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Friday, March 8, 2013

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur, c. 1885.
Los Gatos would have been little more than a picnic stop had it not been for the economic development brought to the area by James Alexander Forbes in 1854. In that year, Forbes built the Santa Rosa Flour Mill, which the first flour mill in California and was built to service the gold miners. Constructed along Los Gatos Creek, Forbes hoped to utilize water power to run the mill stones. The town of Los Gatos grew up around it, initially called Forbes' Mill and later Forbestown. Unfortunately, Los Gatos Creek proved to be a mild stream that could only power the mull turbines during the winter. The end of the Gold Rush and the rise of flour mills throughout the state in the mid-1850s spelled doom for Forbes' endeavor.

Forbes himself went bankrupt in 1857 and left Los Gatos in 1857. Gustave Touchard, one of his creditors, then took over the mill but he also failed to turn a profit. For almost ten years, Touchard sold portions of the land away to aspiring townsfolk, leaving the care of the mill to more capable men. In 1866, William H. Rogers, an accomplished miller, took over operations and finally started to make money after upgrading the water turbines and machinery.

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company mill in 1887. Railroad trestle visible at bottom-left.
Santa Rosa Mill beside Los Gatos Creek, c. 1880s.
After bringing in W.S. McMurtry and J.W. McMillen, Rogers renamed the mill the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company in 1869. It later became a power plant for the Los Gatos Ice & Power Company in 1887. Over the ensuing years, it was converted into a bottling plant, the Los Gatos Gas Company building, and then finally a Pacific Gas & Electric substation. Most of the mill was demolished by 1916, but a small annex building was kept by PG&E until 1971 when it became a local youth center.

Los Gatos Manufacturing Company right-of-way tracks leading toward the mill house, c. 1880.
Local postcard showing the Santa Rosa millhouse, c. 1900.
The Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur, therefore, became one of the first spurs on the northern end of the South Pacific Coast Railroad's Mountain Route, with the only exception being a cannery that was probably north of the mill. Extant photographs show a narrow-gauge, double-wide trestle crossing Los Gatos Creek as it heads into the mill complex, which is on the east bank of the creek. The double tracks are interesting considering a sketch of the site (below) shows a single line splitting beside the annex building. Photographs provide better proof and it can be assumed that the tracks remained double wide the entire length, with perhaps a crossover at the mill itself. Considering the mill became an electrical plant in 1887, it is unlikely that the spur remained in use after that date, suggesting it the spur and its trestle were demolished around that time. If true, this would also make this spur one of the few that was never used by the Southern Pacific Railroad after it acquired the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1887. Unsurprisingly, the spur does not appear in any railroad timetables or the 1899 Station Book.

The Los Gatos Manufacturing Company in its heyday, c. 1885, showing the annex building at left
and the spur tracks at right heading into the loading area. (Courtesy Los Gatos Public Library)
Forbes Mill Annex today as the Los Gatos History Museum.
The majority of the mill buildings were gone by 1916 but an annex building built in 1880 to store milled flour while it awaited shipment on the railroad spur remained. It is visible as the two-story end of the larger mill building in the above photographs. The tracks passed immediately to the right of the building where the box cars were loaded with flour for shipment back to the main line. That building still stands, having been turned into the History Museum of Los Gatos in 1982. It has also been a State Historic Landmark (#458) since 1950. All other remnants of the mill are gone. The re-routing of Los Gatos Creek to facilitate Highway 17 has significantly changed the terrain in the area. Originally, the trestle, which headed out from the annex on the right, would have gently banked northward over the creek. Development in the area has hidden most of the historic right-of-way, but two small plots of land that resemble a right-of-way suggest that the spur then continued until a junction with the mainline near Bentley Avenue and University Avenue.

Sanborn Map from 1904 showing the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company Spur passing through Los Gatos.
(UC Santa Cruz Map Collections)

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