Friday, May 24, 2019

Freight Stops: Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company Mill

The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company was no rookie on the field in the spring of 1888. Founded in 1873 by William Patrick Dougherty with the support of his younger brother, James, the company had systematically harvested almost all of the saleable timber along the western side of Los Gatos Creek in the 1870s, after which it did the same along the upper half of Zayante Creek. But a massive fire in August 1886 destroyed the lumber mill at Zayante and forced most of the residents of the mill town to flee to other areas in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Dougherty brothers replaced the burned husk with a large shingle mill later that year, but the remaining timber was insufficient to justify a resurrection of the once-impressive lumber mill.

In the several years prior to the fire, the company had begun buying tracts of timber along the San Lorenzo River north of the flume mill (later Cunningham Mill) in areas that the San Lorenzo Valley lumber flume did not or could not reach. With sufficient lumber providers located further south along the flume, there was no reason to harvest timber north of the flume mill, so thousands of old growth redwood forest sat idle, awaiting a change in the market. The disaster at the Zayante mill finally convinced the Doughertys to relocate to this untapped area.

Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company mill north of Boulder Creek, 1895. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
As December 1887 approached, company workers began grading a railroad bed between the the Felton & Pescadero Railroad yard at Boulder Creek and the proposed Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company mill site four miles to the north, just below a convenient bend in the river where a dam could easily and relatively naturally be installed to create a mill pond. Most of the initial machinery for the mill was composed of surviving parts of the Zayante mill, supplemented with the newer machinery bought in late 1886 to replaced the destroyed components. These parts arrived at the new mill in May 1888, after the railroad tracks to the site were completed. Cunningham & Company, which was a sometimes partner and other times rival of the Doughertys, provided the lumber used in erecting the mill. When the mill opened on June 1, 1888, it was capable of producing up to 60,000 board feet of lumber per day. Over 100 workers, mostly foreigners, lived and worked at the mill prompting the creation of the Dougherty School in 1889. But as so often happens with sawmills in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Dougherty brothers' first mill north of Boulder Creak met a fiery end in September 1888, less than four months after opening.

1892 Sanborn Map of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company facilities north of Boulder Creek.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
The brothers subcontracted their orders to Cunningham & Company, which reaped great profits during the following year, although this unexpected influx of money led to the company's overextension and collapse during the recession of the 1890s. Meanwhile, the Doughertys rebuilt. A new mill was operating by November but the mill did not return to full operation until the following spring. From 1889 to 1891—three seasons—the mill fulfilled its contracts and ran at capacity. And then, in October 1891, the mill burned down for a second time. By this point, Cunningham & Company had moved its operations to Santa Cruz so the Santa Clara Mill & Lumber Company simply purchased the recently-vacated mill of its rival and relocated it to the north. As the 1890s recession receded in the mid-1890s, the Doughertys began increasing productions and improving facilities, reaching a daily capacity of 50,000 board feet.

This third and final mill is well documented by two Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The main track of the Dougherty Extension Railroad, which originally terminated at the mill, eventually continued north on the east side of the main mill. Two spurs, however, broke off to terminate in front of the mill, while four tramways also ran from the mill in order to shuttle lumber onto stacks. A third spur crossed the San Lorenzo River to the west of the mill and wrapped around the entire facility, reuniting with the main track north of the mill. It was along a short branch of this spur that the Doughertys installed an engine house for their single locomotive, the former Santa Cruz & Felton locomotive popularly nicknamed the Dinky (originally the Felton). Photograph evidence also confirms that another spur broke off from the mainline north of the mill at terminated a short distance to the east behind the employee cook house. This may have been where the locomotive's water tower was installed.

1908 Sanborn Map showing the California Timber Company facilities north of Boulder Creek in their final years.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Doughertys, as the mill and surrounding settlement became known, reached its peak in the late 1890s, although William Dougherty never lived to see this having died in 1894. His brother, James, and Henry L. Middleton, a prominent lumber investor and Boulder Creek's de facto mayor, continued to direct the company in its final years. During this time, Doughertys became a popular tourist location, with picnickers visiting on weekends and camping in unharvested redwood groves or areas that were already in the process of recovery further to the south. As must inevitably happen, though, the timber tracts in the San Lorenzo Valley were nearly all harvested by the end of the century. In 1900, the Dougherty Extension Railroad was extended to its maximum length after which time operations shifted to harvesting a tract of timber near Waterman Gap. In 1902, company's final property along Bear Creek was cut, although it is unclear if the timber from this location was processed at Doughertys or in Boulder Creek. James Dougherty's death in July 1900 signalled the spiritual end of operations, even if they limped along for two more seasons.

In 1903, the Dougherty widows, Middleton, and Loma Prieta Lumber Company chief investor Timothy Hopkins consolidated most of the remaining lumber operations north of Boulder Creek into a new firm titled the California Timber Company. The company quickly packaged up most of the mill's machinery and hauled it far up Bear Creek to a tributary called Deer Creek, which they harvested for several more years. Meanwhile, the remains of Doughertys sat mostly vacant. Some former employees continued to live in their cottages while just to the north, plans were put in place to found a new subdivision named Driftwood, centered around James Dougherty's former home of the same name. The venture proved fleeting, though, and the most of the remaining residents moved elsewhere. The railroad tracks through the site continued to be used by workers at the Pescadero mill until the end of 1913, after which the school shut down and the track was pulled for scrap. Despite several attempts to start a subdivision there, none succeeded for over two decades.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1714N, 122.1397W

The area of Doughertys eventually became the subdivision known as Riverside Grove, established in May 1935. It is accessible off of State Route 9 from Teilh Drive. The mill site itself is south of Riverside Grove, located at the end of Either Way off of Teilh. No signs of the mill or railroad track remains in the immediate vicinity due to subsequent residential developments. A reminder of logging days remains with "Lake Street" sitting along the former site of the log pond. Some property lines also still hint at the railroad's right-of-way, although the right-of-way is otherwise difficult to discern in this area.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California's Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Robinson, Lisa A. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2012.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Freight Stops: Hihn Mill on Kings Creek

James King is not a person that comes up much when discussing Santa Cruz County history. Born in Missouri, King later established a small cattle ranch and homestead in a clearing two miles north of Boulder Creek at the confluence of a small meandering creek and the San Lorenzo River. King disappears from history soon after this, but he lives on through the creek named after him. By the mid-1880s, the area of Kings Creek was teeming with activity. Near the bottom of the creek, the flume had its primarily mill, which in later years became home to Cunningham & Company. Further up the creek, homesteads arose and various lumber firms cut timber well into the 1900s. But enough virgin redwood survived for the F. A. Hihn Company to make a profit.

F. A. Hihn Company crews posing for a photograph at the Kings Creek mill, 1908.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
On April 18, 1906, the earth shook and operations at Hihn's mill at Laurel ground to a halt. Although the mill returned to operations shortly afterwards, damage to the railroad line ensured that only small amounts of lumber could be hauled out of the isolated valley at the top of Soquel Creek. Fortunately for the lumber industry, demand was now at a peak with half of San Francisco burned to the ground and thousands of buildings across the Bay Area in need of repair or rebuilding. Hihn began searching across Santa Cruz County for other available timber tracts to harvest and his eyes fell upon Kings Creek, where a settler named Newman owned a large unharvested parcel.

