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Friday, November 15, 2013

Chase Mill & Sinnott's Switch

Google Map showing the rough route of the Chase Mill Spur, with Sinnott's
Switch at bottom and the Chase Mill at top. (Google Maps)
When the Felton & Pescadero Railroad first planned its right-of-way to Boulder Creek, the visions of James Fair were grand but the reality was obvious: the branch would not be reaching Pescadero any time soon. For fifteen years, this remained the reality. The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company set up its narrow-gauged extension railroad in 1888 and, soon after, it continued beyond the mill site to a place to become known as Sinnott's Switch, after James B. Sinnott whose land the right-of-way passed through. (In a not-entirely-odd coincidence, his eldest son, Nicholas, became a local railroader in 1892 and continued in that profession for almost twenty years.) While the mainline continued to follow the San Lorenzo River to it's site mill at McGaffigan's Switch, the Chase Mill Spur went northwest along the southern bank of Feeder Creek where it finally terminated at the Chase Mill, owned by S.H. Chase and his Chase Lumber Company.

The Chase Lumber Company Mill on Feeder Creek was a medium-capacity mill producing 25,000 board feet of lumber per day. Up to five carloads of lumber would travel down the spur to Sinnott Switch daily during the lumbering season for shipment to the wharf or San José. The owner of the mill was Stephen "Si" Hall Chase and his cousin, Josiah W. Chase. The cousins had been working in the lumber industry in California since they first arrived from Maine in 1859. In 1863, they became the first lumber company to export lumber from Santa Cruz County to Santa Clara County. In 1878, they set up a large finishing mill in San José where they made fruit boxes, drying trays, doors, and other furnishings and tools. When they first opened their mill off Feeder Creek is not entirely known, but the mill remained in operation even after the closure of the main Riverside Grove mill in 1903, though the final date of operation is also not known. The mill was located roughly 1.5 miles northwest from Sinnott's Switch with the spur continuing another 0.5 miles. Sinnott's Switch itself was roughly 1.5 miles north of Riverside Grove. The layout of the mill or any real details concerning it are not available to this historian.

Chase Mill around 1895, showing the main structure in the back and a tramway or the spur line at right.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Even while timber in the area of the Chase Mill was becoming scarce, new purposes for the Chase Mill Spur were being realized. In early 1903, a surveyor for the Southern Pacific Railroad, C.S. Freeland, began searching for the best means of birding the pass into Pescadero Creek. By July, Freeland had decided upon a route that would take the Dougherty Extension Railroad over the ridge near Waterman Switch. But a year and a half later, in December 1904, Freeland surveyed again and discovered that access would be best via the Chase Mill Spur along Feeder Creek. By March 1905, Freeland's discovery prompted the Southern Pacific Railroad to found the Coast Line Railroad, a short-line company that would loop to Pescadero by both the coast route and via a mountain route. Plans to bore a long tunnel through Waterman Ridge and standard-gauge the Dougherty Extension up through the Chase Mill property were in preparatory stages when, on April 18th, 1906, the greatest calamity to hit California struck the Santa Cruz Mountains like a wrecking ball. The San Francisco Earthquake shattered the plans of the Southern Pacific in the mountains. The California Timber Company had to find other means to access their precious timber along Pescadero Creek while the Chase Mill Spur quickly faded from memory.

It is not entirely known when operations ceased at Chase Mill. The spur line likely remained until 1917 when the entire route was pulled for scrap metal as the United States entered World War I. The hope that the route could someday make it into Pescadero may even have remained until this late time, but it was not to be. Virtually nothing of the Chase Mill Spur exists today. The area through which the spur passed has remained uninhabited, a forgotten path on the south bank of Feeder Creek just south of Fern Drive north of Boulder Creek. The mill property remains a large block of land spanning almost all of the Feeder Creek basin and still rated for industrial use, though not currently utilized for such. The junction of Feeder Creek with a smaller creek marks the rough site of the mill. A rather recent development has been the listing of 19.1 acres on 121 Chase Mill Road as a property for sale off of Waterman Gap Loop near State Route 236. Indeed, the property is not far from the site where the proposed tunnel to Pescadero Creek was to be bored.

Citations: 

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Stephen Michael Payne, "Felling the Giants", Santa Cruz Public Libraries. (From Stephen Michael Payne, A Howling Wilderness: A History of the Summit Road Area of the Santa Cruz Mountains 1850-1906. Santa Cruz: Loma Prieta Publishing, 1978). <http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/articles/85/>
  • "Nicholas Paul Sinnott", Monterey County: Biographies <http://www.cagenweb.com/monterey/bios/sinnottnp.shtml>

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