The relationship between the McGowans and the railroad began with John and Elizabeth's eldest son, William John McGowan, born in Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1861 but soon resettled in California. Although he inherited his father's property in 1901, William also owned his own 254-acres farm near the outlet of the Pajaro River where he cultivated numerous crops year-round. In 1889, he joined the local agricultural aristocracy by marrying Sarah Margaret Trafton, daughter of Charles David Trafton and Elizabeth Cathers. Together, they had eight surviving children. The family homestead appears to have been on William's property rather than John's, suggesting that both parcels were obtained early by the McGowans and the more southernly of the two granted to William when he was old enough. The house was originally built on a bluff that overlooked the river, but the 1906 earthquake and landslides physically moved the structure downhill where it settled near modern-day Trafton Road. The structure was heavily repaired and placed atop a new foundation and then expanded over subsequent years. The primary industry at the southern property was apple planting after about 1906. By 1915, William had nearly 100 acres of apples growing between the two properties. Although the McGowans continued to plant other crops and maintain a small herd of livestock, the apple business is what dominated their output thereafter.
When the Pajaro Valley Railroad sought an easement along the McGowan properties in 1889, John and William McGowan both agreed so long as they were given flag-stop and freight rights to stops on their lands. The track looped around the northern boundaries of both properties, hugging closely to the Pajaro River. How frequently the McGowans used these tracks is unknown, but it seems likely that both properties produced at least some sugar beets that were shipped by rail to the Spreckels factories at first Watsonville and later Spreckels near Salinas. Railroad records show a siding on the south side of the current Thurwachter-McGowan bridge over the Pajaro River, which probably marks the site of McGowan No. 2, located 3.4 miles south of Watsonville. This stop hosted a 10-car spur that exited to the north, suggesting the local goods were shipped out from the Watsonville Southern Pacific transfer yard. The precise location of McGowan No. 1, found 1.8 miles south of Watsonville, is less certain, but it was probably near the State Highway 1 Pajaro River bridge. It also hosted a spur, this one only able to hold 8 cars, but the direction it exited is unknown. The 1906 earthquake severely damaged the track in the vicinity of McGowan No. 2, knocking out parts of the fence that lined the track beside the farms. A 25-acre apple orchard along the tracks was heavily damaged when the track broke and struck a number of trees during the temblor. The orchards themselves were also shifted, with many trees moved in the process.
The McGowans retained their railroads stops until the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad ceased operations in 1929. William died on August 13, 1937, and Sarah died September 9, 1957. Both are buried together at the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville. Whether their descendants still live on either or both of the properties is unknown.
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
McGowan No. 1: 36.883˚N, 121.772˚W
McGowan No. 2: 36.879˚N, 121.793˚W
It is not 100% certain where either McGowan property was located other than that both were found between modern-day Trafton Road and the Pajaro River. It seems most likely that McGowan No. 1 is related to the mid-sized agricultural parcel that is now bisected by State Route 1 just over the Pajaro River, although the original boundaries of this property must have been far larger. Adjacent to the south was the Trafton family holdings, and south of McGowan Road was certainly the property of William McGowan since his homestead still sits at 745 Trafton Road as a private residence. Access to any of this area is prohibited since all the land is private property. The railroad right of way has long since been buried beneath the Pajaro River levee and its path is now marked by a private-use road for local farmers that runs along the south bank of the Pajaro River.
Citations & Credits:
- History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925.
- PST Consultants, LLC. "Agricultural Resources Evaluation Handbook, Monterey County, California" (September 2011)
- Yould, T.L., and S.N. Hoose. Historic Ground Failures in Northern California Triggered by Earthquakes. Geological Study Professional Paper 993. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1978.