Primary Hihn mill on Kings Creek, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In early 1907, F. A. Hihn Company crews began hauling equipment up to the junction of Kings Creek and Logan Creek, a small seasonal tributary. There crews erected a small 30,000 board feet capacity mill that utilized steam-powered saws, probably brought over from Laurel. Although most of the mill was constructed by March, poor weather and a recession delayed opening of the mill until September. There was also talk at this time of extending the Dougherty Extension Railroad up Kings Creek from the bottom of the valley, with plans to even extend the line to Los Gatos. These plans fell apart, though, and only a short spur at the bottom of Kings Creek, splitting off from the main track near the old Cunningham mill site, was ever installed to cater to the mill.

The tramways to the lumber stacks at the Kings Creek mill, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In April 1908, full operations at the mill finally began with a crew of 45 men cutting trees and timber. Good financial and weather conditions allowed operations to continue until November of that year, with a total yield of three million board feet produced in just the first full year of operation. For the next two years, the mill continued to cut at capacity with all of the lumber shipped to the Santa Cruz Lumber Company yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot. A corporate takeover in 1909 meant that the lumber, once cut, became the property of the Hihn-Hammond Company, but that barely impacted daily operations.

Two horse teams idling in the lumber yard at the Kings Creek mill, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In November 1910, crews determined that there was insufficient timber for another season and the mill closed. The equipment was removed and returned to Laurel, which resumed its former status as the primary Hihn mill in the county for several more years. Southern Pacific once again returned to the idea of building a branch line between Boulder Creek and Los Gatos in 1912, but the idea never materialized. The spur track was probably removed soon afterwards. The area around the spur was developed into Wildwood No. 2 and Rices Junction, while the mill property itself returned to a state of nature.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.1850N, 122.1228W

The site of the mill is now a private property located 2.5 miles up Kings Creek. Nothing visible remains of the mill, although ironically, a more modern railroad flatcar functions as a bridge over the creek today. Trespassing on the property is not advised.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Picnic Stops: Wildwood

The lumber industry in the San Lorenzo Valley was on a sharp decline at the beginning of the 1910s, but local entrepreneurs and real estate investors saw potential in the vast tracts of second-growth redwood forest that was left behind. Property developers from all over the nation were drawn to the untapped acreage north of Boulder Creek in the hope that they would establish the valley's next large settlement or create a destination resort. This was certainly the case for the large clearing just north of the site of the old Cunningham & Company mill, which was dismantled in 1902.

Marketing postcard of Wildwood showing a group picnic, 1915. [Derek R. Whaley]
In 1909, the American Real Estate Company purchased the land from W. H. Booth with the aspirational intention of subdividing the 320 acres of land situated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River into scores of small parcels upon which investors could build small vacation cottages. George H. Wiley was brought in to oversee property sales and immediately christened the subdivision Wildwood, establishing a camping area there to provide further encouragement to investors. Maps even today show the optimistic grid pattern planned for the area, with several roads mapped out between tiny lots that quickly climbed the hillside behind the Wildwood camp ground. By 1910, approximately fifty families had purchased property.

Wildwood Camp showing the boarding house at left, with camping tents, c. 1914. [Derek R. Whaley]
For the next four years, Wiley worked out an arrangement with the California Timber Company to use the Dougherty Extension Railroad to shuttle potential investors up to Wildwood from Boulder Creek. During these years, the former Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad locomotive known as the Dinky (originally the Felton) ran the excursion runs when they were requested. The California Timber Company continued to maintain the right-of-way, since they were still using it periodically, while the real estate firm was responsible for maintaining the rolling stock.

The Dinky making a promotional run along the Dougherty Extension Railroad, c. 1912.
[San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Demand for property and, specifically, development of the area increased significantly in mid-1910 prompting the real estate firm to purchase additional property across the river, which they labelled Wildwood No. 2. Within the original site, a boarding house was erected which also acted as a small general store and real estate office. As many as six-car trains delivered potential residents to Wildwood on busy weekends days, with many visitors coming just for the scenery. Lots sold for around $125, while prebuilt homes ranged from $250-$600.

The promotional autobus on the Dougherty Extension Railroad at Wildwood, c. 1914. [Derek R. Whaley]
The autobus cruising along the Dougherty
Extension Railroad toward Wildwood,
c. 1913. [Rick Hamman]
By 1913, sales had stagnated and the firm rebranded itself as the Wildwood Development Company. At the same time, they redirected their marketing to wealthy Oakland residents, many of whom enjoyed vacationing in Santa Cruz County during the summer months. The aging Dinky was replaced at this time with a new electric autobus that ran along the rails. As a part of this conversion, and due to the fact that the California Timber Company had stopped using the tracks, the rail line was renamed the Wildwood, Boulder Creek & Northern Railroad.

From 1913-1915, potential customers, seasonal vacationers, and permanent residents rode up from Boulder Creek on the autobus but sales continued to stagnate. Promises to install an artificial lake in the river and other promises did not come to fruition. The remoteness of the location and the rapidly increasing use of the automobile, especially by the wealthier population, led to fewer people purchasing remote cottages in the forest. The railroad ceased to convey passengers in June 1915, after which potential customers were transported from Boulder Creek via wagons or buses.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1523N, 122.1365W

Today, Wildwood remains a relatively small community located mostly off Pleasant Way. The small Wildwood No. 2 area is just across the river behind Garrahan Park, accessible via Sequoia Road. Garrahan Park itself, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, are part of the separate Rices Junction subdivision. Although the area remains heavily parcelled on official maps, few homes actually occupy most of the lots and most of the roads were never built. Only the area beside the river was actually developed to any significant extent.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, May 3, 2019

Freight Stops: Cunningham Mill

At its junction with Kings Creek. the San Lorenzo River makes an unusual set of turns around a small square outcropping of rock, forming in the process a near-complete square. It is in the center of this square that the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company erected its primary mill in 1875. From this point, prefabricated pieces of v-flume were sent down the completed portion of the flume, at which end workers appended the new section. This continued throughout much of 1875 until the flume reached Felton over eight miles to the south. After this point, the mill became just one of several that shipped lumber down the flume during the twelve years of the flume's existence. Little about the mill is known from this time and only one deteriorated photograph of the mill survives.

With the arrival of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad to Boulder Creek in 1885, operations at the flume mill slowed and other nearby lumber ventures were incorporated or began increasing their output. James F. Cunningham was one such entrepreneur. Cunningham had made a name for himself in the San Lorenzo Valley as a businessman and financier, and he had his hands in many different cookie jars. In Felton, he began in 1871 as part owner of the town's general store before opening up his own rival store in 1873. At this time, he was also an investor and secretary of the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad Company, which collapsed in 1874. Once the flume opened in late 1875, Cunningham's store became as much a hardware and lumber shop as a general store and the mercantile venture made Cunningham a successful local magnate. He became a county supervisor in 1878, became Felton's postmaster, and took over management of the Big Tree House. In 1880, he became a state assemblyperson.

Cunningham's interest in the lumber industry began around 1882, when he opened a shingle mill in Felton. By 1884, he was shipping ten flatcars of shingles per day from the mill and had become the second largest producer of timber in the San Lorenzo Valley. It was for this reason that the South Pacific Coast Railroad hired his firm to harvest the timber near the Turkey Foot (Boulder Creek) in preparation for the new freight yard the company intended to build there. Cunningham relocated his mill to the floodplain and was granted land along the main road, upon which he built a general store and private home. Cunningham quickly joined forces with James Dougherty and Henry L. Middleton, owners of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, and together they began to make plans for harvesting the lumber north of Boulder Creek.

