Thursday, March 21, 2024

People: The Porter Family

There are a surprising number of tributes to members of the Porter family in Santa Cruz County. Donald T. Clark in his book, Santa Cruz County Place Names, includes the Porter Family Picnic Area, Porter Gulch, Porter Gulch Road, Porter Memorial Library, and Porters Landing. To that could be added Porter Street, Porter College at UC Santa Cruz, and the Porter Trail in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Just across the Pajaro River, there is also Porter Drive and the Porter–Vallejo Mansion. In Los Angeles County, there is even a suburb named them. Indeed, the Porter family may be one of the most attributed early American families in the county, if not the state, but who were they and what did they have to do with local railroading?

Portraits of George K. Porter, Benjamin F. Porter, John T. Porter, and Warren R. Porter.

The Porter family did not all arrive in California at once, but they were all lured to the state by the prospect of gold. George Keating Porter, son of Dr. John Thomas and Ann Thomas Porter of Duxbury, Massachusetts, was the first to arrive, reaching San Francisco in late 1849 aboard the Acadian. He almost immediately failed at mining, so he tried his hand at farming, lumbering, and freight hauling. Eventually, he found his way to Santa Cruz County, where he found his cousins already setting up shop.

Early View of Soquel from the top of the Soquel Creek railroad bridge, ca 1880 [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

Benjamin Franklin Porter and his brother, Edward, had travelled to California from Vermont in 1854 for the same reason as George. Like George, they quickly tired of the hunt for mineral riches and moved to farms on Aptos Creek. On July 5, 1857, Ned set up the first general store and post office in Soquel. Meanwhile, Benjamin began negotiating the purchase of Jean Richard Fourcade's tannery near Aptos. Benjamin agreed to buy the facility for $600, which included five acres of land and all of the vats, flumes, aqueducts, worker housing, mules, and machinery required to run the tannery. The sale was finalized on January 1, 1858, but the transfer of land was not made until June 11. In 1861, Benjamin was elected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, serving one term until 1863.

Stereograph of the main plaza in Monterey, ca 1875. Photo by Romanzo E. Wood. [Chico State – colorized using MyHeritage]

Last on the scene but the most important to local history was George's brother John Thomas Porter. He arrived in California aboard the Herculaneum in the early 1850s and headed to the Gold Country, where he eventually amassed $10,000. He took these funds to Stockton where he worked as a buying agent for several San Francisco stores, but this proved uninteresting. He finally moved to Santa Cruz in 1854, where he opened a general store. While there, he was elected county sheriff on October 5, 1857, serving almost two terms until resigning in disgrace just before the end of his second term. Immediately after reigning, he was appointed Collector of the Port of Monterey and remained in that position until 1865, when he moved to the Pajaro Valley.

Looking northwest toward Soquel, ca 1890 [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

It was shortly after John's election as sheriff when his brother George arrived in the county seeking land. Fortunately, the late William Andrews had left an unpaid debt to the Catholic Church so his land was being auctioned off in a sheriff's sale. George placed the winning bid of $740 and acquired disputed property in both Rancho Soquel and Shoquel Augmentation. Through later purchases, transfers, winning auction bids, and judicial decisions, the Porters amassed extensive holdings in the Soquel, Aptos, and Pajaro areas. Within the Soquel ranch land alone, George and Benjamin jointly owned 750 acres of contiguous land running from the Monterey Bay along the west side of Borregas Gulch to Tannery (Porter) Gulch.

Lithograph of the G. K. and B. F. Porter tannery in Soquel, 1878.

George joined his cousins in running the tannery, which quickly grew into the second-highest-producing tannery in the county, with 25,000 hides processed annually. Soquel Wharf had been erected in the mid-1850s by Frederick Hihn, who owned the surrounding land, but it was the Porters who used it the most during these years, earning it the common nickname "Porters' Wharf." In 1863, George used his leverage as the State Senator for Santa Cruz County to hire 100 convicts from San Quentin to make boots and shoes from the tannery's leather. By 1865, they were producing 3,000 shoes a year. When the plant burned in 1870, the brothers built a new factory in San Francisco, operating under the name Porter, Schlesinger & Company. When the Santa Cruz Railroad arrived around 1875, a spur was purportedly extended to the tannery, which if true would probably have split off from the main track in the vicinity of Borregas Drive. Meanwhile, George and Benjamin built homes near the tannery. Yet the allure of profits elsewhere ultimately led George away from Santa Cruz.

Colorized postcard of the Porter Hotel in San Fernando, ca 1915.

In 1874, George partnered with Charles Maclay to buy 56,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley from Eulogio de Celis. Benjamin soon joined in on the scheme and bought the western third of the valley, where he established Porter Ranch. George, meanwhile, kept 19,000 acres in the middle and eastern valley, establishing the village of San Fernando at the same time. After farming the land for a decade, George founded the Porter Land & Water Company in 1883 and began subdividing his property. He kept 2,000 acres for himself, under the name Mission Ranch, and also established the three-story, sixty-room Mission Hotel, later the Porter Hotel. George reincorporated the company in 1903 as the San Fernando Mission Land Company, but died three years later on November 16, 1906 before realizing much gain from the real estate firm. The Porter Hotel remained a fixture in San Fernando until a fire destroyed it on July 21, 1964.

William T. Jeter serving customers at the County Bank of Santa Cruz, 1906. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

Unlike his brother, Benjamin remained based out of Santa Cruz County, even if he dabbled in ventures across the state. By the time of his death on June 9, 1905, he had acquired land in Oregon, as well as Contra Costa County, Monterey County, and his vast holdings in Los Angeles County. His earliest claim to fame came in the early 1860s, when telegraph poles cut from his timberland were used to connect San Francisco and San José. In 1870, he became a founding director of the County Bank of Santa Cruz, and he was also a director of the State Loan & Trust Company. In 1873, he became a founding director of the Santa Cruz Railroad, which would connect his Soquel tannery and timberlands with the outside world. He was less involved in Central Coast affairs later in life, focusing instead on his vast property empire in Southern California. However, he served as vice president of the Bank of Santa Cruz County from 1902 until his death.

