Friday, March 27, 2015


1915 USGS Map showing Elkhorn.
To most people living around the Monterey Bay, Elkhorn is a slough and nothing more. It's primary settlement is the town of Moss Landing and its power plant is its primary industry. But inland just beyond the boundaries of Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the small town of Elkhorn still survives with an estimated population of 1,500.

Elkhorn was originally named after elk that were found in the area by the early Spanish settlers. The Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the area in 1872 when it built its mainline between Gilroy and Salinas. When precisely Elkhorn was established as a stop is not known. The station catered primarily to local farms and agricultural firms, with grain being the primary crop in the area. In 1931, oil drilling also was attempted in the area, with dozens of wells being installed along the slough near Elkhorn.

Unfortunately, not much more is known at this time regarding Elkhorn's station or relationship with the railroad. The stop existed into the 1950s. Beginning in 1971, the Nature Conservancy began purchasing land around the slough for use as a nature reserve. Since then, various groups and the state and national governments have organized 1.48 square miles of land as a protected estuary managed by the California Department of Fish & Game. The Moss Landing Wildlife Area extends that protection the region around Elkhorn's station site.

Official Railroad Information:
Elkhorn was located 105.8 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José and 5.4 miles from Watsonville Junction. It included a 64-car-length spur (approximately 2,560 feet long), a passing siding, and the station offered both passenger and freight services. In the late 1940s, the spur was extended to 106 car-lengths (approx. 4,204 feet).

The Elkhorn station point with farm house in the background, possibly a dairy. (Monterey Free Libraries)
The 1899 station book notes that Elkhorn had a class-D station, meaning that it was a freight stop with no platform or spur. Therefore, the spur was only added after that year. Unfortunately, further station book information on Elkhorn is not available at this time.

Elkhorn likely appeared as a stop in the 1870s and remained on timetables until the late 1950s.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚ N 49' 28", 121˚W 44' 26"

The site of Elkhorn station is on the main Union Pacific branch line between Watsonville Junction and Castroville. The tracks are completely surrounded by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and access is restricted, though probably not enforced. An unpaved road off of Elkhorn Road on the south side of Kirby Park is the only access to the station site.

Citations & Credits:

  • Help me find better sources!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Vega & Eaton

USGS Map from 1915 showing Vega Station and Rancho Vega.
Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro ("Meadow along the River of the Bird") stretched from the foothills outside of the town of Pajaro and the foothills west of Aromas, with the Pajaro River to the north and more hills to the south. On April 17, 1820, Antonio María Castro was granted the rancho by the Spanish government as one of its last land grants in the area. It was confirmed in June 1833 by José Figueroa. Castro, thus, was one of the earliest settlers in the Pajaro Valley. Like many other early settlers, Castro had been a military officer who retired to the area in 1809, after which he rose in prominence in the region as a alternate elector for Alta California.

Following the American annexation of California, Juan Miguel Anzar attempted to claim the grant on behalf of his wife, María Antonia Castro, although he died before the grant was approved. His widow died in 1855 and her second husband, Frederick A. McDougal, and her four children by Anzar fought to gain the 4,310 acres, which was finally rewarded to them in January 1864.

Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro land grant map, c. 1850. (Bancroft Library)

When the Southern Pacific Railroad passed through the Coast Range and its foothills between Gilroy and the town of Pajaro in 1871, it passed directly through the center of the Vega Ranch. McDougal and his step-children were able to negotiate as part of the right-of-way agreement a freight and passenger flag-stop on their property which was listed under the name "Vega". The area around Vega and in the hills to the southwest evolved slowly into a small settlement of mostly farmers that used the freight platform at Vega station to ship out their goods. Vega School was located to the northeast of the railroad station along the county road that later became San Juan Road (G11).

The stop was never large and the platform likely disappeared in the early 1900s. A freight spur was installed at the station at around this time measuring approximately 650 feet. Whether there was ever a physical station structure at Vega is unknown, though it seems unlikely considering the flag-stop nature of the stop. A shelter may have existed there. The name Vega stuck around into the 1940s when it suddenly and inexplicably became "Eaton", though the nature of the stop did not change. The new name may have been a reference to Orrin O. Eaton, a local landowner who held a favorable reputation in Monterey County for helping to introduce lettuce to the county in 1917. He also may have owned part of Rancho Vega in the 1950s. Eaton station remained on Southern Pacific timetables as an "Additional Stop" into the 1980s and perhaps as late as 1996, when the railroad company was merged into the Union Pacific.

Vega School, designed by William Henry Weeks.
(Monterey Free Libraries)
At the station site today, double tracks still pass in front of the station site and a small assembly area for the local farms still occupies the site of the spur and platform. Railroads no longer stop at Vega and the local community is now considered a ghost town by Monterey County. The school closed its doors in 1950, leaving the schoolhouse, designed by William Henry Weeks, abandoned.

