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Friday, July 19, 2013

Ben Lomond Station

Topographical map of Ben Lomond (Courtesy Duncan Nanney)
The area around modern-day Ben Lomond was a lush redwood forest in 1868 when the U.S. Government opened the land for profiteering. For the first two decades of its life as a community, the area was deforested to such a point that little remained except that which was planted by visitors and residents. The town itself began its long life as Pacific Mills.

Named after the Pacific Manufacturing Company mill that was situation on the banks of the San Lorenzo River near modern-day Mill Street, the mill opened in 1879 and operated the first band saw in California at that site. The town developed quickly around this lumber mill, with hotels, saloons, and whorehouses dominating the flat beside the river. The owner of the company, James Pieronnet Pierce, was a railroader and carpenter, and he owned the Pacific Avenue Railroad Company, a streetcar company, in Santa Cruz from 1877. His primary facilities were in Santa Clara where he manufactured coffins and architectural elements such as windows and doors.

Pacific Manufacturing Company factory in Santa Clara, circa 1910s.
Original town layout proposal, circa 1888, after Pacific Mills had left.
Ben Lomond Station, circa 1890s. (Courtesy Bruce MacGregor).
This was the state of the area when the South Pacific Coast Railroad (nominally the Felton & Pescadero Railroad) entered the scene around 1884. When through service to Ben Lomond was begun the next year, Pacific Mills made the timetable. It was a waypoint between Felton and Boulder Creek, located almost precisely midway between the two. In 1887, the same year that the SPCRR was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad, Pacific Mills petitioned the United States Post Office to bring an agency to the town. The name "Pacific Mills" was declined due to the plethora of places with either or both of the names already in existence. Eventually, the name Ben Lomond was chosen, in recognition of the large mountain chain that separated the town from the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of the succeeding months, the Pacific Mills facility was dismantled or converted into commercial and residential buildings.

Postcard showing Ben Lomond Station and Depot, circa 1890s. The San Lorenzo River is to the right.
As an aside, the name "Ben Lomond" is of Scottish origin and similar names appear throughout this area of the San Lorenzo Valley without any obvious reason. John Burns is the one responsible for the naming. It is said that he named the mountain range the Ben Lomond Mountains while working for a lumber company on San Vicente Creek near Davenport. A few years later, he purchased a large track of land atop the ridge and thereby founded Bonny Doon as well. Burns lived the remainder of his life on the mountain, managing a vineyard and a cattle ranch. Some of his descendants still live in the area today.

Postcard of the right-of-way crossing Main Street, facing east, circa 1890s.
Postcards of Hotel Rowardennan.
James Pierce remained in the area and founded the Hotel Ben Lomond, a large hotel that was soon after joined by the Hotel Rowardennan. Within two more years, the remaining lumber companies located in the town had pulled out, and Ben Lomond began its quite transition into a Victorian resort. In addition to a fairly standard station building built in the center of town, there were numerous freight spurs that continued to run to various points around the town. Most of these were probably removed by 1890, although some may have remained to support an inter-valley streetcar business that existed along the Southern Pacific right-of-way for some time using McKeen Motor Cars. The streetcars were used for a short time around 1910 but the steep grades required at points to ascend the valley between Felton and Boulder Creek proved too much for the streetcars, which were designed for flatter grounds. Additionally, a fatal accident in June 1910 which killed a mother and injured children brought great shame to the company, accelerating their demise.

Postcard of the streetcar parked beside the Ben Lomond Station, circa 1910. (Courtesy The Valley Press)
A passenger train and freight car parked beside Ben Lomond Station.
Basic information regarding Ben Lomond Station should not be ignored. Although none exist in this collection, it can be supposed that Ben Lomond first appeared in timetables under that name beginning at some point in 1887. It retained that name until the route's closure in 1934. An 1889 timetable notes it as being 77 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point and Felton Junction. The 1899 Station Book places Ben Lomond between Newell Creek and Steens Spur, 77 miles south of San Francisco. It had a telegraph office and both a freight and passenger agency on site. It's freight station was a class-A station, meaning it had multiple sidings and spurs for freight loads, as well as facilities for freight loading. It's freight platform was on the south side of the tracks, though that is irrelevant since sidings surrounded the station. A 1908 timetable adds that it was 11 miles north of Santa Cruz Junction. It seems that Ben Lomond was dropped from some public timetables in the 1910s and possibly later, despite the town only growing during this period. A 1923 internal timetable notes it as being 76.3 miles south of San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and Felton Junction. Furthermore, it was 3.4 miles south of Boulder Creek, 0.4 miles north of Newell Junction, and 1 mile south of Phillipshurst. It remained on virtually all timetables as one of the principle five stops in the mountains alongside Felton, Glen Arbor, Brookdale, and Boulder Creek.

