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Friday, August 3, 2012

Felton Depot & Station

Built in 1880, Felton Depot and Station were the second largest train-changing facilities in the San Lorenzo Valley after Boulder Creek Station, and was the most important waypoint along the South Pacific Coast's Mountain Route between Vasona Junction and Santa Cruz, 73.4 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point.

Felton Depot, probably in the late 1890s. Felton Meadow sprawls beside it. (Courtesy Mt. Hermon Association)
Established originally as New Felton Station, Felton Station was moved from its original location across the San Lorenzo River near the present-day site of New Leaf Market to its current location within the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroads property.

New Felton Station, 1913, with Southern Pacific boxcars parked beside the mainline track. (Rick Hamman)
It served as the splitting point of the South Pacific Coast mainline Mountain Route, and the Boulder Creek branch line that headed north up the San Lorenzo Valley. A further split occurred at Felton Depot, south of Big Trees, toward the town of Felton, renamed by the South Pacific Coast Old Felton.

Northbound train at Felton Depot, c. 1935, with a bus of passengers from Boulder Creek after that line closed. (Rick Hamman)
The station itself was built from salvaged material left over from the Boulder Creek flume, which was decommissioned around the same time when rail transport replaced the more dangerous and cumbersome flume transportation system. The South Pacific Coast built the current railroad site beside Big Trees Ranch and the tracks continued over the San Lorenzo River south of Big Trees Park until meeting with the older Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad line, which was leased by the South Pacific Coast in 1879. Felton Junction was the site that the two lines met. The older line was upgraded in 1880 and continued to Santa Cruz.

Felton Depot, c. 1935, after the Boulder Creek line closed. The tracks head off ahead toward Los Gatos. A large water tower in the background sits beside the tracks. Both station and depot houses at right are still extant, though the freight yard at left has long since become a separate property. Boxcars sit on the tracks at far right. (Rick Hamman)
The freight depot was established at the same time to store and transfer goods supplied from the various outlets along the San Lorenzo River Watershed. Limestone was the chief material produced in Felton, while lumber and shingles came from Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, and Zayante. Sand later became a product of Olympia. Overstock of these various goods were stored beside the freight depot on the current site of ProBuild, which still retains numerous items of machinery that were once used to process some of the freight materials for the railroad yard. Most of the freight along the line came from the Boulder Creek branch, though at various times significant freight came from various quarries and mills up Zayante Creek along the main line.

A group of Mt. Hermon guests walking to the beach, at Felton Depot, c. late 1900s (Mt. Hermon Association)
When Felton Depot was first built, it featured a turntable located just north of the current freight house, beside Graham Hill Road. When the line switched to broad gauge in the late 1900s, the turntable seems to have been removed, forcing all trains to Santa Cruz to turn around. In addition, Felton had a Class A freight station with all the equipment and storage capacity needed and numerous sidings to support parked boxcars. The freight loading platform was on the left of the train as traveling south, while the passenger platform was on the right. Although the station book neglects to mention a water tower, documentary evidence and simple logic suggest there was a tower in Felton (see photograph above).

Today, the smallest of the depot houses and the original station house survive within the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad property, the majority of which was once Big Trees Ranch. When Roaring Camp first opened in 1964, it used the old station house and depot for its headquarters, as seen above. The new station house build beside the tracks within the Roaring Camp town were built around 1970 and the entire theme park's center moved with it, leaving the old station and depot to the dust. Both original buildings can be viewed from Graham Hill Road behind the entrance sign to the park.

The can be visited as well and have historic placards posted beside the entry doors. The buildings have been repainted and repaired over the years, but are largely in the original condition and retain the original design elements. Today, the station house is used as an administrative building for Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad while the depot house is once again used for storage. Although they are unlikely to be used for any other service anytime soon, it is notable that the Felton stationhouse is one of the only surviving narrow-gauge stationhouse structures left standing in California, with another rare surviving house less than a mile uptrack at Mount Hermon.

  • "South Pacific Coast Railroad." Whole Mountain Source Book. Accessed on 8/3/2012. <>
  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.

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