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If you have information on local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, January 18, 2019

Curiosities: Ben Lomond-Area Resorts

Ben Lomond's transition from a remote lumber mill to a resort community came rather suddenly in the late 1880s and early 1890s, yet surprisingly few resorts actually arose in and around the town. Part of the reason for this was that James Pieronnet Pierce of Pacific Mills still owned much of the land at the beginning. He, therefore, had some control of the town's evolution over the next two decades. Thus, while other towns were more wild in their development and entrepreneurs could experiment with new resorts, Ben Lomond was more like a planned town. The history of its resorts during the era of the railroad reflect this unique growth pattern.

Hotel Ben Lomond (1887-1911)
The first resort in Ben Lomond was the aptly named Hotel Ben Lomond. It was established in 1887 by Thomas L. and Weltha A. Bell, who were tasked by Pierce to found the Ben Lomond Land & Lumber Company and begin the commercial and residential development of the former mill properties. The hotel was situated on the northwest corner of town near where State Route 9 crosses the San Lorenzo River. Originally, it consisted of a two-story structure which hosted thirty-five guest rooms, a dining room, parlor, kitchen, and office. A wide veranda wrapped around the building. Around 1890, a separate club room was also built, which featured in it billiards tables and a small dancing area. Outside on the hotel grounds were four four-room cottages that could house families in the summer months. Below the hotel on the banks of the San Lorenzo River were several changing rooms (called "swimming baths") to allow people to enjoy the river. Fishing and hunting were advertised as key features, while the close connection to the railroad station meant that vacationers could also head to the Santa Cruz Main Beach to enjoy the Monterey Bay.

Colorized postcard of Hotel Ben Lomond at its peak, c. 1895. [CardCow]
The Bells owned the property for just under a decade, but their dreams of a mountain resort outgrew the size of their little hotel complex on the edge of town. In 1896, they started fresh on the south side of town and founded the Hotel Rowardennan. In any case, the couple rarely managed the property personally. From 1890 to 1896, it went through no fewer than six proprietors, including M. A. Farrar (1890), W. K. McCollim and Charles C. Douglas (1891), W. M. Ward (1892), G. L. A. Smith (1893-1894, 1899), and James J. C. Leonard (1895-1898). This was high turnaround for such a successful resort and, in at least two cases, part of the problem was dishonest managers. The Bells sold the resort to D. W. Johnston, who allowed Leonard to remain as proprietor.

The entrance to Hotel Ben Lomond, across the tracks from Ben Lomond Depot off Fairview Avenue, c. 1905.
[Derek R. Whaley]
With the establishment of Hotel Rowardennan, Hotel Ben Lomond had direct competition. In 1896, an arms race began with Rowardennan. Whatever happened at one, the other copied it. In that year, Leonard added sixteen rooms to the hotel, increasing its capacity substantially. The next year, the river was dammed to allow a pool for boating, the dining room was enlarged, and 150 electric lights were installed. Despite the resort only consisting of 24 acres, compared to Rowardennan's 300, it could support 150 guests at maximum capacity.

Colorized postcard of Hotel Ben Lomond, 1907. [eBay]
Despite the competition, Hotel Ben Lomond thrived throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. After two years of ownership under Joseph Ball, who also managed the property, the resort was taken over by Benjamin F. Dickinson, who had run Hotel Rowardennan on behalf of H. Francis Anderson for five years, during which time he founded separately Hotel Dickinson. He retained the latter even while taking over Hotel Ben Lomond. But this seemed too much for Dickinson and he sold the property in 1904 to F. A. Cory, who immediately began upgrading the hotel further with the addition of more guest rooms and a larger office, even going so far to incorporate the business as the Ben Lomond Hotel Company in February 1905. A few years later, though, Cody sold it to E. H. Scott, who in turn sold it to Lydia B. Sowell in 1910. A portion of the property was also parcelled off as a private residence at this time. Disputes arose in 1911 between the two new proprietors, leading to the sale of much of the furniture and other moveable goods at the hotel. It never recovered.

On March 5, 1914, the end finally came for the resort. A fire started by the hotel's proprietor, Walter W. Everton, supported by its owners, C. A. Cooper and Ellsworth Beeson, engulfed the main hotel complex, including the parlors, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms. Only out buildings such as the cottages and club house survived. Everton was arrested for the crime and all three were implicated in arson fires, made for insurance reasons, across the state. The property sat abandoned for fourteen years before becoming the Fairview Manor in 1928. The home now hosts a bed and breakfast.

Kent House (1894)
Located directly to the north of Ben Lomond depot, the Kent House advertised its central locale as its primary feature when it entered the scene in April 1894. Run by Martin B. Matson, a former employee of Hotel Ben Lomond, the hotel did not survive for more than one season. In 1895, Matson was arrested in Los Gatos for trying to pass a forged check.

Hotel Rowardennan and Ben Lomond Lodge (1896-1935)
Not satisfied with the relatively small hotel west of downtown, Thomas and Weltha Bell reincorporated as the Ben Lomond Improvement Company in 1896 and constructed the massive 300-acre Hotel Rowardennan resort, which sprawled across the county road to the south of Ben Lomond and spanned the San Lorenzo River near its confluence with Newell Creek. Unlike Hotel Ben Lomond, at least initially, Rowardennan featured tennis courts, campgrounds, forest paths, and boating along the river. A dam installed in the river created a swimming hole and also powered the hotel's electric lighting.

Colorized postcard of the Hotel Rowardennan lodge, c. 1905. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
As happens so frequently with structures in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the original Hotel Rowardennan burned down in February 1897, only months after it opened, but the Bells rebuilt and the resort continued to grow. It was expanded to include a restaurant, billiards room, indoor dance hall, and a telegraph office. It had all the features any resort could wish for, but its year-round operations were bleeding it dry. In 1899, the Bells relocated to the confluence of Bean Creek and Zayante Creek to build the Arcadia resort (later Mount Hermon). They sold Hotel Rowardennan to H. Francis Anderson, the wealthy British owner of The Highlands (now Highlands County Park), who hired Benjamin and Gertrude Dickinson to manage the hotel operations.

Tennis players on the tennis court at Hotel Rowardennan, c. 1915. [eBay]
The Dickinsons were optimistic and eager to make Rowardennan profitable. Benjamin had been one of Pierce's lumbermen and had worked for Bell at the hotel previously. He also served as the assistant postmaster for Santa Cruz. Within a year of being hired as manager, the Dickinsons acquired the smaller tract of land between the Rowardennan property and the San Lorenzo River to the north, upon which they erected tent cabins and cottages for campers. The Dickinsons continued to manage Rowardennan off and on until 1910, after which the spun-off their adjacent property as Hotel Dickinson.

