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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, May 24, 2013

Felton Grove Flag-Stop

In all likelihood, Felton Grove was a rarely used flag stop for the South Pacific Coast Railroad and probably only served the Southern Pacific half a dozen times, if that. While initially there was an appeal for the site by the railroad, other company-owned picnic areas were soon built usurping those places already established. In addition, after the 1920s, the location was borne out of a new phenomenon—the automobile—and had no reason to cater to the old. That being said, the area that Felton Grove now occupies was not always reserved for the age of the automobile. Prior to the mass usage of the cars, the area was noted as a picnic area sitting beside the east bank of the San Lorenzo River in Felton. Its location directly to the south of the Southern Pacific Felton Branch extension tracks were a fact that could not be ignored. Whether trains ever actually stopped at Felton Grove may never be known for certain, but there is direct evidence of tourists using the train to arrive at the picnic grounds and, once the Boulder Creek branch was built beside the park, logic would dictate that such a flag-stop was established, if only briefly.

A oxen team hauling a log alongside the tracks opposite Felton Grove, c. 1890. (Courtesy Valley Press)
The history of Felton Grove itself is interesting and increasingly being documented by Vicki Wees via her blog at www.FeltonGrove.com. According to her site and research done by Randall Brown on her behalf, the Felton Grove subdivision was first planned in 1864 by Edward Stanley, the founder of Felton town. When the town itself was constructed the next year, though, it was built at a slightly higher elevation above the river on the west bank. Felton Grove didn't seem to enter the scene until July 4th, 1873, when a large dance floor was constructed in the flats near the river and a picnic area was established. The site at this time was known as Camp Felton, though it also sometimes went by the name Maple Grove, through some confusion between sycamores and maples. From that point onward, the site of Felton Grove became an established picnicking spot for both Felton residents and visitors.

An article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel discusses the merits of Felton Grove and its early relationship with the South Pacific Coast Railroad (transcribed by Vicki Wees):
Within a few hundred yards of Felton, just across the San Lorenzo and between it and the Zayante, lies the prettiest spot for picnics and camping parties on the whole San Lorenzo. It has been used by the people of Felton to picnic at for many years, and the grove has been partially cleared of underbrush, avenues and winding walks have been cut, rustic seats put in many places, tables and benches to accommodate a great many put up, a large dancing floor laid, and many other things done to make it pleasant and comfortable, but the place has been known to few besides the Feltonites. Now that the S. P. C. R. R. is in running order, picnic parties have discovered this lovely retreat, and it is occupied from a party from San Francisco numbering some two hundred, who propose to stay some time. They are very comfortably settled, having sent down in advance three car-loads of freight, with men to put up tents and arrange things for housekeeping. They have thirty four white tents among the green trees, and the camp has a very cheerful, animated look. There is a large majority of women and children during the week, but on Saturdays the husbands and fathers come down to spend Monday with their families in the quiet shades of this most beautiful grove. They spend their time hunting, fishing, bathing, gathering ferns, flowers, etc., and in visiting the different lime kilns, mills, big trees-which are only a short mile from camp-go to Santa Cruz and take a plunge in the ocean and come back on the next train. – June 17, 1880
Frederick A. Hihn's papers track the progression of ownership of the property. Frederick Hihn either owned the property initially or controlled its distribution through the 1910s. An early lease of the land by F.A. Hihn to Joseph Ball for one year began on 27 November 1891. On February 15, 1906, Hihn officially named the site Felton Grove & the Felton Baseball Ground and passed lease and resale rights to individuals named Glass and Draper. On June 24, 1908, he leased a remaining part of the property to C.H. Webb. On Sep. 24, 1910, Hihn formally deeded a portion of the grove to D. Goulding, who owned the Felton Grove Planing Mill. From the 1910s through the 1920s, ownership of the site becomes murky. By the mid-1920s, it seems the Beaver family owned the property, and in 1940 the Wright family took over and retained ownership thereafter.

Felton Grove Auto Camp in the mid-1920s. (Courtesy Vicki Wees, FeltonGrove.com)
In 1922, everything changed. The Felton Grove Auto Camp embraced the new trend of people traveling the country in automobiles and visiting hard-to-reach locals to camp and enjoy nature. The area between Felton Depot and downtown Felton, today known as Felton Faire, was not yet developed. Meadows dominated the landscape where buildings were not constructed and local entrepreneurs decided that the Felton Grove picnic area beside the river was a perfect place to start a tourist resort.

