|USGS Map of Watsonville, noting the station, from 1914.|
Watsonville was devised by Judge John H. Watson and D.S. Gregory on 5,496 acres of land illegally seized from Sebastian Rodriguez, owner of Rancho Bolsa del Pajaro in 1851. The rancho was a Mexican land grant awarded to the Rodriguez family and in its initial years it was called Rancho Bolsa de los Rodriguez but it was later named after the abundance of seabirds (los pajaros) that nested in the sloughs around the property. The first American settlers arrived in 1852 but it would be more than a decade before the town formally came into being. In this time, a few major road arteries were put in place, primarily Pajaro Street (soon renamed Main Street), and the Santa Cruz-San José turnpike. The Pajaro River to the southeast established the towns boundary there, while nearby sloughs kept the town relatively boxed in. Watson and Gregory did not initially name the town "Watsonville", but rather called it "Pajaro", after the river. A local sheriff deputy, H.F. Parsons, is generally considered the person who named the community after Watson, calling it in a police report "Watsonville". Watson moved to Idaho in 1865 and never returned, but the town adopted his name when it was incorporated on March 30, 1868. The town's first post office (and the second in the county) was established there in November 1853, though under what name is not certain. The first school in town opened that same year in a private house, with a permanent schoolhouse erected in 1864. A high school was later erected nearby in 1894. The town later became the City of Watsonville in 1903.
|A Claus Spreckles wagon down the tracks from Watsonville Station, c. 1880s.|
[Margaret Koch Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Watsonville entered the game in 1870 when the California Southern Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific, sought to connect Gilroy to Salinas via Watsonville on a 45-mile-long track. In the second half of 1871, the line was completed, but it did not pass through Watsonville as planned, but instead remained on the south bank of the Pajaro River, at the small community of Pajaro. While locals now had access to the railroad, they had to cross the county line to get their wares to the trains. The situation was problematic, but manageable.
|A patriotic celebration at the station on July 23, 1916. [Santa Cruz MAH]|
Construction progressed rapidly from both ends. The initial construction had begun in Santa Cruz heading toward Watsonville, while bridgework on the Pajaro River bridge began as soon as the dust settled on the issue of where to align the track near Watsonville. On May 7th, 1876, the railroad line finally opened to the public, with Watsonville the first stop on the northern run to Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Railroad went through a turbulent five years before finally being acquired by the Southern Pacific in 1881. Soon afterwards, the tracks were completely overhauled and standard-gauged, allowing them to compete somewhat with the narrow-gauged South Pacific Coast route over the Santa Cruz Mountains.
|Watsonville Station on October 6, 1946. Passenger service has ended and the station only services freight and local bus connections. Mainline service continues across the Pajaro River at Watsonville Junction. [Wilbur Whittaker Collection]|