Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stations: Beach

USGS Map showing the location of Beach Station, 1912.
Beach Station is perhaps the most obscure railroad stop along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad, as well as the most difficult to research due to the simplistic nature of its name. The stop was located roughly 6.2 miles from Watsonville Depot and 21.0 miles from Spreckels, immediately adjacent to the outlet of the Pajaro River. The river mouth has moved significantly in recent decades, but a 1912 US Geological Survey map shows that the stop was originally located beside a sand embankment that protected the track from the river. This embankment and the presence of a nearby structure may also give a hint as to the purpose of this stop.

A Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad locomotive with crew posing for a photograph, c. 1900. [Adi Zehner]
The sometimes wet winters and constantly misty weather conditions in the Pajaro and Salinas valleys would have certainly made sand for traction essential for smooth operations of a railroad. The large sand embankment located immediately beside the tracks at this location may have made sand quarrying quite an easy task for railroad personnel. The station sported a relatively long northward-exiting spur, visible on the USGS map. The exit direction suggests that it was built prior to the sugar beet refinery's transfer from Watsonville to Spreckels in 1898. However, no other similar stop along the beach appears after that date, which, after also considering the continued existence of the spur on a 1914 USGS map, suggests that Beach continued to be used by the railroad for its original purpose possibly as late as 1929, when the railroad ended operations. Local farmers may have also used the stop, but information on such usage is not forthcoming and there are few farms noted in the immediate area. The beach may have served as a flag stop for beachgoers and it has been popular with fishermen for over a century, but it seems more likely that the main beach at Moss Landing served this purpose for the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad. The stop was definitively abandoned in 1930 when the tracks of the railroad were removed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It seems likely that the current severe erosion of the beach may be due to this early mining effort.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.847˚N, 121.805˚W

The location of Beach Station is publicly visible from the northern curve on the gravel portion of Giberson Road at the outlet of the Pajaro River. Indeed, Giverson Road follows the right-of-way of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad for its entire length as it runs alongside the beach. The station site sits just beyond the northern end of Zmudowski State Beach, but no trace of the site remains. A field now occupies the location of the spur while the mainline right-of-way is now a private access road for farmers.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Stations: Jensen

Location of Jensen Siding, 1912. [US Geological Survey]
The history of the stop known simply as Jensen along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line is quite mysterious. Undoubtedly named after one of the numerous Danish Jensens that moved to the Pajaro Valley in the 1880s, it is unclear precisely which Jensen occupied this parcel located near the mouth of the Pajaro River in 1890, when the railroad tracks were first installed along the southeast bank of the river. The most likely candidate is a mysterious Dane named Chris (or Christ or Christian) Peter Jensen. Jensen was an unimposing man who first enters records in Watsonville in 1885. He became a US citizen in 1892 and is active in property sales throughout the region a few years afterwards. Although he is never explicitly linked to any property in northern Monterey County, Jensen was the owner of at least one ranch in Corralitos and was closely associated with numerous farm owners from the north Monterey region, suggesting that he may have owned property there. Jensen was also an active member of a number of local societies, including a founding member of the local branch of the National Master Horse-Shoers' Protective Association. As some final evidence of his probable association with Spreckels and the railroad, Jensen is also the inventor of a sugar beet cultivator filed with the patent office in June 1899, alongside James H. Rowe. This places him solidly in the sugar beet industry and suggests that he owned a parcel that produced sugar beets for sale to the Western Sugar Beets factories in Watsonville and, later, Spreckels.

Patent image for sugar beet cultivator invented by C.P. Jensen and J.H. Rowe, 1899.
Little information is known of the stop itself. Satellite views of the site as well as USGS information shows that the stop was located in a sink between two sandy bluffs at a location intersected by the southern border of Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano. The station was located 21.6 miles from Spreckels and 5.6 miles from Watsonville Depot. The station, the structure for which consisted of a small building beside the tracks, supported a 23-car length siding that ran along the southeastern side of the mainline tracks. These tracks were installed in early 1890 and remained in place until the line was demolished by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1930. While the stop was undoubtedly used in the early years, it is unclear how long Jensen owned the property and if later owners continued to grow beets there and ship said beets over the rail line.

Chris Jensen was seriously injured at Port Watsonville in 1906 when a riptide dashed him against one of the piles of the pier there, although he apparently recovered. His ultimate date of death is not known. The patent filing shows as a witness Julius C. Jensen, a man also referenced in the early 1900s as a Watsonville resident and a likely relative of Chris.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.855˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Jensen station is now occupied by an open field that sits alongside the Pajaro River beyond the end of Jensen Road. The right-of-way in this area has mostly eroded into the river itself, although traces of it remain and can be seen from Google Maps satellite imagery. Nothing survives of the stop itself and the property is currently privately owned.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Morning and Weekly), 1885-1930.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Stations: Gravel Pit No. 1

A mule cart at the Logan quarry, c. 1905, demonstrating the likely gravel
quarrying operation at Gravel Pit No. 1 around the same time. [Graniterock]
The route of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was punctuated by two stops simply named "Gravel Pit No. 1" and "Gravel Pit No. 2" on its main line. The northernmost of these pits, located along the Pajaro River near its outlet into the Monterey Bay, was in fact a small gravel quarry located on Trafton Road near its junction with Bluff Road. Along the railroad route, it was located 5.4 miles from the Watsonville Depot and 21.8 miles from Spreckels, near Salinas. Because of the heavy industrial nature of this site, a long 32-car spur was built that ran parallel to the main track and originally existed to the north. This spur hosted at various times hopper cars that would be filled with gravel obtained at the quarry. A second portable spur split from the track at the stop and went northeast into the quarry itself, with its route shifted periodically to access new gravel sites. Since gravel was not a necessary resource used in sugar beet refining, it can be assumed that this quarry provided much of the ballast used along the right-of-way when it was built between the Watsonville beet sugar refinery and the Spreckels refinery in the 1890s. It may also have been used when the railroad was extended from Spreckels to Alisal Canyon in 1902. Quarrying here was likely done using small horse- or mule-driven hoppers that then transferred the gravel via a dump chute into a waiting railroad hopper, such as depicted in the image above from the nearby Logan quarry.

Gravel Pit No. 1 probably went out of use when Gravel Pit No. 2 was built south of Spreckels in 1905. With this new source of gravel directly on the path of a new branch line, the need for an older, possibly depleted pit over 20 miles away to the north seems unlikely. This second gravel pit would have been responsible for the ballast needed to create the short Salinas Branch in 1908 and for later ballast replacement processes used until the line was demolished in 1930. The United States Geological Survey map for 1912 shows no spur, siding, or quarry at the site of Gravel Pit No. 1, suggesting it had gone out of use at that time and the railroad machinery there had been removed and relocated to Gravel Pit No. 2. Since it was only an industrial stop, it never appeared on railroad passenger timetables or promotional maps of the route. Unsurprisingly, no images of the pit seem to have survived.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.860˚N, 121.799˚W

The site of Gravel Pit No. 1 is along Trafton Road just before its end at Bluff Road. The site is clearly visible on satellite maps as a large undeveloped, overgrown quarry straddled by two large agricultural plots, its southern neighbor being Far West Fungi. The former Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way terminates at the quarry stop, which is currently occupied by a single small home accessible via an access road that passes through the old quarry. The site is private property. Trespassing is discouraged.

Citations & Credits:
  • Fabing, Horace W., and Rick Hamman. Steinbeck Country Narrow Gauge. Pruett, 1985.
  • Hilton, George Woodman. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford: University Press, 1990.
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County, California, with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Curiosities: Railroad Hotels

Wherever there has been a railroad, there has been a railroad hotel. This has been a constant since passenger railroads first became mainstream in the United States in the 1840s. Naturally, as the railroad spread throughout the Monterey Bay area, hotels sprang up with them. But while some hotels prompted stops of their own—such as Casa del Rey, Del Monte, Capitola, Forest Grove, Alma, Tuxedo, and Swanton—others were built to accompany an already existent stop. What made railroad hotels unique, though, were their clientele. Unlike other hotels, railroad hotels catered specifically to people engaged in railroad-related activities, including freight crews, lumberjacks, and itinerant workers. Santa Cruz and Watsonville both sported titular railroad hotels over the years, and they all fit this model.

Even as the dreams of the San Lorenzo Railroad were dashed by years of litigation, the Santa Cruz Rail Road Hotel opened in January 1872 at the corner of Cooper and Front Streets in downtown Santa Cruz. Owned by Christopher Patten under lease from Dan Wente, the two-story Rail Road Hotel began advertising in local newspapers the merits and commutability of the railroad a full four years before any route to San José was available. Advertisements for the hotel focused more on meals than lodging, but both were relatively affordable for the time. Lodging and board for a week cost only $5.00 per person (25¢ more if you want a bed), while meals were a quarter each. Patten's gamble did not seem to pay off. Advertisements for the complex disappeared after April 1872. When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad finally did pass through town in 1875, the company was forced to switch to horse-drawn rail cars to get the lumber to the Railroad Wharf, a tactic that proved unsustainable. A tunnel was bored under Mission Hill and the tracks were rerouted around downtown, five blocks away from Patten's hotel. Patten died in 1893, although his wife, Maria Natalia Dodero, lived until 1922.