Official Railroad Information:
Vega was registered as a industrial and passenger flag-stop and spur, 97.1 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José. The station sat on the double-track between Watsonville Junction and Logan. Sometime around World War II, the station was renamed Eaton. The spur was still listed in 1951 as capable of holding 13 cars, giving it an estimated length of 650 feet. As with Vega, Eaton was not listed in timetables but rather sat as an additional stop in a separate table.

Agency books list Vega as a class-A freight stop with a platform located on the right side of the tracks, as oriented from San Francisco. No other services were listed and no depot structure was noted.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 53' 51.506", 121˚W 41' 26.905"

Vega's station was located on the west side of San Miguel Canyon Road. The actual Vega community was slightly to the south along Vega Road in a short hilly section of land.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 13, 2015


USGS Map showing Aromas and Sand Cut (at left), 1914.
Near the meeting point of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey Counties, the small unincorporated community of Aromas sits, literally bisected by Monterey and San Benito Counties along Carpenteria Road. The community began its life in October 1835 as the Mexican Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente (translated from Spanish as Little Odors & Warm Water Ranch). The name may have been a reference to the nearby Soda Lake and its sulphur spring, which later became the focus of a short-lived resort. With the American annexation of California in 1846, the rancho became Rancho Las Aromas, a name which stuck thereafter. Despite numerous reports stating that the town descended from an earlier town of Vega, Vega was, in fact, located further to the west, about midway between Aromas and Pajaro.

Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente. [Bancroft Library]
The community really came to life in 1871 when the Southern Pacific Railroad built its railroad through Pajaro Gap and Chittenden Pass, following the south bank of the Pajaro River. To get through to Pajaro to the west, a short tunnel was constructed just to the west of Aromas. It seems that the tunnel was either never fully completed or collapsed soon after construction, as it was noted as "Sand Cut" from as early as the 1880s. The site of the cut today is precisely that: a deep cut, overgrown with trees and shrubs on the cut's walls. To the east, meanwhile, vast reserves of aggregate material discovered during excavation of the railroad right-of-way immediately became a quarry for use by the railroad. It would be this quarry that gave new life to the Aromas community, converting it within twenty years into the town as it is known today. A post office under the name Aromas opened in 1894, and the railroad set up a stop on the fringe of the community center probably around the same time. Most of the residents of the town worked at or were related to people who worked at the Logan quarry for Granite Rock. The remainder were educators, shop keepers, and the independent farmers working the surrounding fields.

Crews loading apricot pits onto boxcars at Aromas, c 1920. [Monterey County Libraries]
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake devastated Aromas, which sat near the fault line, and the original station structure was levelled in the temblor. Boxcars full of fruits and vegetables fell of buckled tracks. The station was quickly rebuilt according to the standard model of the time and life moved on.

The newly rebuilt Aromas Station in 1907.
[Monterey County Library, Aromas Branch]
The railroad's presence at Aromas was restricted to the north end of town, with its two-story station located on the northeast corner of Carpenteria Road at its junction with Quarry Road. A pair of tracks ran beside the station, following a double-track that linked Logan to Watsonville Junction. A much larger railroad station replaced the 1907 prefabricated structure at some point in the 1910s. It included a tall freight storage room with loading ramp and a two-story agency office with the private residence of the agent above a standard freight and passenger office. The office included telegraph services. At least one spur and one passing siding sat across from the station beside the double-tracks, with a siding running alongside the freight platform. The siding length was approximately 1,400 feet long, or the length of 35 trains cars.

Aromas Station, October 20, 1946, as photographed by Wilbur C. Whittaker.
By 1940, Aromas had already become merely a flag-stop, with no permanent agency staff on site. Indeed, only one train was scheduled to stop at the site during that year, although all of them were allowed to stop if flagged. The structure, shown above, was probably converted into a private residence by the time this photograph was taken. The spur and siding appear to have been removed no later than 1951 as neither are noted in timetables after that date. When precisely the station went out of use completely is not presently known by this historian. The town still exists with a population of roughly 2,500 residents. The town supports three schools, a library, and numerous businesses.

Official Railroad Information:
Aromas was located 90.7 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José, and 25.9 miles from Santa Cruz.

Aromas Station from a different angle, October 20, 1946. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 53' 31.181", 121˚W 38' 36.214"

The site of Aromas Station is publicly accessible and quite easily viewed along San Juan Road (G11), but there is absolutely nothing there to see except tracks passing over Carpenteria Road. All trace of the station structure has been erased and bulldozed over.

Citations & Credits:
  • Margaret Clovis, Images of America: Monterey County's North Coast and Coastal Valleys. Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 
  • Erwin Gustav Gudde, California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Santa Cruz Trains Book Now Available!

History Buffs Eager for New Santa Cruz Trains Book

Link to Book:

March 12, 2015

Santa Cruz, CA

The wait is over for Santa Cruz history fans: local historian Derek R. Whaley’s Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains has just been published as a soft-bound book through CreateSpace. The extensive 330-page book commemorates the 75th anniversary of the last train over the Santa Cruz Mountains and spans almost the entirety of Santa Cruz and Los Gatos history, from the 1850s to the present. Each article discusses a specific community, business, or geographic location linked to the railroad and is supported with full citations and references, maps, historical advertisements, and over 200 photographs, many of which have never before appeared in print. Article topics range from the well-known stations like Boulder Creek and Big Trees to such remote places as Call of the Wild on Los Gatos Creek and the Summit Tunnel.

“This book is the result of over two years of research and the support of many local community members who have provided information and photographs related to the railroad’s presence in Santa Cruz,” says author Derek R. Whaley.

From the back cover:
Once there was an endless redwood wilderness, populated by only the hardiest of people. Then, the sudden blast of a steam whistle echoed across the canyons and the valleys—the iron horse had arrived in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Driven by the need to transport materials like lumber and lime to the rest of the world, the railroad brought people seeking out new ways of living, from the remote outposts along Bean and Zayante Creeks to the bustling towns of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. Bridges and tunnels marked the landscape, and each new station, siding and spur signaled activity: businesses, settlements, and vacation spots. Summer resorts in the mountains evolved into sprawling residential communities which formed the backbone of the towns of the San Lorenzo Valley today. Much of the history of the locations along the route has since been forgotten.  
This is their story.

Derek Ryan Whaley is a local historian and recent resident of Felton, California. He has been involved in the Santa Cruz historical community since 2010 and is currently researching for his PhD in History at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His local railroad website is updated weekly with new content relating to local railroad history.

Derek R. Whaley

Friday, March 6, 2015


Logan on a 1915 USGS Survey Map.
The history of Logan is a history of the Granite Rock Company. When the Southern Pacific Railroad first set up its track between Gilroy and Pajaro in the early 1870s, it discovered a large granite outcropping on the southern bank of the Pajaro River just on the Monterey Bay side of Chittenden Pass. For the first twenty years after its discovery, local firms operated out of the quarry, hauling out their crushed granite at Logan Station, a nearby freight railroad station. In 1899, a group of local investors purchased the 27-acre quarry for $10,000 and incorporated on February 14, 1900, as the Granite Rock Company.

A freight car parked at Logan near the crushing plant.
(Granite Rock Company)
From the very beginning, the Southern Pacific and the quarry at Logan had a relationship. As construction of the Salinas Subdivision line continued into the Salinas Valley, crushed granite from Logan was used as ballast for the railroad cross-ties. Sledge hammers and ox carts were used to get the ballast down to the station for shipment. An insular mining tram system was soon developed throughout the quarry to ease the transport of rock. Beside the mainline track, a long siding was installed for use by Granite Rock. A rock crushing plant was installed beside the siding while rocks were dropped in the top. Processed granite was loaded onto waiting freight cars below.

The 1906 earthquake heavily damaged the facility, leveling the crushing plant and forcing an almost complete rebuild, but the simplicity of the operation meant it was back in operation the next year, providing granite for the rebuilding of San Francisco as well as the erection of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Casino. Following the earthquake, quarrying moved deeper into the property and a small locomotive called the "Dinkey #1" was purchased to shuttle mine cars between the quarry and the crushing plant.
The ruined crushing plant after the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906.
(Granite Rock Company)
In the 1920s, the company helped build the adjacent Highway 129. In the 1930s, the first asphaltic concrete plant in California was erected at Logan beside the crushing plant. The quarrying operations at Logan continued to increase in the following decades. By 1970, 7,500 tons of granite rock were being shipped out per day from Logan, which were shipped on 25 100-ton hopper freight cars purchased by Granite Rock Company. Graniterock strongly believed in the value of shipping via rail, an aspect of freight transport that was losing popularity by the 1970s. In 1989, Graniterock completely remodeled its facilities at Logan, renaming the site the A.R. Wilson Quarry. The quarry still operates today off of State Route 129 northeast of Watsonville. The "Dinkey" engine was heavily restored and donated to the California State Railroad Museum.

The Logan plant is now more solidly associated with the nearby town of Aromas, where most of the quarry's staff have lived over the past 110+ years. The name "Logan" itself has largely disappeared and its origin is not known to this historian.

The Logan station point, July 31, 1949, crushing plant at right. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Official Railroad Information:
The crushing plant at Logan from the air, with the sidings in front, 1951.
(Granite Rock Company)
Railroad records are fairly complete regarding Logan, but unfortunately they are not complete for this historian. The earliest record possessed by this historian shows Logan on a Officers, Agencies & Stations Book entry in 1899 listed as between Chittenden's and Aromas, at mile marker 93. It had a class-A freight status, meaning it had a platform, which was located on the right (southeastern) side of the tracks. No other services were listed that year.

The Logan station point was 93.2 miles south of San Francisco via San José and the San Francisco Subdivision. It was 7.2 miles north of Watsonville Jct. (Pajaro). Logan was the northern start of a double-track that continues today to Watsonville Jct. In 1940, Logan had no recorded spur, just the double-track. It offered regularly-scheduled passenger and freight service to and from the stop, as well.

Passenger service is no longer provided at Logan and, indeed, the stop's current name on Union Pacific timetables is not known to this historian. It was still under the name "Logan" in 1987. However, the station is certainly still active. Google Maps show that the tracks beside Logan are still in use and that there are at least four sidings beside the mainline as well as at least five in-use spurs. More may be buried beneath loose gravel or are not visible on the maps.

Geo-coordinates and Access Rights:
36˚N 54' 2.857" x 121˚W 38' 2.591"

Logan is still owned and operated by the Granite Rock Company and access is by permission only.
The Logan facility in 2013, still in use though parts of it are falling into disrepair, no longer used by Graniterock.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, February 27, 2015


In the remote fringe of Santa Cruz County, buttressed between high mountains and closer geographically to Santa Clara County as it is to Watsonville, the small community of Chittenden sits beside Soda Lake. Of all the railroad stops in the Santa Cruz County, this is the most isolated for it is the only county stop of the Salinas Sub-Division of the Southern Pacific Railroad and it is surrounded to the north by stops within Santa Clara County and stops to the south within Monterey and San Benito Counties. It stands apart from every other railroad station.

Map of Rancho Salsipuedes, 1853. (UCSC Special Collections)
Nathaniel W. Chittenden unintentionally leant his name to the stop when he settled in what became known as Chittenden Pass around 1870. He had been until that time a lawyer from San Francisco. When he moved to Santa Cruz County, he purchased the eastern corner of Rancho Salsipuedes. The rancho had a long and disputed history, with its origins in a possible land grant to Mariano Castro in 1807, making it one of the few Spanish, rather than Mexican, land grants in the county. It was the second largest rancho in the county, as well, measuring 25,800 acres. Because of its large size and its disputed status, it was one of the first ranchos that was divided up following the American annexation of California. Its last Mexican owner was Manuel Jimeno Casarín. The soil of the rancho as a whole, but especially within the pass between the mountains, is highly fertile and the alkaline Soda Lake, the only such lake in the county, was a source for mineral collection. The road that passed through the pass became a county road in 1894 and it remains one of the primary means of passing between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties even today. Chittenden died in Watsonville in 1885, after which his lands were divided between his kin. Idea H., Clara, and Talman Chittenden were some of his beneficiaries.

The Chittenden community center, showing a small general store, c. 1900. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
El Pajaro Springs postcard, c. 1910. (
Chittenden as a settlement was never impressive—numbering fewer than 80 in 1893. The small community that lived in the gap still managed to establish a post office in April 1893 and kept it for many years. The railroad station was probably established around the same time under the name "Chittenden's", and later dropping the "s". One of the reasons why it lasted for as long as it did may have been because of the Chittenden Springs resort that was established beside a sulphur hot spring in the gap. In 1906, the Chittendens sold the spring to A.F. Martel who renamed it El Pajaro Springs, a reference to the Pajaro River that still passes through the gap. In 1918, it was sold again to the St. Francis Hospital of San Francisco and it became St. Francis Springs. The resort was near Soda Lake and the train station. That area had been popular since at least 1894 when the Watsonville Pajaronian reported a picnic at the site.

Chittendent passenger shelter and freight platform with boxcars on spur, 1908. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
1906 San Francisco Earthquake damage at Chittenden.
(Granite Rock Company)
The railroad stop at Chittenden was primarily for freight. Passengers could use the facility as a flag-stop, but no agency office was available there to purchase tickets. A small covered patio was provided for passenger use. Chittenden was 91.9 miles from San Francisco via the mainline track through San José, and it was 28.6 miles from Santa Cruz. It included 123 car lengths of siding and spur space, which may or may not have included a special track to Soda Lake, where a mining firm was always attending to the lake's minerals. The siding at Chittenden ran along the north side of the tracks, between where the tracks are today and State Route 129, branching off near the first major driveway over the tracks and merging just before where the highway crosses under the tracks. The spur to Soda Lake, if there was one, is still be visible today as a dirt road to the lake branching off from the highway.

Chittenden's small post office building with a man posing out front, 1900. (Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
Boxcars damaged by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, at Chittenden.
(Granite Rock Company)
Chittenden as a community still exists, but the presence of large nearby cities and the ease of accessing those cities has rendered the village of Chittenden non-existent. The post office was the first to close, shutting its doors on June 15, 1923. The railroad station lasted until the U.S. entry into World War II, when it closed on April 7, 1942. The stop remained on timetables, though, for another decade as a freight stop and waypoint, being removed at some point in the mid-1950s. El Pajaro Springs is surprisingly still listed on Google Maps as a site to the west of Soda Lake, but no structures appear in the area. While the area is still certainly a population center, it is classified as unincorporated Santa Cruz land and there is no real commercial district at Chittenden today.

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2003.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pajaro & Watsonville Junction

Watsonville Junction on a 1915 USGS Map.
Just beyond the southeast corner of Santa Cruz County, the small town of Pajaro sits unassuming as it has since the 1870s. This place was named after the adjacent Pajaro River, which separates Santa Cruz from Monterey County. It is a relatively short, though surprisingly wide, river named by the company of Don Gaspar de Portola on October 8, 1769, after a dead stuffed California condor that was found on its banks. Portola had in fact named the river Rio de la Señora Santa Ana, but nobody has ever really called it that. For many years, the name leant itself to the communities on both sides of the river. The northern community would eventually evolve into Watsonville, but the southern town kept its name.

In 1871, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, through its subsidiary the California Southern Railroad, built a line between Gilroy and Salinas, passing through Pajaro on its journey. Since it stuck to the southern bank of the river, it never crossed into Santa Cruz County (except further to the north briefly), a fact that never changed. Indeed, even today the mainline of the former Southern Pacific Railroad passes through the town on its way down the Salinas Valley to San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles. For five years, from 1871 to 1876, the people of Watsonville were content with their railroad service across the river. Sure it was a slight bother to have to cross the river beside the railroad's bridge, but they got their goods to market without much fuss. It was the rest of Santa Cruz County that wanted railroad access, the people of Watsonville felt that they already had it.

Nonetheless, in 1876, a connection across the river was finally completed and Pajaro became the junction for the private Santa Cruz Railroad line and the Southern Pacific mainline. In 1881, the latter bought the former and they became a united track in 1883 when the Santa Cruz tracks were standard-gauged. In a brief few years, Pajaro had gone from a rural farming community to a major hub on a intra-California railway network.

Located 100.4 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José, Pajaro Junction, as it was informally called, came to encompass the full spread of Southern Pacific services. It hosted a wye, a turntable, a massive water tower, a large roundhouse for engines and cars to park in, a freight and passenger depot, multiple platforms, tens of thousands of feet of siding and spur space, and telephone services. It was the largest railroad transfer station in Santa Cruz County area, even though it was technically outside the county. With the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad sending excess freight in from Watsonville and the Monterey Branch also bringing in freight from the south, the junction became the heart of the local railroading scene. Its elevation in the late 1890s eventually caused the loss of maintenance and repair facilities at Santa Cruz because there was simply more space at Pajaro and its location just warranted its relocation. Thus by 1900, Pajaro was the railroading hub of the region. Most of the lumber traffic from Aptos traveled via Pajaro, while even loads of lime from Santa Cruz was just as likely to go via Pajaro as via the mountain section. Just to give an estimate of how much space was available there, in 1911 Pajaro had 19,375 feet of siding space. Two years later, it had 34,813 feet. Maps of Pajaro are difficult to even interpret the number of sidings, with them just merging together as a black blob. Two tracks led out from Watsonville to the north to Logan, while another pair of tracks led south to Elkhorn. Only one track crossed the Pajaro River into Santa Cruz.

Watsonville Junction, two months after the closure of the mountain section, April 28, 1940. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
The station at Pajaro was typical Southern Pacific design, with gabled ceilings, a bay window that served as the ticket office, and interior and exterior seating. The freight depot was next door in a more simple rectangular building with a short peaked roof. Tracks wrapped around the structures from all sides, with various outbuildings nearby for railroad crews and support staff. The station was never a major passenger stop, since there were no resorts nearby and few residents living in Pajaro, but passenger trains passed through multiple times daily on their runs to Santa Cruz, Monterey, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