Cunningham & Company crews with family members posing in front of the mill, c. 1890. James Cunningham with large white hat at right. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
As early as 1886, Cunningham took over operation of the flume mill and possibly the flume itself, which now terminated in the freight yard that was partially owned by Cunningham. In May 1888, the old mill was either replaced or heavily upgraded to produce 60,000 board feet of lumber per day. To support the mill, the river was dammed, thereby creating a mill pond. Forty people were employed at the mill during the summer months and for the first year of operation, crews worked around the clock to fulfil a contract for the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, which was recovering from a fire at its Zayante mill and delayed in relocating operations to a new site north of Cunningham's mill.

The Dougherty Extension Railroad was ostensibly built to support the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company's mill, but delays meant that it was Cunningham that primarily benefited from it during its first year of operation. Spurs and sidings were installed within the mill property, while a small truss bridge over the millpond was located just to the north. Unfortunately for Cunningham, his location was not sustainable in the long term since the area had already been harvested heavily for a decade.

In 1889, Cunningham attempted to break into the Santa Cruz market, directly challenging the status quo maintained by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company and Grover & Company. As production at his mill declined and the rivalry downtown intensified, Cunningham found himself with few friends. Dougherty and Middleton deprived him of his Boulder Creek general store in 1891 and Cunningham took it as a sign and moved to San José. He sold his mill to the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company late that year and the machinery was eventually moved up to Deer Creek, where a new mill was established in 1902. The mill pond was destroyed in 1904 to allow fish to properly migrate upstream. In 1894, Cunningham merged his company with Grover & Company, but mounting debts led him to sell the company to Grover outright in 1897. He left the area permanently afterwards and died in San José in 1907. Second-growth redwood trees quickly overtook the former mill site north of Boulder Creek and it remains a heavily-wooded area today.

Citations & Credits:
37.1519N, 122.1368W

The site of the Cunningham Mill is accessible from State Route 9 along Riverside Drive just south of Garrahan Park. The area is now a small housing subdivision and no remnants of the original railroad right-of-way or the former mill survive in this area, although reminders of it still appear on property surveys. Trespassing on the properties of local residents is not encouraged.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, April 26, 2019

Freight Stops: Morrell Mill on Two Bar Creek

Just over a mile north of Boulder Creek, an oddly-named tributary of the San Lorenzo River meanders through a wooded gulch down the western side of Mount Bielawski. The so-called Two Bar Creek has never been the most prominent or important stream in the area but it did host a single mill with a succession of owners.

Ephraim Bradbury Morrell—or just Brad—a native of Maine, began his career in Santa Cruz County not on Two Bar Creek but in Cleveland Gulch near the Glenwood-Laurel Tunnel in 1881. In May of that year, Morrell erected a sawmill with a capacity of 25,000 board feet of lumber per day. For three years, he shipped out lumber cut at this mill via the railroad station at Highland (later Laurel) via a hauling road that is now Morrell Mill Road.
Official Map of Santa Cruz County by W. S. Rodgers, 1889, showing the tracts harvested by Morrell and the McAbees.
[Library of Congress]
In April 1884, with little left to harvest along the headwaters of Soquel Creek, Morrell packed up his equipment and shipped it to Two Bar Creek to the property of E. P. Reed, who owned a 450-acre parcel through which the San Lorenzo Valley flume passed. Reed acted as site superintendent, as well. Morrell probably used Bear Creek Road to get his machinery to the site, since transporting it up the future State Route 9 would have been difficult and more roundabout. The new mill opened in May and likely harvested the timber on William Maitland's extensive property further up the creek, since Maitland worked at the mill in 1885. By 1886, the mill had a daily capacity of 12,000 board feet of lumber and employed twenty men. During this time, Morrell was under contract with the San Jose Mill & Lumber Company to deliver 3,000,000 feet of lumber annually, all of which was shipped by ox team over Bear Creek Road rather than flume, but a dispute arose over payment, ending the arrangement.

With the arrival of the Dougherty Extension Railroad in 1888, Morrell's mill switched to using the railroad to ship its goods. Indeed, around February, it became one of the first freight stops along the new line and a spur was soon installed to the mill. For several years, little is known about the mill, but the economic recession of the mid-1890s impacted operations there. In August 1896, the mill shut down. It would not reopen under Morrell's management. For the following two summers, it remained closed. Around 1899, the firm of Hubbard & Carmichael, which had harvested previously in the Ben Lomond area, was brought on to cut the remaining timber on Morrell's lands. They finished operations there in September 1900 and relocated to Oil Creek near the headwaters of Pescadero Creek. Morrell himself lived in Boulder Creek until his death at 68 on July 5, 1903.
The Morrell Mill on Two Bar Creek with railroad tracks in the foreground, c. 1904.
[UC Santa Cruz Special Collections]
In late 1900 or early 1901, either Morrell or Hubbard & Carmichael sold the former Reed property to two brothers, Orrin L. and Williard O. McAbee. The Sentinel reports in April 1901 that they struck a vein of coal on Twobar Creek, although this ultimately proved an unprofitable venture. The brothers were better associated with the area to the north of Big Basin, where they owned a large timber property above Pescadero Creek harvested by Homer M. Rider, a well-known Corralitos mill owner. Rider and the McAbee brothers went into partnership as McAbee Bros & Rider Company in May 1904 and purchased the old Morrell mill as well as the timber rights of William F. Horstman, who owned the last significant tract of old growth redwood along Two Bar Creek. Orrin was designated superintendent of this operation and, despite plans to relocate it further up the creek, the old mill remained at its former site beside the railroad tracks at the bottom of Two Bar Creek. For two years, the Horstman tract was cut and the felled timber hauled to the bottom of the gulch, where it was cut at the mill and then loaded onto railcars for shipment to Boulder Creek.

As the senior partners, the McAbee Brothers renamed their corporation McAbee Bros Timber Company in June 1904 and purchased timber rights to 320 acres of G. H. and Kate Harrington's land on the western side of Big Basin near China Grade. They also began plans to establish a subdivision named Sequoia upon the property. Early on, disaster struck and a fire in September burned much of their land and their sawmill. Meanwhile, operations continued on the Horstman lands along Two Bar Creek.

In November 1905, Rider sold his interest in the McAbee Bros Timber Company to the Henry Cowell Lime & Cement Company, which owned several tracts of timberland north of Boulder Creek. Preparations began immediately to remove the former Morrell mill from its location at the bottom of Two Bar Creek to a site at the headwaters of Boulder Creek to the west. This location was originally two properties: a homestead owned by J. W. Sylvester who sold it to Davis & Cowell; and a 160 acre tract originally owned by Samuel Grosh and purchased by Davis & Cowell around 1881. Together, they comprised around 800 acres of timberland. The mill was moved early in 1906, but additional parts needed to complete the complex were delayed due to the San Francisco Earthquake, which struck in April. Once operations finally began, the partners reincorporated as the Southern Lumber Company and purchased the Chase Lumber Company yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot and a smaller yard alongside Boulder Creek in the town of Boulder Creek. In 1909, they further increased their local production capabilities by buying L. F. Pitt's shingle mill and box factory situated in the Boulder Creek freight yard. The improved mill, meanwhile, relocated to a location deeper within the timber tracts in April 1910. This marked the height of Southern Lumber operations in Santa Cruz County.