A lithograph sketch of the Germania Hotel as it appeared in the late 1870s. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
A new and more appropriately-named hotel popped up not far from the Santa Cruz Railroad's end-of-track on Park Street in 1877. Built by Robert K. Whidden with logs harvested on Granite Creek, this two-story hotel was one of the most conservative establishments in the city, declining the fade of houses of ill-repute and instead becoming one of the more respectable institutions. For the first few years, it was known as the Germania Hotel and was run by Frank Pratchner and then J.P. Krieg, who both favoured German-speaking customers. But when the South Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the Santa Cruz & Felton in 1879 and installed a passenger facility on Cherry Street, traffic increased dramatically and the establishment was rebranded the Railroad Hotel. It became the haunt of railroad passengers and employees. Men and women had segregated smoking parlors, and a waiting area was built to cater to passengers waiting for trains. Around the time that the Union Station was built in 1893, the Railroad Hotel was renamed the Santa Cruz Hotel since the railroad station was now further away and nearer to other hotels. The Santa Cruz Hotel has always been synonymous with good food, and from the 1950s it became primarily an Italian restaurant owned by a series of individuals including John Righetti, Louie Facelli, Al Castagnola, Amigo (Friend) Arevalo, Don Stefani, Stella Pera, George Goebel, Anton Suk, George Philipps, Jack Campbell, Dan Robertson, Keith Wilkinson, and Frank Cardinale, among other more recent owners. The hotel became a bar and grill in 1976 and joined the Cardinale chain of restaurants in 1983. It has also served as The Red Room lounge and is currently Planet Fresh Burritos.

Santa Cruz Railroad Exchange Hotel, 1917. [Sanborn]
A truly-dedicated two-story railroad hotel would not be erected until around 1902, about a decade after the Santa Cruz Union Depot was built near the junction of Center Street and Pacific Avenue. The Railroad Exchange Hotel first appeared on Sanborn maps in 1905 on the site of the former Centennial Flour Mill (and built using recycled wood from that mill). It was a multipurpose complex that included a bar, bowling alley, wine house, outside cabins, and upstairs lodgings. The Italian-born Antone Pelizza, Jr., and his wife took over operations of the hotel in 1909 and began extensively remodeling and expanding the facility. The results of this renovation was the addition of a large lodging space between the bar and the wine house. The Pelizzas owned the hotel until the early 1920s when they sold it to partners Angelo Di Marco, Steffani Grossi, and Julius Grossi.

Newspaper advertisement for the
Depot Hotel, 1935. [SC Evening News]
Prohibition had an ill effect on the Railroad Exchange Hotel and the business was cited in 1921 for failing to remove a sign advertising Excelsior Beer, thereby violating the Volsted Act. The hotel was raided numerous times, as well, and each time police discovered evidence of violations. Angelo was fined for possession of contraband drinks in 1929 and again in 1931. In 1930, Steffani and Julius were both fined for bootlegging. Nonetheless, the hotel continued to thrive and its restaurant, focused on Italian dinners, brought an increasing number of customers to the establishment. The restaurant was rebranded the Depot Hotel around 1930, although this new name only became official in 1935 when advertisements for it began appearing in local newspapers.

Do-Drop-In newspaper advertisement, 1953. [SC Sentinel]
By the mid-1930s, the hotel had become one of the city's hot spots under the management of Earl Harris "Hux" Huxtable. By this point, the establishment was more restaurant than hotel and catered to local businesspeople and entrepreneurs rather than low-income workers. The restaurant temporarily shut down over the winter of 1936-1937 to be modernized and upgraded as the Lido Cafe, named after the famous restaurant in San Francisco that burned down in 1933. Management of the hotel was run by E. Malatesta and Leo Pera, who desired to transform the business into "the area's most attractive, moderne dining and dancing resorts." The facility was briefly renamed "Micossi's Hotel" in the late 1940s before returning to Lido. It was renamed the "Do-Drop-In" in 1952 after Ernest Canepa purchased the restaurant. However, Ernest relocated to Portola in 1959 with his frequent partner, George Ghio. The history of the Railroad Exchange Hotel disappears at this time. The building was demolished no later than the 1980s and the site is now occupied by Chris Bordner's Auto Body shop on Center Street.

Railroad Hotel on Beach Street across
from the Watsonville Depot, 1902.
In Watsonville, a Railroad Hotel existed from at least November 1901 when a robbery occurred there, causing it to be mentioned in the Sentinel. Sanborn Insurance maps from 1902 show the hotel as a cluster of buildings located directly across the street form the Southern Pacific depot at the south-west corner of Beach Road and Walker Street. Nothing is known of the ownership of this facility. The hotel was demolished at some point in the late 1910s. No known photographs exist of the hotel, although a number of early photographs of Watsonville Depot appear to have been taken on its second-story balcony or in front of the hotel.

Watsonville Railroad Exchange Hotel, c. 1900. [Adi Zehner]
Railroad Exchange Hotel on Walker
Street, 1902. [Sanborn]
Across the street and down half-a-block from the Railroad Hotel was the similarly-sized rectangular Railroad Exchange Hotel. This hotel was thirty feet by forty feet and two-and-a-half stories tall and included a large downstairs dining room and a separate saloon near the main entrance. The hostelry was erected by Dalmatian immigrant Duro Strazicich in 1893 and operated by his two siblings, George J. and Anka Korotaj. Duro had purchased the land around 1880 soon after he migrated to Santa Cruz County after learning that the Southern Pacific planned to purchase the Santa Cruz Railroad. George only migrated to the county in 1886 but quickly became engaged in the family business. It was expanded by another fifty feet in 1898. Further renovations were made in 1907, including the installation of electric lights. George leased the hotel to Catherine and Paul Boudry in 1909, who sold the lease to William Sersen in 1910, who transferred it to John B. Labas in 1911, who passed it on to J. Lazar Jalovica in 1912, who returned it to George in December 1912.

George Strazicich, Sr., c. 1880.
George was a problematic owner because he did not adhere to the expectations of how a hotelier should act. From the 1890s through the 1920s, he and his son (confusingly also named George) violated public policy after public policy. In 1914, one of the Georges lost the hotel its liquor license because he "was not a proper person to conduct the business, because he had allowed disreputable persons to frequent his place and that he had permitted liquor to be served to women." Unsurprisingly, the hotel was also the subject of a raid by federal agents during Prohibition, with a $500 fine slapped on the establishment for multiple violations in 1921. Indeed, despite a stellar review of George and his business in 1925's History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, the elder George had a reputation in the Sentinel as being anything but gentlemanly. To prove this point, the hotel was shuttered from June 1926 until the same month 1927 due to further violations of the Volsted Act, while one of George Sr.'s other sons was arrested for drunk driving that same year, also violating the act. The hotel was eventually purchased by the Lacabre family of King City, who razed the hotel in March 1943. The site is now a parking lot that sits between George's Liquor Store and the Valley Packing Service Inn Foods–US Food Service office.

There were other "railroad" hotels that littered the Santa Cruz Mountains from Boulder Creek to San Juan Bautista. Very little is known about them and many were probably closer to bed and breakfasts in large private homes than anything resembling purpose-built hotels. At least one such structure was on Zayante Schoolhouse Road at Eccles Station and still exists today as a private home. Most of these were built between 1890 and 1910, the boom years of the mountain tourism industry, and most were closed or abandoned in the 1920s as automobiles made traveling a more personalised, shorter endeavor. Railroad hotels were once a major feature of any large-scale railroading enterprise, but, like the rest of the passenger railroading industry, they quickly collapsed as the Great Depression, World War II, and the rise of the automobile made them irrelevant.

Citations & Credits:
  • Koch, Margaret. "The Santa Cruz Hotel: Newest Member of the 100 Year Club". SC Sentinel, 11 September 1977, 25:1-8.
  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California. Chicago: San José Clarke Publishing, 1925.
  • Ninkovich, Thomas (ed.). The Slav Community of Watsonville, California: As reported in old newspapers (1881-1920). Watsonville, CA: Reunion Research, 2014.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1927 – 1936.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Weekly Sentinel, and Evening Sentinel, 1872 – 1992.
  • Siebenthal, Denise. "Local man buys Santa Cruz Hotel restaurants". SC Sentinel, 16 October 1983, 22:1-4.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Stations: Cassin

Michael Cassin was an East Coast immigrant to California who settled in San Francisco in 1859. Not long after his son, Charles Michael Cassin, was born on January 10, 1868, Michael, his wife Mary Anne Daly, and their son moved to north Monterey County on a swampy agricultural parcel adjacent to the Pajaro River. During this time, Charles attended Watsonville High School before enrolling in Santa Clara College in the mid-1880s. He graduated in 1888 and spent three years at Notre Dame and the University of Michigan where he became a lawyer. In 1893, Charles co-opened the legal offices of Cassin & Lucas in downtown Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, his father moved off the Pajaro River farm around 1890 and relocated to a cottage in Santa Cruz.

Charles M. Cassin, c. 1890. [Find A Grave]
It must have been at this time that Cassin station was named, although it is highly possible that the family continued to lease after they left. The Pajaro Valley Railroad first carved its path on the outside edge of the Cassin property in 1890, and the stop it planted there was located 4.9 miles from Watsonville and 22.8 miles from Spreckels. The railroad set up one of its longest spurs here, capable of holding 24 cars. This suggests that the Cassin farm produced sugar beets as one of its primary products since the farm was not much larger than its neighbors, who hosted significantly smaller spurs and sidings. Although information is scarce, it is likely that the station hosted a beet-loading dump and a fair-sized staging area, and the stop certainly could be used for passenger service to Watsonville or Salinas as well. How long the farm remained in the Cassin family is unknown to this author, but the railroad spur and stop do not appear on the 1912 USGS map, suggesting they were already removed by that time. At latest, the station and spur were removed in 1930, after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ceased operations along the line and the tracks were pulled.

Charles M. Cassin, 1906. [Santa Cruz Elks]
The Cassin family remained prominent in Santa Cruz County even after Michael died in 1907. Charles became a city attorney in 1893 and was active in the Elks Lodge and the Native Sons of the Golden West. He married Josephine Murphy, a Watsonville resident, in 1896 and they had six children together, several of whom have descendants living in the county today. In 1913, Charles moved to San José, leaving his son, Charles Jr., in charge of his Santa Cruz firm. He died in 1924 and is buried near his father in the Valley Catholic Cemetery.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.866˚N, 121.802˚W

The site of Cassin is unremarkable today. The site is located on a private access road (the former right-of-way) squeezed between the Pajaro River and a large field adjacent to Trafton Road. The only remnant of the station left is an irrigation channel that passes immediately beside the former stop. There is no physical trace of the stop remaining in the area and the site is inaccessible to the public.

Citations & Credits:
  • Martin, Edward. History of Santa Cruz County, California, with Biographical Sketches. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.

Stations: Thurwachter

The Thurwachter spur along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad
 right-of-way, 1912 [USGS]
Frederick Thurwachter was one of the many early settlers to move to Watsonville in the 1850s. Born in Rheinpfalz, Germany in 1832 to Johann Thürwachter and Maria Henke, Frederick voyaged to New York in 1850 and lived there until 1854 when he moved to California and worked in the mines for three years. In July 1858, Thurwachter definitively moved to Watsonville where he rented land on a local ranch for the better part of six years. In 1866, he finally purchased a 113-acre farm of his own on Beach Road near the mouth of the Pajaro River. When he bought the property, there was little more than marshy, sandy wastes, but within a short time he converted the entire area into a profitable ranch. Thurwachter was regionally famous for introducing European farming techniques to the Pajaro Valley. He began growing Bellflower apples on fifteen acres with potatoes and barley as his primary cash crops. In the 1880s, the latter two were replaced by sugar beets.

Frederick and Catherine Thurwachter, 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter married Catherine Sweeny of Ireland in 1862 and together they had eight children, three of whom survived the century: Margaret Carolina, Ella Teresa, and Frances Louise. The family built its permanent residence on Beach Road in 1872. It was modelled off of Abraham Lincoln's Neo-Georgian Springfield, Illinois home and was popularly known as the "T-Wester House.' The current, heavily remodelled structure is 3,200 square feet and includes two sitting rooms, a central staircase, a hidden stairwell, and four upstairs bedrooms. From 1929 until 1963, the house became famous because of its Monterey cypress trees, which were trimmed into various artistic styles.

People on a horse-drawn tractor on the Thurwachter farm, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter is unique in that it had the only Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop in Santa Cruz County other than the two Watsonville stops. The railroad's right-of-way ran along the southern bank of the Pajaro River, but directly across from the Thurwachter farm, at the end of an access road that ran perpendicular to Beach Road, a spur line was extended across a bridge over the river. The tracks barely made it into the county, but there was enough trackage on the farm for a few cars to park so that the Thurwachters could load goods. Passing PVCRR trains could then pick up these cars and drop off empty cars for future loading. The spur was probably added around 1900, after the beet refinery was removed to Salinas. Evidence for this is based on the fact that the spur exits to the south towards Salinas rather than to the north. The spur is clearly visible on USGS maps from the 1910s and it leaves a noticeable footprint on stylised maps of the PVCRR route that have been published in recent years. Like the rest of the railroad, the route was abandoned in 1929 when the Southern Pacific Railroad bought out the line. The bridge was probably removed at this time, but the pilings may have stood in the river for many more years.