Main dining room at Hotel Rowardennan, c. 1910. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
The popularity of the picturesque resort began to decline in the 1910s. In June 1926, Anderson sold the property to Robert Barr and W. L. Morton, who renamed the resort Ben Lomond Lodge. By this point, Anderson had already sold off most of the property, leaving Barr and Morton with only twelve acres. It remained a popular dancing and music venue while vacationers continued to stay in the lodge and the surviving cottages scattered above the river. The partners also rebranded the resort an auto camp, designating an area along the river as campgrounds. The property was sold to G. L. James in 1928 and then Clara Warren in 1931. James had attempted to convert the hotel into a girls' school in 1929, but the venture never took off. Warren sold the property to Helene LaCraze in February 1932, but she would prove the final owner.

The San Lorenzo River behind Hotel Rowardennan, c. 1908. [California State Library]
Before the start of the 1932 summer season, the entire lodge and three cottages burned to the ground on April 9. Fourteen cottages survived, as well as several other amenities such as the dance pavilion. These allowed LaCraze to continue operating the resort at an extremely reduced capacity for the next two summers. But tragedy struck again in September 1933 when the club house, which housed a bowling alley, dance hall, and dinner tables, burned down. Only nine cottages survived and with these LaCraze hoped to rebuild the lodge as an entirely new establishment in 1934. But her dreams were shattered when, in February 1934, a third fire demolished the largest of the surviving cottages and damaged two others. The resort manager, C. Clementi, who ran a restaurant on the property, continued to advertise throughout 1935, suggesting something of the original property survived, but by 1937 the remaining buildings were up for sale again.

Final iteration of Rowardennan Lodge, 1952. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Sal Christina purchased the abandoned property in April 1937 and demolished the structures, renaming the property Ben Lomond Lodge Park and subdividing it for sale as vacation rentals and permanent homes. Eight years later, Ben Lomond Lodge was registered as an official business again but little more is said of it in local media thereafter. The Rowardennan Lodge then appeared in 1947 but its relationship to the previous business is unclear and this new iteration disappeared in 1955. The site now hosts a swimming pool and private residences.

Hotel Dickinson and Town & Country Lodge (1910-1967)
In 1904, the Dickinsons purchased a large tract of land north of Hotel Rowardennan upon which they placed some tent cabins and cottages. In March 1910, they finally broke their arrangement with H. Francis Anderson and Hotel Rowardennan and founded Hotel Dickinson on their property. Initially, they simply built a small hotel structure, but in 1914 they erected a large lodge that served as the centerpiece of their resort. The Dickinsons never tried to compete with their neighbors by offering the same level of resort options. Theirs was a simple hotel meant to cater to an increasingly mobile population. In many ways, it was more a roadhouse than resort. Nonetheless, they did manage some amenities, such as the creation of their own swimming lake on the San Lorenzo above that of Hotel Rowardennan. Throughout the 1920s, the lodge served as a popular meeting place in the San Lorenzo Valley. Concerts and galas were held there, as well as the monthly meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce. In 1927, The Cuckoo Clock tea house was opened at the hotel. In fact, with the final destruction of the Ben Lomond Lodge in 1933, Hotel Dickinson briefly became the only high-capacity hotel in the Ben Lomond area.

Entrance to the Hotel Dickinson, c. 1910. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
During the Great Depression, the hotel suffered somewhat from the Works Progress Administration project to redirect State Route 9 through downtown Ben Lomond. The new route of the road passed directly beside the hotel and required the demolition of its tea house, part of the main hotel structure, and a number of aesthetic features. Dickinson and his parneters, Tyler Henshaw and Fred Tubbs, sued the government for damages, arguing the hotel was not adequately compensated. The hotel won the case and was awarded $5,000 in damages. In 1936, Dickinson demolished the cottages at his hotel and sold them for scrap.

The swimming pool behind the Town & Country Lodge, 1952. [Santa Cruz Public Librarires]
Benjamin Dickinson continued to run the hotel until his death on July 29, 1943. The property was then sold by his wife and heirs to Gordon O. Perry in September 1945. Perry ran Hotel Dickinson as a night club as well as hotel, eventually renaming it the Town & Country Lodge in March 1947.  The hotel was sold to Gene Gundel in June 1967 and continued to run as a hotel and cocktail lounge, but when it passed to Bob and Beverly Dakan in 1968, it became a restaurant and night club famous as a home of acid rock. Fire code violations and complaints by the public forced the club to shut down in 1975, after which it was sold as a private home to Rick J. Thomas. It reopened as an antique store called American Heritage Antiques in 1977 under the ownership of Mike Love and Dann Hewit. It has remained an antique store ever since, now called Towne & Country Antiques and Uniques, although the La Placa Family Bakery now sits on a corner of the former lodge.

Lockwood's Grove (1926-1958)
Advertisement for Lockwood's Grove, May 20, 1935.
[Santa Cruz Evening News]
A late entry in the list of local resorts, Wilfred E. Lockwood's Grove only appeared on the scene in the mid-1920s as a rural auto camp. Local newspapers describe the resort as a "cottage colony" that probably sat in the vicinity of the St. Peter & St. Paul (Gold Dome) Orthodox Church. It was a popular convention venue for local mid-sized organizations and had at least ten cottages on the site, as well as a large camp bonfire pit and a swimming pool. Lockwood got a job for Strout Realty in 1941 and began subdividing his property the next year. The remaining resort property he sold in February 1951 to Lee Weatherwax, who sold the 80-acre resort in 1958. It probably became Redwoods on the River, a mobile home village at the end of Brown Gables Road.

Vernal Lodge (1920s-1940)
Vernal Lodge was little more than a four-acre property that its owner, the English immigrant Mary Theresa Dietz, wished to share with campers and vacationers in the summer months. She moved to Ben Lomond in 1897 and opened her tiny resort in the mid-1920s. All mention of the lodge ends in 1940. Dietz died on July 20, 1954.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Stations: Ben Lomond

The development of the settlement that became Ben Lomond took well over three decades to achieve and, compared to many other settlements in the San Lorenzo Valley, had surprisingly little to do with the coming of the railroad. The area is located north of the northern boundary of Rancho Zayante and, as such, it had virtually no development prior to the 1860s. A few rugged farmers established themselves in the area, but otherwise there were no formal roads or services offered north of Felton. The name Ben Lomond was actually given to the mountain to the west of the San Lorenzo Valley, upon which the Scotsman John Burns began the first commercial vineyard in Santa Cruz County. Throughout the 1860s, a number of small lumber enterprises moved into the area that would become the town of Ben Lomond, including Isaac Graham's daughter, Mary E. Marshall, after whom Marshall Creek was named, and Thomas B. Hubbard, the namesake of Hubbard Gulch. On the opposite side of the area, Captain Henry Love, famed for killing the outlaw Joaquín Murieta, owned another small logging operation along the creek that would later bear his name.

