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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 author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wright's Station

Map of Wrights in Los Gatos Creek Canyon
(Annotations courtesy Duncan Nanney)
Located at the top of Los Gatos Creek Canyon, the location that became Wrights only gained prominence because of the sudden influx of railroad workers, mostly Chinese, who were housed at this now-remote place beginning in 1877. The location was named after James Richards Wright, the owner of a large parcel of land adjacent to the construction side. Wright owned a fruit orchard and vineyard nearby and also owned the Arbor Villa, a stagecoach hotel near Summit. The station name was at first known as "Wright's Station" but was later reduced to simply "Wright's" (often without the apostrophe) or even just Wright. Interestingly, the son of James Wright, Frank Vincent Wright, later married Susie Davis, the daughter of the South Pacific Coast Railroad President Alfred Davis. The town of Wrights can officially be dated to 1879 when the post office was established at the station house. The summit tunnel was completed the next year in 1880, placing the town on a vital link between the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz.
Wrights on Market Day, 1893 (Los Gatos Library)
Wrights became an important freight station for Upper Los Gatos Creek farmers who wanted to quickly bring their goods to market. Nearly 3,200 acres of fruit orchards and vineyards were under cultivation by the late 1800s. Logging was also important to the area, though not as important as in Laurel and Boulder Creek. An article from the San Jose Mercury souvenir book from 1895 reads:
"The Rich Fruit-growing Section in the Surrounding Mountains.  Fertile Soil and Grand Scenery.  Private Residences and Summer Resorts.  Natural Gas and Mineral Springs.
"Wrights Station, though a small village, is an important shipping point, as it is the depot for the extensive fruit growing sections in the surrounding mountains.  Travelers on the cars receive little intimation from what they see along the route or at the station, concerning the rich and beautiful section which crowns the mountain above the heavy belt of timber which covers the hillside, and reaches down into the stream which rushes through the canyon.  The roads which leave the little space of open ground by the depot to enter the leafy tunnels through the woods furnish no suggestion of the vine-clad slopes, the towering redwoods, the green fields, the cozy homes and bending fruit trees which adorn the great territory above and beyond.  The beauty of this section can scarcely be described.  There is a wealth of resource, a grandeur of scenery, and a fertility of soil that challenges description.
"The Great Mountain Fruit Region   The amount of fruit shipped indicates in a  manner of horticultural wealth of the county.  There are in the vicinity about 3, 200 acres being of various varieties.  The fruit raised in this section takes on a richness of flavor which is always noticeable.   It is is firm in texture, also, and its keeping qualities therefore , pronounced.  The in season, about two carloads of green fruit are shipped daily.  The brush is being cleared from the northern side of the canyon, and the land planted to vines.  WHen these come into bearing the output of the vicinity will be very materially increased.
"Soils and Springs   The body of  the soil consists largely  of disintegrated sandstone and clay, and has the appearance, particularly on the hilltops, of the "white ash" soil of the Fresno raisin district.  It is rich in plant food, and never lacks moisture, as the rainfall in this section is always sufficient for all needs.  Springs emerge from the mountain sides in numerous places, some of which are mineral, and from every steep ravine rushes a sparkling stream.  The atmosphere is always cool, influenced as it is by breezes from the coast.
"The Flow of Natural Gas   Wrights Station has a resource which may yet prove to be of great importance.  When the great tunnel was being driven through the mountain by the railway company a strong flow of natural gas was encountered, and an explosion followed, which resulted in the death  of thirty-two Chinamen.  The main leak was subsequently stopped, but gas still escapes in small quantities.  The extent of the supply is unknown, but is probably great enough to warrant developments.
"Grand Scenery and Picturesque Homes  The scenery is everywhere beautiful, and within the past few years people in search of sites for homes have climbed on mountain sides, searched out the springs, and made winding roads around the knolls, up the canyons, and to the very summits.  The brush has in many places been cut away, and trees and vines cover knolls and hillsides.  White houses stand on projecting points far above the canyons, or nestle in groves of trees on the benches." (From Sunshine, Fruit and Flowers: Santa Clara County and its Resources—Historical, Descriptive, Statistical—A Souvenir of the San Jose Mercury, 1895)
The town of Wrights in the late 1890s
 The town of Wrights went through two booms and a bust before it finally busted once and for all. In 1885, a fire begun at the town's hotel completely leveled the village. But by 1887, the town was mostly rebuilt and expanded, with a new depot, hotel, store, post office, and blacksmith shop. Chinese houses dotted the hillside beside the tunnel's mouth.


Downtown Wrights showing the hotel and general store around 1890.
In 1896, Antone Matty purchased the last public building in town and became the town's makeshift mayor. He founded Wright School the next year, and that school remained in service until 1928. When the Southern Pacific leased the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1887, they opened up Sunset Park, a picnic area, north of Wrights along a short spur.


Offset fence near Wrights caused by the San Francisco Earthquake, 1907
The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 brought destruction upon Wrights and the Summit Tunnel, but it ultimately led to the town's second awakening. A project to standard-guage all the narrow gauge rails had been implemented prior to the earthquake, but since the tunnel and tracks had to be repaired anyway, the conversion was done in the process of repairs. Most of the bridges between Alma and Wrights were rebuilt and the interior of the tunnel was rebored due to a five-foot offset along the fault line. The tunnel was completed in 1908 and service between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz resumed immediately after.
Wrights immediately after the line was closed in 1940. Tracks lay buried under a thick growth from a wet winter.
Wrights was never destined to survive. As Highway 17 and the automobile diverted much traffic away from  the town, farming in the area decreased. Frequent landslides and flash floods at the tunnel's portal made it a bane in the side of the Southern Pacific. The Southern Pacific finally closed the freight office at Wrights in the fall of 1934. The post office at Wrights was shut down in 1938 and the Arbor Villa burned down in 1940. An especially bad winter in 1939 caused such heavy rains that the Southern Pacific Railroad finally were able to persuade the State Department of Transportation to close the line. 


Right-of-way buried at Wright in April 1940. Water tower and station sign in the distance. (Courtesy Bruce McGregor)
Town of Wrights today...only six residents and their mailboxes. The northern portal of the summit tunnel is buried in the bushes to the far left of this photograph. (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)
Today, nothing is left of Wrights except the ruins of the tunnel's portal, a bridge, and the name of a road "Wrights Station Road". Some foundations survive and the right-of-way from Wrights to Los Gatos survives in fragments along a San José Water District service road. 

10 comments:

  1. The local history book "Chinese Gold" mentions two industrial disasters during the construction of this line. One involved a Chinese work camp that was washed down the mountain-- unknown number of Chinese dead. The 2nd was during the construction of Wright's tunnel. Had the crew been working on the south end, it would probably have been Santa Cruz county's worst industrial accident.
    The book has a quote saying that after the line was open, passengers could see the Chinese graveyard before entering Wright's station. Any idea where the graveyard might be?
    I figure the washed out camp probably happened along the ridge up Zayante valley, since the hills are so steep & unstable there. But it could have been in Glenwood canyon or possibly Laurel?
    The audacity of the entire project still amazes me.

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  2. Thank you Lawrence for your information and comments. I actually knew and had sources for the Chinese tunnel explosion but was going to save that for later. I try to tie these articles into the history of the site rather than specific instances, but I should have included a bit on the explosion. The mine explosion wasn't Santa Cruz County's worst industrial accident, though, because if didn't happen in Santa Cruz County. Wrights is on the Santa Clara side of the mountains and is just one of many of their industrial accidents.

    Regarding the grave yard, according to Bruce McGregor, apparently grave sites were visible until about 50 years ago, but the location has been completely lost. I have no information at all about the washout and have not heard or read anything about it from any of the prominent South Pacific Coast scholars.

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  3. What I meant was that the explosion on the summit might have been remembered better had it happened on the Santa Cruz side-- 40 dead is kind of a big deal in our little county. But maybe it was forgettable mostly because they were Chinese?

    One more thing-- I love that picture of the guy on the railroad bicycle. I wish I had one of those! I live near Olympia station and work at Zayante Depot, so I could ride the rails to work every day! That lucky fellow could turn his bike around and pretty much coast all the way to the beach. Amazing.

    I looked at your other blogs, and you might be interested in something I put together-- http://mahabharatapodcast.blogspot.com

    You mentioned on one of your pages that you are interested in Asian history. This podcast is my re-telling of India's greatest ancient epic. It also has the life story of Krishna in it. Maybe you'd enjoy listening to it while you hike the old rail line...

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  4. Gang,

    I have been lucky enough to find most, of the tunnel entrances. Here is a YouTube video I put together in 2010 of the Wrights Tunnel South Portal.

    http://youtu.be/Zfw2vjpAGR0

    Great website by the way.

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    1. Sorry gang my old Gmail and YouTube was hacked and taken down. I've updated the video URL here.

      http://youtu.be/IOMGmuxf_QQ

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  5. Beautiful video. I should have compiled videos when I did my first hikes. I definitely regret it now with the Clems South Portal, which has since caved completely in. Luckily Brian Liddicoat took a few pictures from a few years ago. In any case, thanks for the share. I plan on doing more posts about the tunnels in the coming months. I believe I've only done a stand-alone for Mission Tunnel currently, though I may have done one for Eccles as well.

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    1. Derek Whaley - WIll you PLEASE send me a link to your Clems South Portal photographs - I sooo want to see them!!!

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    2. As promised, I have uploaded an article on the Clem's Tunnel, showing the inside from Brian Liddicoat's collection.

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  6. That would be under the Clem's or Tank Siding pages, not this page. I'll try to upload a few images of the tunnel tomorrow. Preamps I'll put up a brief article about that portal too. I kind of skipped it.

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  7. My Photo Blog of Holy City & also will be posting the Wright's Station images soon!

    http://fight4love.blogspot.com/2013/01/holy-city-founded-in-1918-ruins.html

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