|U.S. Geological Survey Map of Aptos, 1899. (USGS)|
However, the history of Aptos Station itself is the topic here, while the histories of the mills will come later. When the Santa Cruz Railroad was completed in 1876, Aptos was a small village with an insignificant passenger stop that only saw occasional passenger usage. Camp Capitola to the west was more popular since it was on the beach. In fact, Aptos Station wasn't even that close to the beach because the track swung inland to keep it on a level grade and to bring it closer to the potential timber tracts up in the hills. Yet for seven years, nothing was done about those tracts. The Southern Pacific took over the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1881, and only in 1882 did the first whispers of development begin. On July 10th, the whispers became a shout as the Watsonville Mill & Lumber Company announced its plans to form, with the cooperation of the Southern Pacific, the Loma Prieta Railroad Company, tasked with reaching and harvesting the vast material wealth above Aptos. To mill the lumber, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company was founded.
Just to the east and up Valencia Creek, another railroad, this one narrow-gauged, was under construction by F.A. Hihn Co. by 1886. The railroad was to access the tracts of timber up the creek, and Hihn built his mill just outside of town to make shipping out via rail easier. After a fire burned down his first mill later that year, Hihn switched from using donkeys to transport his freight cars, to using a small steam engine. For five more years the mill harvested the lumber of Valencia Creek until closing in 1892. A spur for the railroad ran from Aptos to the mill, where narrow-gauged tracks them took over to the current logging camp.
A freight yard did not develop of Aptos until late in 1883 when the Santa Cruz Railroad line was standard-gauged. Indeed, work on the Loma Prieta branch was done in standard-gauge but with narrow-gauged rails until the Santa Cruz Railroad track's conversion was completed. That task was done by November 13, 1883, when the Loma Prieta branch opened to the public. The area around Aptos Depot exploded into a flurry of activity as support sidings were added repeatedly until there were four separate sidings on either side of the main line. In addition, a spur branched into three and led into a lumber yard. A turntable was eventually added in the around 1890, located at the end of a spur that headed toward Watsonville. This was later removed in the early 1900s and replaced with a wye further to the north, using the Aptos Branch track as one corner of the wye. A new spur was also added to the lumber yard, oddly located at the end of the northernmost spur and heading in the opposite direction.
|Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Aptos, 1892. (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)|
|The Aptos freight yard, c. 1910s. (Paul Johnston Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)|
|Paul and Christina Johnston outside Aptos|
Depot preparing to go on their honeymoon,
1913. (Paul Johnston Collection – MAH)
|An accident near the tracks. Aptos Depot and its freight yard in the background, c. 1920.|
(Paul Johnston Collection – MAH)
|Locals protesting Southern Pacific's decision to fence its tracks through town, c. 1960s. (MAH)|
- Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
- Kevin Newhouse, Images of America: Aptos (Arcadia Publishing, 2013).