A view down Mill Street at Pacific Mills, c. 1885. [Preston Sawyer]
James Pieronnet Pierce purchased Love's property in 1868 and it is with him and his Pacific Manufacturing Company that the true history of Ben Lomond as a settlement begins. Pierce saw the lumber potential provided by the various wooden creeks that all met the San Lorenzo River around floodplain where the river turned abruptly eastward before continuing on its southward journey to the Monterey Bay. But Pierce was patient and harvest other lumber sources while he awaited better access to his land along the river. This opportunity came in 1877, after the San Lorenzo Valley Flume was completed and sufficiently stress-tested.

Pacific Manufacturing Company factory in Santa Clara, c. 1880s. [San José Public Libraries]
At the bend in the river, Pierce built Pacific Mills, a mid-sized lumber mill that ran for almost ten seasons. Pierce's priority was Love Creek, but Hubbard and other local firms also either leased their properties to Pierce or used his large facility at the floodplain to process their felled timber. In Santa Clara, Pierce built a massive planing mill that turned the crudely-cut wood into lumber, window sills, and coffins, among other items, for sale across the West.

Men and a carriage outside the first Ben Lomond depot, c. 1895. [Bruce MacGregor]
In mid-1884, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad first reached Pacific Mills, allowing Pierce to ramp up production of lumber exponentially. Spurs and sidings snaked throughout the mill property, as well as across the San Lorenzo River to the south, up Love Creek to the east, and up Hubbard Gulch to the west. The ultimate extent of his private railroad network is unclear, but remnants found along Love Creek suggest that Pierce built over seven miles of narrow-gauge track, although he probably used horses, oxen, or mules to actually transport felled trees.

Ben Lomond subdivisions as proposed by J.P. Pierce, 1887.
During the summer of 1886, the area around Pacific Mills was logged out and Pierce looked toward selling the acreage. Although Pierce wished to keep the Pacific Mills name, the United States post office disagreed and the name became Ben Lomond in May 1887. Pierce incorporated the Ben Lomond Land & Lumber Company that same year to manage property sales on the 4,000 acres he owned, land that stretched nearly two miles to the north and south and a mile east and west. A Southern Pacific-style combination passenger and freight depot was erected just north of the mill at around this same time, with track passing on either side of the depot. While south of the river, Pierce leased his land to Thomas Bell, who established the Hotel Rowardennan resort complex, within the settlement Pierce separated the land into two large subdivisions he called Sunnyside and Brookside, the former located on the floodplain, the latter along Love Creek.

A passenger train parked beside the new Ben Lomond depot, c. 1910. [Bruce MacGregor]
By the mid-1890s, the town of Ben Lomond was firmly established and the former mill grounds were evolving into downtown. The various spurs up the creeks and around the mill were removed leaving only a short stretch of double track behind the depot and a single run-around track in front of it. Following the San Francisco Earthquake, the track through Ben Lomond was upgraded to standard-gauge in 1908. The next year, the small depot at Ben Lomond was replaced with a structure nearly twice the size and significantly taller, identical to a new station also erected at Boulder Creek.

The San Lorenzo River near Hotel Rowardennan, c. 1908. [California State Library]
Following the end of logging along the Boulder Creek Branch around 1912, Ben Lomond became primarily a tourist destination, with visitors coming from throughout the Bay Area and beyond to visit Hotel Ben Lomond, Hotel Rowardennan, Hotel Dickinson, and other resorts dotting the hills around the town. Significant swimming holes could be found along the river south and west of town, while Hotel Rowardennan also maintained a swimming hole as a part of its resort. Boating and fishing were popular at this time, as were hunting and camping. Ben Lomond produced few freight goods except some fruits grown along Love Creek and north of town.

Postcard of a McKeen motor car parked outside Ben Lomond depot, 1913. [The Valley Press]
Increasing automobile traffic beginning in the late 1910s spelled the doom of the Boulder Creek Branch in general and the station at Ben Lomond in particular. Fewer people took the train to the town, favoring instead to drive there from the Bay Area. A lack of freight customers at Ben Lomond made this problem more acute. Southern Pacific attempted to limit their losses in the mid-1910s by trying McKeen Company motor cars on the line, but these steel tanks proved unable to navigate the turns and grades of the branch line and were quickly moved elsewhere. Traffic continued to fall throughout the 1920s until only a single mixed train ran daily. Passenger service was ultimately ended at the end of 1930, although the tracks remained an active freight line until January 1934.

Mill Street in downtown Ben Lomond soon after the abandonment of the railroad, c. 1940. 
When the tracks were removed later that year, Santa Cruz County planners decided it was a good opportunity to redirect the county road through downtown Ben Lomond. Prior to 1934, through traffic bypassed the town by remaining on the west side of the San Lorenzo River, but a new road, supported with two new bridges built by the Works Progress Administration, was built along the northern edge of downtown, paralleling the old route of the railroad, although never overlapping it. Over the following years, businesses, homes, and the town's fire department were built atop the railroad grade, the remnants of which fell into obscurity.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0899N, 122.0902W

The site of Ben Lomond depot is currently occupied by the Shell gas station at the corner of California State Route 9 and Main Street. The ultimate fates of both depots remains open for debate. The older depot may now serve as a heavily-modified private residence behind the gas station, but the second depot appears to have been demolished. The right-of-way to the east passes through the Scarborough Home Center parking lot, Henfling's Tavern, and the Ben Lomond Fire Department before crossing Love Creek Road and Love Creek on its way to Glen Arbor. To the west, the right-of-way runs through Spanky's and three residences before passing behind the Tyrolean Inn and over the San Lorenzo River, where remnants of the former bridge there can still be discerned on either bank. Nothing else survives of the station at Ben Lomond.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Stations: Newell Mill

The Southern Pacific Railroad's Newell Creek Branch to the south of Ben Lomond had only one unique stop: Newell Mill. However, much like the Loma Prieta mill near Aptos, this mill on Newell Creek justified the railroad's costs in building the branch and its continued existence over the next decade.

In 1903, Timothy Hopkins, treasurer of Southern Pacific, joined forces with A. C. Bassett, president of the California Timber Company, which was formed via the consolidation of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company (once owned by James Dougherty) and the Big Basin Lumber Company (previously owned by Henry L. Middleton). Their goal: harvest the old growth redwood that still sat within the upper Newell Creek basin. Hopkins convinced the railroad to build the 1.5-mile-long branch line while the California Timber Company built the mill and all extra trackage and roads required to get the felled timber to the mill pond. Bassett brought most of his machinery from the now-abandoned Dougherty mill north of Boulder Creek in the summer of 1904. In May 1905, Hopkins delivered on his promise and the branch line to the mill was completed. Only one small bridge was required along the line to cross the creek. In anticipation of the future upgrade, the branch line was triple-railed to support both narrow- and standard-gauge rolling stock.

Newell Mill alongside Newell Creek, c. 1906. Note the creek to the left of the mill and the railroad tracks continuing beside the mill and up the creek. [Bruce MacGregor]
The mill opened on May 1, 1905, averaging an output of 60,000 board feet of lumber per day. The tiny Felton locomotive, nicknamed the Dinky, which originally ran on the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad line before being purchased by the Doughertys around 1887, was transferred to the Newell Mill where it operated in the Newell Basin on narrow-gauge tracks installed by lumber crews. Unlike the branch line to the mill, the miles of tracks installed north of the mill were privately-owned and undoubtedly crudely made, with several bridges built to cross the creek and various gullies and feeder streams. In October, a fire burned down the entire mill. Fortunately, most of the timber was still soaking in the mill pond at the time and very little actually was lost. Bassett rebuilt the mill the following February and resumed operations. 

Lumbermen waiting on a narrow-gauge flatcar for a pickup by a locomotive. [Rick Hamman]
The April 18, 1906, earthquake should have catapulted Newell Creek into peak production to support the San Francisco rebuild, but several issues slowed down operations. The closure of the mountain route for three years meant that lumber either had to be shipped out along the coast via Pajaro or by ship at Santa Cruz. Southern Pacific also took the closure of the route as an opportunity to finally upgrade its trackage to standard-gauge, which occurred along the Boulder Creek Branch in 1908. Prior to this time, all of the San Lorenzo Valley's trackage had been narrow-gauge, but the upgrading meant that the tracks along Newell Creek were now the only narrow-gauge tracks in the valley. The California Timber Company rushed to convince Southern Pacific to send to its mill all remaining narrow-gauge rolling stock before pulling out the third rail. This allowed the mill to continue to optimise its harvesting operations in the hills.

Kitty sitting on a triple-railed track in the Newell Creek property, c. 1907. [Rick Hamman]
The Dinky was no longer as capable as it had once been and in 1910 the lumber company replaced it with the Kitty, a saddleback locomotive purchased from the Molino Timber Company. The Dinky returned to the narrow-gauge track north of Boulder Creek where it was used in subdivision promotions around Wildwood. With the Kitty, harvesting operations on Newell Creek were able to expand even faster than anticipated. By 1911, 3.5 miles of track meandered up to near the headwaters of the creek, crossing over the creek five times before reaching the end.

Lumbermen posing outside the Newell Mill, c. 1906. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
By the end of 1912, the basin was completely bereft of profitable old growth timber. The mill shut down early the next year and was subsequently dismantled, the machinery and Kitty shipped elsewhere. The tracks north of the Newell Mill were probably scrapped in the late 1910s for use by the military during World War I, while the main branch to Newell Junction languished until at least 1920.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0987N, 122.0751W

Today, nearly all of the original California Timber Company grounds are submerged under the Santa Cruz City Water District reservoir known as Loch Lomond, which is accessible to the public seasonally via Lompico. The dam was built in 1960 and the valley flooded three years later. It currently provides much of the drinking water for the City of Santa Cruz. Little survives of the narrow-gauge right-of-way because of the inundation, although remnants do exist near the top of the lake. The railroad right-of-way to the Newell Mill mostly parallels Newell Creek Road just to the east, passing through what are now private homes. The site of the mill sits just below the earthen dam at the end of the road and is inaccessible to the public.

  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Stations: Newell Junction

When Addison Newell established his homestead along a remote tributary of the San Lorenzo River in 1867, he likely did not anticipate how long his name would be remembered. Indeed, he did not stay long in the area. In 1875, he sold the property and moved away, leaving his name to the little tributary stream, Newell Creek. Soon afterwards, the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company erected its v-flume up the valley. At Newell Creek, it installed a feeder flume to keep the water flowing in the main flume on its way to Felton. The area around this junction became a gathering point for local residents when a school was established near here as Newell Creek School in 1876. By 1881, the area also supported a shingle and box mill operated by John Peter Houck, an operation that would at times lend the name "Shingle Springs" to Newell Creek.

The Felton & Pescadero Railroad changed the situation at and for Newell Creek. Demolishing the flume, the railroad erected a line to Boulder Creek that had to cross Newell Creek before reaching Pacific Mills (Ben Lomond). In fact, Newell Creek was its first major fluvial crossing. Because of the nearby school, the railroad established a siding at Newell Creek that was appropriately named the Newell Creek School House Siding. Whether the siding was actually used to shuttle in nearby school children or was used for freight is unknown. When the Southern Pacific Railroad took over in 1887, Newell Creek did not appear on its timetables and its very status during this period remains unclear.

The passenger shelter at Newell Junction, c. 1920. [The Valley Press]
In 1891, Newell Creek reappeared in Southern Pacific station books as a freight stop. By 1895, a platform and spur were also available at the stop. This likely reflected the future plans of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, which increasingly owned the entirety of the Newell Creek valley, which included hundreds of acres of prime old-growth redwood. By 1902, Newell Creek was the only significant watershed in the San Lorenzo Valley that had not been harvested. But that soon changed.

The California Timber Company succeeded the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company in 1903 and it shifted operations from above Boulder Creek to Newell Creek. To support this venture, the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed one of its shortest branch lines, the 1.5-mile-long Newell Creek Branch, which ran between Newell Creek and the Newell Mill. Because the Boulder Creek Branch was scheduled for broad-gauging, the Newell Creek Branch was built dual-gauge. This not only allowed for it to be upgraded immediately, but it made it easier for the California Timber Company's narrow-gauge trains to use the mill trackage efficiently.

Newell Creek station became Newell Junction in 1908, once standard-gauging was completed, and it retained this name for the remainder of its existence. Around this same time, a small shelter was installed beside the switch to allow passengers to flag passing trains. This shelter was identical to the one at Brackney. Whether a freight platform remained after standard-gauging is unknown, but it seems unlikely since the spur at Newell Junction was removed at this time.

As a functioning branch line, the Newell Creek Branch ceased all or most operations by 1913, although the tracks remained in place until 1920, when the branch was decommissioned. Nonetheless, Newell Junction retained its name as a junction, despite the branch having disappeared. A remnant of the branch remained as a spur until 1930, although the purpose of this spur is unknown. The station remained available as a flag-stop until the end of passenger service at the end of 1930, after which the entire line only serviced freight. The Boulder Creek Branch was abandoned on January 25, 1934, at which time Newell Junction ceased to exist. The fate of the station shelter and sign remains unknown.

