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Friday, September 12, 2014

Loma Prieta Mill on Mill Creek

Beyond Swanton on the North Coast of Santa Cruz County, the Ocean Shore Railroad never dared to go. And it never intended to pass by Swanton to begin with, so this wasn't contrary to its long-term plans. Swanton was suppose to be the end-of-track. That didn't stop the railroad from extending the track just a bit more, though. But in 1908, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, a major logging concern in Santa Cruz County since 1883, purchased a small tract of forest land along the soon-to-be-named Mill Creek. To make access to this mill easier, the Ocean Shore completed its last bit of track ever to be built in Santa Cruz County in 1909: a 1,000-foot extension of the end-of-track to a freight loading depot at the confluence of Big Creek and Scott Creek. This still placed the Loma Prieta Mill far outside the bounds of the railroad right-of-way, but it did provide the company with access to freight transport once the lumber made it to the tracks.

By 1910, the mill on Mill Creek was capable of manufacturing 30,000 board feet of lumber per day, which was not unimpressive though it paled in comparison to similar facilities including the San Vicente Lumber Company located up Big Creek. The facility only had a single donkey engine serving as its steam engine. While the San Vicente company took cut logs to its facility in Santa Cruz for processing, the Loma Prieta Company processed it on site and shipped it out via the Southern Pacific freight yard in Santa Cruz. The freight usage brought in revenues to the Ocean Shore, revenues that were desperately needed, but it also forced the Ocean Shore to admit that its freight operations in Santa Cruz were heavily reliant on Southern Pacific's ability to ship that freight out on its lines. In Santa Cruz, a small freight yard for the Loma Prieta Company sat on a connecting track between the Union Depot and the maintenance shed for the Union Traction Company.

When precisely the operation on Mill Creek ended is not known. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company survived until 1928 but mostly operated in the Aptos Creek area. Tom Wilson, a former employee of the Ocean Shore Railroad interviewed by Rick Hamman in the early 1980s, noted that the railroad did not service the Mill Creek facility for long, suggesting it was a relatively short-lived operation. Hamman himself only mentions the facility three times, and in none of them does he speculate on its final date of operation. It can be reasonably assumed that it ceased after the summer of 1913 when the company had a new, thriving mill operating in Aptos. Reports from the time suggest that the site was more difficult to access than expected and that the cost of extracting the timber proved too costly to justify continued operation at the site.

The extension track likely remained in place until 1920 when the Ocean Shore Railroad gave up on its venture. It possibly remained until 1923 under the San Vicente Lumber Company's ownership, but, if so, the track likely went unused. Regardless, it was pulled up by the spring of 1924 if not earlier. Any information regarding the freight facilities or the small warehouse that was kept beside the tracks is unknown to this author.

Though the Loma Prieta facilities on Aptos Creek are well documented in photographs, this historian has seen no photos of its facilities on Mill Creek. The forest and mild rural development has reclaimed all of this former mill site and even its precise location from Swanton Road is not entirely known.

Citations:

  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railroads (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).

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