Large gathering at the T-Wester House, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Frederick and Catherine died only two months apart from each other in 1914. Initially, all three daughters claimed equal ownership of the property, and this lasted into the 1920s as attested by local property survey maps. Eventually, Ella, a confirmed spinster, came to own the whole property, or at least was its sole family occupant. Ella converted the farm from sugar beets to navy bean and lettuce production in the 1930s. She also was the first to introduce blue pod beans into the area. Ella died in 1963 and the home passed to her relative, Roy Folger, who was friends with Ansel Adams, who spent a day photographing the property in 1977. Tim Folger, Roy's son, continued on the farm until 1979, when he sold the property to an agricultural form. Wishing to preserve the home, Tom Mine purchased the house (but not the property) with the intent to renovate it, but costs proved too high. He eventually sold the house to George Mortan around 1988, but Mortan ran into the same problem. Meanwhile, the owners of the farm wanted to get the house off the property so they could use the space for further farming. Mortan finally decided to sell the house for $2 around 1992 via an open raffle. The winner, Darrell Darling, immediately began restoring it and moved north to a new location on San Andreas Road in 1997. Under the stewardship of Susan Van Horn and Brian Denny, who leased the home around 1999, the structure became a bed and breakfast and gained the name The Inn at Manresa Beach, which soon evolved into the Aptos Beach Inn (in 2003) and is now the Flora Vista Inn. It still operates today on San Andreas Road near La Salva Beach.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Thurwachter station is today located at the end of a long private access road that breaks off at the intersection of West Beach Road and Rio Boca Road. The site itself is marked by a large utility yard that sits alongside the river. All trace of the bridge has disappeared from decades of storms and the construction of the Pajaro River levee. The street address for the farm is 2083 Beach Road southwest of Watsonville, which places it a considerable distance to the north from the station. The farmhouse is now located on 1258 San Andreas Road as the Flora Vista Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stations: Williamson

Approximate location of Williamson,
which is unmarked on this 1914 USGS map.
As the Pajaro Valley Railroad followed the course of the Pajaro River to the Monterey Bay, it reached a point where three stations sat in close proximity to each other. The northernmost of these stops was called Williamson, after the farm of William J. Williamson, an Irish farmer and former 49er. In late 1864, Williamson moved to Santa Cruz County and became one half of Brown & Williamson Lumber Company in Watsonville, which he operated until 1874 when they sold the firm to Charles Ford. The next year, Williamson purchased 175 acres of reclaimed slough land near the mouth of the Pajaro River.

Williamson and his family built a large farmstead at 951 Trafton Road soon after moving to the new property. Three generations of Williamsons lived on the ranch. William and his wife, Artemissa Sands, settled in the Trafton District with their two children, Robert Samuel and Caroline. By 1881, Robert had a son, James, and three daughters, Mary E., Ethel, and Inez, who all lived and worked on the farm alongside their mother, Susan Frances Armpriest. After Susan died in 1882, Robert married Mollie Ashton and had a second son, Orman Robert. In addition to a large ranch house, the farmstead included a bunkhouse for the seasonal workers that could hold up to twenty-five men. A Chinese cook, meanwhile, was employed each year to prepare food for the family and workers. Everyone ate their meals together for maximum efficiency. The property also featured a blacksmith shop and wagon repair station.

The farm produced a variety of crops across its vast acres, but its primary products were wheat, oats, and hay. Potatoes, apples and pears were often planted in select areas of the estate, while a small ranch area was reserved for cows, pigs, and chickens. Williamson's operation was broad and relatively inefficient initially, but it had a good reputation among local farmers. Between 1875 and 1900, the Williamson family worked to optimise the farm and it became one of the first intensive agricultural operations in the region.

In 1883, William's son Robert inherited the estate and he began growing sugar beets for Claus Spreckel's new factory in Watsonville in 1888. When the Pajaro Valley Railroad began construction alongside the Pajaro River in early 1890, it passed immediately alongside Williamson's western property boundary. The railroad station likely had a beet-loading mechanism and a small freight platform for other goods. Technically, the site also served as a passenger flag stop for anybody on the farm who wanted a short ride to Watsonville. Sugar beets remained the family's primary crop until the late 1920s when advancements in irrigation allowed them to grow lettuce for the first time. Although sugar beets continued to be one of their products until 1945, these would have been shipped by truck after the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was abandoned in 1930.

The property changed hands a number of times after Robert's death in 1900. His second wife, Mollie Ashton, and Robert's eldest son from his first marriage, James William, cooperatively ran the farm until 1913, when Mollie bought out his interest, as well as the claims of his three sisters, and partnered with her son, Orman Robert Williamson. Together, they became a highly efficient farming operation. Orman joined the local agricultural aristocracy in 1921 when he married Etheleen Learned Trafton, his neighbour to the north. At this point, Orman built a new home across from his parents' house. Both of these homes still exist today. Lettuce and cauliflower became the main family crops until 1958, when the family leased the entire historic property to Louis H. Delfino, who began to rotate in artichokes. Delfino retired in 2000 and died in October 2011, but his family continues to lease the property today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.802˚W

The site of Williamson is not accessible from any road, although the property is off Trafton Road south of McGowan Road. The original right-of-way is now a narrow access road that runs along the eastern side of the Pajaro River levee, while the station itself is unmarked but was located just north of a viaduct at the furtherest western curve of the river. The Williamson family farmstead sits on the east side of Trafton Road below a small hillside—two historic homes sit facing each other across a private driveway south-east of the former railroad stop.

Citations & Credits:
  • PST Consultants, LLC. "Agricultural Resources Evaluation Handbook, Monterey County, California"  (September 2011)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Stations: Trafton

Trafton siding as viewed on a 1914 USGS Map.
The Trafton family were some of the first major East Coast settlers to migrate to the Pajaro Valley, and their legacy was keenly felt over the hundred years after their resettlement. In 1864, the entire family headed out from Boone County, Missouri, but the patriarch, David Trafton, died along the way leaving his wife, Sarah Woodbury, to raise her brood of five children alone. Their youngest son, twenty-seven year-old John Edmund Trafton, became the functional head of the family at this time since he was still unmarried and he became engaged with many different businesses over the course of his life. He quickly accumulated large parcels of land in both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, on which he farmed and raised all manner of livestock. By the time he died in 1922, Trafton owned over 1,200 acres of fertile land and his estate was estimated to be worth at least $300,000. But Trafton was a bachellor and he gifted his vast estates and wealth to his siblings' children, a total of twenty-seven nieces and nephews. Trafton also donated thousands of dollars to local charities and organisations over his lifetime and helped found the Pajaro Valley National Bank and the Watsonville Creamery Company (likely contributing dairy from his own cattle, as well).

The Trafton family owned farms all over the area, but their original holding was a large parcel between the Pajaro River and modern-day Trafton Road, located specifically along the top half of the large bend in the river just south of Watsonville. In total, this area measures 400 acres, 280 of which are in the floodplain and the remainder on the hills. The Pajaro Valley Railroad snaked its way around this parcel in 1889 with the permission of the Traftons, who benefited by the addition of a 20-car siding and spur located at the north-east corner of their property. The spur sat on the inside curve of the tracks, while the spur broke off from this siding and terminated shortly afterwards, probably with a holding size of roughly 6 cars. This stop was located exactly three miles south of the Watsonville station terminus.

When Trafton died in 1922, his nephew Thomas F. Trafton took possession of the family estate. He began specializing in fruit- and vegetable-growing and chicken raising. Whether he used the railroad access at the back of his property is unknown, but the station remained until the abandonment of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad track in 1929. The Trafton family still holds land in many areas in Monterey County and have held many prominent positions in the community, including Sheriff of Santa Cruz County and Mayor of Watsonville.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.885˚N, 121.785˚W

The site of Trafton station is one of the more recognizable and enduring locations along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad right-of-way. The station was located with the first sharp bend in the Pajaro River as it exited from Watsonville to the sea, now directly across from the Watsonville City Wastewater plant. There is still space at this location for the original siding and spur, now occupied by various storage and fencing supplies along a private access road that runs behind the property. Unfortunately, this location is deep within private property and trespassing is strongly discouraged.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stations: Pajaro