Men and a carriage outside the Ben Lomond Station, circa 1890s. (Courtesy Bruce MacGregor)
The railroad station and its right-of-way through Ben Lomond were finally abandoned by the Southern Pacific Company in January 1934. Town planners immediately began looking at the right-of-way to build a new, modern highway through the town. Yet almost as immediately, they decided against annexing the railroad right-of-way and instead carved a roughly parallel path through the town, disturbing numerous businesses and homes along the way. Despite grave protests by landowners who lived on the new proposed route of what would become State Route 9, arguing that the tracks would make a far better traffic route, the proposal succeeded, leaving the right-of-way abandoned property.

Downtown Ben Lomond, showing Mill Street, around 1940 after the railroad had departed.
Over the following years, parts of it were annexed to previous properties, while other parts were made into new lots. The final right-of-way, not including sidings and spurs, ran roughly over Love Creek from above the backlot of the Valley Churches United through a gentle curve to a point midway between Main Street and Fillmore Avenue, where the station building was located between parallel sidings. From there, the tracks turned somewhat sharply northward, cutting through the backlot of the Tyrolean Inn where they crossed the San Lorenzo River for the first time along the Boulder Creek Branch. Other spurs in the area paralleled Mill Street, followed what became State Route 9 (including a trestle over the river at the site of the present bridge), and crossed Love Creek through the Valley Churches United building. One spur even ran a short distance up Love Creek Road.

  • Lucia MacLean, "The Founding of Ben Lomond, A Mountain Community: A History of Alba School and Its District". Accessed July 19th, 2013. <>
  • Eugene T. Sawyer, "History of Santa Clara County, California" (Historic Record Co., 1922). Accessed July 19th, 2013. <>
  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.


  1. It's wonderful to read all about the Ben Lomond Station. And the photos are fantastic!

  2. Another great article with photos I have never seen! Good work!

  3. Loch Lomond may have been immortalised in song, but it is also the largest freshwater lake in Britain (by surface area) and a popular tourist destination.

  4. A special train filled with the California Camera Club (and let's see some photos, please) traveled up the branch in May of 1900. The stops for those who cared for alternative destinations were Felton, Ben Lomond, Rowardennan, Reed, and finally on to Boulder Creek. So the Hotel Rowardennan may have had its own stop, and while this was the yet to be converted narrow-gauge system, I was wondering about the streetcar. I think that there is a 1912 map of BL showing nothing left of city trackage, only the station's siding and a single nearby spur, so the streetcar may have been a simple shuttle for the flow of tourists.

    1. One problem, the McKeen Motor Car is only single-ended and they are also quite difficult to throw into reverse. If they did operate it backwards, that might be the reason for the 'shameful' accident. Still, maybe there remained some loop of track in 1910.

    2. While I'm still curious where the streetcar service delivered passengers, the Hotel Rowardennan may have been out of reach without horse carriages; which might explain the strange order to the destinations - one needs to reach Ben Lomond and then the hotel. I would need to see a map that showed how far east the hotel's property went, and if a small bridge provided a link across the river. Long shot: the narrow-gauge line borrowed the street bridge south as shown on the earlier map.

  5. It wasn't a 1912 map that I was trying to remember above, but rather a 1908 Sanborn map. All tracks except the one that ran to the station are removed, and only the passing siding in front of the station and a double tracked spur behind the station leading to an ice house, remain. This June,1908 map indicates that the smaller station still existed, while the 1910 photo (with the 'streetcar') shows the much enlarged station, so sometime within the three years 1908-10 a new structure replaced the old. The earlier station was much narrower, had a bay window, and a platform - which makes me wonder where the platform was reassembled; maybe a building dedicated to freight only.

  6. I may have read the main article (dated Friday, July 19, 2013) a little wrong. I thought the McKeen failed to reach the upper end of the line, and that Ben Lomond found a limited use for it locally. I now believe that they persevered with an underpowered rail car all the way to Boulder Creek, and quickly canceled the service.

    The McKeen Moter Car was an early, and famous, failure. Many better models followed, and the McKeens were sometimes stripped of their engine and heavier hardware, to be used a coach towed by one of those same stronger rail cars. Many McKeens were built, one survives - Virginia and Truckee #22 in Carson City, Nev; one can ride it, watch videos online, see photos and read of its history. With a 'wind-splitter' nose and porthole windows, one should take a look and try to imagine how it appeared running up the San Lorenzo Valley, that's if you can.