On February 2, 1918, the shingle mill and box factory burned down, and this likely marks the end of any significant presence in Boulder Creek or the San Lorenzo Valley. Southern Lumber had spread its wings throughout the 1910s and established a distribution yard in San José and other mills throughout the Central Coast. The McAbees themselves remained in town, however. Orrin died suddenly in 1925 from a drowning incident, while is brother passed away nine years later. They had relinquished control over their company in the years prior and moved on to other ventures. In April 1936, the company was taken over by Ed Pohle whose family has controlled the firm ever since.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.1435N, 122.1323W

The location of the Morrell mill was probably at or near the current location of Lee & Associates Rescue Equipment at the end of Two Bar Road, between State Route 9 and the San Lorenzo River. The Dougherty Extension Railroad passed directly through this property, as did the flume before it. It is currently a private residence and trespassing is not encouraged.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, April 19, 2019

Freight Stops: Alameda Lumber Mill

North of the town of Boulder Creek, there are several tributaries of the San Lorenzo River that meander up either side of the valley's walls. Bear Creek, the second such stream, hosted several lumber mills along its length over the years, but the mill operated by the Alameda Lumber Company, owned by Austin S. and Oscar R. Harmon, was the longest-lived and most well known. The brothers were natives of Maine but moved to the San Lorenzo Valley in 1867 to work at Joseph W. Peery's mill on Two Bar Creek. After that mill closed, they tried some other professions before returning to the lumber industry.

In 1873, the brothers founded the Bear Creek Toll Road Company and spent two years creating a road between the small town of Lorenzo and Lexington south of Los Gatos. The goal of the project was to make it easier for lumber and split stuff to be hauled out of the upper San Lorenzo Valley to the Santa Clara Valley. Unfortunately for the Harmons, though, soon after the road was built, the San Lorenzo Valley Flume was completed, creating a more efficient and easier way to ship out lumber. Santa Cruz County eventually purchased the failed toll road in 1890 and it became Bear Creek Road.

Excerpt of the Official Map of Santa Cruz County, 1889, showing the location of the Harmon Brothers' timber tract along Harmon Gulch (top right) in relation to Boulder Creek (bottom left). [Library of Congress]
Once the flume was built and the unprofitability of the toll road proven, the Harmons decided to return to the lumber business. In 1876, the brothers incorporated the Alameda Lumber Company and began purchasing timberland north of Boulder Creek. They purchased several tracks on either side of the San Lorenzo River about a quarter mile north of town, but their main tract was up a seasonal tributary of Bear Creek now called Harmon Gulch. Like many other lumber firms in the area, the Harmons harvested lumber on their own lands as well as on adjacent lands through lease agreements.

For its first few years, the Harmon Gulch mill was a relatively small-scale affair that focused primarily on cutting railroad crossties. All of the cut timber was hauled to the small mill via oxen teams that dragged the cut logs down skid roads to the mill near the gulch's base. From there, they likely shipped the ties over their toll road to Lexington and beyond. In 1880, the brothers gave up completely on their road and began sawing lumber to send downstream along the flume at the bottom of Bear Creek.

The arrival of the Dougherty Extension Railroad in August 1887 replaced the increasing problems with the flume and provided the Harmons with a truly profitable way to ship their lumber. While no railroad tracks ever came near the mill, a spur at the bottom of Bear Creek was probably installed for the mill's use. By 1889, the mill had a daily capacity of 10,000 board feet of lumber and employed 45 men.

A series of tragedies led to an eventual end to the Harmon Brothers' venture up Harmon Gulch. In 1887, Austin Harmon died from a head wound received in the field. Three years later, the mill burned down, although Oscar Harmon rebuilt. At the end of the 1898 cutting season, Oscar retired and sold the land to J. H. Olsen, who sold the property to the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company two years later. Oscar, meanwhile, died in 1899. The remaining timber was harvested throughout 1901 and then the mill was sold to the Enterprise Lumber & Development Company, which ended up abandoning the structures and machinery the next year.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approximately 37.1437N, 122.0897W

The site of the mill still hosted machinery into the 1920s, at which time it disappeared and was developed into a private residence. Its location was probably in the vicinity of Fernwood Drive across from Harmon Gulch Road approximately 2.5 miles up Bear Creek Road.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, April 12, 2019

Maps: Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek

The gentle curves and relatively unimpeded journey between Felton and Ben Lomond ended just north of the latter town. As the Felton & Pescadero Railroad carved its grade north to Boulder Creek, the route proved much more perilous and required several crossings. But there were several stops and stations, almost all registered on Southern Pacific Railroad timetables and station books, and it was also quite possibly the most scenic sections of track in Santa Cruz County.

The first bridge over the San Lorenzo River north of Ben Lomond, c. 1910. [George Pepper]
Leaving Ben Lomond, the right-of-way curved behind the current Tyrolean Inn to cross the San Lorenzo River on a mixed trestle-truss bridge. From there, it passed through a large open meadow that would host a number of campgrounds over the years, most notably Camp Thunder, before it was converted into a housing subdivision. Riverside Drive north of Ben Lomond marks the right-of-way in this section and can be easily visited today, although no railroad relics remain beside the road.

Railroad route between Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, 1885-1934. Structures and spur lengths not to scale.
[Derek R. Whaley]
View from the top of a railroad bridge showing the swimming hole north of Siesta, c. 1915. [Derek R. Whaley]
From this meadow, the railroad tracks crossed the San Lorenzo River over one of the most spectacular bridges in the county, after which it ran along the southern side of River Road in a steep cut between the road and the river. Here, the railroad passed its first stop along this stretch: Phillipshurst, established to cater to Dr. Phillips who lived just across the river. Phillips's estate would later become the Blake-Hammond Manor and can still be sighted, with some difficulty, from State Route 9. Unfortunately, the right-of-way in this section is accessible only via River Road, which is privately-owned and maintained so trespassing is not advised. Just before crossing the San Lorenzo River an open deck bridge, the railroad passed the summer cottage of Fred Swanton, who convinced Southern Pacific to set up a stop named Siesta. This stop is also on private land near the southern end of Redwood Street off Riverside Road in Brookdale.

The Fish Hatchery at Brookdale, c. 1920. [Craig Polson]
On the other side of the river, after crossing Larkspur Street, the right-of-way passed the Brookdale Fish Hatchery, established by Judge John H. Logan and run by the California Department of Fish & Game. Either because of freight needs or due to its popularity as a tourist destination, the railroad established a stop here named Fish Hatchery, probably along Old River Lane. The tracks continued to hug the west bank of the San Lorenzo River as it rounded to the west toward Clear Creek, which a short open deck bridge crossed just before reaching Brookdale. None of the right-of-way in this area is really accessible and all of it sits on private property.