John T. Porter, c. 1875
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
To the southeast of Petersen station was another stop nebulously named Pajaro. This was actually one of the largest independent sugar beet farms on the entire Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad line. Purchased in 1864 by John Thomas Porter from a portion of Ignacio V.F. Vallejo's Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano, the 820 acres property originally included the entire modern-day town of Pajaro, hence the stop's name. Porter was a prominent Watsonville citizen, co-founder of the Bank of Watsonville in 1874 and the Pajaro Valley National Bank in 1888. Porter was born and raised in Massachusetts and came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush. In 1852, he became sheriff of Santa Cruz County and then duty collector for the port of Monterey in 1861. It was during these years that Porter became prominent in the Watsonville-Pajaro area. At first, he used his ranch for cattle, but the loss of his port job in 1865 and a terrible drought that killed off most of his herd quickly put an end to his ambitions. With the little money left to him, Porter became a real estate broker, much like Frederich A. Hihn in Santa Cruz County. He worked with Vallejo to parcel and subdivide his estate, essentially founding the town of Pajaro in the process. When Claus Spreckels began his sugar beet refinery in Soquel in the late 1870s, Porter was one of the first to adopt the new plant in his fields, quickly becoming a partial owner of the Soquel plant. He also specialized in strawberries and other fruits that were not common in the area at the time.

Unsurprisingly, when the Pajaro Valley Railroad project began in earnest in 1889, Porter made sure that it took an especially wide arc into his property before the track made its turn to the south. Porter's stop, Pajaro, was located 1.6 miles from the Watsonville sugar beet factory and hosted a 7-car spur, probably with a northward exit and oriented along the outside edge of the track as it began its sharp curve due south. What specific services were available at Pajaro are unknown, but it seems unlikely that it served as more than a beet-loading dump for passing trains.

Harry Totten (left) and John E. Porter near the Doheny Oil fields near Santa Maria, CA, 1917. [Granite Rock Company]
Lieutenant Governor Warren R. Porter,
1900. [Granite Rock Company]
John T. Porter died on February 13, 1900, and his son, Warren Reynolds Porter, and grandson, John E. Porter, took over the property on behalf of the larger family. Warren became president of both his father's banks in 1900 and also took on the difficult responsibility of managing the farm. Warren co-founded and directed the Granite Rock Company in 1900 alongside Arthur R. Wilson. He and his son remained prominent leaders of the company until 1921, when Warren lost all of his stake in the corporation in a failed business venture, after which Wilson took over as president. In 1906, Warren became lieutenant governor of California, after which he retired in 1911, leaving the estate's day-to-day operation to his children. The Porters were a small but well-respected family and likely maintained an investment in the Spreckels Sugar Company until 1929, when the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad shut down and transportation of beets to the factory in Spreckels became more costly.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
~36.889˚N, 121.758˚W

Like most stations on the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad route, the precise location of Pajaro is not known. It sat between the Pajaro River and Trafton Road, probably in the vicinity of Jackson's Refrigeration. No trace of the right-of-way or station in this area remains since the route has been covered by more recent agricultural plots.

Citations & Credits:

  • History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Stations: Petersen

Perhaps one of the most ephemeral stops along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was Petersen, located just to the south of the Pajaro River in Monterey County. The stop, situated exactly one mile from Watsonville station, was named after Jens N. Petersen*, a local entrepreneur and one half of Petersen & Porter of Watsonville. Petersen was born in Denmark on May 11, 1873, and immigrated to the United States in 1892 and worked for the railroad for a year before settling in the Pajaro Valley. This means that the stop named after him did not appear until, at earliest, 1893, and probably much later. It is most likely that Petersen station only appeared in 1910 when Petersen purchased 400 acres of land that he called Valley Rancho. On this parcel, he operated a joint farm and ranch for six years before joining with John T. Porter and moving into the foothills, where they jointly ran a 3,000 acre stock-grazing ranch.

Thus, Petersen stop probably only existed between 1910 and 1916, during which time it undoubtedly rotated in sugar beets as one of its regular crops, considering the demand and the dominance of Claus Spreckels in the region. The spur at Petersen consisted of a short, 8-car track that most likely exited to the north to facilitate easy transfer to the Southern Pacific track at Watsonville. That station may have remained on timetables after 1916, but whether it was used by later residents is unknown. Petersen appears to have sold his property in 1916 and his daughters do not appear to have inherited it from him. Petersen died on November 12, 1961 and is buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville.

* Note: Petersen's name is variously spelled "Petersen" or "Peterson" in both contemporary and modern records.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
~37.899˚N, 121.756˚W

The precise location of Petersen cannot be determined since all evidence of the stop has been erased by the building of the Pajaro River levee and farming on the station site. It seems most likely to have been located within the parcels to the south of the river if one were to follow the end of Harvest Drive (the former Pajaro Consolidated Railroad right-of-way) over the river. This would place it betweenJackson's Refrigeration station on Trafton Road and the river. All of this land is now private property and trespassing is discouraged. There is no evidence of the railroad or station remaining on the site.

Citations & Credits: