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Friday, December 19, 2014

Loma Prieta

A lumber company has to have some excellent connections to be able to convince a massive railroad company to build a dedicated branch line directly to its mill. Yet that is precisely what happened with the Loma Prieta Lumber Company in 1882. Granted three members of the board of directors of the new lumber company were major financiers of the Southern Pacific Railroad, but it still was an unusual feat, especially for Santa Cruz. Previously all railroads in the county had multiple patrons: this would only have one, at least initially. To do things properly, the Loma Prieta Railroad Company was founded first as an independent standard-gauged railroad, and the Southern Pacific took it over in 1887 once more direct funding was required to sustain the mill and track. The track followed Aptos Creek closely until its junction with Bridge Creek. Just south of this junction, the first major section of track terminated at the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's massive planing mill. The mill opened up for business in spring 1884.

The shingle mill at Loma Prieta, located directly behind the mill along a spur, 1888.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
The mill was able to process 70,000 board feet of lumber per eleven-hour workday. The mill employed 150 men plus 80 contractors, decidedly the largest milling operation in the county at the time. Just above the mill, Aptos Creek was dammed to create an extremely long and meandering log pond. To the south of the mill, a quarter mile of lumber piles flanked three freight spurs. Two dedicated locomotives ferries flatcars between Molino and the mill, passing materials to another locomotive which ran between Molino and the Monte Vista mill sites further to the north.

The town of Loma Prieta with the station at right and the general store at right, c. 1890. (Santa Cruz MAH)
Loma Prieta, however, was not simply a freight stop, it was an entire town. Between the mill and Bridge Creek, and all along both banks of Aptos Creek, the village of Loma Prieta arose, catering specifically to the families of mill workers. A standard Southern Pacific depot building was erected beside the tracks, a structure that included a full-service telegraph office and passenger agency office. The community had its own hotel, general store, and business office, as well as a post office (established in 1885) and a Wells Fargo express station. By the early 1890s, over thirty homes were situated on the hillsides around Loma Prieta. The Loma Prieta School District was founded in September 1885 to cater to the children living near the camp. The railroad station was located 4 miles north of Aptos and 117 miles south of San Francisco via Pajaro Junction.

The Loma Prieta Hotel and the General Store, c. 1890. (Santa Cruz MAH)
A disastrous storm in early 1899 utterly destroyed the Monte Vista mill, forcing the Loma Prieta Lumber Company to abandon its facilities along Aptos Creek. The Loma Prieta town was abandoned and the mill dismantled. The post office closed in October 1901. In 1908, the company returned to the old mill site and constructed a new facility in the place of the old one. Three years later, the Molino Timber Company took over the mill and used it to process the timber harvested on China Ridge until 1918. In that year, the Loma Prieta Company once again took control, using the mill to process lumber harvested from high up Bridge Creek until late 1920. During all of this time, Loma Prieta was only considered a freight stop. The town had long since disappeared, taking with it the post office, general store, hotel, and many other amenities. Aptos became the new go-to town for employees needing a weekend break.

The log pond and the tracks to Monte Vista above the Loma Prieta mill (in the distance). (Santa Cruz MAH)
The site of the town of Loma Prieta today is marked with a plaque in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It is north of the last parking lot along the Aptos Creek Fire Road on the east side of the creek. There is a nearby path that crosses over the creek via a bridge; this roughly marks the southern end of the lumber yard.

Citations:
  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.

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