Brookdale Station with a train approaching, c. 1920. [Craig Polson]
Brookdale is the first station site along this stretch that can still be viewed, although it still sits on private property. The station was located at the bottom of Pacific Street just before the road crosses over to Huckleberry Island. The old post office on the west side of the street still sits as a private residence, but the station itself has been demolished. The large property situated here provided space for the spur and, later, siding that catered to the station, and also allowed room for the fill that preceded the bridge over the river to the west. The railroad tracks once crossed the San Lorenzo River here, and sawed-off pilings of it can still be seen on either side of the river. The tracks then passed through a shallow cut at the back of Huckleberry Island before crossing the river a second time on the other side. While the bridge to the south of the island was composed entirely of wood, the bridge to the north included concrete piers, which are still present today, although it is impossible to see them since the adjacent properties block line-of-sight. Huckleberry Island may well have served as the railroad's only unofficial picnic stop along the Boulder Creek Branch, but evidence is scarce.

Passenger train in the Boulder Creek yard, c. 1890s. [Margaret Koch]
From Irwin Way, the railroad crossed the river a sixth time and the concrete piers for this can be seen just to the north from the vehicular bridge over the river. The right-of-way then turned sharply to the west to parallel the river for a short distance, eventually passing into a shallow cut on its way to the Boulder Mill. In later years, the Boulder Mill was renamed Harris, although this stop catered to Camp Joy. All of the right-of-way in this section is on private property and a gate blocks access after a short distance down Irwin Way, although the gated road once served as the railroad right-of-way. Just past Harris, the tracks crossed the river for a seventh and final time, also crossing Malosky Creek in the process. The right-of-way then straightened out on its approach to Filbert, near the end of Grove Street. Little evidence remains of the railroad in this section except the single concrete pier and some overgrown sawed-off pilings beside the river. However, Redwood Resort lingers on as the successor to the Redwood Rest Resort, which probably was the chief patron of Filbert station in later years since the stop was directly behind the resort.

Central Avenue in Boulder Creek, 1900. [Kilroy Was Here]
Creeping through the back yards of Boulder Creek homes and businesses on a narrow shelf just above the west bank of the river, the Boulder Creek Branch finally broke out into its large freight yard at the place where East Lomond Street turns to the north. From here, tracks split apart in several different directions, with some staying close to the river and others running just behind the businesses on Central Avenue. One track even wrapped up Lorenzo Street to access the Southern Lumber Company yard that was once located where the post office and Liberty Bank is today. The station itself was located just behind the Boulder Creek Fire Department, roughly where the Boulder Creek Recreation building sits at the corner of Middleton Avenue and Railroad Avenue. Except for names—Railroad Avenue, Junction Avenue, Junction Park, Middleton Avenue—nothing from the railroading days survives in the massive open meadow that once was home to the freight yard. But the train did continue on to the north, following Junction Avenue across Boulder Creek, the San Lorenzo River, and then Bear Creek—but that's a story for a different time.

Citations & Credits: 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Railroads: Southern Pacific Branch Lines and Divisions

The Southern Pacific Railroad Company became the sole provider for railroad service in Santa Cruz County in 1887 (although the Ocean Shore Railroad, San Juan Pacific Railway, and Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad all attempted to rival their dominance briefly). To manage its railroad lines, routes were divided into divisions, subdivisions, and branches. Several such lines emerged over the years, most of which began life as independent companies, but when the Southern Pacific became the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996, only the Santa Cruz Branch and the Monterey Branch remained under company control, and both only briefly.

Coast Div ision employee timetable No. 147 cover, dated March 30, 1940. This was the last published timetable that included the San Jose & Santa Cruz Branch through the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Watsonville Branch (1871 – 1874)
The very first Southern Pacific branch line, predating the creation of any divisions or subdivisions, was built continuously from 1871 to 1874 from Gilroy to Salinas. In the beginning, it was a route meant to link the Santa Clara Valley’s railroad lines with the agricultural lands of the Salinas Valley while also conveniently passing through Watsonville and near Monterey. But early plans to go through Watsonville were quickly replaced with a route through Pajaro to the south. In the end, the only portion of Santa Cruz County reached by this branch was the tiny settlement of Chittenden.

As early as April 1872, it was common knowledge that the originally-planned Southern Pacific route to the San Joaquin Valley via Hollister would not be economically viable and that the coastal route through Salinas would likely become the main line. Neither proved true, however, as Southern Pacific instead chose a line down the center of the San Joaquin Valley as its main line. When this happened, the Watsonville Branch became the trunk of the Northern Division and the original trunk through Hollister became the Tres Pinos Branch.

Northern Division (1874 – 1897)
When Southern Pacific began building railroad lines in Southern California in the early 1870s, it had a problem: these lines were disconnected from the lines in Central and Northern California. Thus, the first solution to this problem was the creation of the Northern Division, Southern Division, and Colorado Division. At some point around 1888, a portion of the Northern Division split off to become the first Coast Division, which included the Monterey Bay trackage. However, this early version of the Coast Division was later reimagined. Within the Monterey Bay area, three branches fell under the jurisdiction of the Northern Division.

1889 Southern Pacific Coast Division timetable.
Santa Cruz Branch (1888 – 2012)
Beginning life as the Santa Cruz Railroad between Pajaro and Santa Cruz, this line was consolidated with the Loma Prieta Railroad on June 3, 1884 to form the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad. On May 4, 1888, Southern Pacific absorbed the subsidiary railroad and it became the Santa Cruz Line. In 1892, it was renamed the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Branch and retained this name until 1912, when Pajaro was renamed Watsonville Junction. Rather than use a long and clunky term for the branch line, Southern Pacific instead decided to simply call it the Santa Cruz Branch, although this name was sometimes confusingly applied to the route through the mountains as well. The line had several unofficial names over the years including the Watsonville & Santa Cruz Branch, the Pajaro Branch, and the Watsonville Junction & Santa Cruz Branch, and all combinations thereof. None of these were used in an official capacity by the railroad but appeared in newspaper timetables and other media.

The line gained over eight miles of trackage in November 1940 when the Santa Clara & Santa Cruz Branch closed and the Santa Cruz Branch annexed the southern portion between Santa Cruz and Olympia. It retained this additional trackage until October 12, 1985, when Roaring Camp Railroads purchased the section for use as a private tourist train line. When this happened, the Santa Cruz Branch annexed the Davenport Branch, adding eleven new miles to its length. Technically, the line ceased to be a branch line on May 17, 2012, when the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission took control of the route from Union Pacific, making it once more an independent railroad. The entire route is currently undergoing review for rehabilitation as a passenger and freight line, while a pedestrian/bike trail will soon be installed primarily along the western edge of the right-of-way

Loma Prieta Branch (1888 – 1930)
As soon as the Loma Prieta Railroad between Aptos and Monte Vista was completed in the summer of 1884, the company was consolidated into the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad subsidiary of Southern Pacific. In 1888, the company extended the right-of-way three miles to the second Monte Vista and the foot of Five Finger Falls along Aptos Creek and, after this was completed, the company was absorbed into Southern Pacific and became the Loma Prieta Line, renamed the Loma Prieta Branch in 1892. For the next twenty years, the line was in irregular use, serviced primarily by extras or by Loma Prieta Lumber Company locomotives. The three miles of trackage added in 1887-1888 were destroyed by a landslide in 1899 and the trackage was soon afterwards cut back to just six miles, ending just beyond the rapidly declining town of Loma Prieta. Other operations in the area, however, ensured that operations continued in some capacity until the end of 1921. Southern Pacific waited until November 30, 1927 to petition for the abandonment of the route, which was granted in early 1928. It disappears off station books the next year, but continued to be referenced by employee timetables until 1930.

Monterey Branch (1888 – 2003)
The narrow-gauge Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad between Monterey and Salinas was taken over at auction in December 1879 and early the following year became the Monterey Railroad, a Southern Pacific subsidiary. Southern Pacific standard-gauged the route almost immediately and redrew the right-of-way between Castroville and Monterey. The line was extended to Lake Majella south of Pacific Grove through the Monterey Extension Railroad between January and May 1888, but on May 14, both companies were absorbed by Southern Pacific and became the Monterey Line. From 1888 until 1892, the line included all of the mainline trackage between San José and Pacific Grove. It was even briefly renamed the San Jose & Pacific Grove Branch in 1892 before the route was cut back to Castroville in 1895 and became the Castroville & Pacific Grove Branch. It finally was named the Monterey Branch in June 1907 and has remained under that name ever since.

The Monterey Branch was popular due to the presence of the Hotel Del Monte, which opened on June 3, 1880 and continued to operate as a hotel until just after the start of World War II. The Monterey Express (later Del Monte LimitedDel Monte Express, and finally just Del Monte) began running along the line at this time as a regular named passenger train. During much of its history, the branch was nicknamed the Del Monte Branch to both reflect the popularity of the hotel and the renaming of Castroville's station to Del Monte Junction. The last run of the Del Monte was on April 30, 1971, after which all passenger service to Monterey ended. The tracks between the quarry at Seaside and Lake Majella were abandoned in early 1979 following approval by the Interstate Commerce Commission on December 29, 1978.

Three years after Southern Pacific's merger with Union Pacific in 1996, the Monterey Branch was formally abandoned and the branch cut off at Castroville. While the trackage remains in place all the way to Monterey (often under paved bicycle/hiking paths), it currently is unable to be used. Strictly speaking, the track no longer constitutes a branch line since the sixteen-mile route was purchased by the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) in 2003 for $9.3. Plans are in place to rehabilitate the line for passenger and freight use, but nothing has been done yet.

Santa Cruz Division (1887 – 1897)
The portion of the original South Pacific Coast Railway route between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz changed names several times over the years. When it was first leased by Southern Pacific on July 1, 1887, all of the narrow-gauge trackage became known as the South Pacific Coast Railroad Division. This proved to be a rather short-lived entity. On July 1, 1892, it was replaced by the Santa Cruz Division, but this proved equally short-lived. Also, in a rather comedic twist, it only included two narrow-gauge branches within the county—the other trackage within the county remained a part of the Northern Division while the division as a whole retained oversight of most of the former South Pacific Coast trackage. In 1897, the entire route was demoted, at least in station books, to a subdivision.

Narrow Gauge Subdivision (1897 – 1907)
The Narrow Gauge Subdivision was created to handle the remaining narrow-gauge trackage of the former South Pacific Coast Railroad, essentially taking over the duty from the Santa Cruz Division. Although some trackage was standard-gauged beginning in 1895, the entire line was not converted until 1909. Only one new narrow-gauge branch was added to the trackage around the Monterey Bay during this time, and it was soon abandoned. The subdivision included:

College Park & Santa Cruz Branch (1887 – 1940)
The narrow-gauge railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains may have begun as a main trunk line of an enterprising railroad, but from 1887 it was demoted to simply a branch line, albeit a significant one. From 1892, the route was named the San Jose and Santa Cruz (Narrow Gauge) Branch on employee timetables, while station books called the route the Narrow-Gauge Subdivision. It was also alternatively called the Mountain Division, the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz Branch, and the Santa Cruz Cut-off in newspapers, although none of these were official names.

The standard-gauging of the line that began in 1895 and was completed in 1909 prompted a change in status for the trunk of the former South Pacific Coast line. The route became the Santa Clara & Santa Cruz Branch. A slight realignment in its northern terminus led the name to change to the College Park & Santa Cruz Branch in 1912, a name that stuck for most of the rest of its existence. At some point during the height of the Great Depression, the route was changed one last time to the San Jose & Santa Cruz Branch.

The disastrous winter storm of February 26, 1940 heavily damaged this line which led Southern Pacific to file for abandonment on March 25. During this time, the route was referred to frequently as the Los Gatos-Olympia Branch, although this was strictly an informal term referring to the section undergoing debate. Formal abandonment was approved November 7 with the surviving ends of the line divided between a new Los Gatos Branch on the northern end and the Santa Cruz Branch on the southern, which annexed the trackage to Olympia. This latter section was briefly informally called the Santa Cruz-Olympia Branch.

Boulder Creek Branch (1887 – 1934)
The Felton & Pescadero Railroad between Felton and Boulder Creek was consolidated into the South Pacific Coast Railway on May 23, 1887, which was leased to Southern Pacific a month later. Southern Pacific continued to use the Felton & Pescadero branding for several years but timetables renamed it the Felton Branch. It continued to operate under this title until 1912, when the name switched to Boulder Creek Branch. Following the collapse of the lumber industry and difficult years after the stock market crash in 1929, Southern Pacific petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for abandonment on August 30, 1933. The petition was approved on November 14 and the line abandoned on January 26, 1934.

Old Felton Branch (1907 – 1909)

This three-mile line began life as the northern portion of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's right-of-way. When South Pacific Coast acquired the line on January 1, 1880, the portion between Felton Junction (across the river from Big Trees) and downtown Felton was reduced to a long spur with its own stations. Soon after the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, the spur was upgraded to the Old Felton Branch, a name that referenced its northern terminus and attempted to avoid confusion with the Felton Branch. The branch only last two years, though, after which it was abandoned and the northernmost mile converted into a standard-gauge spur of the Felton Branch.


Interior page from Coast Division employee timetable No. 147 (March 30, 1940) showing various routes within Santa Cruz County.
Coast Division (1892 – 1964)
A massive reorganization of Southern Pacific occurred on July 1, 1892, and the original Coast Division was impacted quite heavily. Besides the Santa Cruz Division, an enlarged Coast Division was created that covered all of the former Northern Division trackage between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, excepting the narrow-gauge track formerly belonging to the South Pacific Coast Railroad. The Santa Cruz Division and Coast Division began appearing on the same timetables on September 3, 1896, until the former was absorbed into the latter on September 27, 1897. Throughout the system, subdivisions were created to handle specific areas within each division.

San Francisco Subdivision (1892 – 1987)
Following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, all of the unconverted trackage of the former South Pacific Coast Railroad was standard-gauged and the entire subdivision rendered moot. The tracks along the west San Francisco Bay, expanded with the addition of the Narrow Gauge Subdivision in 1907 and the Los Altos Branch in 1908, formed the San Francisco Subdivision. In 1912, the name was lengthened to the San Francisco & Watsonville Junction Subdivision, but the longer title was truncated back to the original in 1930. The subdivision continued to exist until 1987, although all of the Santa Cruz and Monterey County trackage eventually became associated with other subdivisions except for the period 1985 to 1987.

Newell Creek Branch (1908 – 1920)
The shortest branch line in Santa Cruz County, the one-mile route to the California Timber Company mill on Newell Creek was installed by Southern Pacific in 1905. After the San Francisco Earthquake, the line to the mill was standard-gauged and the railroad upgraded its status to the Newell Creek Branch around October 1908. All of the trackage north of the mill continued to be narrow-gauge and was privately owned by the lumber company. The mill shut down in 1913 but the branch remained in station books until 1920, when it was formally abandoned.

Davenport Branch (1917 – 1985)
This line began life as the Coast Line Railroad, but as early as July 1907 local newspapers called it the Davenport Branch and on August 24, 1917, the name change became official when Southern Pacific absorbed its subsidiary. Regularly-scheduled passenger service along the line ended on July 21, 1932, although excursion trains continued through the 1950s. The line was annexed to the Santa Cruz Branch around 1985 after the Santa Cruz to Olympia trackage was sold to Roaring Camp Railroads. As a part of the Santa Cruz Branch, it was sold to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission in 2012.

Los Gatos Branch (1940 – 1959)
The northern three miles of the former College Park & Santa Cruz Branch survived for nineteen years as the Los Gatos Branch until the people of Los Gatos requested that Southern Pacific abandon its route through downtown. On June 16, 1958, the petition was filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission and abandonment was approved on December 30. Formal service ended on January 23, 1959 and the final run happened on January 25, which concluded with a spike-pulling ceremony overseen by Coast Division superintendent R. A. Miller. The right-of-way was quickly converted into parking lots by the town of Los Gatos.

Vasona Branch (1959 – 1964)
When the mountain route was officially abandoned in November 1940, the Los Altos Branch was renamed the Vasona Branch and the name Mayfield Cut-Off went into disuse since it no longer cut off the route between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. When the Los Gatos Branch was abandoned in 1959, the stop at Vasona Junction became the commuter terminal for Los Gatos area passengers. Low patronage at the station and plans to cut the Vasona Branch between Simla and Alta Mesa to make room for Foothill Expressway in 1962 led to a petition to abandon the station on March 21. But the Interstate Commerce Commission provided a brief reprieve on October 25, 1963 when it disallowed Southern Pacific from ending service between the points, in effect also delaying construction of the expressway. After another petition to the ICC, abandonment was approved and the last run along the branch occurred on January 27, 1964. The portion of the track south of Foothill Expressway continues to exist today as a freight line ending at the Lehigh Permanente quarry to the west of Cupertino. Discussions to rehabilitate this line and even extend it to the outskirts of Los Gatos have been discussed for over two decades but no progress has been made.

Salinas Subdivision (c. 1936 – 1985)
At some point in the mid-1930s, the San Francisco Subdivision was divided and the Monterey Branch became a part of the new Salinas Subdivision. This route included all the trackage from Watsonville Junction up the Salinas Valley to San Luis Obispo, at which point the Guadalupe Subdivision continued to Santa Barbara. In 1964, the subdivision was extended north to San Jose and both the Santa Cruz and Davenport Branches became a part of it. In 1985, the Salinas Subdivision was dissolved and all Monterey Bay branches once more became a part of the San Francisco Subdivision.

Gilroy Subdivision (c. 1946 – 1964)
In 1942, a new Gilroy Subdivision appeared to handle traffic between San Jose and Watsonville Junction and it included the Santa Cruz and Davenport Branches. The subdivision was dissolved in 1964 and both branches were annexed to the Salinas Subdivision.

Later Divisions (1964 – 1996)
In its later years, Southern Pacific shifted their focus along the Central Coast to freight, which led to smaller timetables and fewer passenger schedules. In 1964, the Coast Division became the Western Division and annexed several neighboring divisions in the process. In 1985, the division system was abandoned and Santa Cruz County fell into the Northern Region and, in 1987, the Western Region. It remained within that region until Union Pacific took over in 1996. Within the Western Region, local trackage fell under the authority of the Coast District, a spiritual successor to the Coast Division.

A page from the first Western Division employee timetable, April 26, 1964.
Citations & Credits:

Friday, March 29, 2019

Bridges: Boulder Creek Branch

The San Lorenzo River is not a tame body of water. On its southern end, the vast floodplain created by its confluence with Branciforte Creek inundated the city of Santa Cruz several times over the past 250 years, even prompting the first Mission Santa Cruz to relocate atop the hill to avoid the near-annual deluges. North of the city, the river carved a tight path through a granite and limestone gorge, meandering wildly on its path toward the Monterey Bay. In Felton, the river slowed down and spread out again, aided by its confluence with Zayante Creek. Yet the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was able to handle the river by largely avoiding it, while the South Pacific Coast Railroad crossed it only once, just south of Big Trees, over a bridge that ensured the river could not seriously damage railroad operations along the line.

One of the narrow-gauge combination truss-trestle bridges across the San Lorenzo on the Felton & Pescadero Railroad route, c. 1890. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
North of Felton, however, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad (a South Pacific Coast subsidiary)—later the Boulder Creek Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad—had no choice but to finally confront the seasonally affective river. As it constructed its route to Boulder Creek in 1884 and 1885, the company was able, through geographic luck more than anything, to avoid the river for the first three miles. Fills and cuts along the east bank of the San Lorenzo River ensured that the railroad tracks had no need to cross the river. The most significant fills along this stretch were just out of Felton near Bonny Brae. Meanwhile, the most drastic cuts were just to the north, near Brackney. From there, a relatively flat area with an occasional short fill ran within the Glen Arbor area for nearly a mile until reaching the first substantial bridge along the branch at Newell Creek.

Newell Creek did not require a substantial span to cross, but the creek was rather far below the grade level, so a trestle was not feasible nor did trestles appear at any place along the Boulder Creek Branch bar one. Instead, a short, wooden, double-intersecting Warren truss bridge was installed along two redwood abutments installed on either side of the creek. No pier was required, although the abutments may have been upgraded to concrete when the line was standard-gauged around 1908. Unlike the other bridges along the branch, the bridge over Newell Creek was probably not replaced in 1908 since it was so short and of a sturdy design that was capable of supporting the larger standard-gauge trains. As a general rule, the South Pacific Coast Railroad installed standard-gauge equipment whenever possible in anticipation of upgrading the line at some point in the future. The Newell Creek bridge was probably one such example of this. In this area, the railroad grade runs just to the southwest of Glen Arbor Road, so the bridge was located beside the road crossing over Newell Creek. No obvious remnants of the bridge survive today.

To the east of Ben Lomond, Love Creek provided the second significant obstacle to trains heading north. The creek, named after former Texas Ranger Captain Harry Love, who helped killed the legendary outlaw Joaquín Murrieta Carrillo in 1853 and lived upstream for some years, was generally mild and posed no real problem for grading crews. While the specifics of the bridge are not known, it is likely that this location hosted the only trestle bridge along the line, since the creek was too near grade level to justify a truss bridge. As such, it almost certainly was replaced in 1908, since narrow-gauge trestle bridges are generally not strong enough to support standard-gauge trains and, in any case, require additional width to do so. No remnant pilings or other material related to the bridge survive, and the locations of the abutments on either end have been lost by subsequent property developments.

