Friday, December 19, 2014

Loma Prieta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014


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

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

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2014


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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, November 28, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Brighton

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

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

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

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


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).