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Friday, January 24, 2014

Los Gatos Planing Mill

Los Gatos was never a heavy logging town despite its close proximity to the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Perhaps this was because the railroad could get much closer to the source than the town, or perhaps it was because Saratoga and other more northern towns were able to take in the bulk of the supply. Regardless, by 1888, the Lindon & Silverton Lumber Company had begun using the vacant lot behind the Southern Pacific Railroad's engine house to build a box factory and planing mill. 

The facility appears to have been short lived, coming into existence in 1888 according to a Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map from the same year. The box factory and planing mill were built immediately west of the railroad right-of-way through Los Gatos with an attached barley and grain mill. Goods were loaded directly onto boxcars waiting on the main track. A large lumber yard sat along a spur west of the fruit packing spur where awaiting lumber could be loaded onto freight cars.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1888. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections)
By 1891, the planing mill was open, though all mention of the barley and grain mill disappeared. The lumber yard moved to a more convenient home east of the mainline along a new spur built specifically for the lumber yard and planing mill. When the line was standard-gauged in 1903, the spur was extended further north. 310,000 board feet of lumber could be stored alongside the track here. The planing mill was seasonally open. A second mill owned by Tice and Gregory was just across Mullen Street, though there was no spur supporting this smaller facility.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1891. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections)
1895 saw the transfer of the facility to the Western Mill & Lumber Company, a slightly enlarged that appears to have given up on box-making. The vast lumber yards across the tracks were expanded to support more lumber and a second lumber yard was placed just beside the engine house to the west of the main line.

Sanborn Fire Insurance survey map showing the Los Gatos Planing Mill, 1895. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections)
The planning mill did not last long. By the time the route was standard-gauged in 1903, the planing mill was gone. Sanborn maps dating from 1905 and afterwards show the new turntable and roundhouse sitting on the site of the mill. The lumber yard remained on the west side of the tracks and the spur was enlarged into a longer siding that lasted until at least 1940. Whether the lumber was still maintain by Western Mill or some other lumbering operation is not known to this author. With the end of the planing mill around 1903, no further logging interests heavily utilized the railroad in Los Gatos.

The planing mill was located down Mullen Street a half-block down from Santa Cruz Avenue, behind the businesses. It is now in a parking lot bisected by Station Way. Regretfully, Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills by George G. Bruntz does not deign to even mention the short-lived lumbering industry in Los Gatos.

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