Rare colorized postcards of the bridge near Hotel Ben Lomond, c. 1900. [Alamy]
Train crossing over the bridge near Hotel Ben Lomond, c. 1905.
Note the panel siding on the truss section.
[Derek R. Whaley]
As the railroad route curved out of Ben Lomond, the track finally crossed the San Lorenzo River for the first time. The river is especially wide at this point with a gently-sloping embankment on the east and a sheer rock wall to the west. This crossing, therefore, required substantial bridgework to cross. Several photographs of the first bridge were produced as part of the marketing campaign by Hotel Ben Lomond, and these photographs showcase the bridge's unique style. From the east bank, a trestle bridge lifted the tracks from the railroad grade to a redwood-built pier on the river's edge. From here, an uncovered Howe truss bridge was installed over the river, which took the tracks to the west bank. Around 1895, Hotel Ben Lomond dammed the river to create a swimming hole, but passing trains had a habit of kicking rocks down on top of swimmers. Thus, the railroad installed wooden panels along the truss section of the bridge to minimize injury from rocks and, possibly, to make it more difficult for people to climb onto the bridge and use it as a diving platform. The bridge was upgraded for standard-gauge trains in 1908, which probably meant replacing the trestlework. The truss bridge was replaced in 1919, probably with a prefabricated open-deck plate girder bridge, much like those used further north on the line. No photographs of the second bridge survive, but it was the last bridge installed along the route before its closure. Numerous pilings from the trestlework still survive on the east bank of the river behind the Tyrolean Inn, while the stone and concrete abutment on the west end can be seen across the river on private property.

The later standard-gauge bridge over the San Lorenzo River near Phillipshurst, c. 1910.
[San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
The piers of the bridge near Phillipshurst as
they stand today on the east bank of the
San Lorenzo River. [Derek R. Whaley]
Further to the north, the San Lorenzo River turns sharply to the east creating a broad floodplain that the railroad had to cross near Phillipshurst. The bridge installed across the river here proved to be one of the most substantial railroad bridges built in Santa Cruz County. Measuring a total length of over 300 feet, the original narrow-gauge structure required three redwood double-intersecting Warren truss bridges, as well as a short trestle bridge, to cross. Redwood piers supported the structure at the truss joints while wooden abutments were located on either end. At one point, wood panels like those on the bridge beside Hotel Ben Lomond were installed on the sides of the truss spans, suggesting the area below was used as a swimming hole or for some other purpose. The trestle portion was replaced and the trusses upgraded in 1908 to support standard-gauge trains, but the increased weight prompted Southern Pacific to install tall concrete piers at the truss joints as well as midway along each truss span. Eventually, probably around 1913, the trusses were removed and replaced with a long prefabricated open-deck plate girder bridge set atop the concrete piers. A wood railing ran along the west side of the bridge. After the line was abandoned and the deck removed, the free-standing piers were repurposed to hoist a water pipe above the river to support the residents living along River Road. All six piers and the concrete abutment on the south side still remain intact, although access to the site is difficult.

Standard-gauge bridge over the San Lorenzo River between Siesta and the Fish Hatchery, c. 1915.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Crossing back to the west bank just before reaching the Fish Hatchery, the third bridge over the San Lorenzo River is widely known due to the several postcards that were made of it in promoting the railroad, Siesta, and Brookdale. The first bridge here consisted of a long trestle bridge from the southern embankment to the edge of the river itself. Here, a small, redwood double-intersecting Warren truss sat beneath the railroad tracks and over the deepest part of the river, flanked on either side by short wood piers. Another trestle bridge continued to the northern embankment. Around 1907, the trestlework was replaced to support standard-gauge tracks and the truss was removed and replaced with a prefabricated open-deck plate girder bridge mounted atop two hexagonal piers. It was this bridge that appeared heavily in marketing in the 1910s, when Fred Swanton maintained a swimming hole just north of the bridge. The two free-standing bridge piers can be seen today by driving along Larkspur Street and looking downriver.

The freestanding piers of the bridge north of Siesta. [Derek R. Whaley]
The last of the substantial non-river bridges along the Boulder Creek Branch was located over Clear Creek, between the Fish Hatchery and Brookdale. This creek is famous for passing through the Brook Room of the Brookdale Lodge. Very little is actually known about either bridge except that the narrow-gauge structure was the first to be replaced along the branch line in 1903. The original structure was likely a short trestle bridge over the creek. Clear Creek may have begun to damage the bridge over time, however, since a concrete culvert was installed at some point before 1903. The second bridge was capable of supporting standard-gauge trains and was composed of a short redwood deck installed atop two concrete abutments, the northernmost of which still survives. Railings and wooden walkways were built on both sides of the bridge for tourists and locals to more easily walk to Brookdale station. Access to the bridge site is not advised as it sits on private property.

The narrow-gauge bridge over the swimming hole at Brookdale with tents on the shore, c. 1895.
[Derek R. Whaley]
The final four bridges over the San Lorenzo River all sat within a short stretch of track between Brookdale and Filbert. The primary reason for this was that the river curved sharply three times around Huckleberry Island, the North Brookdale subdivision, and Camp Joy. Photographs of the bridge just to the north of Brookdale are by far the most common of these four. The original structure consisted of a short trestle bridge that ended at a wooden pier on the river's edge, at which point a now-standard double-intersecting Warren truss bridge crossed the deepest part of the river. The Brookdale swimming hole was located directly under the bridge here, but unlike Ben Lomond, no side panels were installed to stop trains from kicking rocks or to stop divers. No concrete piers ever replaced the redwood piers, but the truss was nonetheless replaced around 1913 with an open-deck plate girder bridge. Remnants of the northern pier survive, albeit in pieces, while pilings for both ends can be seen on either bank of the river.

One of the narrow-gauge bridges across the San Lorenzo River between Brookdale and Boulder Creek, c. 1895.
[Bruce MacGregor]
Only one photograph of each of the two bridges between Huckleberry Island and Irwin Way survives and it is not entirely clear which photograph depicts which bridge. The first iterations of both, however, were composed primarily of redwood, double-intersecting Warren truss bridges perched atop wooden piers that sat on either side of the river. From the piers, short trestle bridges linked the truss to both banks of the river. The truss section of the bridge north of Huckleberry Island was unusually replaced with a Phoenix Bridge Company truss span of unknown design around 1904. The other bridge was replaced a little later with a more standard prefabricated open-deck plate girder bridge perched atop concrete piers. The trestlework leading to these new bridges was replaced around the same time. Today, three piers and several truncated pilings attest to these two bridges. The bridge piers on the north side of Huckleberry Island cannot be viewed at all without trespassing. Meanwhile, those south of Camp Joy are visible to the north of Irwin Way as it crosses the river.

The lonely concrete pier of the bridge south of Filbert. [Derek R. Whaley]
The final bridge before reaching Boulder Creek was situated in a sharp bend in the river just north of Camp Joy. The track curved slightly across this bridge and continued to the north for an extended distance due to the presence of Malosky Creek, which crossed under the redwood pilings of the trestle as it approached solid ground near Filbert. Like all of the other bridges across the San Lorenzo River on the Boulder Creek Branch, this one was originally composed of a truss bridge of some design situated atop two redwood piers, with trestle bridges extending to either bank of the river. The bridge was upgraded and the truss replaced in late 1903, the latter with a prefabricated open-deck plate girder bridge, although the specifics are unclear since no photographs of this bridge are known. The southern pier is no longer extant, making it difficult to determine whether it was redwood or concrete. Considering its location, the pier, regardless of its composition, may have been destroyed during an especially bad flood, such as those in 1955 and 1982. The surviving pier can be viewed from Lorenzo Avenue off State Route 9.

All of the bridges were dismantled in early 1934 after the closure of the Boulder Creek Branch. Traces of nearly all of the bridges survive in the form of concrete piers and abutments and sawed off pilings on the banks of the river.

Citations & Credits: