, therefore, was high up on the grade rather than near the creek. Nonetheless, the first depot for Camp Capitola was constructed in 1876 under the name "Soquel", just beyond the western end of the trestle alongside what is now Cliff Drive. Vacationers would either walk down the road and across the creek or take a buggy to the resort. The structure was a square box built on stilts with few amenities. The trestle was replaced in 1886 with a sturdier structure able to withstand the weight of standard-gauged trains. Three years earlier, the depot was moved to the east bank of the river along what became Park Avenue, placed on the north side of the tracks so that passengers would no longer have to cross the creek to get to the Camp.

Swimmers and vacationers posing on the beach with the Hotel Capitola in the background. (Santa Cruz MAH)
Just after the turn of the century, Hihn petitioned the railroad to replace the depot with a new and more decorative structure. In the process, he also had them move it across the street to 250 Monterey Avenue. This new station matched the style of many of the others in Santa Cruz County, with a Victorian-style bay window acting as the ticket booth, and a covered porch to shelter waiting passengers from the elements.  The new station included a 1,580-foot-long siding that ran from the end of the trestle eastward. This siding was still in place at the beginning of World War II. The station sat on the south side of the tracks and is still there today, though it has been rotated 90˚ and turned into a private residence. The original station owner sold it to Lucinda Savoy, who passed it on to Bea and Harry Schultz, who sold it to Cecil Carnes. It finally was sold to Dan Floyd and Suzanne Lankes in 1990 after which they converted it into The Inn at Depot Hill. This is one of the only surviving stations in Santa Cruz County and the only one that is opened to the public.

The current Soquel Creek trestle overlooking Capitola-by-the-Sea. (Santa Cruz MAH)
The town thrived into the 1910s when Hihn's daughter sold the entire town, now called Capitola-By-The-Sea, to Henry Allen Rispin, who turned the village into a Spanish Revival-themed resort. His conversion did not entirely succeed resulting in the present mix of Victorian-, Spanish-, and other-themed structures present in Capitola Village today. The advent of the automobile in the late 1910s and the completion of the Glenwood Highway to San José meant that people were no longer visiting Capitola-By-The-Sea for month-long visits, but rather stopping in for only a few days. The tent cities disappeared and auto camps replaced them. To maintain patronage, events were held constantly through the summer while such facilities as the 300-seat Capitola Theater, beach-side concessions and rides, and a skating rink helped draw new customers. In addition, the old bathhouse was restored and upgraded after ocean flooding undermined its foundation in 1932.

The county take-over of Capitola-By-The-Sea, generally known simply as Capitola by the 1930s, began as early as the end of the 1920s when Rispin faced financial and political difficulties. The Great Depression and numerous fires that destroyed large parts of the community forced the county to intercede and take control of the bulk of the village. Regular railroad passenger traffic ended in 1938 due to poor sales, though excursion trains sometimes stopped in the summer. All remaining passenger trains ended in 1941 and when the Suntan Specials resumed in 1947. For three years, the trains stopped at Capitola village on its way to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, but in 1950 service was abandoned to Capitola. The station was formally abandoned in January 1956 and the structure was given to the last station agency for $1. The era of railroad traffic to the town was done.

The Inn at Depot Hill, heavily upgraded and modified since its last use as a railroad station sixty-five years ago.
Capitola grew increasingly into a permanent town of established residences, though the village always attracted modest tourist populations because of the beach and the seaside environment. The City of Capitola was incorporated on January 4, 1949, but the center of the town had migrated to the western bluff above Soquel Creek. The large trestle over Soquel Creek stills stands and is now owned by Santa Cruz County for its Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, but repairs must be made on the trestle before it can be used for regular passenger service. Once completed, it is likely that Capitola will once again have passenger service, though the depot would likely be placed closer to 41st Avenue to the west than its historic location to the east.


Friday, November 7, 2014


At the southern end of 47th Avenue near the cliffs overlooking old town Capitola, the Santa Cruz Railroad once again met up with the Pacific Ocean. Since the Santa Cruz Main Beach, it had slowly been moving inland, but the cove created by Soquel Creek eroded the land away, returning the train to the cliffside. How the area got the name "Opal" is unknown, though it seems to have come from the railroad.

A USGS Map from 1912 showing Opal at the bottom-left corner.
The track coming from the bottom is the Union Traction Company
trolley line from Santa Cruz.
Little information is available regarding this station or the nearby housing subdivision, though the railroad station came first, installed by the Southern Pacific Railroad at the bottom of 47th Avenue at its junction with Portola Drive around 1901. The station was 4.1 miles east of Santa Cruz and 116.4 miles south of San Francisco via Parajo Junction. Opal provided access for the railroad to the freight pier and Capitola. The sidings and spurs at Opal were extensive, measuring 4,943 feet—nearly a mile. A heavy industrial yard was located at the top of the cliffs to the north of the tracks, with at least three long spurs running along side the tracks. This yard was maintained by Frederick A. Hihn's Loma Prieta Lumber Company where it kept a large lumberyard, planing mill, and hay barn. The spurs were extended by 400 feet in 1912. A freight station and a supply shed were both located along the northernmost spur. The stop was removed from timetables in 1931. For many years, Opal was the only formal stop between Santa Cruz and Capitola, with Seabright, Twin Lakes, and Del Mar only footnoted seasonal flag-stops. Opal was a freight-only stop with no flag service ever noted, thus passengers could not use the stop, even after the nearby residential subdivision was installed.

The residential subdivision was developed north of the switch after World War I in July 1923 under the direction of Kathryn McGeoghegan, widow of Eulice Hihn. McGeoghegan later lost the property in a foreclosure to Frank Blake in 1931. Blake sold 40 acres to Harry McBain in 1936 and he chose to use the name of the old railroad stop as an impetus to nreame all the streets of the neighborhood after precious gems. Thus, Crystal Street, Emerald Street, Garnet Street, Jewel Street, Opal Street, Ruby Street, Topaz Street, Jade Street, and Diamond Street all create what locals refer to as the "Jewel Box". The original subdivision was between 45th and 49th Avenues, but expansions to the neighborhood after World War II continued the themed-naming. The freight yard was abandoned in the 1930s but buildings from it may have contributed to some of the homes in the Jewel Box.

Today, Jade Street Park sits atop the old Opal freight yard, with the Capitola Community Center nearby, even though the subdivision is technically a part of the City of Santa Cruz. The streets are still named for precious jewels and the tracks still pass to the south of the subdivision, but trains no longer stop there, at least not currently. Santa Cruz County owns the right-of-way now and may someday reinstate a stop in the area, though probably not at the park.

  • Donald Clark, Place Names of Santa Cruz County (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2002).
  • Carolyn Swift. Historic Context Statement for the City of Capitola. Capitola, CA: Capitola Community Development Department, 2004.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Del Mar

For many years, there was a relatively long stretch of open track between Twin Lakes and Capitola—it was a span of 2.8 miles. Then, in the late 1891, James Corcoran, Patrick Moran, and Henry Johans donated a section of land between Corcoran and Schwann Lagoons for use as a Catholic resort. The new summer retreat was located at the bottom of 17th Avenue and placed under the administration of the Catholic Ladies' Aid Society. The Society built a female-centric resort called the Santa Maria del Mar Hotel which catered both to Catholic women and summer tourists. It sat above the cliffs beside modern-day East Cliff Drive.

Hunting Crabs near Twin Lakes Beach with the Santa Maria del Mar Hotel in the background.
(Jongeneel Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
A Southern Pacific Railroad flag-stop was raised beside 17th Avenue at around the same time on a 60-foot wide stretch of land donated by Corcoran. Today, it would be located near the site of Shoreline Middle School just east of Schwann Lagoon. Del Mar first appeared as a full station in January 1909 under the name "Delmar" (later that year renamed "Del Mar"), located 2.9 miles from Santa Cruz, 117.5 from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction, and 83.3 miles from San Francisco via Santa Cruz and the Mayfield Cut-Off. It had no spur or siding, emphasizing its existence as a passenger stop. A short spur was finally added in 1923, suggesting the introduction of an industrial complex nearby. That spur was privately owned by the Farmers Co-Operative Exchange, the grain elevator for which still sits on the site across from the school.

The Villa Maria del Mar today. (Santa Cruz – Connection Magazine)
The creation of the Rio Del Mar housing development at the mouth of Aptos Creek further to the east likely caused the Southern Pacific to rename their small station on 17th Avenue to "Cliffside" at some point in the early 1930s. The name recognized the community's status as a clifftop subdivision, though the station itself was over half a mile from the nearest cliff. Though the Catholic church still had a presence in the area, the landscape had evolved to include dozens of private homes and rental cabins. Regular passenger service to the site ceased in February 1938 and has not since resumed. When the spur was removed is unknown.

Traces of Del Mar still persist in the area. The resort hotel survives as the Villa Maria del Mar Retreat Center operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary since 1963. Thus, it remains a Catholic facility, though it caters to everyone as a conference center. Over the years, the facility has been greatly expanded and a small Mission-style church now sits nearby. Closer to the tracks, the Del Mar Middle School still keeps alive the old name for the community. The track, now owned by the City of Santa Cruz, still cross over 17th Avenue, though its use has been infrequent since 2007.


  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
  • Gary B. Griggs & Deepika Shrestha Ross, Then & Now: Santa Cruz Coast (Arcadia Publishing, 2006).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes was one of the last seasonal stops put in place along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks along the Monterey Bay. It was established in April 1890 as a summer retreat for Baptists. In a ten-acre tract of land between Woods Lagoon and Schwann Lagoon purchased from J.C. Kimble, the Baptists built a large tabernacle able to seat 300 people. On East Cliff Drive beside the beach, they also built a hotel and conference center. The conference center soon picked up a large concrete swimming pool by the beach for those wishing not to swim in the surf. Cabins and a campground were built around the tabernacle and the resort was used seasonally. Four windmills placed in the area powered the facilities. The Baptists first used the retreat on June 23, 1890, and it became a regular gathering place for Baptist communities from around the country.

A transcription of historian H.S. Harrison from his 1892 History of Santa Cruz County, California is perhaps most appropriate to present at this point:
This tract, generally known as Twin Lakes, is the appropriate and euphonious name of a Baptist resort and summer encampment recently established in Santa Cruz. The successful endeavors of the Christian people paved the way and led up to the establish- ment of this resort. 
Like the Methodists of Pacific Grove, on the other side of the bay, the Baptist Church of California was anxious to secure a desirable location for a summer' encampment and a place to hold annual conferences. A committee was appointed to look up sites and consider propositions, and, after traveling over a large part of Central California, and examining many places, and considering several large tenders of land and coin, accepted the proposition of Mr. J.C. Kimble, a resident of Oakland, and owner of one of the most desirable pieces of property in Santa Cruz County. Mr. Kimble gave ten acres of the highest part of this tract, and afterwards increased it by the addition of other pieces and a long, broad stretch of beach, aggregating twenty-two and one-quarter acres. A donation from Jacob Schwan increased the tract seven and a fifth acres, and the purchase from the same party of twelve acres additional, and a perpetual lease of a long strip along the cliff, make a domain of about forty acres. 
The location of this encampment could not be excelled if the State had been thoroughly searched. From the city of Santa Cruz to Aptos, as has been previously noted, is one of the most desirable residence parts of the globe. And of this most desirable part of the Monterey Bay, the Baptists, in point of contiguity to the city of Santa Cruz, steam and street railway facilities, bathing facilities, including surf bathing in the open bay, and still salt water bathing in Swan Lake, beauty of natural surroundings, grand marine and mountain views, to say nothing of the pretty little vistas, shady walks, and secluded nooks among the grand oaks which fringe the lakes, have certainly demonstrated the conception of their undertaking under a most auspicious star. 
The grounds have been laid out by Mr. N. E. Beckwith, of Los Gatos, who has been appointed superintendent and resident agent for the sale of lots. Mr. Beckwith has demonstrated his ability as a surveyor, and high artistic taste, by the way that he has plotted the grounds, surveying the entire tract and adjacent lands of Mr. Kimble in one homogeneous plan, with an eye to the future growth and development of this most auspiciously inaugurated effort.
hotel and several cottages have been constructed, a large number of tents are upon the ground, and quite a number of families are enjoying the privilege and pleasure of an encampment at Twin Lakes. The lots are forty by eighty feet in dimension, and have sold rapidly since being placed upon the market, many purchasers being residents of Santa Cruz, not identified with the religious association, who have taken advantage of the opportunity of a good business investment. Especial care has been taken to prevent the sale of liquors on or near the grounds. While the enterprise is under the management of the California State Baptist Association, there is no sectarianism in the conduct of affairs, as each purchaser of a lot is entitled to membership in the association. 
In addition to his donation of land, Mr. Kimble has assisted in opening roads, and otherwise shown his generosity and desire for the success of the undertaking, which is now assured. Some pretty features of the natural scenery are shown in the accompanying engraving.

Naturally, most visitors arrived to the Twin Lakes resort by rail. The nearest tracks were at the back end of Schwann Lagoon, at the end of 7th Avenue. As soon as the Baptists began using the site, Twin Lakes station was in full swing. It initially had no structure or services and no siding. It was located 118.6 miles from San Fransisco via Pajaro Junction and 1.6 miles from Santa Cruz. The Ely horsecars passed down 7th Avenue, crossing the Southern Pacific tracks where it picked up passengers who were bound for the beach.

The Jongeneel family at a cottage at Twin Lakes in 1907.
On the beach, management changed quickly. The Baptist tabernacle remained the focus point for the area, but the conference center changed hands in the late 1890s when Howard E. Parker bought it and renamed it Hotel Surf. He in turn sold it to J.H. McCulock on Mar. 2, 1903. At this time, the Twin Lakes was growing. New seasonal and permanent residents were beginning to crowd out the historic Baptist core. By 1917, much of the area was under development as private residences, some Baptist, some not. The Union Traction Company took over the Ely horsecars around 1904 and began running seasonal service between the railroad stop and the beach. Around 1908, a 350-foot spur was added to Twin Lakes station, likely to provide a place for trains to park and unload passengers. Any freight purpose for this spur is currently unknown by this historian. From that point until the 1930s, Twin Lakes was a fully-fledged year-round station, appearing on employee timetables regularly. Service was still on-demand, but it would stop at Twin Lakes for any passenger on or off the train.

The Hotel Surf became the Twin Lakes Hotel in 1926 when Karl O. Kott bought out the property from Charles and Otto Stark, the previous owners. By then, the Baptist tabernacle had become simply a local Baptist church, its heritage fading into history. Passenger service continued to Twin Lakes Station until February 1938, after which the route was used for excursions trains and freight only. The tracks became property of the Union Pacific in 1996 and were purchased by the City of Santa Cruz in the mid-2000s. The beach area became Twin Lakes State Beach in 1955 and at the time was connected to Seabright Beach located between the San Lorenzo River and Woods Lagoon. The construction of the small craft harbor in Woods Lagoon in 1964 divided the two beaches, though they legally remain the same state park. Today, Twin Lakes Beach is still a popular venue at the mouth of Schwann Lagoon, but few traces of the area's historic or railroad past remain.

  • E.S. Harrison, History of Santa Cruz County, California (San Francisco, CA: Pacific Press Publishing, 1892.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Though the Santa Cruz Railroad was intended primarily as a freight line, its use as a passenger line was never ignored and, indeed, it was emphasized at times. One of the railroad's benefits was that it ran near the beach throughout much of its length between Pajaro Junction and Santa Cruz. Between the San Lorenzo River and Woods Lagoon, a small jetty of land included a small beach area. The land was originally owned by a Mr. Doane.  In 1884, this land was purchased by F.M. Mott of Sacramento from Mr. Woods, after whom Woods Lagoon is named. Mott developed it into a farm and summer home. In the early 1880s, he visited the New Jersey coastal village of Sea Bright and took the name home with him.

Seabright Beach and Wood's Lagoon, c. 1895. (SC Libraries)
Camp Alhambra, designed by Thomas Pilkington, dominated the area directly above the river to the west of Seabright Beach. It was the only resort between Camp Capitola and the Santa Cruz Main Beach. The entire resort was composed of a long, low building surrounded by cypress trees. Eventually, out buildings such as cottages and cookhouses were built. Captain Hall and his daughter, Mrs. Green, ran Camp Alhambra for seven years beginning in 1882, until they parcelled the property out in 1889. Seabright Park was built soon on one of the larger parcels.

Seabright Beach in the early 1900s. 
The Southern Pacific Railroad began advertising the property by the late 1880s as an aquatic getaway with most of the visitors coming from San José. The railroad station for Seabright was built in 1898 on the southeast corner of Railraod Avenue (later Seabright Avenue). The stop had served as a flag-stop since the early 1890s and continued as a flag-stop through to the 1910s. It was located 119.5 miles south of San Francisco via Pajaro Junction. In 1909, the line was reassessed via the mountain route and Mayfield Cut-off and measured 80.3 miles from San Fransisco. It had no siding or spur and the first station shelter was open-air with back-to-back rows of benches, built in the shadow of the Seabright Hotel. The Seabright streetcars of the Union Traction Company also used the station, making it one of the few railroad/streetcar transfer stations in the city.

Seabright Station, 1907. (Museum of Art & History – M. Jongeneel Collection)
Seabright got itself a post office on April 13, 1899 but the annexation of Seabright into the City of Santa Cruz in February 1905 ended the post office's existence. Forty-five years later, a new post office was built across the tracks and, though formally called the East Santa Cruz Branch, it is frequently referred to as the Seabright post office. Part of the allure of Seabright was the Castle. James A. Pilkington, son of Thomas, built what was formally called the Seabright Bathhouse in 1899. The design of the building mimicked that of a castle, though it had, in reality, wood walls. In the 1920s, Pilkington's son, Louis, expanded the facility to include a dining room and other features, while renaming the medieval structure the "Scholl-Mar Castle", after his business partner, Conrad Scholl. By the 1940s, it became the Casa del Mar restaurant, while the 1950s and 1960s saw the building converted into an art gallery.

Castle Beach in the early 1960s.
A streetcar parked beside the station, c. 1910s. (Surf, Sand & Streetcars)
Seabright Station was upgraded at some points in the early 1910s to a larger structure with a small ticket office beside a covered passenger waiting area. This marked the station's evolution from a flag-stop to a seasonal station. In the 1920s, the station had been moved across the tracks and the passenger waiting area enclosed and converted into a baggage storage room. By 1921, a short spur had been built beside the station heading into the Santa Cruz Fruit & Olive Canning Company. In 1926, Seabright became one of three stops along a short segment of automated block signals heading toward the depot in Santa Cruz. Block signals helped control traffic along narrow lanes and were used here since there were no sidings between Capitola and the Santa Cruz depot. Seabright remained in use as a passenger flag-stop until early 1942 when all passenger traffic within Santa Cruz County was halted for the war. Passenger service never resumed and Suntan Specials passed by the former stop without giving the option for a flag.

Second Seabright Station, after its closure in 1942. (Jim McGowan)
The station building survived into the 1950s but was finally demolished. Murray Street now passes through the site of the original station shelter while the second station site is now a dirt parking lot. The Canning Company spur persisted into the 1980s before finally being removed, with the old canning facility converted into Pacific Edge. Castle Beach, meanwhile, was established as a part of Twin Lakes State Beach in 1955 though the construction of the harbor in 1964 permanently separated it from its former neighbor. The Seabright Castle was demolished on March 24, 1967, after a major storm damaged the building beyond repair. Erosion also had an impact on the surrounding cliffs, further damaging the Castle and other buildings in the area. Directly across from the site of the Castle, the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum with its iconic bronze whale was built at Tyrrell Park.

The demolition of the castle, 1967. (Rex Walker Collection)

  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
  • Elizabeth M.C. Forbes, "Reminiscences of Seabright: Excerpts", Santa Cruz Public Libraries  <> (Accessed 3 October 2014).

Friday, September 26, 2014

San Lorenzo River Trestle #1

On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz Main Beach, the San Lorenzo River meanders gently, pulsing with the tides as it exits into the Monterey Bay. When the Santa Cruz Railroad incorporated in June 1873, the river would prove to be one of its greatest obstacles. Most of the problem was funding, but the geographic terrain at the river's mouth was never the most secure. A large sandbar ends the beach, jutting in between the bending river and the relentless sea. The beach was smaller then, before the harbor silted the beach and brought its sand levels up. There were also no developments at that end of the beach, with only grass and ice plants keeping the sand from washing away with the tide. Yet surmount the obstacle the railroad did...three times.

The second trestle over the river, dated between 1893 and 1904. Note the long causeway along the beach.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The first trestle, a truss bridge built of redwood pilings and assembled at the lowest price possible, washed out in a torrential storm that pummelled the coast in January 1881. One of the problems of the bridge, in addition to those mentioned, was that it required a massive raised causeway to get the tracks from sea level to the cliffs behind Seabright Beach. This causeway was built of redwood pilings and stretched nearly a quarter of a mile, from just beyond the bath houses at the beach to just before the river mouth. The truss bridge, atop which the trains crossed, was only directly above the river. Its collapse during the storm was not inevitable, but it was still a likely occurrence. For months it sat abandoned with the right-of-way broken as Frederick Hihn negotiated the sale of the railroad to the Southern Pacific.

The second trestle in the 1890s. (UC Santa Cruz)
Two years later, in November 1883, a new standard-gauged trestle was built and the last remnants of the railroad's short-lived narrow-gauge days were removed. To correct the error of the previous trestle, a longer truss bridge with tighter crossbeams was installed, though the extensive causeway to the river remained behind, though virtually every piling was replaced by the Southern Pacific. Trains passed through the bridge rather than atop it, making the bridge less susceptible to storm damage.

A double-headed Suntan Special atop the third trestle in 1939. (Jim Vail)
As part of the overall upgrading scheme of the Southern Pacific at the turn of the century, the old bridge was replaced with a pair of prefabricated steel truss bridges in 1904. This bridge is the current structure that remains in place today, though it is now in desperate need of repair or replacement. The causeway west of the trestle was filled by the railroad at the same time and now the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk uses the side of that fill to support its Giant Dipper roller coaster. The trestle sits atop a pair of concrete piers, with one on its eastern side and the second in the middle of the river, though east of the main flow. The western side of the trestle supported by a concrete abutment built into the sandstone cliff. A short steel deck trestle west of the trestle crosses over a pedestrian and maintenance road, as well.

The third trestle today during sunset. (Tim Cattera)
The trestle is currently owned by the City of Santa Cruz in cooperation with Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railroad, an agency of the city. Plans to upgrade the train to support passenger service are in the works. The pedestrian bridge beside the trestle, installed in the past two decades, is quite popular with Live Oak residents wishing to visit the main beach.


  • Bruce MacGregor, South Pacific Coast: A Centennial (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1980).

Friday, September 19, 2014

San Vicente Mill

Just before the village of Swanton, the San Vicente Lumber Company planted a switch off the Ocean Shore Railroad tracks for a private spur that would head deep into the Santa Cruz Mountains along Little Creek. This switch was located 15.3 miles north of Santa Cruz's Ocean Shore Depot above the freight yard. The San Vicente Lumber Company was founded in May 1908 with the goal of harvesting much of the timber around Scott Creek. Their large planing mill was in Santa Cruz at Rapetti, along the banks of Antonelli Pond on the West Side. At Swanton, the company negotiated with the railroad to build a private spur that would stretch more than 9 miles into the hills. The tracks would be standard-gauged and the operation would survive for fifteen years until the costs caught up with the demand and available timber supply. And that timber supply in 1908 was vast, encompassing over 615,000,000 board feet of timber.

A portion of the San Vicente Lumber Company right-of-way with an engine on the tracks and a steam donkey at left.
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
A stretch of track with a guard rail to help keep the trains on the rail.
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Construction of the railroad and the first lumber camp began in early 1909 with minor timbering operations beginning the same year. By the time the line was demolished in 1923, it encompassed at least four switchbacks, around a dozen tight turns, and some spectacularly high and curved trestles. There were a total of six logging camps along the route where felled trees would be collected, debarked, and loaded onto flat cars. Smaller camps were located at most clearings. The whole operation encompassed all of Little Creek, the upper part of Big Creek, and the headwaters of San Vicente Creek. A county road (modern day Warnella Road) passed through the large logging complex on its way to Bonny Doon Road (the road no longer connects).

Locals at Camp One near the cookhouse.
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Camp one, also called the main camp, was the closest to the assembly area south of Swanton along the Ocean Shore Railroad tracks. Oxen and skid roads from surrounding areas led to this assembly site. Other sites used steam donkeys instead due to the harsh terrain and the difficulty of transporting oxen. Buildings where built here to support the loggers including a kitchen and dining area. Camp two was where the largest settlement along the San Vicente right-of-way was located. It acted as the primary junction point where all the branches of the railroad converged. It also was where most of the workers slept and lived. Camp three was located at the junction with the county road, making it a place where materials could be hauled if the railroad couldn't manage something. Camp four was the highest point on the line and was the gathering point for timber cut from the upper West San Vicente Creek region. Camp five was responsible for the East San Vicente Creek region. Finally, a brief sixth camp was built around 1919 to harvest the headwaters of Big Creek. Most of these camps did not exist simultaneously, except for camps one and two. The others moved around via the tracks and most of the structures were converted train cars. Indeed, when a camp moved, the tracks to that camp would also be removed so they could be used elsewhere along the line.

Members and/or friends of the Mattei family walking to one of the logging camps.
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
These ladies are standing before a desolate landscape of a forest of old growth redwood trees timbered for lumber.
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The San Vicente Lumber Company railroad was the most dangerous operation in the county with steep grades and sharp turns causing numerous accidents. Generally, the train would run away, with gravity overpowering the brakes. The company had its own engines and purchased more from the Ocean Shore when they took over the line in 1920. Its engines were rugged and designed for steep grades, but the Santa Cruz Mountains still almost destroyed them. Numerous safety precautions protected the engines from ultimate harm and all were able to be repaired when they did get damaged.

A train wreck along the San Vicente lines. The passenger cars have completely fallen off their beds!
(Courtesy Mattei Family Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The lumber company successfully planed 9,000,000 board feet of timber per week each year and employed around 225 men. The company was run by Mormons and thus were forced to donate 10% of their wages to the Church of Latter Day Saints even if they were not themselves Mormon. Most of the passenger traffic along the Ocean Shore route between 1910 and 1923 was composed of SVLCo. employees visiting the city to spend their nightly wages. Few others used the railroad, and after 1920, only SVLCo. employees were allowed to use the line.

The criss-crossing right-of-ways for the San Vicente Lumber Company. Seanton is at the very
bottom of the line, at top-left, with the tracks heading up into the mountains.
(Courtesy George Pepper)
Much of these old right-of-ways survive in pieces throughout the Little Creek and upper San Vicente region. George Pepper has provided the above map showing where the lines went based on his original research. Rick Hamman, likewise, printed a map showing mostly the same lines, though Pepper has corrected Hamman in some places. The railroad was scrapped entirely in 1923 with all the tracks of the southern division of the Ocean Shore Railroad taken with it. Now the tracks end at Davenport, the last hint of a greater plan to reach San Francisco from along the coast.


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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Loma Prieta Mill on Mill Creek

Beyond Swanton on the North Coast of Santa Cruz County, the Ocean Shore Railroad never dared to go. And it never intended to pass by Swanton to begin with, so this wasn't contrary to its long-term plans. Swanton was suppose to be the end-of-track. That didn't stop the railroad from extending the track just a bit more, though. But in 1908, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, a major logging concern in Santa Cruz County since 1883, purchased a small tract of forest land along the soon-to-be-named Mill Creek. To make access to this mill easier, the Ocean Shore completed its last bit of track ever to be built in Santa Cruz County in 1909: a 1,000-foot extension of the end-of-track to a freight loading depot at the confluence of Big Creek and Scott Creek. This still placed the Loma Prieta Mill far outside the bounds of the railroad right-of-way, but it did provide the company with access to freight transport once the lumber made it to the tracks.

By 1910, the mill on Mill Creek was capable of manufacturing 30,000 board feet of lumber per day, which was not unimpressive though it paled in comparison to similar facilities including the San Vicente Lumber Company located up Big Creek. The facility only had a single donkey engine serving as its steam engine. While the San Vicente company took cut logs to its facility in Santa Cruz for processing, the Loma Prieta Company processed it on site and shipped it out via the Southern Pacific freight yard in Santa Cruz. The freight usage brought in revenues to the Ocean Shore, revenues that were desperately needed, but it also forced the Ocean Shore to admit that its freight operations in Santa Cruz were heavily reliant on Southern Pacific's ability to ship that freight out on its lines. In Santa Cruz, a small freight yard for the Loma Prieta Company sat on a connecting track between the Union Depot and the maintenance shed for the Union Traction Company.

When precisely the operation on Mill Creek ended is not known. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company survived until 1928 but mostly operated in the Aptos Creek area. Tom Wilson, a former employee of the Ocean Shore Railroad interviewed by Rick Hamman in the early 1980s, noted that the railroad did not service the Mill Creek facility for long, suggesting it was a relatively short-lived operation. Hamman himself only mentions the facility three times, and in none of them does he speculate on its final date of operation. It can be reasonably assumed that it ceased after the summer of 1913 when the company had a new, thriving mill operating in Aptos. Reports from the time suggest that the site was more difficult to access than expected and that the cost of extracting the timber proved too costly to justify continued operation at the site.

The extension track likely remained in place until 1920 when the Ocean Shore Railroad gave up on its venture. It possibly remained until 1923 under the San Vicente Lumber Company's ownership, but, if so, the track likely went unused. Regardless, it was pulled up by the spring of 1924 if not earlier. Any information regarding the freight facilities or the small warehouse that was kept beside the tracks is unknown to this author.

Though the Loma Prieta facilities on Aptos Creek are well documented in photographs, this historian has seen no photos of its facilities on Mill Creek. The forest and mild rural development has reclaimed all of this former mill site and even its precise location from Swanton Road is not entirely known.


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

Friday, September 5, 2014


At last we reach the small community of Swanton, the most northernly of the villages along Santa Cruz's North Coast. But the village did not start out with that name. Originally it was Laurel Grove, a stop along the Santa Cruz-Pescadero stage coach route. The founders situated it between Big Creek and Little Creek, two feeders of Scott Creek. The old name was descriptive since a grove of laurel bushes thrived there beside the Laurel Grove Inn. Pasquale Sonognini, one of the stage drivers and a recent settler in the area, applied for a post office for the town in 1897. He wished the post office—and by extension the village—to be named Trancas, after the Mexican land grant that the community was situated within: Rancho Agua Puerca y las Trancas. Unfortunately for him and the community, another player had entered the scene who would forever send the name of the village in a different direction.

Fred Wilder Swanton, an up-and-coming entrepreneur who would, in 1904, build the predecessor to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, had established the Big Creek Power Company along the banks of Big Creek in 1896 near Laurel Grove. Swanton did not live in the community nor frequently visit it, but the post office saw his name associated with it and decided that "Swanton" was more fitting than either Trancas or Laurel Grove. Thus the name was given and stuck. Swanton, for all his unintended influence over the renaming, sold the company in 1900 to hunt for gold in Alaska. But the little hamlet along the count road continues to this day to be named after the entertainment mogul.

With stage coaches in decreasing demand and the advent of the automobile on the horizon, Swanton would not likely have survived the coming decade had it not been for the Ocean Shore Railroad and the San Vicente Lumber Company. Construction to Swanton was not a given in 1907 when the line reached Scott Junction. A short spur to the Folger subdivision where the Ocean Shore kept its wye was already under development when the San Vicente Lumber Company approached the railroad. They wanted to connect a private logging line to the Ocean Shore main line at Folger so that they could convey logs to Santa Cruz via rail rather than skid road, wagon, or ship. The Ocean Shore, suffering economic hardship in the years after the 1906 Earthquake, eagerly agreed to the proposal. Yet the Ocean Shore line still didn't quite reach to Swanton. Turning up into the mountains just before Little Creek, the San Vicente extension missed Swanton by about a thousand feet.

Swanton Inn with an Ocean Shore train parked out front. (Sandy Lydon)
Access was finally brought to Swanton in 1909 when the Loma Prieta Lumber Company required an extension spur to reach the foot of their operations on Big Creek. Once again the Ocean Shore eagerly agreed to the plan and railroad service was finally brought to Swanton. Swanton Station, located 15.5 miles north of the Ocean Shore depot in Santa Cruz, was more of a hostelry than a train stop. Although a freight shed was built just beyond the Laurel Grove Inn, now called the Swanton Inn, the inn itself served as the passenger depot, telegraph office, post office, and general store for the village, as well as a lodging for visitors. The freight shed was naturally for use by the Loma Prieta company. It was 10' by 16' and its actual use is not entirely known since it was so small. A water tank was installed outside the inn and a run-around track ended the line just beyond it. A run-around track was a special type of siding that continued on to become a very short spur. It allowed engines to pull cars onto the siding without getting trapped at the end of the siding.

The Ocean Shore Railroad never had much to do with the community except to bring in tourists. Many of these tourists hopped on Stanley Steamer buses to head north to the southern terminus of the Northern Division near Tunitas. The last run to Swanton was on August 16, 1920, with the Ocean Shore abandoning passenger service to the stop. The Loma Prieta company had already finished operating along Big Creek and the San Vicente company finished a few years later in 1923, taking the tracks with it. Whether the San Vicente company ever provided rail access for the residents of Swanton is unknown, but traffic was always light even in Ocean Shore days. After 1923, Swanton mostly passed from public memory except to those who still live there today. The appeal of Swanton simply never really caught on and the community remains rather small today, especially now that there are no commercial outlets nearby. California State University, San Luis Obispo, operates the Swanton Pacific Railroad, a century-old miniature engine with cars, out at Swanton, but all other traces of the town have disappeared. Only Swanton Road, the former county road, reminds residents of the time when Swanton actually meant something.

  • 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).
  • Charles S. McCaleb, Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California (Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 1995).