Pino Alto, now the Porter–Sesnon House on the Cabrillo College campus, ca 1935. [UC Santa Cruz – Colorized using MyHeritage]

Benjamin only left one surviving daughter, Mary Sophia Porter, who had married William T. Sesnon in 1896. The Sesnons became the heirs not only to Benjamin's vast real estate empire, but also to Mary's uncle Edward, who had left no children. In 1912, the Sesnons were approached by the Soquel Ladies' Improvement Club, who asked them to help fund a public library. The next year, the Porter Memorial Public Library opened on Porter Street, dedicated to the memory of Mary's parents, Benjamin and Kate Porter. Throughout their lives, William and Mary retained most of the Porter property, but after their deaths in 1929 and 1930 respectively it was sold off. Their family estate, Pino Alto, was eventually acquired by Cabrillo College and is now a core part of the community college's main Aptos campus. Meanwhile, their daughter Barbara Sesnon Cartan donated funds to establish the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz in 1968. The next year, she and two siblings, Porter, and William, donated nearly 70 acres of land to establish Fifth College at the new university. On November 21, 1981, the campus was renamed Benjamin F. Porter College.

Benjamin F. Porter College at the University of California, Santa Cruz, campus, 2003. [UC Santa Cruz]

In hindsight, it is strange to think of John Porter as the least successful of the clan, but he was indeed the least successful when compared to his brother, cousins, or eldest son. Yes, he resigned from his post as county sheriff in disgrace in 1861, but this had little impact on his long-term reputation and he quickly grew in prominence within Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. Near the end of his stint as collector, in 1864, John purchased 820 acres of Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano on the east bank of the Pajaro River. It took several years to settle the transaction, but from this base John began his Pajaro Valley empire.

Pajaro depot with many waiting passengers, ca 1900. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

In 1871, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached John's land and stopped there for a number of years. The station, located directly across the Pajaro River from Watsonville, was named Pajaro by the railroad. John took the opportunity to found a township there in 1872, which primarily catered to the railroad as a transloading station for goods arriving from Santa Cruz County. When the Santa Cruz Railroad reached Pajaro in early 1876—and especially after 1883 when the Southern Pacific Railroad standard-gauged the tracks—the importance of Pajaro only increased as it was now the junction point for an important branch line. The railroad attracted new industries, such as sugar beets, and John dedicated 400 acres to the growing of the crop in 1879, selling the produce to the California Beet Sugar Company in Soquel. When that company collapsed in late 1879, John acquired the Soquel property as repayment for unpaid debts.

Pajaro Valley Bank, ca 1895. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

Indeed, John was heavily involved in several local businesses. In May 1874, he co-founded the Bank of Watsonville. Fourteen years later, in 1888, he co-founded the Pajaro Valley Bank. In November 1883, he joined with several other lumber barons to incorporate the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, which set out to harvest timber within the Aptos Forest and would continue in operation into the 1920s. And in 1888, when Claus Spreckels arrived in the Pajaro Valley looking to build a beet sugar refinery, John was there by his side as an original director of the Wester Beet Sugar Company. As before, he sectioned off large areas of his land for sugar beet production, and he also convinced the Chinese population of Watsonville to move onto his land in Pajaro, which soon became known as the Brooklyn Chinatown. Most of the Chinese would end up working at the refinery or on John's beet fields. The next year, John again helped Spreckels in building the Pajaro Valley Railroad, which passed directly through his property and included a freight stop, which was also named Pajaro. A few years later, in the Salinas Valley, a stop named Porter was established to cater to a beet-growing property he owned there.

Brooklyn Chinatown in Pajaro, ca 1910. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

As John reached the final years of his life, he shifted into politics. In 1890, he was appointed County Supervisor for northern Monterey County, winning election in 1893 and serving until 1897. He also consolidated all of his ongoing real estate and financial concerns into the family-owned John T. Porter Company in 1891, though he remained in charge of most of his empire until the end of his life. In 1892, he found himself appointed manager of The Great Asylum for the Insane at Agnew's Village near Santa Clara, a post that he held until 1895. These busy years of politicking, managing, and everyday life took its toll on John and he died suddenly of a heart attack on February 13, 1900.

Loma Prieta Lumber Company office at Opal, ca 1890. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

Though John had several children, his eldest son, Warren Reynolds Porter, benefitted the most from his family's empire. At the age of 19—in 1880—he began working as a bookkeeper for the Bank of Watsonville. In 1884, he was hired as secretary of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, and on April 10, 1886, he became general manager and moved into the secretary's house—now the Porter House—in the village of Loma Prieta, where he and his family would live each summer until 1899. In August 1893, Warren married Mary Easton. These were likely the best days of his life, managing everyday operations at the Loma Prieta mill and enjoying time with his children and wife.

Graniterock workers on the back of a flatcar at Logan, 1903. [Graniterock – colorized using MyHeritage]

With the closure of the mill, Warren set out to do greater things. In January 1900, he became co-owner alongside Arthur R. Wilson of Oakland of the Granite Rock Company, which ran an aggregate quarry outside of Aromas. Shortly afterwards, in February, he became a member of a state legislation committee for public schools. And on March 12, he became the president of the Pajaro Valley Bank and the Pajaro Valley Savings and Loan Society. In September, he received a special honor when he was named an elector in the November 1900 presidential election of William McKinley, the first person ever chosen from Santa Cruz County. Unsurprisingly, all of this led him to resign from his role at the Loma Prieta Lumber Company and enter politics.

William Hamilton and  Warren Porter aboard the tug Slocum, 1910. [California State Library – colorized using MyHeritage]

Like his father, Warren began seeking high profile ventures locally. From 1902 to 1904, he served as a director and treasurer of the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway Company, an ambitious predecessor to the Ocean Shore Railway that sought to build an electric railroad between the named locations and beyond. He also expanded the John T. Porter Company into Monterey County in 1908, consolidating all of his and his siblings' holdings in both counties. More broadly, Warren became a member of the board of the State Prison system in 1901, which brought him into contact with state politicians in Sacramento. This eventually gained him enough notoriety to be elected Lieutenant Governor of California in 1907, serving a single term as a Republican alongside Governor James Gillett until 1911.

St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco, 1930. [San Francisco Public Library – colorized using MyHeritage]

After his term was over, Warren settled in Berkeley and became involved in many projects throughout the Bay Area. In Santa Cruz, he briefly resumed his position on the board of directors of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, championing the proposal of several employees to form the Molino Timber Company and harvest the uncut timber in Hinckley Gulch and along China Ridge. He also remained president and general manager of Granite Rock Company until resigning in 1924. In Berkeley, he became involved with St. Luke's Hospital, becoming a director in 1923, and he also was involved with several social clubs including the Order of Free Masons. He eventually made his way back to Watsonville in 1920, where he was elected chairman of the Pajaro Valley Bank, a position he retained for the rest of his life. He died at his home in Watsonville on August 27, 1927, survived by his widow and three children.

The Porter House at the Loma Prieta mill, ca 1895. [Aptos History Museum – colorized using MyHeritage]

Warren Porter's legacy mostly lives on in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. After he resigned from the Loma Prieta Lumber Company in 1901, he and his family refused to give up the Porter House on Aptos Creek, even though it should have reverted to Timothy Hopkins, the property's original owner. Instead, the Porter family continued to use the home as a summer retreat until it fell into such a state of disrepair that it was uninhabitable. When The Forest of Nisene Marks was formed in 1965, the matter of the Porters' property had to be resolved. After long negotiations, it was agreed that the larger parcel would be donated in exchange for the creation of the Mary Easton Picnic Area. Further negotiations were required to acquire a smaller parcel held by another Porter descendant. She eventually agreed to donate the land in exchange for creating the Porter Family Picnic Area. Both picnic areas can be accessed along the Aptos Creek Fire Road.

The Porter Memorial Public Library on Porter Street in Soquel, 2018. [Times Publishing Group]

The legacy of the Porter family in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties cannot be overstated. Members of the families essentially established the towns of Soquel and Pajaro, contributed greatly to the creation of Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz, and established several local institutions and businesses that were focal points for industry and commerce for decades. They were also directly involved in the construction of the Santa Cruz Railroad, the Pajaro Valley Railroad, and the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway electric streetcar system, and indirectly involved in the expansion of the Southern Pacific Railroad to Pajaro and its branch line to Loma Prieta, as well as the narrow-gauge trackage of the Molino Timber Company. Quite simply, where the Porters went, railroads followed.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Sources: Evolving Terminology

Everything is not always as it seems, and this is certainly the case when researching history. From changing colloquialisms to evolving definitions to extinct words, there is a wide range of linguistic obstacles someone may run into in their research—even when the history is relatively recent and in English! Language changes and that is something every researcher needs to always keep in mind.

The Hotel Lyndon across North Santa Cruz Avenue from the South Pacific Coast Railway's passenger depot, ca 1905. The tracks of the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway pass directly to the right of the hotel. [Los Gatos Public Library – colorized using MyHeritage]

Researchers of railroads and Santa Cruz County history will encounter many different terms from the wide variety of sources that are available to them, and it is important that the definitions of these terms are clear. Some are relatively straightforward but used inconsistently, while others are very different than they appear. Thus, this article will help break down some of the common terms railroad and local historians may find in order to help them in their future research. New terms with evolving meanings will be added to this list as needed.


railway / railroad / road: Some terms are a matter of change over time, while others are a matter of specificity. Here, though, it is simply a matter of taste.

  • Railways developed in the United Kingdom in the early nineteenth century. They then were introduced in the United States, beginning on the East Coast. The term mostly stuck and even today, railway generally refers to British, Commonwealth, or East Coast companies. When it appears in the names of West Coast companies, an East Coaster or Brit is almost always to blame. It is often abbreviated as "RW" or "Rwy."
  • In contrast, the term railroad evolved mostly on the West Coast as a regional variant of the name and then spread back east. Early company registers and newspapers sometimes spelled the term "rail road" or "rail-road," but there is no functional or legal distinction between the terms and they have been interchangeable since the very beginning. It is usually abbreviated to "RR."
  • Frustrating in its simplicity, the term road is the oldest in relation to railroads and railways and can refer to either or any other vehicular thoroughfare. While few railroad companies neglected to include "rail" somewhere in their name, newspapers especially had no qualms about leaving off this pertinent detail, leaving many to confusion when reading primary sources. Road, importantly, can refer to railroads, railways, highways, backroads, or city streets.
Boulder Creek depot with people milling around, ca 1900. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using My Heritage]

stop / station / depot: There is a lot of confusion around these three terms and they are often used interchangeably. However, there are differences.

  • stop refers to any place that a train may stop, official or unofficial, regardless of the services offered at the location. Thus, a stop may include registered and unregistered flag-stops, freight stops including spurs and sidings, or former stations that still retain a small clientele.
  • A station on the other hand is an officially-registered stop that appears on a public timetable, an employee timetable, and/or in a station book. Station status does not confer any formal need for trains to stop at the location—that is determined by timetables and customer needs—but it recognizes a formal relationship between the railroad company and the stop, and in many places, a government recognition of the stop as well. This means that a railroad usually has to petition the state government to abandon a station, whereas this is not necessary for all types of stop.
  • A depot is a term that specifically refers to a structure at a stop (usually a station) where tickets can be sold to customers and/or freight can be transferred. Strictly speaking, a depot can exist where there is no longer a stop, as happened at the Santa Cruz Union Depot after 1940. Depots can be small or large, but generally feature a freight-storage and/or luggage-storage space and seats for passengers, when applicable. Smaller ticket offices and passenger shelters are not technically depots, but sometimes are included under this term. 
The trestle bridge over Shady Gulch, overlooking the California Powder Works, 1895. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

bridge / trestle / truss: Not all railroad bridges are trestles, not that the common person would know this from common parlance. The term trestle and bridge have become synonymous over the past century even though railroad engineers generally keep the terms separate, for good reason! In reality, there are a lot of types of railroad bridges, and many are of mixed type. Differentiating them is important to historians.

  • A bridge is the term at its broadest definition and means any raised span. It can cross a tiny gully or it can cross a wide river—either way, it is called a bridge. When in doubt, call a bridge a bridge.
  • A trestle, meanwhile, is a bridge constructed using bents and posts arranged under the roadbed in a repeating pattern. The bents and posts can be made of any material, such as steel or concrete, but all of the historic trestles in Santa Cruz County were made of wood. 
  • A truss is a different type of bridge that is usually prefabricated and later moved into place. They often appear as boxes or curved structures with triangular supports redistributing the weight across the superstructure. The right-of-way can either be built on top of the truss—a deck truss—or inside the truss—a through truss. Multiple trusses can also be linked together with piers sitting at anchor points between each span.

Types of truss bridges used in Santa Cruz County. (Derek R. Whaley)

Truss designs also vary heavily across the world. Three variants of the Warren truss-style of bridge dominated the river and creek crossings in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In addition, Howe, Pratt, and Lattice truss bridges could be found over specific spans. Truss bridges are usually named after their original designers and stand apart from each other by how the support beams are arranged. Other common types of bridges found in Santa Cruz County include wood and plate-girder ballast and open deck bridges, which were used heavily for short spans and in more recent years.

Santa Cruz County had many different types of railroad bridges to cross the rivers, creeks, gullies, and gulches, especially along the mountain branches. The following is a brief list of some of those found along the Santa Cruz to Los Gatos route:

  • Golf Course Drive: wood ballast deck
  • Shady / Powder Works Gulch (Highway 9): wood trestle, replaced by wood trestle with two open-deck plate girder spans
  • Coon Gulch / Inspiration Point: wood open-deck Howe truss, replaced by concrete arch half-bridge
  • Big Trees / Henry Cowell (San Lorenzo River): wood trestle with open-deck Warren truss, replaced with wood trestle with lattice through truss, replaced with steel through Warren truss atop one concrete pier with a short plate girder span
  • Mt. Hermon (Zayante Creek): deck plate girder bridge atop two concrete piers
  • Jackass Flats (Zayante Creek): open-deck Warren truss bridge atop two concrete piers with two plate girder spans
  • Los Gatos Creek (Creek Trail): open-deck Warren truss bridge, replaced with plate girder span atop two concrete piers
  • Forbes Mill spur (Los Gatos Creek): wood trestle
Union Traction streetcar no. 24 at the end of track on Woodrow Avenue, 1926. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

horsecar / streetcar / interurban / tramway / cablecar / incline railway: Santa Cruz County has featured a variety of conveyances that rely on rails and this has led to a lot of confusion over the years.
  • A horsecar or rather horse-drawn car is a form of railroad transport where a horse pulls a car or cars along a wood or metal rail. It is the earliest form of railroad and dates back several centuries before the creation of the first self-powered railroad. Santa Cruz County had three horsecar lines: the City Railroad, the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad, and the East Santa Cruz Street Railroad.
  • Streetcars are a more general term that can refer to horse-powered or self-powered railroad systems, though they more generally apply to "traction railroads," i.e., street railroads powered electrically from overhead lines. They are also sometimes called trolley systems in the United States. Santa Cruz County has had a number of traction lines, including the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park & Capitola Railroad, the Santa Cruz Electric Railroad, the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railroad, and the Union Traction Company.
  • Interurban lines rely on heavier-duty traction engines that can run longer distances, sometimes under their own power, though they usually include sections where overhead lines provide direct power. The cars are usually larger and they cater to both rural and urban passengers. Santa Cruz County only had one interurban, the Watsonville Transportation Company (later the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company), but Los Gatos also featured the more well-known interurban, the Peninsular Railway Company.
  • The term tramway has divergent meanings depending which continent you are on. In British Commonwealth countries, tramway almost always is interchangeable with "trolley" or "streetcar" system, referring to an urban or suburban passenger railway network. In the United States, it has a more limited meaning and usually applies to industries, especially logging. Tramways in this context refer to short tracks where freight can be wheeled from one destination to another, such as lumber from a mill to the lumber yard. Tramways can be quite long, especially if shuttling logs from the forest to a mill, but they are always directly associated with the operations of an industry.
  • Cablecars never graced Santa Cruz County—they are almost exclusive to San Francisco and a few other cities built upon rolling hills. Cablecars, also often called trolleys, are unique in that they get their motive power from underground cables that are always moving. Cablecars latch onto these cables to move and release the cable to stop. All of the cables are run from centralized hubs.
  • Incline railways are another special mode of transportation specific to steep hillsides. Essentially, a car is pulled up or down a hill with a cable attached to an engine located at the top of the incline. When the cable is released, the car descends, and when the cable is pulled, the car ascends. Santa Cruz County featured at least one true incline railroad in the form of the Molino Timber Company's incline, which lowered flatcars full of splitstuff down from China Ridge to alongside Aptos Creek during the mid-1910s. Other inclines related to logging may also have existed in the county, though evidence is scarce. The only remaining incline railway operating in Santa Cruz County today is the privately-owned car run by Shadowbrook Restaurant on Soquel Creek in Capitola.
The F. A. Kilburn docked at the Port Rogers Wharf in Watsonville, ca 1905. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using MyHeritage]

wharf / pier: A topic of great consternation among some, greater confusion among many, and little importance in the end, yet the question remains: what is the true difference between a pier and a wharf?
  • It must be stated that all of Santa Cruz County's structures for receiving ocean-going ships before 1904 were called a wharf regardless of any official terminology. And this is an important fact to understand. In the context of early California history, the term wharf is the word for pier—the terms are synonymous. Both are structures that jut into the ocean and both are built atop pilings. 
  • In nautical terms, wharves are often, though not necessarily, structures that parallel a shoreline allowing vessels to pull alongside the wharf to transfer cargo. Importantly for defining Santa Cruz's structures, wharves usually are wider and include warehouses or other industrial or commercial structures on them for storage and to conduct trade. Wharves are also usually designed to accept multiple large ships simultaneously. Using this definition, Santa Cruz County had six wharves: Powder Works Wharf, Soquel/Capitola Wharf, Spreckels/Aptos Wharf, Railroad Wharf, Port Rogers/Watsonville Wharf, and Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf
  • Piers, on the other hand, are often solitary structures that are meant simply to convey goods from a ship to the shore. They are frequently designed to only receive one vessel at a time, most often at the end, and they rarely have warehouses or commercial structures built atop them. Piers are also almost always narrower than wharves and are less likely to include railings and other structural features. This definition would therefore include the Cowell Wharf, Electric/Pleasure Pier, the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company's pier at Davenport, and the Seacliff Pier.

Local History

hotel: Modern people apply a certain respectability and status to the term hotel, but this need not apply to the term in the past. Derived from the French word "hôtel," which itself is the modern spelling of the Middle French "hostel," the true roots of the term hotel can be found. At its most basic essence, it means a guesthouse or shelter. Hotels in the United States, especially before about 1920, could be anything from a small boarding house with only a few rooms—akin to a bed and breakfast of today—to a quick and easy roadhouse atop a tavern—like today's motel—to a deluxe resort with gardens, ballrooms, and other amenities. Hotel applied to all of these types of businesses. An inconsistent differentiation sometimes named smaller hotels "houses," while rural hotels were often called a "farm" since their owners still maintained some agricultural or pastoral activities on the side.

Sam's Senate Saloon and "Wheelmen's Rest," on the Soquel–San Jose Road, ca 1900. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

saloon: Similar to hotels, saloons are a greatly misinterpreted thing before 1900. The term is also French and comes from "salon," which itself comes from the Old High German "sal," meaning "house" or "hall." And this is all some early saloons were: lounges or small public houses (pubs). Not all saloons served alcohol, or even food! In the 1800s, saloon meant the same thing that "salon" does today, so the term could refer to a beauty parlor for women or a barbershop. Parties could be held in a saloon since it could serve as a dance hall. Houses may feature a private saloon because it just referred to the lounge or reception area. It was only in the twentieth century, especially with the rise of the Western genre in literature and film, that the term saloon came to mean a tavern or bar.

Neptune Casino on a very busy summer day, 1904. Photo by Charles Leon Aydelotte. [San José Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

casino: Shifting from French to Italian, the word casino did not always refer to gambling. The word in its original language is the diminutive of "casa" and literally just means "little house" or "cottage." Italians once used the term to refer to their holiday homes, so casino evolved to refer to places of leisure. And leisurely people enjoy playing games. While not all games involve gambling, many do, so casino gradually became linked to gambling rooms and, ultimately, entire buildings focused on gambling. This transition was slow, and when the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was first built in the first decade of the twentieth century, casino still retained the broader definition of "place of pleasure," hence why the Casino Arcade below the Cocoanut Grove is still called that today.

Bathhouses on the Santa Cruz Beach, ca 1877 [Chico State – colorized using MyHeritage]

bathhouse: The bathhouse is another term that has evolved much over the past two centuries, and Santa Cruz has witnessed this evolution first hand. When the first bathhouses appeared on the beach, the term referred more accurately to bathing sheds or changing rooms. People would rent bathing costumes and then change in the bathing house before venturing onto the beach where they would enter the water and bathe in the surf or river. Modest women could even rent portable bathhouses, that would be rolled to the water's edge by a horse so that the women could leave directly from the house and enter the water. The term retained that meaning even as it added a second definition: "place where people go to bathe." By the mid-1870s, bathhouses began to add indoor, heated saltwater and freshwater "baths," where people could bathe without risking injury from the surf. As these became deeper, people could enjoy indoor plunge bathing, which now refers to simply swimming in a standard swimming pool. All of the terms related to bathhouses were replaced over the decades, though the principals survive to this day.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Maps: Santa Cruz to City Limits

Mapping industrial areas can be a difficult task even when all the factors are known, and it is much more difficult when there remain unknowns. Santa Cruz's West Side industrial area remains poorly documented, partially because many people today have forgotten that it ever existed. When the Ocean Shore Railway and Coast Line Railway (a Southern Pacific subsidiary) first passed through the West Side in 1905 on their way to Davenport, the West Side was a land of fields with scattered homes along West Cliff Drive but little in the interior west of The Circles. And little changed for decades.

Ocean Shore maintenance shops near the Garfield Park subdivision,  ca 1910s. [Courtesy UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

The first commercial development using the railroad on the West Side was the Ocean Shore Railway itself. In a section of an undeveloped subdivision east of The Circles and north of the Santa Cruz Lighthouse, the railroad established its Southern Division's maintenance shop, wye, and engine shed. The buildings, spurs, sidings, and wye covered seven blocks, from Gharkey to Oregon Street, and from Centennial to beyond Laguna Street. This facility was flanked on either side by passenger stops. To the north was the main Santa Cruz Bay Street station, where the ticket office for the Ocean Shore Railway was located, though this structure was always only intended to be temporary. After passing through a cut under Bay Street, the line terminated at the Bay Street (now West Cliff Drive) truss bridge, where a passenger shelter was located above the Southern Pacific Railroad's Union Depot. Passengers could walk up the short pathway from the depot to the shelter to switch trains. In the opposite direction of the maintenance yard was the Garfield Avenue shelter, which provided a transfer point with the Union Traction Company's electric streetcars as well as a drop off for visitors to the Vue de l'Eau Casino and the Christian Church Tabernacle at the center of The Circles.

Map showing railroad stations and rights-of-way, streetcar routes, and major roads and waterways through the Santa Cruz West Side to just beyond the city limits, 1906-1980. [Click to enlarge]

On the Coast Line Railroad, there were some parallels through the West Side in the early years. The track departed the Santa Cruz Union Depot via a track that climbed up the hill on the west side of Neary Lagoon. At California Street, it turned southwest to more or less parallel Mission Street. California Street was the first flag-stop of the Coast Line and featured a small shelter in the V formed from the intersection of Bay and California Streets. Another stop, presumably with a small shelter, was at Younglove Avenue, which, like the Ocean Shore's Garfield Avenue stop, catered to people transferring onto a Union Traction streetcar or departing for the tabernacle or casino.

Aerial photograph showing Rapetti and Orby stations and the San Vicente Lumber Company mill, August 8, 1919. [Courtesy UCSC – colorized using MyHeritage].

Just east of Moore Creek, both railroads set up their final stations within the city limits. The Coast Line Railroad was first with Orby near Swift Street, probably named after a racehorse. What its original intended customer base was is unclear, but it may have been established to help passengers access Swanton's Beach, today's Natural Bridges. The Ocean Shore Railway only established a stop beside Moore Creek in 1911 to provide railroad service to San Vicente Lumber Company's mill. The mill, established that year, had dammed Moore Creek, creating what later became known as Antonelli's Pond, and erected a large lumber mill beside it. The railroad extended a looping spur along the east side of the mill, with a second spur that went toward the millpond. The Coast Line soon took advantage of this new customer, as well, and extended its own spur until the two looping spurs of the railroads met in front of the mill. The Coast Line installed two parallel spurs north of the mill to pick up lumber shipments.

Fire damage at the Walti, Schilling & Company slaughterhouse, December 1, 1931. [Courtesy UCSC – colorized MyHeritage]

In 1920, the San Vicente Lumber Company leased the Ocean Shore's southern division and continued to use it until 1923, when its mill shut down. This left the entire West Side industrial area to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which only gradually added customers. Southern Pacific's first customer was the City of Santa Cruz's light and sewer pumping station at Neary Lagoon. In 1909, a short spur was installed above the lagoon where an oil tanker could park to provide fuel to the plant. On the opposite end of the West Side, across a substantial trestle bridge that spans Moore Creek, Walti, Schilling & Company built a slaughterhouse that opened in 1923, having relocated from a slaughterhouse at Twin Lakes. This facility operated off of a spur associated with Orby for decades, only closing in 1977.

Advertisement for Pfyffer Bros. Brussels sprouts, ca 1940s. [ebay]

The industrial district centered around Orby and Swift Street grew slowly over the ensuing decades. The Union Ice Company was the first to transfer there, erecting an artichoke and peas packing plant on behalf of J. L. De Benedette in late 1936. Construction required the area to be rezoned for industrial use, which was granted, opening the entire area up to further development. The next business to join was the Coast Box & Drum Company, an alternative name for the Half Moon Bay Box & Drum Company, which moved onto a spur beside Swift Street in 1937. It focused on making packaging materials for local artichoke, sprout, and apple growers. At the same time, the Santa Cruz Artichoke Growers Association moved into an attached packing house, operating off the same spur. Three years later, the Davenport Artichoke Growers Association relocated into a large packing house next door to Union Ice and was renamed Pfyffer Bros., run by Fred and Joseph Pfyffer.

The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company's plant on the West Side shortly after opening, ca 1954. [Courtesy UCSC]

The largest and best-known industry on the West Side was the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company's gum factory, opened in 1954. Construction of the plant began in 1951 and required the shifting of the Union Ice Company's packing house and the installation of a new spur. Wrigley, meanwhile, was given a long spur that ran behind the plant. This was likely when the so-called Swift Street siding was installed, as well, which once ran from Natural Bridges Drive to Swift Street. As the Wrigley plant was under construction, Birds Eye, another produce company, opened a packing house to the east on Fair Avenue in 1951. A decade later, around 1961, the E. V. Moceo Company opened its own packing house across the tracks from it.

The Thomas J. Lipton Company plant on the West Side, ca 1970. [UCSC]

The prominence of Wrigley and the growing collection of packing houses around Swift Street attracted new industries to the area. The construction firm of Borchers Brothers moved to Fair Avenue in 1964 and established the easternmost spur on the West Side. They did not stay for long, though, and in 1968 the warehouse was taken over by Peerless Portable Metal Buildings, moving from a warehouse on Delaware Avenue. However, it seems this company did not use the spur since it was designated vacant in 1977. More importantly, though, was the construction of the largest plant on the West Side: the Thomas J. Lipton Company's factory, also on Delaware Avenue. This massive complex, which opened in 1969, was below the railroad grade, so a forked pair of spurs curved down from near Swift Street, across a field, and to two separate loading bays on the east side of the plant. In 1970, Mondo Bros. Distributing Company relocated from Amat Street to a warehouse and office on a spur just beside Swift Street, wholesaling beer and wine. This was likely the last new industry to operate off of an industrial spur on the West Side.

The former Davenport Branch with the detached Mondo Bros. spur in the foreground and the Swift Street siding in the distance, November 28, 2017. [Derek Whaley]

From the mid-1970s through to the mid-1990s, patronage of industrial spurs on the West Side plummeted. When the Union Pacific Railroad continuously welded the track in the early 2000s, only the Swift Street siding remained intact. The spurs that once catered to Mondo Bros., Wrigley, and Moceo all remain in place, suggesting they were the last businesses to stop using their spurs, but they have been disconnected from the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. This entire stretch of rail can be followed along the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Stations: Spring Creek

Like all of the other railroad branch lines in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Loma Prieta Branch played host to a few short-lived stations. Spring Creek takes the award for being the shortest, while also being the first and least remembered. In an unusual twist, though, it is one of the easiest station sites within The Forest of Nisene Marks to identify and visit today.

Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive no. 80 pushing a logging train down the grade from Monte Vista (II), ca 1890 [Paul Johnston Collection, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History—colorized using MyHeritage]

Spring Creek’s name refers to the fact that the creek provided drinking and fuel water to the village of Loma Prieta 0.6 miles to the south. Catchments were installed by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company about 440 feet above the village and these provided sufficient pressure that the water supply did not require pumps. Unfortunately, the creek did not provide sufficient water during the summer months, so wells closer to the village were also dug to supplement the supply.

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company’s primary mill at Monte Vista 1.4 miles to the north of Spring Creek burned down on May 13, 1885. While a temporary mill was reopened later that year and continued to operate from the original site, it would be two seasons before a new mill to the south opened to replace the facility. During this time, the company still needed to produce lumber to fulfil its contracts. In the preceding years, cruisers had scouted the forest and identified the southern slopes of China Ridge as a good target once principal harvesting around the mill was completed. With the area immediately around the mill partially inaccessible or damaged in the fire, the lumber company decided to accelerate its plans. The problem was how to get there.

An approach up Spring Creek Gulch seemed the most logical option. Gradual in its descent, the gulch provided a nearly level landing for a train to operate, assuming one could get to this place from across Aptos Creek. Sometime in mid- to late 1886, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company approached Southern Pacific to install a standard-gauge spur across Aptos Creek to Spring Creek Gulch. The railroad accepted, presumably with the lumber company footing the bill.

While the gulch could support the track, there was no way to get to it other than cutting, so workers cut through the sandstone hillside beside the main branch line following the curvature of a natural promontory that jutted into Aptos Creek. A bridge of unknown type was built across Aptos Creek and then the spur continued up into Spring Creek as far as it could go before the track became too steep. The first of several switches was installed at the bottom of this section and the spur then followed the ridgeline to the southwest. This allowed crews to directly load logs onto waiting flatcars from the hillsides above.

Map of the Spring Gulch spur. Drawn by Ronald G. Powell.

The spur connected with the main branch in a way that directed cars to the old mill site, so presumably the plan was to send logs there for processing. Once the new mill opened to the south, this became a more complicated transfer, with trains backing onto the branch before heading south to the new mill. This extra step may have been one of the reasons the line did not last long, though such arrangements were hardly unusual for logging railroads. Spring Creek was designated a freight stop, but no facilities were reported there suggesting it was solely a switch and likely only had a sign marking its status.

The track was extended by the lumber company as needed, eventually switchbacking again and then continuing due west to above Bridge Creek, where another switch brought it back east just above Aptos Creek. At some point, a short switchback was also extended to the east to collect timber from above Aptos Creek near the spur’s bridge. Crews extending the track had to remain below the water cisterns further up Spring Creek Gulch so as not to foul the village’s water supply—the timber above this line was not collected until the early 1900s, when the lumber company harvested the last of the standing trees along Aptos Creek.

The spur at Spring Creek may have only been used for two seasons, after which the track beyond Monte Vista was opened and logging crews moved north. A truncated spur—just the part on the south bank of Aptos Creek—may have continued to function as a holding spur for many years, though there is no evidence for this. The station remained on record in Southern Pacific books until some time in 1890. The Molino Timber Company later erected its incline directly through this section in the mid-1910s, but it did not use any of the previous infrastructure.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0307N, 121.8930W
116.3 miles from San Francisco via Pajaro

The site of Spring Creek station is easy to visit. Follow the Aptos Creek Trail from where it splits from the Aptos Creek Fire Road and cross Aptos Creek. Once you ascend the opposite bank, continue through a deep cut through the hillside. Spring Creek Station was located at the opposite end of this cut, identifiable by the cut to the left that follows the curvature of the promontory out toward Aptos Creek.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Stations: Ellicott

Rancho San Andrés west of Watsonville hosted four Southern Pacific Railroad stations at various times, but the oldest and most versatile was Ellicott near the modern-day junction of Buena Vista Drive and San Andreas Road.

A double-headed Southern Pacific excursion train passing through Ellicott, April 25, 1949. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

Ellicott was established by the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1876 under the name San Andres. By the time Southern Pacific took over the line in 1881, this name had degraded to its common phonetic spelling: San Andreas. Its namesake was a Mexican rancho granted to José Joaquín Castro on November 26, 1833. Several of his descendants remained on the property after his death from smallpox in 1838. At 8,911 acres, Rancho San Andrés was a mid-sized rancho bounded on the north by Ranchos Aptos and Laguna de las Calabesas, the east by Harkins Slough, the south by Watsonville Slough’s outlet, and the west by the Monterey Bay. The area was predominantly ranch- and farmland, with significant sections of forest, a sprawling swamp, and six continuous miles of beach. A two-story adobe home was erected in the 1840s, probably by Joaquín’s son Juan José Castro, on the northeastern edge of the rancho. This survives today as the Castro Adobe State Historic Park. In 1852, Joaquín’s widow, María Antonia Amador, contested his will leading to the first subdivision of the estate. Another lawsuit in 1872 resulted in a second partition, after which the Castro family lost all of their land except for that in Larkin Valley.

The Castro Adobe, early 20th century. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]

The timing of the second lawsuit benefited the Santa Cruz Railroad, which soon acquired a right-of-way that ran the length of the rancho. Grading began in the spring of 1875 and the site of San Andres Station was reached in late September. The station immediately became a shipping center for wheat, grain, and sugar beets, the latter of which were processed at the recently-opened California Beet Sugar Company’s refinery in Soquel. When the first timetable was published in the Sentinel on June 10, 1876, San Andres was an inaugural passenger station. Around the end of September, a depot was erected on the property of Peter Leonard. By this time, the former rancho had evolved into a farming community, the most prominent feature of which was San Andres School, established in 1861 just south of the railroad station at the corner of San Andreas Road and Whisky Hill Road (Buena Vista Drive).

San Andreas School with the Santa Cruz Branch passing beside it, Buena Vista Drive in the distance, and San Andreas Road in the foreground, ca 1935. [UC Santa Cruz]

The name San Andreas for the station did not stick, however. When the Northern Division was restructured in 1891, Southern Pacific decided for unknown reasons to change the name to Ellicott. Why this name particular name was chosen is unclear. There is no record of anyone with that surname living in Santa Cruz County at any point in the nineteenth century. The most likely answer is that it was named after Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland, where in 1830 one of the first railroad stations in the United States was erected for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

View of Ellicott's Mills, Maryland, ca 1854. Lithograph by E. Sachse & Company, Baltimore. [Library of Congress]

Frustratingly little is known about Ellicott as a destination. No later than 1890, a 256-square-foot platform was installed on the south side of the track, presumably to help local farmers load their freight. In 1897, a telephone was noted as being available at Ellicott. The station likely had at least a spur from the beginning, but no additional trackage was recorded until 1905, when a 421-foot-long siding was noted in an employee timetable. A Southern Pacific-owned warehouse was at the station from at least 1902 and may have been there since the time of the Santa Cruz Railroad. John H. Covell had leased the building for three years when, on January 16, 1906, it burned down, destroying hay, straw, and farm tools owned by George Leonard. The railroad did not rebuild the warehouse, but it installed a 12-foot by 21-foot wood frame enclosed passenger shelter in 1911.

Flooding in a field beside newly-repaired Southern Pacific tracks at Ellicott, 1909. [Neil Vodden Collection, Jack Hansen – colorized using MyHeritage]

Despite its new shelter, Ellicott declined in passenger patronage from the 1910s. Its freight customers also declined, though sand gondolas from the Olympia quarries near Felton often parked on the siding in later years. Part of this was due to the creation of stations at Manresa and Cristo just northwest of Ellicott, while the increase usage of trucks to haul out produce grown in the area also greatly contributed to the station’s decline. Regular passenger service along the line ended in 1938 and the passenger shelter at Ellicott was dismantled November 11, 1940, though excursion trains still periodically called at the stop into the early 1960s.

Wide view of Camp McQuaide near Ellicott, 1942. [WorthPoint]

Ellicott had a slight renaissance during World War II as the station point for nearby Camp McQuaide. In 1926, the National Guard had established the facility, named after Spanish¬–American War and World War I veteran chaplain Joseph P. McQuaide who had died two years earlier, on the site of the Capitola Airport near New Brighton. Protests by local poultry farmers as well as residents of the nearby El Salto Resort convinced the National Guard to relocate to the less populated marine terrace south of Ellicott.

National Guardsmen loading blanks into an artillery cannon, ca 1944. [Derek Whaley]

The new facility was built in part through the Works Progress Administration, which was responsible for upgrading San Andreas Road and other local thoroughfares to support military equipment. The base’s airstrip, completed in 1943, was named Allen Field in honor of U.S. Army artilleryman Captain Francis C. Allen, who had died in October 1941 while responding to an ammunition shed fire in Alaska. The camp initially hosted the 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, but throughout the war, over 12,000 Guardsmen passed through the facility, including members of the Signal Corps, Cavalry Medics, and Naval Radar group. As the war neared its end, the base also became a holding camp for soldiers who had broken the law. The base was decommissioned in 1948.

Photo excursionists loitering around a Southern Pacific train at Ellicott, April 3, 1948. [The Santa Cruzian]

The end of the war in 1945 led to the reduction of the siding at Ellicott the next year. Photographic evidence from 1948 suggests that the siding was removed entirely shortly afterwards. Also in 1946, San Andreas School was consolidated into the Freedom School District and the schoolhouse became a private home. Ellicott remained on employee timetables as a station until August 30, 1960, when Southern Pacific petitioned the Public Utilities Commission for abandonment. According to Southern Pacific officials, no local freight customers had used the stop for two years and the newspaper suspected Southern Pacific wanted to avoid paying transit tariffs from the station. Permission for abandonment was granted on December 1, 1960.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.921418, -121.837183
13.4 miles from Santa Cruz Union Depot

The station point for Ellicott was located across from the end of Crest Drive, which was likely originally built as the entry road for railroad visitors to Camp McQuaide, now operating as the Seventh-Day Adventists’ Monterey Bay Academy. The siding was located immediately to the west of Crest Drive, where Peaceful Valley Drive runs parallel to San Andreas Road and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. Indeed, this section of Peaceful Valley Drive likely predates the rest of the road and served as the loading area for vehicles delivering freight to waiting trains. The Santa Cruz-Monterey Bay KOA Holiday Park is located just to the north of Ellicott, while the area east of the station is now the Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

Citations & Credits:

  • Henry Bender, SP72.
  • Donald T. Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, 2nd edition (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • A. J. Hatch, “Official Map of Santa Cruz County” (San Francisco: A.J. Hatch, 1889).
  • Edna E. Kimbro, et al, “Historic Structure Report for Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe State Historic Park” (June 30, 2003).
  • Ronald G. Powell, The Tragedy of Martina Castro: Part 1 of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation (Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2020)
  • Santa Cruz Evening SentinelSentinel, and Sentinel–News.
  • Capt. H. A. Sherwood, “Coast Artillery Replacement Training Center: Camp McQuaide,” Coast Artillery Journal 86:2 (Mar-Apr 1943)
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, corporate records.
  • Sarah Weston, “A Brief Look Back at Camp McQuaide,” The Mid-County Post 17:16 (August 8, 2006).