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Friday, March 17, 2017

Stations: Thurwachter

The Thurwachter spur along the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad
 right-of-way, 1912 [USGS]
Frederick Thurwachter was one of the many early settlers to move to Watsonville in the 1850s. Born in Rheinpfalz, Germany in 1832 to Johann Thürwachter and Maria Henke, Frederick voyaged to New York in 1850 and lived there until 1854 when he moved to California and worked in the mines for three years. In July 1858, Thurwachter definitively moved to Watsonville where he rented land on a local ranch for the better part of six years. In 1866, he finally purchased a 113-acre farm of his own on Beach Road near the mouth of the Pajaro River. When he bought the property, there was little more than marshy, sandy wastes, but within a short time he converted the entire area into a profitable ranch. Thurwachter was regionally famous for introducing European farming techniques to the Pajaro Valley. He began growing Bellflower apples on fifteen acres with potatoes and barley as his primary cash crops. In the 1880s, the latter two were replaced by sugar beets.

Frederick and Catherine Thurwachter, 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter married Catherine Sweeny of Ireland in 1862 and together they had eight children, three of whom survived the century: Margaret Carolina, Ella Teresa, and Frances Louise. The family built its permanent residence on Beach Road in 1872. It was modelled off of Abraham Lincoln's Neo-Georgian Springfield, Illinois home and was popularly known as the "T-Wester House.' The current, heavily remodelled structure is 3,200 square feet and includes two sitting rooms, a central staircase, a hidden stairwell, and four upstairs bedrooms. From 1929 until 1963, the house became famous because of its Monterey cypress trees, which were trimmed into various artistic styles.

People on a horse-drawn tractor on the Thurwachter farm, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Thurwachter is unique in that it had the only Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad stop in Santa Cruz County other than the two Watsonville stops. The railroad's right-of-way ran along the southern bank of the Pajaro River, but directly across from the Thurwachter farm, at the end of an access road that ran perpendicular to Beach Road, a spur line was extended across a bridge over the river. The tracks barely made it into the county, but there was enough trackage on the farm for a few cars to park so that the Thurwachters could load goods. Passing PVCRR trains could then pick up these cars and drop off empty cars for future loading. The spur was probably added around 1900, after the beet refinery was removed to Salinas. Evidence for this is based on the fact that the spur exits to the south towards Salinas rather than to the north. The spur is clearly visible on USGS maps from the 1910s and it leaves a noticeable footprint on stylised maps of the PVCRR route that have been published in recent years. Like the rest of the railroad, the route was abandoned in 1929 when the Southern Pacific Railroad bought out the line. The bridge was probably removed at this time, but the pilings may have stood in the river for many more years.

Large gathering at the T-Wester House, c. 1890s. [Flora Vista Inn]
Frederick and Catherine died only two months apart from each other in 1914. Initially, all three daughters claimed equal ownership of the property, and this lasted into the 1920s as attested by local property survey maps. Eventually, Ella, a confirmed spinster, came to own the whole property, or at least was its sole family occupant. Ella converted the farm from sugar beets to navy bean and lettuce production in the 1930s. She also was the first to introduce blue pod beans into the area. Ella died in 1963 and the home passed to her relative, Roy Folger, who was friends with Ansel Adams, who spent a day photographing the property in 1977. Tim Folger, Roy's son, continued on the farm until 1979, when he sold the property to an agricultural form. Wishing to preserve the home, Tom Mine purchased the house (but not the property) with the intent to renovate it, but costs proved too high. He eventually sold the house to George Mortan around 1988, but Mortan ran into the same problem. Meanwhile, the owners of the farm wanted to get the house off the property so they could use the space for further farming. Mortan finally decided to sell the house for $2 around 1992 via an open raffle. The winner, Darrell Darling, immediately began restoring it and moved north to a new location on San Andreas Road in 1997. Under the stewardship of Susan Van Horn and Brian Denny, who leased the home around 1999, the structure became a bed and breakfast and gained the name The Inn at Manresa Beach, which soon evolved into the Aptos Beach Inn (in 2003) and is now the Flora Vista Inn. It still operates today on San Andreas Road near La Salva Beach.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.868˚N, 121.804˚W

The site of Thurwachter station is today located at the end of a long private access road that breaks off at the intersection of West Beach Road and Rio Boca Road. The site itself is marked by a large utility yard that sits alongside the river. All trace of the bridge has disappeared from decades of storms and the construction of the Pajaro River levee. The street address for the farm is 2083 Beach Road southwest of Watsonville, which places it a considerable distance to the north from the station. The farmhouse is now located on 1258 San Andreas Road as the Flora Vista Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Citations & Credits:

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