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Friday, July 29, 2016

Stations: Prescott & Beet Dump

The location of the Prescott family property along the right-of-way,
San Benito County map, 1891 [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Not long after California became a state, the Prescott family moved into the San Benito Valley on a small ranch within the former San Juan Bautista Mission rancho. William Sims Prescott Sr. was an English-born settler who journeyed to California to work in the lumber industry of the Santa Cruz Mountains and, later, in the New Idria Mines. Once in the state, he met Catherine Hobson, a Canadian woman, and the two of them settled down in the San Juan Valley, becoming locally famous for constructing the first artesian well in the region as well as the first orchards. They raised a son and a daughter, William Sims Jr. and Emma, on their ranch along the San Benito River in the late 1850s. Emma eventually married John C. Skinner and moved to San Francisco, where she died in 1922. William, meanwhile, became the family patriarch when his father died in 1878. William married Elizabeth Maria Prather of Tennessee in 1885 and together they raised four children on the ranch.

William quickly rose in prominence in the local community, especially once he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1902 for District 2 (San Juan Region). He kept this position into the 1930s. It was during the mid-1900s that plans were put in place to run the San Juan Pacific Railway between Chittenden and San Juan, a project that required Prescott's permission in order to begin. Unsurprisingly, when the San Juan Pacific began operations in 1907, a stop named "Prescott" appeared on public timetables at a location near the Prescott family property.

In reality, the location probably only ever served as a freight stop for the Prescott family and their neighbors. The farms in the region largely grew sugar beets for Claus Spreckels and other various vegetable products, which collectively justified a small freight stop in the area. As visible on the 1891 map above, a small T road intersection at the southwest corner of the Prescott property later coincided with the location of the railroad stop, meaning that local farms could use established roads to get their goods to market without having to drive into San Juan or up to Canfield or Chittenden. The railroad installed a 700-foot-long siding at the stop to park wagons for loading of sugar beets. Farmers, seeing the potential of the site, added a large beet-dumping platform there as well to expedite the process.

Although passenger service ceased in 1908, freight traffic continued intermittently all the way to 1930 when the California Central unofficially ceased operations. During the California Central period, Prescott was renamed "Beet Dump" but the purpose of the stop remained the same – local farmers could deliver their goods to the site for loading on passing freight trains. The name implied that sugar beets were the primary product with their destination doubtlessly the large beet refinery in Salinas. The tracks remained on the property until they were finally scrapped in early 1938.

Photograph of prominent San Juan citizens including, from left-to-right, William Prescott, Edward A. Pearce,
Luis Raggio, Ernest CC Zanetta, and George Abbe, c. late 1930s. [Marjorie Pierce]
William and Elizabeth Prescott lingered longer. William suffered a heart attack in 1943 just before his 58th wedding anniversary, but he survived two more years before passing away June 15, 1945. Elizabeth survived him by eight years, dying January 31, 1953. Both are buried at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near the burial places of their mothers. Their property is entirely farmland today.

Official Railroad Information:
San Juan Pacific Railway timetables noted that Prescot was 2.3 miles from San Juan Junction and 1.0 miles from San Juan [Bautista]. This placed it 5.7 miles from Chittenden and the Southern Pacific mainline track. Few records exist from the California Central period but what does seem clear is the stop lost its name and simply became known as "Beet Dump", a reference to the old beet-loading platform constructed there around 1908.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.860˚N, 121.542˚W

The site of Prescott is one of the few locations along the San Juan Pacific right-of-way that can be guessed with almost complete certainty. The right-of-way crossed modern-day Prescott Road at the entrance to today's True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce facility. This facility without doubt sits on the site of the original "Beet Dump", which was itself the successor to Prescott. In fact, a tiny grass-covered and undeveloped stretch of right-of-way still sits across the road from this facility and the driveway of the facility was once the right-of-way. Access to True Leaf Farms – Church Brothers Produce is restricted to employees. Nothing visible remains of the railroad in this area and trespassing should not be attempted.

Citations & Credits:

1 comment:

  1. I believe the beet dump was across the road from True Leaf. There is still a small parcel of land there that lines up with the old ROW. The Pge lines follow the old ROW.

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