The approximate location of Newell Junction today. [Google Street View]
Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.0838N, 122.0815W

The site of Newell Junction is at the bottom of Newell Creek Road at its junction with Glen Arbor Road, although it is unclear where precisely the shelter was located. The Boulder Creek Branch right-of-way parallels Glen Arbor Road to the south and west in this area, while Newell Creek Road closely matches or parallels the route of the former Newell Creek Branch. No remnant of Newell Junction survives, but Addison Newell's legacy continues through street names and Newell Creek.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Stations: Glen Arbor

Glen Arbor was never a booming metropolis and its station was never any more than a rustic, although undeniably large, shelter in the eyes of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Established in 1911, Glen Arbor was the third in a quartet of small stations set up after standard-gauging was completed in 1908, the others being Siesta in 1909, Bonny Brae in 1912, and Phillipshurst in 1913. There was great anticipation surrounding the establishment of Glen Arbor. Located on the east bank of the San Lorenzo River midway between Felton and Ben Lomond, the subdivision was built upon a large and recently deforested tract that had seen little use other than some grazing and farming activity. Part of the problem was isolation: the river cut a deep moat on two sides, while a steep, sandy hillside flanked the subdivision to the east, leaving the north as the only escape route. The only roads that could reach the tract were a 1.5-mile-long road from Ben Lomond or a longer road to Olympia, north of Felton. Both went through rugged, industrial country. Fortunately, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad had forged a path directly through this area back in 1885, and Southern Pacific still maintained the route in 1909, when the Glen Arbor subdivision was first proposed.

Glen Arbor, looking north-east, c. 1910s. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
J. W. Wright purchased the property that would become Glen Arbor from the Rountree and Brackney families. He saw the area as his chance to make a pleasure city—i.e., a resort community—in the San Lorenzo Valley. Jumping on the Scots Gaelic-themed names of the area, he called the subdivision Glen Arbor, which means "a shady place among the trees." And while there certainly were trees along the riverbank, the plateau upon which the subdivision was established appears from photographs to be relatively barren. Nonetheless, Wright, via his property manager L. W. Coffee, set off immediately to market the subdivision to wealthy Bay Area elite.

A summer home built in the Glen Arbor subdivision, c. 1920s. [George Pepper]
Coffee parcelled off a stunning 600 lots as the core of the development, and government records of the subdivision show an impressive breakdown with dozens of homes lining Riverton Avenue (later Glen Arbor Road), Hermosa Ave., Fernwood Ave., Oak Ave., Fremont Ave., Caledonium Ave., and Arden Ave., many of which would prove near-impossible to build upon due to geographical constraints. An advertisement from June 1909 notes that riverside lots cost $50 while lots within the subdivision cost $30. Lots sold surprisingly fast, with nearly 200 allegedly sold by the date of the June advertisement. Coffee brought in hundreds of visitors each week throughout the spring and summer of 1909 to sell lots. He ran barbecues and picnics, offered free railroad tickets to prospective buyers and their families, and generally feted them as best he could. 

Glen Arbor hosting a passenger train, as viewed from the Coffee residence that looked directly west down Riverton Avenue, late 1910s. [Bruce MacGregor]
The newspaper advertisement shows Glen Arbor's signature station already in place, suggesting the building was established two years before the railroad officially registered the stop in 1911. The structure served many purposes and was built by Wright, not by the railroad. Eaves outside beside the railroad tracks acted as a passenger shelter, while the inside of the building acted as a community center and post office, the latter only operating from 1914 to 1915. Despite its impressive size, the station at Glen Arbor only ever served as a flag-stop—it had no railroad staff and did not sell tickets. However, the station did support a 297-foot-long spur, which ran beside the tracks to the south (between modern Glen Arbor Road and Oak Avenue). The spur had a short platform for loading goods and a shed was erected atop the platform, probably to hold supplies used in loading cargo. What purpose this spur served is unclear since this subdivision was seasonally residential, but it may have supported a small fruit industry or a cattle ranch in the hills above the subdivision.

Site of Glen Arbor's station, 2013. [Google Street View]

By the end of 1909, most of the subdivision was sold and the task of actually developing the properties began. People were slow to build, however, and, over time, parcels were merged into larger lots and permanent, year-round dwellings were erected, notably immediately before World War II. The railroad stop remained on timetables until the decommissioning of the branch in January 1934, although passenger service was terminated at the end of 1930. The station was repurposed as a private residence for a while, but was replaced in 1947 with a more modern dwelling. Soon after the abandonment of the railroad line, a bridge was installed over the San Lorenzo River, finally connecting the residents of Glen Arbor directly to the main highway artery of the valley. 

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0744N, 122.0814W (8121 Fremont Avenue)

A home still occupies the site of Glen Arbor Station while the right-of-way itself is partially overgrown and partially Lorenzo Way, located between Hermosa Avenue and Fremont Avenue along Glen Arbor Road near the bridge over the San Lorenzo River. Nothing remains of the station itself and the even the fate of the station sign is unknown. The right-of-way to the south continues down the poorly-defined Schaaf Road, which is today interrupted by fences and two homes built atop the right-of-way. There is currently no way other than trespassing across private residences to connect to the undeveloped right-of-way north of Brackney. North from Glen Arbor, the right-of-way continues paralleling Lorenzo Way until crossing Arden Avenue. From this point, the railroad passed through the properties on the east side of Lorenzo Way as the road curves around the San Lorenzo River across from Highlands Park. Where Lorenzo Way ends, the route eventually takes a sharp turn east, passing through ill-defined properties, before meeting Glen Arbor Road just north of the Quail Hollow Road junction. It continues running on the west side of Glen Arbor Road until finally crossing the road just before Love Creek.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Stations: Brackney

It must be stated from the start that this is not solely the story of Brackney station, but rather three stations that all appeared at or near the same site within the Brackney subdivision located to the east of California State Route 9 between Felton and Ben Lomond. The Brackney area is unique within the San Lorenzo Valley in that it is one of only two places where the state highway meanders onto the east bank of the San Lorenzo River (the other locale is Ben Lomond). But the river at Brackney is also unusual in that it veers dramatically to the west for a brief moment, creating a high plateau at the foot of the adjacent hill. Steep hillsides fall to the river on either side of this plateau, confining it and keeping it separate from any other place in the valley.

E. J. Rubottom and Will Glass, relatives
and friends who journeyed together during
the Yukon Gold Rush. []
The Felton & Pescadero Railroad was not afraid of the Brackney area when it first graded through here in 1884, but it should have been. The San Lorenzo Valley Flume had wisely built through the center of the plateau. This still required high bridges over the river, but the flume did not also have to contend with landslides. The railroad, undoubtedly seeking to avoid the construction of expensive bridges, took a more dangerous course, drilling and mining a right-of-way along the steep eastern cliffs above the river, cliffs that were proven to be made of sandstone rather than granite. Several graders died while cutting through this section and it remained the most problematic portion of the route to Boulder Creek throughout its fifty years. Even today, this portion of the former right-of-way shows signs of old and recent slides and the roadbed has risen dramatically as a result.

When the grading crews first entered this section, they passed through the lands of Emphrey Jones Rubottom, who had purchased the lands in 1878 from his stepfather, Almus L. Rountree. It is not entirely clear what Rubottom and his family used the land for, although it seems certain that some of it was used for farming since Rubottom filed several patents for farming equipment during this time. Whether Rubottom was granted an unregistered train stop by the Felton & Pescadero Railroad is unknown, and the Southern Pacific Railroad only registered such a station in 1890. It was around this time—and the station is probably a result of this—that Rubottom and his half-brother John Almus Rountree began harvesting tan oak and timber on their two properties, which collectively occupied the entire plateau. How long the operation lasted is unknown, but the stop did appear briefly in 1907 on railroad timetables suggesting it was still active at that time. However, when the tracks were standard-gauged early the next year, Rubottom's stop disappeared.

At the time Rubottom was removed from station books, another stop appeared named Pettis. Employee timetables appear to have mistakenly situated this at the site of Riverside because it subsequently appeared further to the north in the Brackney area. Pettis was only ever listed as an Additional Stop and nothing is known about it. It had no spur or siding and must have simply been a flag-stop for locals in the Brackney area. Even the name—Pettis—is of unknown origin although it likely relates to a local property owner, possibly a family that briefly purchased Rubottom's property.

The history of the area becomes much more clear from this point forward. Alonzo L. Brackney had lived in Felton since 1889, having moved from Pennsylvania originally. He owned land immediately north of Rubottom's tract and when Rubottom died in 1913, Brackney purchased the rest of the plateau from his heirs. Like so many other aspiring entrepreneurs in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Brackney hoped to develop a small resort on his property and it was ideally situated and appropriately rustic for such a purpose. He named the resort Camp Brackney and installed cottages and tent cabins throughout the property. The proprietors of the Hotel Rowardennan in Ben Lomond managed the resort.

The sharp turn at Brackney before heading around the bend toward Glen Arbor, c. 1920. [The Valley Press]
At Brackney, Southern Pacific kept things simple. With the tracks now upgraded and the former spur removed, only a small shelter was needed at Brackney—something that would protect people waiting to board the train but not require anything more. The small cross-shaped shelter supported three sets of benches beneath a roof that had "Brackney" emblazoned on a sign atop it, while passengers would have to use a flag to wave down a passing train. An identical-styled structure was used at Newell Junction, further to the north, and at Asilomar on the Monterey Branch. Because of the sharp turn on the approach through Brackney, a check rail was installed to avoid the wheels from slipping.

The junction where once stood Brackney station. The right-of-way continues to the left down the service road. The shelter was situated just beyond the gate on the left. [Derek R. Whaley]
Brackney never proved itself as a successful resort and, from the beginning, Brackney began parceling out his property for use as a seasonal homes. Out of the way along a route declining in use and popularity, Brackney fully embraced its status as a housing subdivision in the late 1920s. Brackney himself had hoped to start an entirely new small township on his land, which he called "San Lorenzo," but the new homeowners continued on with just Brackney. While a few businesses did spring up both beside the railroad tracks and on either side of Highway 9, no formal township formed on the plateau. The station remained on timetables until the line shut down in January 1934, although all passenger service ceased at the end of 1930. The remnant right-of-way was purchased by the City of Santa Cruz Water Department probably in the late 1950s as a part of their Newell Creek reservoir project and it continues to be used as a service road today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0685N, 122.0786W

The site of Brackney is near the top of Brackney Road off State Route 9. Just after the road turns south, it splits between a driveway and a Santa Cruz Water Department road. The latter marks the former railroad right-of-way and this junction point is the approximate location of the former station shelter. Throughout the Brackney area, the right-of-way survives and can be generally hiked upon, with caution, although it is strictly-speaking water district land. To the south, the former route wraps around the San Lorenzo River, passing through a cut, before ending at the back gate of the Rose Acres Tree Farm. To the north, the road briefly parallels Brackney Road before passing through two gates and on around the San Lorenzo River, ultimately ending at the fence of a home on Fremont Avenue in Glen Arbor. Further exploration is impossible in either direction without trespassing on private property.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, December 7, 2018

Stations: Bonny Brae

The seven-mile-long railroad route between Felton and Boulder Creek hosted a surprising number of stations over the fifty years that the branch line existed. An early stop, established in 1890, was Kent's Spur, located only a mile north of Felton. Brothers James Edgar and Lewis Alphonse Kent were lumbermen in search of timber. In 1889, they purchased a tract of forestland on the east bank of the San Lorenzo River just north of town and soon they asked the railroad to install a spur so they could load flatcars with logs and split stuff. The railroad obliged, although the length, direction, or position of the spur remain a mystery. From the start, the operation at Kent's Spur was small and intended to be short-lived. The Kent brothers finished harvesting the land in 1893, after which the stop disappeared from station books. Half the land was sold to Silas H. Baker, and Baker picked up the other half two years later after the Kents' homes were destroyed in a fire and they moved to Santa Cruz.

A scene from Rideout Ranch along the right-of-way, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
Around 1901, the Bakers sold the land to Ida E. Rountree, a major property owner in the area, who in turn sold a large portion of it to Phebe Abbot Rideout in 1906. Rideout founded the Rose Acres Ranch at the site and operated it until 1932. On the remainder of Rountree's land, between the railroad tracks and the river, a tiny subdivision was developed in 1912 named Bonny Brae, a companion to the Brookside subdivision across the river. The name Bonny Brae played on the Scottish theme of the San Lorenzo Valley and simply meant "pretty hillside" in Scotch English.

A man standing beside the horse paddock at Rideout Ranch, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
The property developers convinced the Southern Pacific Railroad to provide passenger access to Bonny Brae and Brookside and the railroad once again obliged, establishing Bonny Brae Station in 1913. The location was only ever a flag-stop and how much it was used is open to debate. There were only around a dozen parcels plotted out along the tracks here, with two dozen more across the river. Like many other stops along the branch, there was no station shelter or platform at Bonny Brae, just a sign beside the tracks. Unfortunately, no photographs survive of the station.

Rideout Ranch main house, c. 1912. [Carol Harrington]
Bonny Brae lingered on railroad timetables until the end of the Boulder Creek Branch in January 1934, although passenger service ceased no later than December 28, 1930. The right-of-way became Rose Acres Lane, although San Lorenzo Way remained in place to cater to the homes of the Bonny Brae subdivision. Rideout Ranch was purchased by George Knight who turned it into Rose Acres Dude Ranch & Riding Stables in 1937. At the northern end of Rose Acres Lane, Ron Ballauf purchased half of the Rideout property to establish Rose Acres Farm, which still grows Douglas fir trees for Christmas today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0582N, 122.0755W

The housing subdivisions that prompted the establishment of Bonny Brae flag-stop remain on either side of the San Lorenzo River, sandwiched between California State Route 9 and San Lorenzo Way (accessible via an aging 1912 bridge). The southern end of Rideout Ranch is now called Daybreak Camp while the northern end is still owned by the Ballauf family.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Stations: Riverside

When the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad arrived in Felton in 1875, it was situated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. On the east bank, the area was mostly just pasture land—former forest harvested decades earlier by Isaac Graham's logging crews during the days of Mexican California. By 1873, the plot of land beside the river ford was owned by John S. Hager, who decided to build a picnic ground in the low flat created at the confluence of Zayante Creek and the river. In 1881, the location was named Camp Felton, just in time for the arrival of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad, the right-of-way for which passed directly beside the picnic area.

On June 17, 1880, the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel published a short commentary noting the merits of the area as a picnic grounds:
Within a few hundred yards of Felton, just across the San Lorenzo and between it and the Zayante, lies the prettiest spot for picnics and camping parties on the whole San Lorenzo. It has been used by the people of Felton to picnic at for many years, and the grove has been partially cleared of underbrush, avenues and winding walks have been cut, rustic seats put in many places, tables and benches to accommodate a great many put up, a large dancing floor laid, and many other things done to make it pleasant and comfortable, but the place has been known to few besides the Feltonites. Now that the S. P. C. R. R. is in running order, picnic parties have discovered this lovely retreat, and it is occupied from a party from San Francisco numbering some two hundred, who propose to stay some time. They are very comfortably settled, having sent down in advance three car-loads of freight, with men to put up tents and arrange things for housekeeping. They have thirty four white tents among the green trees, and the camp has a very cheerful, animated look. There is a large majority of women and children during the week, but on Saturdays the husbands and fathers come down to spend Monday with their families in the quiet shades of this most beautiful grove. They spend their time hunting, fishing, bathing, gathering ferns, flowers, etc., and in visiting the different lime kilns, mills, big trees — which are only a short mile from camp — go to Santa Cruz and take a plunge in the ocean and come back on the next train.
George Treat, a prominent Felton entrepreneur and lumberman, took over Camp Felton in 1885 and helped develop it into a seasonal retreat. He advertised widely to attract seasonal campers, and the nearby Felton Station was certainly a draw. But other more appealing camping and picnic areas throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains increasingly offered more attractions. Treat leased the property to Joseph Ball in 1891, who renamed the place Maple Grove even though there were no maple trees there. It was under Ball's proprietorship that the Felton Covered Bridge was completed in 1893, allowing the residents of Felton to directly access the picnic area without needing to ford or wade through the river.

An oxen team hauling a log alongside the tracks near Maple Grove, c. 1890s. [The Valley Press]
The direct railroad history of the location begins in 1903, when the Southern Pacific Railroad added a flag-stop for the picnic area under the uninspired name River Station. This stop was intended exclusively for passengers visiting Maple Grove and it appears that no formal structures were ever installed there by the railroad. Just before the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the stop was renamed Riverside and placed on the formal timetable, albeit without scheduled stops. Curiously, at the same time, the picnic grounds were officially renamed Felton Grove and Felton Baseball Ground, under the management of Glass and Draper. It can be assumed that the baseball diamond was installed at around this time. The station remained unchanged until the line was standard-gauged in 1908.

Felton Baseball Grounds beside the railroad right-of-way, c. 1910s. The large, shaggy tree is still standing within the parking lot of Felton Bible Church. [Vicki Wees]
The removal of the Felton Branch and its replacement with a spur across the San Lorenzo River beside the covered bridge seems to have marked the end of Riverside. In 1909, it was seemingly renamed Pettis, but the next year, that location appeared at the site of Brackney further down the Boulder Creek Branch suggesting the renaming was simply an editorial mistake. River Station and Riverside arose during a time that saw a massive expansion of excursion services and summer picnic trains throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, so it is perhaps not surprising that it appeared when it did. However, its rapid disappearance is odd but may be tied to subsequent developments at the site.

In 1910, David and Alice Goulding were running the Felton Grove Planing Mill & Lumber Yard at or near the site, suggesting the picnic area had disappeared by this year. Little else is known about the site throughout the 1910s including whether or not the mill and yard utilized any railroad spur. Ownership may have changed hands several times, and the property itself may have been subdivided.

Felton Grove Auto Camp in the mid-1920s. [Ronnie Trubek]

Things changed dramatically on May 30, 1922, when the Felton Grove Auto Camp opened its doors on the property. No longer dependent on the railroad, the campground now catered exclusively to auto campers who came with camper trailers and tents. The resort included tennis and basketball courts, a playground for children, tent cabins for families, and scenic paths alongside the river and Zayante Creek. The San Lorenzo River was also seasonally dammed to create an impressive swimming hole just downstream from the covered bridge. In 1937, a new central building that doubled as a dance hall was erected near Felton Grove's entrance on Park Avenue.

The entrance to Felton Grove Auto Camp, 1937, with the railroad tracks to Old Felton in the foreground. [Ronnie Trubek]
Despite some minor improvements throughout the 1930s, Felton Grove Auto Camp was hit hard by the Great Depression. All formal newspaper advertising for the park appears to have ended in 1932. In 1934, the resort became a summer camp for St. Joseph's Military Academy of Belmont, who continued to use the location until at earliest 1938. A bad winter storm in 1938 severely damaged parts of the resort, but the resort reopened in May of that year with a large season-opening dance. For the remainder of the 1930s until the start of World War II, Felton Grove Resort served as a popular evening retreat for locals and visitors alike, even while the military academy students continued to camp outside each summer. Floods could not permanently sway the resolve of the resort owners and visitors. The late 1930s was the heyday of Felton Grove Resort, but then the war came and nobody had time to vacation anymore.

Felton Grove subdivision, circa 1928. The railroad right-of-way can be seen at the top of this map. [Ronnie Trubek]
World War II changed the demographics of the San Lorenzo Valley dramatically and also altered the vacation patterns of Americans. As such, small resorts such as Felton Grove could not compete with larger or more rugged campsites. By the mid-1940s, Felton Grove began evolving into a year-round residential subdivision. Amenities originally offered by the auto camp such as dancing and sporting activities continued through the 1950s, but then faded away as Felton itself evolved into the semi-rural commuter suburb that it is today.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.0508N, 122.0679W

It is not entirely clear where the location of Riverside was, but it was probably near today's Felton Covered Bridge County Park or the adjacent Valero gas station, which is approximately the point where the Boulder Creek Branch crossed Graham Hill Road. In any case, there were never any structures associated with this stop and, as such, nothing of it survives to the present.

Felton Grove still does survive, although not precisely in the manner it had originally been conceived. The dance hall still sits behind the laundromat on Park Avenue. All of the original camper spots have been converted into residential properties, but terrible winter storms remind residents that the area was only ever intended for seasonal enjoyment, not year-round habitation. The former railroad right-of-way to Old Felton has since been converted into another stretch of squarish properties, but these are not formally a part of the Felton Grove subdivision and were probably parcelled off in the late 1940s.

Citations & Credits: 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Curiosities: San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company

One of the more curious oddities in Santa Cruz County history was the lumber flume that ran for approximately twelve miles from the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River down the San Lorenzo Valley to Felton, where it interchanged with the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. Incorporated as the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company in August 1874, the company intended to cut timber at numerous sites along the San Lorenzo River and its tributaries, drag these cut logs to a large lumber mill near the confluence of King's Creek and the San Lorenzo River, and then float the lumber down the flume to Felton, where it would be loaded onto trains and shipped out on waiting steamships moored at the Railroad Wharf.

People standing atop a trestle along the San Lorenzo Valley flume, c. 1877. Photo by R. E. Wood.
[California State Library]
Construction began in early 1875 and took most of the year to complete. The mill north of Boulder Creek was built first. From here, prefabricated sections of v-flume were constructed and floated down the flume to the end, where carpenters appended them onto the existing flume. This process was continued until the flume reached Felton. Because the flume required a consistent downward grade to avoid pooling, shallow spots, or areas of varying water speed, the flume had to be relatively straight and only changed in elevation by five inches for every eighty feet. To ensure this consistent slope, large redwood bridges were built over the San Lorenzo River and other streams, some of which as beautiful arches such as one at Brackney. To ensure a steady supply of water, feeder flumes were installed up Feeder Creek, King's Creek, Two Bar Creek, Bear Creek, Boulder Creek, Clear Creek, Love Creek, Newell Creek, and other tributaries. The lack of such tributaries south of Felton was the primary reason why the flume company decided to build a railroad for the final seven miles of the route to Santa Cruz.

One of the arch bridges over the San Lorenzo River along the flume, c. 1877.
[Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The flume was an immediate success. In addition to the flume company's mille, other mills popped up all along the flume's course, including the Peery mill in Lorenzo, Boulder Mill south of Lorenzo, Pacific Mills (Ben Lomond), and smaller operations outside of Felton. But with these additional lumber patrons, the flume began to strain. Soon after it was completed, the company realised that a 40-inch-wide v-flume could not sustain the valley's production of lumber. To make matters worse, the flume was leaky and the water supply ran dangerously low during the summer months, which was traditionally the high season for the lumber industry. A disastrous winter storm in early 1876 also severely damaged both the flume and railroad line, and storms continued to impact both in later years. In 1878, the flume company even incorporated a new subsidiary railroad with the intention of replacing the flume with a railroad line through the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Jose, although this may have just been a publicity stunt. Despite all of this, the flume served as the primary conduit of lumber between the upper San Lorenzo Valley and Felton from October 1875 to 1885.

People posing beside and atop the flume, c. 1877. Photo by R. E. Wood.
[California State Library]
The flume was also popular with locals for personal reasons. From the very beginning, a sport known as flume-riding came into vogue. People crafted various boats and ride them down the flume when lumber was not floating down the line. This concept was first trialled by the flume company itself in 1875, when it used the flume to ship its work camp to a new site via improvised boats. Locals also often used the 12-inch boardwalk that ran along the entire length of the flume as a thoroughfare, despite the fact that it was intended for use only by flume walkers (people who ensured the lumber didn't get piled up) and that there was no guardrail to protect people from falling off (which happened several times).

Flume walkers high up on the flume, c. 1880. [Images of America: Santa Cruz, California]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad acquired the entire flume operation in 1879 when it leased the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. However, management and operation of the flume likely remained with the original owners since the railroad had other priorities. However, a combination of increased demand and a decreased supply of water in the early 1880s forced the railroad company to direct their attention to the aging flume. In June 1883, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was incorporated as a subsidiary to replace the flume in its entirety, with priority given to the seven miles between Felton and Lorenzo. Construction began late that year, but the flume continued to operate throughout this time. The narrow-gauge railroad route to Boulder Creek (which was chosen as a better site than Lorenzo) was completed in April 1885 and the demolition of the flume along the route was completed in short order.

The flume terminus at Boulder Creek, c. 1886. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
For another three years, a stub flume continued to exist, hauling lumber from the mill two miles north of town to the main freight yard at Boulder Creek. It was a short and temporary solution. The Felton & Pescadero had been incorporated ostensibly to connect the two namesake towns while simultaneously tapping the resources of the upper San Lorenzo Valley, Big Basin, and the Pescadero watershed. For whatever reason, this never happened. The South Pacific Coast Railroad consolidated all of its subsidiaries in early 1887 and reincorporated as the South Pacific Coast Railway, only to almost immediately lease its entire operations to the Southern Pacific Railroad. From this point forward, it seems likely that the flume passed to private hands, probably those of James F. Cunningham, a valley entrepreneur, who appears as the owner of the flume mill from this time. In 1888, the flume was replaced with a logging railroad owned by the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, although some of the small feeder flumes may have continued to exist for several more years.

Almost no verifiable remnants of the flume survives today, although many rumors persist including that the Felton freight depot was built from recycled flume boards and that dams that supported the feeder flumes still survive along Bear and Boulder Creeks. Fortunately, many stereographs were taken of the flume by Romanzo E. Wood and other photographers, allowing us to gaze back at this remarkable time in the history of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Citations & Credits:
  • Robinson, Lisa. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Robinson, Lisa. The San Lorenzo Valley Flume. Boulder Creek, CA: San Lorenzo Valley Historical Association Press, 2013.
  • Rogers, Winfield Scott. "A 14-Mile Flume Brought Lumber Out Of Valley." Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9 February 1972, 6.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.