In early 1913, Pajaro was renamed Watsonville Junction. The reason for this relabelling is not known, but it certainly boosted the status of Watsonville, which was right across the river. It may have been acknowledging that urban sprawl occurring on both banks of the river, though the area immediately around Watsonville Junction was still mostly outside the residential areas of Pajaro. Watsonville was 1.4 miles away, so it wasn't just a short crossing of the bridge, there was a distance there. Legally, the area immediately around the junction was renamed as well and registered as an unincorporated area of Monterey County, but it is generally considered a part of the town of Pajaro. Just prior to this renaming, the Mayfield Cut-Off opened, thereby shortening the distance between Watsonville Junction and San Francisco by 1.2 miles, albeit over the mountain section, which was more difficult to navigate for longer or heavier trains. The change in distance, though, may have slightly lessened the importance of Pajaro, however, since passenger trains that may have once routed through there could reroute through the mountains and arrive slightly more quickly to Santa Cruz (about 30 minutes, according to some account).

Google Maps satellite view of the freight yards at Watsonville Junction.
Unlike all the stops in Santa Cruz County, the Watsonville Junction still exists, though in a seriously reduced capacity. The end of passenger service on the Santa Cruz Branch in 1938 did not end Watsonville Junction's status as a station for trains passing between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Passenger trains still occasionally pass through the station today, though few would realize that it was ever once anything more than a freight stop. Today, five sidings, three spurs, and three track transfers, as well as the wye, remain in place, with the visible remnants of many more still imprinted behind.
All facilities, though, have been removed, including the station, the roundhouse, and the turntable. The imprint of the turntable and roundhouse can be discerned on Google Maps overhead views, a concrete platform still sits nearby. The mainline track and the Santa Cruz Branch (now owned by Santa Cruz County) still split at the site, but no local businesses require spurs nearby and the junction has today full embraced its status as just that, a meeting place between tracks. With the improvements to the Santa Cruz Branch, one hopes that connections will once more resume with the Union Pacific (successor to the Southern Pacific), but that is still probably many years away. Until then, Watsonville Junction remains a dot on a map, an otherwise forgotten relic of a time when railroads were the primary means of shipping freight and transporting people.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Watsonville Depot

USGS Map of Watsonville, noting the station, from 1914.
The history of an entire city is truly beyond the scope of a single article, and this historian will not attempt it here. These articles focus first and foremost on individual railroad stops, and that is how Watsonville will be treated. Other articles will expand on the Watsonville freight yard and its importance to Santa Cruz County, especially after the turn of the century. This article, however, is about a rather important, but not spectacularly so, station near the southeastern end of the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Branch.

Watsonville was devised by Judge John H. Watson and D.S. Gregory on 5,496 acres of land illegally seized from Sebastian Rodriguez, owner of Rancho Bolsa del Pajaro in 1851. The rancho was a Mexican land grant awarded to the Rodriguez family and in its initial years it was called Rancho Bolsa de los Rodriguez but it was later named after the abundance of seabirds (los pajaros) that nested in the sloughs around the property. The first American settlers arrived in 1852 but it would be more than a decade before the town formally came into being. In this time, a few major road arteries were put in place, primarily Pajaro Street (soon renamed Main Street), and the Santa Cruz-San José turnpike. The Pajaro River to the southeast established the towns boundary there, while nearby sloughs kept the town relatively boxed in. Watson and Gregory did not initially name the town "Watsonville", but rather called it "Pajaro", after the river. A local sheriff deputy, H.F. Parsons, is generally considered the person who named the community after Watson, calling it in a police report "Watsonville". Watson moved to Idaho in 1865 and never returned, but the town adopted his name when it was incorporated on March 30, 1868. The town's first post office (and the second in the county) was established there in November 1853, though under what name is not certain. The first school in town opened that same year in a private house, with a permanent schoolhouse erected in 1864. A high school was later erected nearby in 1894. The town later became the City of Watsonville in 1903.

A Claus Spreckles wagon down the tracks from Watsonville Station, c. 1880s.
[Margaret Koch Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Railroading and Watsonville were early companions. A year before the town was incorporated, the California Coast Railroad Company was incorporated to connect Gilroy and Watsonville together, thereby bringing Gilroy in contact with the sea, and Watsonville in contact with the Santa Clara Valley. Frederick Augustus Hihn was an investor in this early line and would continue to invest in local railroading ventures into the 1870s. He desired nothing less than to control the means of shipping out lumber from Santa Cruz County. In March 1868, the San Francisco & San José Railroad merged with the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad (originally the California Coast Railroad), thereby forming the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. The Southern Pacific's long-term goal was to reach deep into the Central Valley and eventually to Arizona where it would connect with a transcontinental route. A few months afterwards, the Southern Pacific absorbed the Central Pacific Railroad, thereby becoming the largest railroad company on the West Coast.

Watsonville entered the game in 1870 when the California Southern Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific, sought to connect Gilroy to Salinas via Watsonville on a 45-mile-long track. In the second half of 1871, the line was completed, but it did not pass through Watsonville as planned, but instead remained on the south bank of the Pajaro River, at the small community of Pajaro. While locals now had access to the railroad, they had to cross the county line to get their wares to the trains. The situation was problematic, but manageable.

A patriotic celebration at the station on July 23, 1916. [Santa Cruz MAH]
But Frederick Hihn and the residents of Santa Cruz were not happy. They demanded to have a railroad that went all the way to Santa Cruz. In 1872, the Santa Cruz & Watsonville Railroad was founded to meet this need. Initially, funding fell through and agreements with outside lines fell apart. The company was reincorporated in September 1872 as the Santa Cruz Railroad; it would be locally built and narrow-gauged, but it would bring the railroad through Watsonville to Santa Cruz. Financial panic the next year stalled progress but it began in ernest in mid-1873. Watsonville, however, who voted against the railroad and saw no need for it suddenly found itself locked out of negotiations, with grading crews wrapping the track west of the city, thereby bypassing it. In December 1874, the town sued the railroad, stating that they had reneged on terms from 1873. The proposed "Watsonville Station" was not close enough to the city to meet the terms of the agreement. The court agreed with Watsonville and the track was realigned to run closer to Watsonville.

Construction progressed rapidly from both ends. The initial construction had begun in Santa Cruz heading toward Watsonville, while bridgework on the Pajaro River bridge began as soon as the dust settled on the issue of where to align the track near Watsonville. On May 7th, 1876, the railroad line finally opened to the public, with Watsonville the first stop on the northern run to Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Railroad went through a turbulent five years before finally being acquired by the Southern Pacific in 1881. Soon afterwards, the tracks were completely overhauled and standard-gauged, allowing them to compete somewhat with the narrow-gauged South Pacific Coast route over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Watsonville Station on October 6, 1946. Passenger service has ended and the station only services freight and local bus connections. Mainline service continues across the Pajaro River at Watsonville Junction. [Wilbur Whittaker Collection]
Watsonville, in this long story, remained an important lynchpin in the plan. Besides acting as the southern base of the county, the route through Watsonville to San Francisco also remained shorter until the completion of the Mayfield Cut-Off in 1909. Freight sent via this route got to San Francisco faster generally if sent from south of Santa Cruz. Watsonville was located 101.8 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction, 18.4 miles from Santa Cruz, and 1.8 miles from Pajaro Junction. The station served as the western terminus of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, a narrow-gauged route that ended outside of Salinas and operated from 1890 until 1929. The station had 20,485 feet of siding and spurs, many of which went to local businesses that maintained partnerships with the Southern Pacific Railroad and will be discussed in other articles. After 1909, the station was 97.5 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off. The station provided passenger, freight, Railway Express Agency, and telegraph service, and was a major switching point for local trains running between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. It also featured access to the local streetcar line that ran down Beach Street to the Watsonville Wharf and Camp Goodall.

A Google StreetView photograph of the station today from almost exactly the same angle as the photograph above it. Little has changed, but the windows have been boarded up or sealed and the structure has been used irregularly as a local business center or commercial building. [Google StreetView]
Passenger service at Watsonville Depot ended in 1938, but freight service continued until very recently. Suntan Specials, as well as other excursion trains, ran continuously through to 1959, after which they became less common, disappearing entirely after 1965. Spurs to various local freight concerns still exist today around the site of the depot. The depot, meanwhile, has survived all this change and remains at the junction of West Beach Street and Walker Street. The remnants of a few spurs can be found in the asphalt near the station while pieces of historic siding run all the way down Walker Street on both ends, misperceived today as parking stops but once freight loading locations. Santa Cruz County now owns the right-of-way in this area and passenger service may well resume in the coming years as the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railroad attempts to restart all types of service along the line, with Watsonville being one of the major planned stops.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Laguna & Nuga

1914 USGS map showing Nuga deep in the sloughs of Watsonville.
Not far from Watsonville, mired in the sloughs that populated the western part of that city, the Santa Cruz Railroad setup a small agricultural freight stop for the Martin family named, conveniently, "Martins". The station was established on July 1, 1876, making it one of the first scheduled stops on the new railroad's line. It was located next to Watsonville Slough between the outlets of Hanson and Harkins Sloughs. It had direct access to the Watsonville Beach Road (W. Beach Street) and the Port Watsonville pier. What precisely Thomas, William, and R. Martin did on their property is not entirely clear; the area was known for its pastures and ranch land so it can be surmised that they engaged in a similar endeavor.

The stop became "Laguna" at some point in the 1890s. By this time, a 1,528-foot-long siding had been installed on the south side of the mainline track and running most of the length of the property. The station is recorded in timetables as having full passenger and freight service in the early 1900s, though the station became a flag-stop after 1909, retaining scheduled freight service. The station was located 3.7 miles north of Pajaro Junction (later Watsonville Junction) and 103.8 miles from San Francisco. After the completion of the Mayfield Cut-Off in 1909, the distance to San Francisco was reduced to only 95.6 miles. In that year, Laguna received a strange name change: the name was inverted and the first and last letters dropped, creating the station name "Nuga". It retained this name the the remainder of its existence.

Nuga had its siding extended to 2,065 feet in 1911 and 2,553 feet the next year. By 1913, it was capable of holding 39 freight cars on its track, which is not an insignificant trackage. A platform was added for the station as well in 1912, though no other services were installed at the site. Over the following twenty years, the siding shrunk down slightly to support only 33 cars and its status was demoted to that of a passing track, suggesting that by June 1941, the location no longer required regular freight service. Considering the high concentration of agricultural produce in the area, it can be supposed that Nuga was simply an agricultural freight stop, but its original status as a passenger station suggests that it may have had another function originally as well, possibly as an early jump-off point for streetcars running to Watsonville's pier and Camp Goodall at the beach, or for students of the nearby Beach School. Alternatively, one newspaper in October 1909 suggests that it was an aggregate collection site.

One interesting note about Nuga is that it was the lowest point on the entire Southern Pacific branch line, being only 8 feet above sea level. The tracks often flooded here from ocean swelling as well as the sloughs, which brought in debris from the hills. Whenever the Santa Cruz Branch sustained storm damage, Nuga was one of the places worst hit, with the tracks often flooded under feet of water.

Nuga was abandoned by the Southern Pacific Railroad in March 1957. No photographs of this station have been forthcoming. The location of the station was along the tracks at the last curve before entering the Watsonville freight yard from the north. The nearest road is W. Beach Street but the original access road to the station has since been turned into agricultural fields.


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

Friday, January 30, 2015

San Andreas & Ellicott

Ellicott on the Southern Pacific line, 1914. (USGS)
Rancho San Andrés, frequently spelled San Andreas (named after the Apostle St. Andrew), was one of the many Castro family properties in Santa Cruz County during the Mexican era of California history. The rancho sat between Manresa Beach to the northwest and Sunset Beach to the southeast. The original land grant was issued in November 1833, one of the first issued in the county, but the property had likely been called San Andrés since the 1820s. When statehood was achieved in 1850, the San Andreas Ranch became a small community along the coast, isolated from its neighbors. Around twenty different businesses were present in the area in 1875 and the settlement had its own school, established in 1861 and consolidated into the Freedom district in 1946. When the Santa Cruz Railroad passed through the area, it is likely a stop was established for the residents. By 1889, after the Southern Pacific acquisition of the line and the line's broad-gauging, a more formal "San Andreas" station was installed. The station was located 107.1 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction and 13.4 miles from Santa Cruz. It had regular passenger service to the site via a flag-stop beside the track. 

A double-header cruising southeast near Ellicott, April 25, 1949. (Wilbur Whittaker Collection)
On January 1, 1892, San Andreas Station became Ellicott, a name of unknown origin. The reason for the change was because there was already a San Andreas Station in the Southern Pacific system. The name of the community changed soon afterwards. When the Mayfield Cut-Off was completed in 1909, the station became 92.5 miles from San Francisco. The stop was a full freight station with at least one siding located on the southwest side of the mainline, and a platform. The siding and any nearby spurs measured a combined 421 feet in 1909. The available siding track was lengthened to 640 feet in 1911. The next year, it was extended again to 936 feet. Ellicott and San Andreas appear to have been primarily an agricultural stop. The Southern Pacific's station in the area until it burned down in January 1906 was a large warehouse. From 1903 to 1906, it was leased to John H. Covell who stored hay in it on behalf of local farmers. The stop is little mentioned after the destruction of the warehouse and it seems to have become more of an informal freight stop thereafter. Around the start of World War II, the US National Guard unit stationed at Camp McQuaide had an access road installed to Ellicott Station from their base in Capitola. Presumably Ellicott offered the best siding access for the loading and unloading of military equipment, despite the fact that the station was many miles away from the camp. This arrangement ended in the early 1950s.

Though regularly-scheduled passenger service along the line had ended in 1938, Ellicott was still an active freight station at the time World War II started in late 1941. When it was finally abandoned as a stop is not presently known by this author, though the last mention of the station in newspapers is in 1973. The location of the stop was just north of the junction of San Andreas Road and Buena Vista Drive near Freedom.


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