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.

Santa Cruz Trains is coming to your doorstep this March!

February 26, 2015, Felton, CA

On this day 75 years ago, the last train ran over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Celebrate the railroad's history with Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, a 352-page book of articles and photographs surveying the history of the communities that interacted daily with the railroads. The period spanned by this survey includes virtually 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 and is supported with full citations and references, maps, historical advertisements, and over 200 photographs, many of which have never before appeared in print.

While it had originally intended to see a digital-only release for 2015, the book will now be released as a soft-bound volume, available from CreateSpace in March. An e-book edition is currently on hold, pending further development.

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. His research on local railroads began in 2011 after attending a seminar held at UC Santa Cruz by Brian Liddicoat. From there he started his website,, which eventually led to the writing of this book. Derek has been involved in the Santa Cruz historical community since 2012 and is currently researching for his PhD in History at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, from which he plans to graduate in 2017. His local railroad website is updated every Friday with new content relating to the local railroads and their history.

For more information, or to get in touch with the author, please email

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.

Friday, January 23, 2015


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

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

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

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


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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Manresa & Robroy

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, January 9, 2015


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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Claus & Farley

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

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

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

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

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