Author Statement

This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, December 25, 2015

Parr's Spur & Bermingham

At the northern end of Vasona Reservoir along today's University Avenue once sat the short-lived Parr's Spur Track. This stop first appeared in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books when it took over the South Pacific Coast Railway in 1887, suggesting it had probably existed since the beginning of the line in 1878. Jonathan Parr was an early settler in the area, owning 2,000 acres of land on Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos since 1856. Most of his land was used as a cattle pasture, since the prune orchards that the region became famous for did not enter the picture until the 20th century. Parr had six children, between whom the property was divided when he died. This caused an accounting problem, however, in that it is unknown who received the portion of land which included Parr's Spur. The spur itself was of unknown length and its precise location or which side of the track it sat are not known. The stop was removed from agency books in 1890, although it seems likely that it had been out of use for years by that time. Although the purpose for the stop has never been stated, it seems likely that it was used primarily for cattle shipments and as a private flagstop for the Parr family, since the tracks ran directly through their lands. All of the Parr children were deceased by 1900, possibly explaining why the spur was abandoned when it was.

A train passing near the historic site of Bermingham, March 11, 1939. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. (Jim Vail Collection)
Portrait of Captain John Bermingham.
In 1900, a new customer moved in on or near the site of the spur. The California Powder Works, which had its primary facility at the mouth of the San Lorenzo Valley near Santa Cruz, erected a powder magazine on the site around that time. The Southern Pacific added the stop to its station books in 1901 and by 1907 it was appearing as a formal station in employee timetables. The new stop was named "Bermingham", after the president of the company Captain John Bermingham. Since the mountain section of track had opened in 1880, the CPW had used the railroad exclusively for the shipment of its powder, but some of that powder was used as the New Almaden Mines for blasting, which probably explained the need for a powder magazine here, less than three miles from said mines. Unfortunately, the magazine was not well-prepared for the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. During the temblor, the magazine exploded, destroying the entire facility and probably most of the area around it. Wisely, the CPW decided against rebuilding there and the stop was abandoned by mid-1909 when the mountain track was reopened and the stops along the route reassessed. In the 1920s, the stop may have become host to Bulwer Station, however track measurements suggest that stop was 0.1 miles further to the north.

Official Railroad Information:
Very little is listed for Parr's Spur Track. It first appeared with no facilities listed in the 1888 Southern Pacific Railroad station book. By 1890, the spur was gone (unfortunately all copies of the 1889 station book appears to have been lost). The spur was located approximately 53 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point.

Bermingham is better recorded, first appearing in the January 1901 station book. In 1902, it was listed as a B-class station, implying a spur or siding and a freight-loading platform. It was also in a section of track that was dual-gauged. The station was added to an employee timetable as "Bermingham (Spur)" in June 1907, listed at 53.0 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point and 27.1 miles from Santa Cruz. The length of the spur at the station was 677 feet. No other facilities were listed there and the station did not receive any regularly-scheduled freight or passenger traffic, implying it was for private use only. In 1909, the distance from San Francisco was altered to match the new Los Altos Branch and was now only 52.1 miles from San Francisco, this time via Mayfield. The spur was also lengthened to 827 feet. The station disappeared from timetables in 1909 and from station books in January 1910.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.247˚N, 121.967˚W

Parr's Spur and, presumably, Bermingham were located approximately at the modern-day location of the Vasona Reservoir dam. The site itself is either under water or buried beneath the earthen fill. In context, University Avenue is the right-of-way, so it would have been directly to the east of the road, south of the Creekside Turf Sports Park field and before crossing Los Gatos Creek.

Citations & Credits:
  • Conaway, Peggy. Images of America: Los Gatos Generations. Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad documents, California State Railroad Museum Archives.
  • Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Self-published, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment