|Santa Cruz County map, 1929. [UCSC]|
In the late 1860s and the early 1870s, Frederick Augustus Hihn was desperate for a railroad in Santa Cruz County. Hihn was a local entrepreneur, an immigrant from Germany who came to California during the Gold Rush in 1849. He moved to Santa Cruz County in 1851 and quickly became one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the city. In 1856, Hihn purchased 12/19ths of Martina Castro's massive Rancho Shoquel Aumentación, which was composed primarily of endless tracts of old growth redwood trees alongside Soquel and Aptos Creeks. Hihn's new holdings ran to the headwaters of Soquel Creek as well as up many of its tributaries. In 1860, Hihn also purchased 404 acres of Rancho Shoquel, receiving that lot as part of a mortgage settlement. Over 5,000 acres of timber were estimated to be in the rancho lands that Hihn owned. Unfortunately for the magnate, he had no easy way to transport any of this potential wealth to the word beyond. Previous lumber operations in the area had relied upon oxen- and mule-driven methods that were slow, dangerous, and limited in their capacities.
Hihn's plan was to built a standard-gauged railroad up from the proposed route that would run along the coast to the mill of his business partners, the Grovers—J. Lyman, Stephan Frealon, Whitney, and Dwight W.—who had operated out of Bates Creek since 1866. Once his route was completed, he would transport the timber to a large lumber and planing mill located near the mainline at the beach. In reality, this was just a part of a much larger scheme that would have, in essence, created the route between Santa Cruz County and the city of San José nearly a decade earlier than the South Pacific Coast and via a drastically different right-of-way that would have bypassed the San Lorenzo watershed entirely. Part threat and part actual intent, the proposal for a standard-gauged railroad running directly between San José and Soquel was used by Hihn as a bargaining chip while negotiating the right-of-way for the Santa Cruz & Watsonville Railroad. The proposed route, which was surveyed in the summer of 1871, would have followed the later route of the South Pacific Coast up to the region of modern-day Laurel, at which point it would have passed through a tunnel into the greater Soquel basin. The route would have then meandered down the east bank of the river until terminating at the Soquel Landing pier. But both ventures ultimately failed, and the plans changed when the Santa Cruz Railroad eventually passed through the area in 1874. Rather than heading straight out to sea, the final alignment of Hihn's Railroad Grade—by now repurposed as a long narrow-gauged lumber long—arced to the east in a wide loop, eventually joining with the railroad track on the bluff above Soquel Landing. This adjustment clearly shows Hihn's intent as late as 1874 to build a railroad line between Soquel and his timber tracts.
|Grover mill up Bates Creek, 1883. [Soquel Pioneer and Historical Association]|
|A homestead along Soquel Creek with the roof of the defunct California Beet Sugar warehouse in the distance, 1887.|
[Polhemus family, Edith C. Smith Collection, Sourisseau Academy, San Jose State University]
|Hihn's flume through Soquel in the mid-1880s. [Images of America: Soquel]|
|1948 aerial view of the Santa Cruz Airport at Capitola showing its two perpendicular runways. [Airfields-Freeman]|
|Hihn Railroad Grade at the intersection of Glenhaven Rd. and Cherrvale Ave. The private road is not, in actuality, the|
grade, but rather the grade runs along the bottom of the hill at left where the sign sits. [Google StreetView]
Citations & Credits:
- Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
- "Entry #466-468." F. A. Hihn Company's Agreements, Deeds, & Leases, vol. 2. University of California, Santa Cruz. Edited and curated by Stanley Stevens.
- F. A. Hihn Company Collection. University of California, Santa Cruz. Edited and curated by Stanley Stevens.
- Freeman, Paul. "California: Monterey area". Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields, 2016.
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1871-1874.
- Soquel Pioneer and Historical Association, Images of America: Soquel. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.
- Stevens, Stanley, personal correspondence.
- University of California, Santa Cruz. "1929 Santa Cruz County Map". UCSC Map Library Collections.
- Young, John V. Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lafayette, CA: Great West Books, 2002.