Fred Wilder Swanton, an up-and-coming entrepreneur who would, in 1904, build the predecessor to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, had established the Big Creek Power Company along the banks of Big Creek in 1896 near Laurel Grove. Swanton did not live in the community nor frequently visit it, but the post office saw his name associated with it and decided that "Swanton" was more fitting than either Trancas or Laurel Grove. Thus the name was given and stuck. Swanton, for all his unintended influence over the renaming, sold the company in 1900 to hunt for gold in Alaska. But the little hamlet along the count road continues to this day to be named after the entertainment mogul.
With stage coaches in decreasing demand and the advent of the automobile on the horizon, Swanton would not likely have survived the coming decade had it not been for the Ocean Shore Railroad and the San Vicente Lumber Company. Construction to Swanton was not a given in 1907 when the line reached Scott Junction. A short spur to the Folger subdivision where the Ocean Shore kept its wye was already under development when the San Vicente Lumber Company approached the railroad. They wanted to connect a private logging line to the Ocean Shore main line at Folger so that they could convey logs to Santa Cruz via rail rather than skid road, wagon, or ship. The Ocean Shore, suffering economic hardship in the years after the 1906 Earthquake, eagerly agreed to the proposal. Yet the Ocean Shore line still didn't quite reach to Swanton. Turning up into the mountains just before Little Creek, the San Vicente extension missed Swanton by about a thousand feet.
|Swanton Inn with an Ocean Shore train parked out front. (Sandy Lydon)|
The Ocean Shore Railroad never had much to do with the community except to bring in tourists. Many of these tourists hopped on Stanley Steamer buses to head north to the southern terminus of the Northern Division near Tunitas. The last run to Swanton was on August 16, 1920, with the Ocean Shore abandoning passenger service to the stop. The Loma Prieta company had already finished operating along Big Creek and the San Vicente company finished a few years later in 1923, taking the tracks with it. Whether the San Vicente company ever provided rail access for the residents of Swanton is unknown, but traffic was always light even in Ocean Shore days. After 1923, Swanton mostly passed from public memory except to those who still live there today. The appeal of Swanton simply never really caught on and the community remains rather small today, especially now that there are no commercial outlets nearby. California State University, San Luis Obispo, operates the Swanton Pacific Railroad, a century-old miniature engine with cars, out at Swanton, but all other traces of the town have disappeared. Only Swanton Road, the former county road, reminds residents of the time when Swanton actually meant something.
- Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
- Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
- Charles S. McCaleb, Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California (Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 1995).