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Friday, January 2, 2015

Claus & Farley

Claus Spreckels
On a lazy stretch of straight track between Rio del Mar Boulevard and Clubhouse Drive east of Aptos, the Southern Pacific Railroad set up one of its oldest sidings along the former Santa Cruz Railroad right-of-way. In later years, this would become the train stop for the Rio Del Mar community, but originally, it was put up for Claus Spreckels, the Sugar King.

Spreckels was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1848. He began life as a grocery but eventually became involved in the brewing industry and, soon afterwards, sugar refining. In 1873, he began growing sugar beets in Santa Cruz County on a massive 5,380 acre property just to the east of Aptos. Five years later, he founded the Western Beet Sugar Company, headquartered in Watsonville. He was a major promoter and financier of the Santa Cruz Railroad in the early 1870s, primarily because it would link his Rio Del Mar property to the rest of the United States. However, Spreckels didn't just use his Aptos property as a farm; in 1875 he erected the Aptos Hotel on the beach near the railroad mainline. The hotel included numerous cottages and out-buildings as well as two large structures that housed a library, saloon, billiard parlor, and club-room. Numerous aquatic activities were offered, as well. A railroad siding and stop were setup on the south side of the tracks to support both Spreckel's freight needs as well as the needs of the tourists that flocked to his beach resort. However, the resort closed down in 1896 and was meticulously demolished so the wood could be used elsewhere.

The nearby railroad station was originally, if uncreatively, named "Claus". By the early 1900s, Claus was a regularly-scheduled stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad's Santa Cruz Branch line, though it is noted in agency books as being privately-owned. It was located 109.8 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction and 8.5 miles from Santa Cruz. It was also 87.5 miles from San Francisco via Santa Cruz and the Mayfield Cut-Off. A 268-foot-long siding had been installed at some point prior to 1907, though when is not precisely known. Around 1907, the Claus flag-stop was renamed "Farley" in recognition of one of the largest landowners nearby: Michael Farley. Farley was an Irish immigrant who settled in Santa Cruz in around 1890. The nearby Farley Drive is also named after him. All passenger and freight trains stopped at the station, suggesting it remained a freight stop for the local farmers and ranchers even after Spreckels's died in 1908. Evidence for this continued usage is suggested by the lengthening of the siding to 567 feet—six carlengths—in 1912. Oddly, though, the stop had no facilities whatsoever, including a platform. Agency Books record it the least developed stop along the route, not even affording it a station class. In 1909, it was finally classified as type-E, which implies that it had a siding and nothing else except a sign. A platform was finally installed at the station in 1912, but it was removed in 1915, never to return.

Rio Del Mar Estates in the 1930s. (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
Not long after the station was renamed, the very nature of the surrounding community changed. Most of Spreckels's land had passed to the San Christina Investment Company after his death, and that was, in turn, sold to the Aptos Beach Country Club in 1925. The organization intended to put up a resort hotel, casino, bathhouse, golf course, polo field, and small town center within the former Spreckels' family ranch. This high-class establishment had no desire to use railroad traffic and the Southern Pacific appears never to have offered it; the station was for all intent and purposes abandoned in 1921, though it remained on timetables for years afterwards. All passenger and freight service to the stop ceased. By 1926, lots in the new subdivision was named "Rio Del Mar" and began selling parcels to the wealthier public. The name means "River of the Sea" in Spanish and was a reference to Aptos Creek's outlet into Monterey Bay. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression ended the anticipated success of Rio Del Mar and the subdivision only slowly grew into the quiet community of today. The station, meanwhile, lingered on official timetables until the mid-1930s when the Santa Cruz Branch was reduced to its operating stops in timetables. When the siding was removed is unknown, though the tracks, now owned by Santa Cruz County, continue to pass by the site of Farley today.

Access to Rio Del Mar today is via Spreckels Drive or Rio Del Mar Boulevard off of State Route 1. Rio Del Mar State Beach is a subunit of the adjacent Seacliff State Beach. Various small businesses, restaurants, hotels, and private resorts still litter the area, intermixed with multiple waves of seaside residential settlement.

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