Felton Baseball Park, circa 1920s. The railroad tracks are just barely visible in the foreground at bottom-left. This tree still stands today within the parking lot of Felton Bible Church. (Courtesy Vicki Wees, FeltonGrove.com)
Automobiles came from all around and a summer camp was established as one of the features of the park. Visitors arriving by train were picked up at Felton Depot and driven to the nearby camp. Tennis courts, a baseball field, and the dancing pavilion were all built or maintained to increase the allure of the park. A second dance hall building was constructed and still exists today as a run-down private residence visible straight ahead when one turns down Park Avenue behind the laundromat. This building was constructed in 1937, right after the railroad left. The photograph below shows the new headquarters with the tracks still passing in front, suggesting either the dance hall was actually built earlier than 1937 (which is possible considering the age of the automobile parked beside the building) or that the tracks were not removed for some time after the train line was discontinued. The river itself, of course, was one of the primary draws to the site and a small swimming hole, created through an earthen dam, was maintained at the meeting of Zayante Creek and the San Lorenzo River. The tent cabins themselves were wooden with canvas ceilings and would be deconstructed during the winter so as not to wash away during the violent floods.

Felton Grove in 1937 at the top of Park Avenue. The tracks in the foreground remain though they are no longer used, with service to Boulder Creek having ended three years prior. (Courtesy Vicki Wees, FeltonGrove.com)
The resort lasted in some form or another for over three decades but by the 1930s, the parceling out of land began. Original proposals for the subdivision from 1900s shows scores of small plots between the Felton branch tracks and the river. The original Southern Pacific right-of-way is noted (or suggested) on the map below, showing it crossing the river at a slightly more northerly place than the later truss bridge. The current right-of-way is also prominent, showing the County Road crossing over the covered bridge. When the subdivision was actually parceled out, the actual plots were much larger and the road layout much more haphazard, with Maple becoming Circle, Grove becoming River, Sylvan Way cutting down the middle, and no homes being built east of Park Avenue except directly along the river. The dream of River Park Way was probably washed away in one of the frequent and disastrous floods that were known to hit Felton Grove, such as those in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Resort features, though, such as dancing, tennis, and baseball continued through the early 1950s and perhaps later.
Felton Grove subdivision, circa 1928. The original right-of-way can be seen at the top of this map, with
the Boulder Creek branch heading off the top of the page. (Courtesy Vicki Wees, FeltonGrove.com)


The legacy of the railroad at Felton Grove is shadowy and not well-documented unfortunately. While Felton Grove was bookended with trestles over Zayante Creek to the east and the river to the west, both were considered the northern boundary of the Felton Grove property. No signage regarding a stop seems to exist nor evidence that any trains stopped there specifically. Felton Grove appears on no time tables or the 1899 Station Book, and its close proximity to both Felton depots suggests it may have been a rarely-used special excursion stop rather than even an informal flag-stop.

Felton Grove from the air, 1940. Directly in the center of this photograph would be built Felton Bible Church at some point in the 1960s. The ghost of the railroad right-of-way parallels Graham Hill Road on the south (left) side from the bottom of the photograph all the way to the top. (Courtesy Vicki Wees, FeltonGrove.com)
The Felton Branch closed down around 1928 and any traffic that may have gone to Felton Grove certainly ceased at that time. The original right-of-way was parceled out to make squat wide properties that appear a part of the current Felton Grove subdivision but are not formally members. The original junction between the Boulder Creek branch and the Felton branch extension occurred at the junction of Graham Hill Road and Park Avenue, just beyond the subdivision boundaries. From there heading east, the tracks continued to serve as the northern boundary until reaching Zayante Creek. In the extremely unlikely event that railroad traffic continued to stop at Felton Grove, it would have been along this stretch between 1928 and 1934, when that branch also was discontinued.


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3 comments:

  1. I love what you're doing Derek. FYI 2 of the Felton Grove Auto Camp photos came from the Ronnie Trubek Collection. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think this is the first well described blog i have seen so far on internet about Felton Grove. this is so nice of you for sharing these details with us and the efforts you made to find the related images also.

    ReplyDelete