Friday, July 30, 2021

Companies: Watsonville Fruit Packing Company

The arrival of the Santa Cruz Railroad to Watsonville in 1876 did not immediately lead to an expansion of the agricultural industry in the Pajaro Valley. Most fruit grown on the Santa Cruz County side of the Pajaro River was still delivered to Pajaro for drying and shipping. By 1887, however, the situation had improved. More people were flocking to the region and the purchase of the railroad by Southern Pacific, which promptly standard-gauged its new line, meant that trains could run without transfer from Watsonville to San Francisco and elsewhere in California.

Advertising postcard for Luke G. Sresovich & Company at the Midwinter Exposition in San Francisco, showcasing the Chinese Building, 1894. [WorthPoint]
The Watsonville Fruit Packing Company was incorporated in June 1887 to capitalize off the growing agricultural industry of the Watsonville area. The initial capital stock for the firm was $10,000. Early the next month, John Kennaugh sold the company 1.619 acres of land between Beach Road and the railroad tracks for $450—below market value. The directors also purchased for $1,100 a twelve-section Fleming Dryer, which George A. Fleming personally helped assemble. Because of the size and style of dryer, it was installed on the property first with the building erected around it. Initial estimates predicted a capacity of 7,000 to 9,000 lbs. of fruit could be processed daily. The building itself was composed of brick and wood with a corrugated iron roof. A mid-sized warehouse was erected near the railroad tracks, likely along a short spur.

In 1887, there was no cannery in the Pajaro Valley and refrigerated boxcars were still in their infancy, so all the fruit grown for export in the region was evaporated (dried) for shipment. Popular local fruits included German and French prunes, plums, peaches, apples, apricots, and nectarines. The Watsonville Transcript hoped that the success of the Watsonville Fruit Packing Company would lead to the opening of a cannery within a few years. With such a facility, a wider range of products could be shipped from the Pajaro Valley.

Sanborn fire insurance map showing the layout of the Watsonville Fruit Packing Company, 1888. [Library of Congress]
The Watsonville Fruit Dryer opened on August 2 with an optimistic goal of producing eight to ten tons of dried fruit per day. Their first production run was five tons of apricots, which was lower than intended because the company only had twenty staff initially. Ultimately, they ended up with between thirty and forty-five workers at any given time receiving an average pay of $7.00 per week.

The first season’s run was an indisputable success. The company paid top rates to farmers for their crops, with crates of apples selling for 25¢ to 30¢, resulting in $250 to $500 per acre profits for apple growers. By mid-November, the dryer had produced 40 tones of dried apricots, 25 tons of peaches, 30 of prunes, and 195 of apples. The success was so great that the company paid dividends of 25% to its investors in October. People in Santa Cruz began clamoring for their own dryer since so many fruits were discarded at the end of the season due to too high demand from farmers.

At the Industrial Exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco in October, an elegant arrangement of a range of local products were displayed including contributions by the Martinellis, Struves, Tuttles, Charles Gallerly, and F. Ceschi, among others. The Pajaro Valley exhibit won a Special Silver Medal award and the Pajaro Valley finally entered the ranks of internationally-known agricultural production zones.

With the first year under its belt, the company planned for expansion in 1888. Its goal was to triple the refinery’s capacity to twenty-five to thirty tons of fruit per day and employ 100 staff to manage the enlarged facility. The dryer’s second season began in mid-July with a large stock of apricots. Unlike the first year, the Watsonville Fruit Packing Company appears to have expanded to working directly with local farmers to dry their fruit rather than buying the fruit outright. At least one local firm, Besse & Still, did this to create novelty fruit boxes for the Eastern market in September. Little else is known about the company in its second season, however. Two Sanborn Fire Insurance maps imply the dryer was permanently closed from February 1888, but other evidence suggests this is incorrect. Nonetheless, competition began heating up with other fruit growers, who saw the financial potential of establishing their own dryers.

Business card for L. G. Sresovich & Company of San Francisco, ca 1895.
June 1889 saw the dryer leased for the season to L. G. Sresovich & Company, a San Francisco-based fruit dealer. Lucas G. Sresovich was born in Dalmatia (modern Croatia) on August 18, 1848 and immigrated to the United States around 1866. Upon his arrival in California, he enrolled in a program at Santa Clara College to become a bookkeeper, a course in which he excelled. He expressed an early interest in the local fruit industry and quickly put his bookkeeping skills to use when he founded L. G. Sresovich Company in 1870.

The earliest advertisement for the company’s wholesale domestic and imported fruits business appeared in the Daily Alta California on June 17, 1872, at which time it appeared to be new. The company based its operations in San Francisco but eventually owned properties across the Central Coast of California. Sresovich achieved renown for its Pioneer brand of desiccated coconut. However, the firm also dried or canned bananas, citrus, dates, onions, and other fruits from around the Pacific Ocean. Their largest market was Hawai’i, where advertisements from the firm appeared regularly in newspapers for nearly thirty years. The company won many awards of the decades for its different fruit varieties and was well respected in California.

Pioneer brand desiccated Cocoanut, sold by L. G. Sresovich & Co., from Los Angeles Herald advertisement, April l25, 1890.
Luke Sresovich first visited Santa Cruz County in 1876 to buy apples that he could pack and ship. Through this and future exchanges, Sresovich became one of the first Slavs involved in the local agricultural scene. Initially, the company shipped fruit out of Pajaro, likely to avoid transfer charges from narrow- to standard-gauge trains. It boxed fruits in rented buildings in Watsonville before shipping them to San José and San Francisco.

By 1884, Sresovich was the largest fruit buyer in Santa Cruz County with apples the primary product purchased. In August, the firm purchased land on Main Street in Watsonville for an apple packing house. It also began leasing and buying orchards in Watsonville, Pajaro, Corralitos, and Green Valley. For the 1885 harvest season, it employed thirty boys to pack 20,000 boxes of apples for shipment. By 1887, it was considering moving its primary drier to Watsonville, but financial problems led to the collapse of his business in late 1887. The company quickly regained its footing and resumed leasing orchards.

Sresovich first attempted to dry fruit locally through its lease of the Watsonville Fruit Packing Company’s plant in June 1889. Curiously, the company did not use the facility much and instead dried most of its apricots and prunes in the sun. In 1890, the firm decided to build a new packing plant in Capitola.

1889 proved to be the last year for Watsonville Fruit Packing Company. A new board of directors was elected in April composed of J. S. Menasco, A. Lewis, Otto D. Stoesser, M. A. Hudson, William McGrath, H. K. Goodwin, and John A. Burton—likely all members of the original board. A month later, on May 13, the directors filed for disincorporation, with a hearing before the Superior Court set for June 20. Why the business wanted to close after only three years is unknown, but several new fruit dryers had opened in Watsonville and Pajaro since 1887. The directors likely wanted to get out while the going was still good and they could maximize their profits. Approval was granted on June 30 and the directors cashed out their shares at $26.70 each, a rich payout assuming the shares initially sold for $1.00 each, as was standard at the time.

The Watsonville Fruit Packaging Company’s property, including the evaporation plant, was sold to the Pajaro Valley Railroad Company, a subsidiary of Claus Spreckels’ Western Beet Sugar Company. Spreckels purchased the property because of its location—it sat immediately beside the path of his new railroad and would provide a perfect spot for the company’s passenger depot and freight house. The Pajaronian suggested the plant was being used for something other than drying in 1890 but would be moved and returned to its original function in the near future. It is unclear what it was being used for but it likely never reopened. The only part of the plant that was used was its small warehouse beside the railroad tracks, which was moved to become the depot and freight house for the railroad. The drier was removed at some point after May 1892.

Sanborn fire insurance map showing the layout of the Watsonville Fruit Packing Company's dryer shortly after it was taken over by the Pajaro Valley Railroad Company, 1892. [Library of Congress]
The Sresovich Company, meanwhile, completed its new packing house in Capitola in 1892 and situated near the railroad depot. It employed around fifteen boys. Its first shipment was pears sent to Chicago, and the Sentinel noted that it was the first fruit ever shipped to the East from Soquel. On average, Sresovich exported two carloads of fruit a week from the Capitola house during packing season. The facility was upgraded into a full dryer by October 1892. By November, the house had shipped out 20,000 boxes of apples, and the newspaper advised growers that Sresovich would buy apples any time of the year. A second packing house was eventually built beside the first to deal with the excess boxes.

For the next few years, operations continued like clockwork, with Sresovich’s fruit buyers leasing orchards or buying fruit stocks and then hauling them to Capitola for packing. Around 1894, the company leased space in M. N. Lettunich & Company’s packing house beside Watsonville Depot. In total, 24,000 boxes of apples shipped out that year. However, competition with other local fruit buyers and growers had become fierce and somebody in the county had it in for L. G. Sresovich Company.

In October and November 1897, all of Sresovich’s fruit packing houses in Santa Cruz County were burned down by arsonists. Over 55,000 boxes of apples ready for shipment were destroyed between the three structures. Undaunted, the company pledged to rebuild, but financial realities got in the way. By March 1898, Sresovich was facing increasing financial problems from years of heavy borrowing during a recession, when fruits were not making as much money as his costs.

A partial recovery may have come through the purchase of the fruit-buying company of his longtime rival, Marko Rabasa, in 1898. By the second half of the year, Sresovich resumed purchasing fruits for export. Business continued for the next five years as if nothing had happened. At some point, the company must have rebuilt its Capitola packing house and dryer because it was set alight again on August 2, 1900. Five days later, the adjacent barn was also destroyed by arson. A new packing house must also have been built in Watsonville since once was operating in 1901 and shipping out 35,000 boxes of apples in 1903. Meanwhile, yet another fire burned down a packing house in San Francisco in November 1901, amounting to $15,000 in damage.

Portrait of Luke Sresovich from his obituary in the San Francisco Call, May 13, 1908.
Despite suggestions that Sresovich was doing better financially, a poor fruit market followed by several condemned shipments in early 1904 revealed that the company remained in substantial debt. In April of that year, Luke Sresovich also suffered a personal tragedy with the sudden death of his wife, Mary Caroline, in a streetcar accident in San Francisco. Bereft and with few options, Sresovich allowed the company to fall into insolvency on April 3, 1905. As before, he soon attempted to revive his fruit empire with a shipment of apples from Capitola to Los Angeles, and he continued the next year by buying a large quantity of cherries in Santa Cruz.

Still, Sresovich was haunted by the memory of his wife. Her estate in Capitola was listed for sale in January 1907, but much of the property burned down in a suspicious fire in May. Suffering increasing bouts of depression from the loss of his wife, Sresovich likely committed suicide during a hunting trip at Brentwood in Contra Costa County on May 10, 1908. Since 1905, his company had operated within Santa Cruz County under the name of his son, L. Geo. Sresovich Jr., but his son sold the company to the Santa Cruz Produce Company in June 1907.

Citations & Credits:
  • Circa Historic Property Development. “Historic Context Statement for the City of Watsonville.” Final report. Watsonville, CA: Circa Historic Property Develop-ment, 2007.
  • Ninkovich, Thomas, ed. The Slav Community of Watsonville, California, as reported in old newspapers. Watsonville, CA: Reunion Research, 2014.
  • O’Connell, Daniel. The Inner Man: Good Things to Eat and Where to Get Them. San Francisco, CA: Bancroft Company, 1891.
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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Maps: Aptos Area

The Loma Prieta Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was a surprisingly long-lived affair despite its only significant function being the hauling out of lumber from Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Built in late 1883 and early 1884 by the Pacific Improvement Company under the name Loma Prieta Railroad, the route eventually reached near the headwaters of Aptos Creek and Bridge Creek. Meanwhile, the Pacific Improvement Company itself ran a long twisting tramway down the east bank of Aptos Creek to the southern boundary of the Augmentation and maintained a mill at Molino to the north.

The original Loma Prieta Lumber Company mill on Aptos Creek at Monte Vista, ca 1885. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

After the Loma Prieta Lumber Company finished its intended harvesting job, the closely-related Molino Timber Company installed a meandering narrow-gauge line along the top of China Ridge, with several long spurs venturing down tributary streams of Hinckley Creek far below. Later operations also returned to Bridge Creek to finish the harvesting of timber there. Even while all these operations were ongoing, the F. A. Hihn Company built its own narrow-gauge railroad up nearby Valencia Creek to its mill just inside the Augmentation. The track continued for a long distance beyond the mill and remained in place until 1895. Two decades later, the Hihn Company returned to harvest timber on the ridge between Bridge and Hinckley Creeks, building a small isolated railroad deep in the mountains and using highlines to haul the logs out. The last operations along the lines were small mills built outside Aptos hauling in logs from small uncut tracts.

All of the branch lines, sidings, and spurs of the Loma Prieta Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad, 1883–1936. Also, the narrow-gauge Valencia Creek Railway, owned and operated by the F. A. Hihn Company, 1886–1895. Not all streams and roads marked. Click image for a larger size. [Derek R. Whaley]

The Loma Prieta Railroad, later Branch, was built in several stages over a period of over forty years if the various long spurs are considered. The primary track initially, built from April 1883, ran a distance of 5.0 miles from the Southern Pacific station at Aptos to the original Loma Prieta Lumber Company mill at Monte Vista. The route was surveyed by the Southern Pacific Railroad and its construction was overseen by W. F. Knox and a Mr. Partridge, who together managed a crew of 200 Chinese workers. While none of the line survives today, nearly all of the original right-of-way is still fully accessible to the public as a part of The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Some of the long spurs, namely those of the Molino Timber Company along China Ridge and Bridge Creek, are also accessible as public trails.

The crossing of the Loma Prieta Branch and the Valencia Creek Railway behind Aptos Station, 1916. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections]

The 5-mile route to Monte Vista began at a wye constructed in Aptos just west of the station at the bottom of today's Aptos Creek Road. The route then more or less followed the path of the current road as it parallels Aptos Creek on its east bank. The first substantial bridge was a 188-foot-long span over Mangles Gulch just north of town. From there, the grading work mostly involved several short cuts until the right-of-way finally crossed Aptos Creek over a 189-foot-long bridge 1.75 miles north of Aptos. This location is just northeast of the current vehicular bridge. After passing through two longer cuts, the railroad entered Rancho Soquel Augmentation, where the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, the Pacific Improvement Company, and Frederick Hihn owned extensive timber acreage.

A bridge under construction along the Loma Prieta Branch, ca 1883. [Roy Graves Collection, Bancroft Library]

Once inside the Augmentation, the route continued north passing through more cuts and across several short bridges over gullies. This route today is identical to the Aptos Creek Fire Road to the Porter Family Picnic Area (the last gate). Beyond the gate, the railroad followed today's Loma Prieta Grade Trail across Love Gulch to the Porter House site. The two routes then separated with the Grade Trail continuing up Bridge Creek and the main line of the railroad crossing Aptos Creek over a 210-foot-long bridge to the current Fire Road. The village of Loma Prieta was located here, on the east bank of the creek 3.7 miles from Aptos. Almost nothing survives of this area, with even the building foundations gone or buried deep in brush.

Molino in the mid-1880s before the Loma Prieta Lumber Company relocated its primary mill along the spur. [Timothy Hopkins Collection, Stanford University]

Even before the main railroad was completed, the Pacific Improvement Company began its bold plan to carefully harvest the timber south of the village of Loma Prieta. It did this via a very rugged and complex railroad route that paralleled the Loma Prieta Branch on the east bank of Aptos Creek heading south. This standard-gauge track broke off from the branch line just north of the Porter Picnic Area at a site called Molino and turned sharply to the east until the grade of the hillside was too steep. It then backed down to the creek level via a switchback and turned south. The railroad crossed the creek almost a dozen times with a total of at least twenty-one bridges required as it made its way south to the boundary of the Augmentation. A mid-sized shingle mill just below the Picnic Area processed all of the wood cut along this track. In order to not undermine the picturesque qualities of the Loma Prieta Branch, the Pacific Improvement Company left a solid wall of foliage between its track and the main track so that passengers could barely see the heavily-harvested forest beyond. The Porter Trail follows parts of this route and the Porter Family Picnic Area sits on the route, but much of it is now overgrown and difficult to discern.

The Loma Prieta Branch served as Main Street in the village of Loma Prieta, ca 1888. [Aptos Museum]

Returning to the main branch line, it continued beyond the village of Loma Prieta and followed or closely paralleled today's Aptos Creek Fire Road through five cuts of various lengths. Where the road crosses Aptos Creek to begin its climb to the top of China Ridge, the tracks continued on, crossing Aptos Creek via a 280-foot-long curving bridge that immediately passed into a deep cut. After two short bridges, another long cut, and a 210-foot-long bridge over Aptos Creek, the Loma Prieta Railroad made its final journey to Monte Vista. This route stuck closely to the steep northwest bank of Aptos Creek, crossing over several short bridges before making a final descent into the mill grounds at the 5.0 mile marker.

Early photograph of the original Loma Prieta mill at Monte Vista with the millpond spur faintly visible above the mill at the top of the photograph. [Aptos Museum]

Almost immediately after it was built, the line had to be extended and corrected to address the poorly anticipated fact that the canyon was too narrow for the mill. The initial solution, likely begun immediately after the mill was opened in March 1884, was to build a long spur across Aptos Creek just west of the mill. This spur ran along the southeast bank of the creek to a switchback, at which point it continued further northeast above the millpond so that logs could be dumped into the water. But this system was not very effective and the Loma Prieta Lumber Company soon decided to relocate the mill further south to Molino, just north of the Pacific Improvement Company's shingle mill. A convenient fire in 1886 accelerated the move.

A siding and a spur beside the millpond of the Loma Prieta mill on Aptos Creek, ca 1890s. [Aptos Museum]

The new mill, which opened in 1887, involved many different railroad spurs and sidings in the vicinity of Molino. From the shingle mill spur, a new track went north across Aptos Creek where it split into three parallel spurs, all ending in front of the mill. On the west bank of the creek beside the mainline, several new sidings broke off to allow cars to dump logs into the mill pond, while three new spurs were also installed for maintenance work and to park unused cars. To the northeast of the village of Loma Prieta, another spur broke off the mainline and headed south, paralleling today's Aptos Creek Fire Road a short distance, while a branch off this spur briefly paralleled the wagon road to Trout Gulch (today's Trout Gulch Trail). One last spur sat just across from today's vehicular bridge across Aptos Creek from the bottom of the China Ridge switchback. Most of these short spurs were used to park unused cars or repair rolling stock.

The F. A. Hihn Company mill on Valencia Creek, ca 1890. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

Even as the final tracks were laid for the initial plan of the Loma Prieta Branch, Frederick Hihn was busy building his own narrow-gauge railroad along Valencia Creek in the spring of 1887. This track interchanged with the Southern Pacific Railroad at Aptos via a dual-gauged section where lumber could be loaded onto stacks for standard-gauge cars to later pick up. Much less of this right-of-way survives today and even its exact route is not entirely clear since it was built privately. For the most part, the track ran along the west bank of Valencia Creek between today's Valencia Road and the creek bed, with some reports suggesting the track actually sat immediately beside the creek for much of its length. Where the creek splits, with Cox Creek heading to the east, is the boundary of the Augmentation.

Valencia School in the village of Valencia, date unknown. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

Hihn set up both his village of Valencia and his mill just north of the Augmentation boundary, 3 miles north of Aptos. The village was slightly to the east of the confluence at the junction of Valencia and Bear Valley Roads. The mill itself sat in the creek bed just to the northwest. The only surviving remnants of any of this are the Valencia Hall and schoolhouse that are still situated near their original sites. The right-of-way of the railroad continued north beyond the mill through an increasingly-narrow canyon for 3 more miles, crossing over Valencia Creek at its only significant bridge about 2 miles north of the mill. It is unknown how many spurs and sidings Hihn's company built aside from the main track and, unlike the Loma Prieta Branch, this railroad rarely ran passenger service other than for employees and their families. The entire route was pulled in early 1895 for reuse in Gold Gulch south of Felton. Some sections of this route still exist as private roads, such as Bark Road, but all of it is now private property and very difficult to access. 

Chinese workers building the Loma Prieta Branch, ca 1884. [Aptos Museum]

Returning to the Loma Prieta Branch, not long after the mill pond was built for the new mill north of Molino, a spur was installed up Spring Creek. The purpose of this was to harvest timber from the southern face of China Ridge, although Spring Creek itself was only lightly touched since the water from this creek supplied the drinking water for the nearby village. The track crossed Aptos Creek at the end of a deep cut that is still visible along the Aptos Creek Trail just east of the bottom of the Fire Road switchback. After crossing the creek, the track split into several switchbacks that climbed up the ridge. One line went east along the northwest bank of Aptos Creek, while the other climbed Spring Creek briefly and then paralleled the longest part of today's Fire Road switchback. At the western curve of the switchback, the track turned sharply around and then continued west until stopping just above Bridge Creek. It then switchbacked one final time to nearly Aptos Creek. This track was probably expanded over several seasons and then taken up for the track to be used at the end of the main branch line.

People posing on either side of Aptos Creek somewhere along the Loma Prieta Branch north of the village, late 1880s. [Aptos Museum]

By March 1888, most of the lower tracts along Aptos Creek were harvested and the Loma Prieta Lumber Company wanted to move further up the creek. Southern Pacific obliged and extended the track an additional two miles along the steep western bank of the creek. Around a dozen short bridges were required to cross myriad gullies and gulches before crossing Aptos Creek just outside a second Monte Vista, 6.4 miles north of Aptos. This route can still mostly be followed today by taking the Aptos Creek Trail, although many of the bridges are now detoured around and there is a substantial switchback bypass at Marijuana Gulch. Upstream from this gulch, a massive landslide has erased all of the right-of-way but diligent explorers can find it again further north, where they can follow it to the site of Monte Vista and Five Finger Falls beyond. This spot marks the northern end of the Aptos Creek Trail but not the end of the track.

Postcard of a boy beside Five Finger Falls above Monte Vista, 1890s. [Aptos Museum]

The area from the second Monte Vista to the end-of-track was still built of the highest quality but was not viable for passenger service. At Monte Vista, a compound bridge split into two tracks with one forking to end at a small mill and the other continuing around the mill and its millpond to then wrap around Five Finger Falls over a long viaduct that crossed Aptos Creek twice before finding its footing again on the east bank of the creek above the falls. From this point, the track practically straddled the creek from the east bank until just short of the 1,000-foot elevation point, where a long viaduct was indeed built directly over the creek. Initially, the track ended just at the bottom of Bassett Gulch, where Aptos Creek forked. A later extension around 1890 extended the track further up the gulch to the 7.04-mile mark, where it ended at the 1,200-foot elevation point. This effectively marked the end-of-track for the line and over the next twelve years, it was progressively cut back to the village of Loma Prieta as logging ended along the upper tracts of Aptos Creek.

A Southern Pacific locomotive operating somewhere along the Loma Prieta Branch, date unknown. [Woods Mattingly Collection, Aptos Museum]

Other spurs appeared across the line even as the main line was slowly cut back. Indeed, the removed track was frequently repurposed for use elsewhere. Several short spurs were built just upstream from Aptos Creek's confluence with Spring Creek. The Aptos Creek Trail passes directly through this area when it crosses Aptos Creek, but only some bridge remains and a single cut on the south bank of the creek mark the location. A more ambitious right-of-way was installed along the east bank of Aptos Creek across from today's slide area south of the second Monte Vista. Because of how briefly it existed and the slide activity, most traces of this track are gone, but it originally crossed Aptos Creek over a high bridge and then switchbacked within the current slide area, ending a little west of Marijuana Gulch above today's Aptos Creek Trail switchback. This was the last substantial logging operation along the upper parts of the creek.

Pack mules at Schillings Camp south of Molino, ca 1901. [Aptos Museum]

In 1897, focus shifted to logging south of Loma Prieta. Short spurs were extended up Bridge Creek and Love Gulch, where they linked up with skid roads. The Bridge Creek Trail follows the former right-of-way while the remains of the latter can be seen from the Loma Prieta Grade Trail just north of where it crosses Love Gulch. Further south in 1901, a split stuff mill was built along a short spur called Schillings Camp at the present site of the Porter Family Picnic Area. All activity effectively ceased along the line for the next ten years as focus shifted to harvesting timber on Hinckley Creek and, after 1906, Scott Creek north of Davenport. However, the tracks to the old Monte Vista site remained in place for later use. 

Molino Timber Company Camp No. 1 with steam winch, ca 1913. [Aptos Museum]

The final stage of railroad expansion along the Loma Prieta Branch was overseen by the Molino Timber Company, which was founded by employees of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company. In 1912, the company installed a third rail on the Loma Prieta Branch between a new, smaller mill at Molino and to a point just before the long curving bridge across Aptos Creek upstream. Here, it installed a narrow-gauge incline directly up the southern slope of China Ridge just to the west of Spring Creek. Camp No. 1 was built at the top of the ridge where a steam winch was installed to ferry short flatcars up and down the line to a landing below. Today, the site of the top of the incline is marked along the Aptos Creek Fire Road while the bottom of the incline was located where the Aptos Creek Fire Road crosses Aptos Creek at the bottom of the switchback.

The Molino Timber Company's train crossing a deep gulch along China Ridge, ca 1913. [Aptos Museum]

From Camp No. 1, the Molino right-of-way followed the ridge line along the same route that now constitutes the Aptos Creek Fire Road along China Ridge, with only a few detours across short bridges. To navigate the tight turns of the route, a short locomotive and short cars were used. The first section built was between the Loma Prieta Branch and Sand Point, a distance of 3 miles. This was soon extended another 0.9 miles to Camp No. 2, which was located on a hillside far above Hinckley Creek. Today, this is a relatively flat but otherwise unremarkable point along the Fire Road.

Highlining a pallet of splitstuff from Hinckley Gulch up to China Ridge, 1910s. [Aptos Museum]

Shortly after the Molino Company began its operations in 1912, the F. A. Hihn Company reassembled its small narrow-gauge locomotive, the Betsy Jane, and shipped it along the Molino grade to Sand Point, where it was hauled down on cables to the headwaters of Bridge Creek along the southern slope of Hinckley Ridge. Here, the Hihn Company built a dizzying network of narrow-gauge tracks that switchbacked and corkscrewed across the hillsides, isolated from the rest of the network. Splitstuff that was processed in this remote basin was loaded until pallets and hoisted up to Sand Point via highline cables. Plans to connect this track to the former grade further to the south along Bridge Creek never materialised and Betsy Jane was eventually abandoned to become the lost locomotive of the Forest of Nisene Marks. Parts of this right-of-way can be found along the Hinckley Basin Fire Road and West Ridge Trail west of Sand Point.

Molino Timber Company Camp No. 3 near Sand Point, overlooking Hinckley Creek, ca 1916. [Aptos Museum]

Returning to the Molino mainline, the original right-of-way separates from the modern Fire Road at Camp No. 2 and descended down to Hinckley Creek on a gradual, meandering route 1.7 miles long to Camp No. 3. Unlike the rest of the right-of-way, this section had a steep grade, exceptionally sharp turns, and required at least six cuts. Today, the cuts and some crude bridge remains are the only real evidence of this right-of-way, and they are difficult and dangerous to find. The route did not actually end here, though. The only place where a railroad ever crossed Hinckley Creek was just beyond Camp No. 3 along a 0.8 extension that ended just across the creek from the camp. Around the same time, a second highline rig was installed between the Hihn Company's track and a new landing area just north of Sand Point above Hinckley Creek. This was the last trackage installed along China Ridge.

Worker replacing ties along a Bridge Creek spur, date unknown. [Aptos Museum]

As operations wrapped up along the ridge, the Molino Timber Company installed tracks along the west bank of Bridge Creek beyond the site of the Porter House beginning in 1918. This is the pair of rights-of-way so well known today as the Bridge Creek Trail and the Loma Prieta Grade Trail, and both trails follow the original Molino railway routes almost exactly. The Bridge Creek route was a new track that partially followed the old standard-gauge spur. It continued all the way to Maple Falls, a distance of 1.6 miles, although Camp No. 4 was 0.4 miles to the south, where the Loma Prieta Grade Trail crosses Bridge Creek to join the Bridge Creek Trail. The well-known landmark, the bridge of logs, is a part of this branch just south of Camp No. 4, and other bridge remains can also be seen along the route.

Molino Timber Company Camp No. 5, now Hoffman's Historic Site, 1918. [Woods Mattingly Collection, Aptos Museum]

The final section of the Molino line broke off from the Bridge Creek track at a switchback where today's trails divide north of the Porter House site. It then continued—following today's trail—for 1.4 miles until reaching Camp No. 4 "Camp Liberty," now known as Hoffman's Historic Site. This didn't mark the end of the right-of-way, though. This branch continued on, following today's trail, for another 0.8 miles to Big Tree Gulch, where some of the last standing redwood giants of the Aptos Creek basin were felled. This is roughly the point where the Loma Prieta Grade Trail turns toward Bridge Creek After this operation ended in 1919.

Ruins of the Molino Timber Company's mill at Molino, March 8, 1952. Photo by Paul L. Henchey. [University of California, Davis, Library, Archives and Special Collections]

In a strange twist, the Loma Prieta Branch was used one final time in 1920 by Ruth Ready, a daughter of Frederick Hihn. Following Hihn's death, he left property near the right-of-way to Ruth and she had two spurs built on either side of the first bridge over Aptos Creek, naming the station Ready. Today, the southern landing is George's Picnic Area. This operation ended in 1921 and the branch sat more or less abandoned for 15 years until the Southern Pacific Railroad formally abandoned the branch and tore out the remaining tracks to the former village of Loma Prieta. Logging continued within the Augmentation for three decades but trucks were used to haul out logs. Eventually, the land was transferred to the state to become the Forest of Nisene Marks in 1965.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Powell, Ronald G. The Reign of the Lumber Barons: Part Two of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2021.
  • Powell, Ronald G. The Shadow of Loma Prieta: Part Three of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2022.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Streetcars: San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company

The Santa Clara Valley at the turn of the twentieth century had surprisingly poor roads and connections between its many towns. Although the Southern Pacific Railroad maintained the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railway route from Santa Clara through Los Gatos, Los Gatos had no other rail infrastructure and all of its roads were still dirt. The nearest towns were Campbell to the north and Saratoga to the north. All three began life as rural industrial towns but were experiencing population growth as industry shifted to agriculture. These problems finally convinced local entrepreneurs F. S. Granger and James W. Rea to incorporate the San Jose, Saratoga & Los Gatos Electric Railway Company on October 17, 1902.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car at Meridian Corner, ca 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Talk of an interurban line from Los Gatos to San José and Saratoga began in the late 1890s, when electric railway technology reached a point where it could be run affordably over long distances, such as between towns miles apart. Around 1897, rights-of-way for such a project were acquired by an unnamed Los Gatos firm, but nothing came of the plan. In the aftermath, a committee for the Los Gatos Electric Railroad was formed in late 1898 to investigate the possibility of such a line and found that one could be built for $50,000 with electricity provided for free from a San José company. As a result, the People's Electric Railway Company was founded on April 14, 1899 with a capital stock of $75,000 and 15,000 shares. This project was led by H. M. Barker, J. H. Becker, A. Malpas, P. H. Jordan, and H. T. Matthews and the estimated length of the railroad was to be ten miles. Yet nothing happened with this project, likely because it required fifty percent of the capital stock to be subscribed to before the directors could borrow from a bank.

Newspaper advertisement in the Los Gatos Mail for the new interurban railway, August 28, 1902.
Three years later, on August 22, 1902, Granger presented to the Los Gatos Town Board his plan for a new electric railroad that would connect Los Gatos to San José with a branch line to Saratoga. Moreover, the line would not cost any of the towns a cent with all revenue coming from subscribers. In order to prepare for the line, he incorporated the railroad in October alongside Rea. A. T. Herrmann was hired to survey the line and began work immediately, focusing first on the section between Los Gatos and Saratoga. On December 15, after receiving no counteroffers, the Town Board approved Granger's franchise for a railway line. The term of the contract was for fifty years and allowed for a single steel track of narrow or standard gauge to run from the town boundary at Saratoga-Los Gatos Road (Highway 9) down Santa Cruz Avenue to Broadway, where cars would be turned around. Granger immediately placed an order for equipment to build the line since construction was contracted to begin within three months of the contract and had to be completed by the end of the year. Ground was broken at Meridian Corners at the intersection of Stevens Creek Road and Saratoga Avenue in Santa Clara on January 6, 1903. The first stock of 70lbs. rails arrived in mid-February.

Recently completed gradework near Los Gatos along the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban route, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Soon afterwards, Granger and Rea entered into a new arrangement with the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway Company. This earlier company was incorporated in October 1889 and quickly sold to J. H. Henry of Iowa. When it opened in 1890, it was one of the first interurban electric railways in California. Granger and Rea incorporated the Saratoga Construction Company to secure the right-of-way and construct the line on behalf of the electric railway. Later court proceedings suggest that they may have been less than honest in their dealings with contractors or with the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway. To compensate for delays, the company negotiated an extension of their completion date to March 1, 1904. However, on May 5, 1903, Granger and Rea reincorporated under the name San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company, possibly to escape some liabilities they had amounted over the previous six months. The new company had an increased capital stock of $2,000,000 to account for an expanded vision of the line

San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban cars sitting outside the carbarn near San José, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
A second groundbreaking ceremony for the expanded line occurred on the last week of May 1903, shortly after the company negotiated a new contract with the Los Gatos Town Board. It proceeded apace over the next month until eleven miles were graded and three miles of crossties laid in preparation of installing the rails. The 58,000 ties were purchased from I. T. Bloom of Boulder Creek. The first spike of the interurban railway was hammered by J. O. Hayes at a ceremony held on June 22 on San Carlos Street, just outside of San José. At the ceremony, Rea proclaimed his hope for the line to eventually extend in all directions from San José, including a line beyond Saratoga and Congress Springs to Big Basin, a dream many firms had over the years. Five miles of standard-gauge track were expected to be installed by July 1. Interurban cars were ordered from St. Louis, Missouri.

A Japanese-style cottage at Nippon Mura outside Los Gatos, ca 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Construction of the line was relatively straightforward. The initial route connected San José to Saratoga via a track that ran down San Carlos and Stevens Creek Road, turning at Saratoga Avenue and continuing the length of that road to Saratoga, a total of 11 miles. This route was done around September. Another 4 miles of track extended along the Saratoga–Los Gatos Road to Los Gatos, turning at Santa Cruz Avenue to terminate at Broadway, across from the Southern Pacific Railroad station and beside the Hotel Lyndon. This section was due for completion no later than May 1904.

The Hotel Lyndon at the end-of-track of the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban, ca 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
Fights with the San Jose and Santa Clara line, however, were inevitable. In September 1903, a dispute arose over access to Campbell. The interurban, as part of its next phase of expansion, had planned to build a reverse route up Santa Cruz Avenue to Winchester Boulevard through Campbell, and then continue in a relatively direct path back to San José, thereby creating a giant trapezoidal square. But the San José line also had plans for a route to Campbell. Meanwhile, access to the Southern Pacific depot in San José was vitally important. When the track down North Market Street was first installed in October, a third rail was placed so that the streetcars of the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway could operate. But on November 25, under pressure from its financier, Germania Trust Company of St. Louis, the interurban tore out the third rail and cemented the tracks. The matter appears to have been resolved out of court.

The Southern Pacific Railroad's main station on Market Street, 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The initial interurban network opened for regularly scheduled service on March 19, 1904. The time to Los Gatos from San José via Saratoga was thirty minutes. The interurban line also supported a mail and express car, that ran daily. As an additional option, tourists to the Bay Area could take a special observation car, that ran passengers across 104 miles of track throughout the Santa Clara Valley, including the interurban line, for $1. During harvest season, interurban cars hauled leased boxcars out to orchards to haul out fruits to local canneries. The Los Gatos interurban intended to continue with its plans to build a route back to San José via Campbell, and also wanted to build a short extension to Congress Springs in the hills above Saratoga.

The San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban station at Saratoga, with the maintenance car parked beside it, 1904. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
However, trouble arose on April 2, 1904, when it was revealed that the interurban had failed to pay its contractor, George W. Elder, and his crews for the last two months of construction. Following fisticuffs in San José, Elder led a boycott where his workers barred people from boarding the interurban cars. The interurban claimed that the funds were withheld for a set period of time to ensure the quality of the right-of-way. The matter did not distress Granger, who was pressing on with his plans to extend tracks to Campbell. Several miles of easements for the line were secured by the end of April and crossties for the grading work arrived on July 2. Meanwhile, on July 10, the branch line to Congress Springs opened to traffic.

Colorized postcard of a San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car on the road to Congress Springs, 1906. [San José Public Library]
Behind all of this outward progress, backroom deals were being made that would fundamentally change the nature of the company. In early April 1904, Rea convinced the board of directors to sell their stock in the interurban company to local banker and investor O. A. Hale. Granger opposed the deal and was forced out. As a result, he moved to Santa Cruz to found the Union Traction Company. Hale, meanwhile, became president of the company on April 9. The first association between Hale and Southern Pacific was mentioned in the Stanislaus County Weekly News on May 12 and such occurrences became more frequent over the next year. While it seems clear that Southern Pacific did not directly purchase the interurban line, its agents were in control and coordinating its future with the railroad.

Colorized postcard of Rinconada station at Kennedy Road and Main Street on the Campbell line of the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban, ca 1907.
Despite the corporate takeover and several unresolved legal issues, the interurban pressed on with its plans for a track to Campbell. Installation went smoothly down Main Street in Los Gatos and then Los Gatos Boulevard and Bascom Avenue. At Camden, the track turned northwest to cross Los Gatos Creek, before turning due north for Campbell. In October 1904, crews conducted a night installation of track through an orchard that paralleled the Southern Pacific Railroad's tracks between Camden Avenue (San Tomas Expressway) and Campbell Avenue. They were forced to do this when the property owner reneged on a right-of-way agreement. The tactic succeeded and interurban cars were running to Campbell from Los Gatos by November 24.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car running down Market Street in San José with mounted policemen in the foreground, 1907. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The war over downtown San José finally resolved on January 23, 1905 when the City Council voted in favor of the interurban line. It was granted a route around the city along San Carlos Street, Market Street, San Fernando Street, and Sunol Street. It was further granted permission for a line down Bird Avenue in order to connect with the tail of its Campbell route. Over the next several months, a zig-zagging line of track was completed between Campbell and San José, finally completing the intended circuit. The track paralleled the Southern Pacific track north to Campbell Avenue and then turned east until Union Avenue. At Union, it turned north to Hamilton Avenue and then east until Meridian Avenue. At Willow Street, the track turned east again and continue to Lincoln Avenue, turning north until Coe Avenue. It finally continued up Bird Avenue until meeting the other end of the line at San Carlos Street.

The complete San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway network as of mid-1905. [Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas]
With the network complete, Hale made plans to expand out to the north and south. His next goal was to extend tracks north from Los Gatos to Cupertino, Mountain View, and ultimately Palo Alto where it could meet again with the Southern Pacific line near Stanford University. Meanwhile, he was also making plans to extend the interurban line south to Hollister and, eventually, Capitola, where it would connect to the Union Traction Company's streetcar network.

Colorized postcard of a San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban car on the only substantial bridge along the line, near Saratoga, ca 1904. [San José Public Library]
At this point, The Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas did a review of the line and provide several additional details highlighting the company just shortly after the end of its independence. It noted that the company owned nine passenger cars and two freight cars, all electric, as well as five unpowered passenger cars. The company's carbarn was located at the corner of Sunol and San Carlos Streets, on the Saratoga line. Cars that left San José at the hour went to Saratoga first, while cars that left on the half hour went to Campbell first. The interurban shared a short stretch of narrow-gauge track with the Almaden Branch of the South Pacific Coast Railway, a Southern Pacific subsidiary, between Bascom Avenue and Winchester Boulevard. This arrangement required cars to stop for up to ten minutes at either junction to ensure that the track was clear for the interurban car. Because the interurban line used existing roads for most of its route, it only required one substantial bridge, located along the Saratoga line. Smaller bridges, however, were necessary, especially on the Congress Springs branch.

A San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban work crew fixing a power line somewhere along the route, 1904. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – Colorized using DeOldify]
The curtain was finally pulled back on the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway on December 21, 1905, when Hale founded the Peninsular Railroad Company. On the surface, this great scheme was intended to connect San José to San Francisco via an interurban railroad. Yet it is clear that Hale intended for the new company to absorb the Los Gatos interurban. Branch lines were intended to reach to Los Gatos, Big Basin, Oakland, and Alum Rock. In his grandest vision, Hale hoped his interurban cars would span the entirety of the South Bay. In reality, the Peninsular was a ploy to allow Southern Pacific interests into the domain of the Los Gatos interurban. The railroad wanted a cutoff between Vasona and Mayfield near Palo Alto, thereby bypassing San José entirely. But to do so required the outright annexation of the interurban railway.

Map of the route included with the weekly newspaper timetable showing the eleven official stops along the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban line, 1908. [Los Gatos Mail]
Although now undeniably a part of the Southern Pacific machine, the Los Gatos interurban line continued to operate under its own name for several more years. Indeed, Southern Pacific used its franchise rights and separate liabilities to build the Mayfield Cutoff covertly as a double track interurban line, although it was an open secret that one of the tracks would be for trains rather than interurban cars. Construction on the new branch began in June 1906, two months after the San Francisco Earthquake. The first section built beginning in June was between Mayfield and Cupertino, which meant that the line began disconnected from the rest of the network. Construction progressed slowly. While construction was still ongoing, Hale died on July 20, 1907 from appendicitis. His successor as president of the interurban and the Peninsular Railroad, Jere T. Burke, worked as a lawyer for Southern Pacific.

A Southern Pacific passenger train approaching Vasona Junction from Los Gatos, March 11, 1939. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – Colorized usind DeOldify]
By September 1907, work on the new branch line from Vasona to Mayfield was progressing rapidly. The new route, as well as the Mayfield Cut-Off, opened to regular traffic on November 5. Oddly, even though the interurban track was constructed under the auspices of the Los Gatos interurban, it was never added to its timetable and only ever ran as a part of the Peninsular Railroad. The company immediately shifted its focus to double-tracking the rest of the interurban network while Southern Pacific focused on repairing and upgrading the railroad route to Santa Cruz, which it hoped to use as a new thoroughfare in tandem with the Mayfield Cut-Off (officially the Los Altos Branch). A poor financial market from late 1907 through 1908, however, delayed all projects and may have suspended any proposed expansions to the interurban network.

A King's Daughters outing at Congress Springs with San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban cars, 1907. [De Anza College – Colorized using DeOldify]
On June 30, 1909, five years after Southern Pacific interests acquired the Los Gatos line, the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company and the San Jose & Santa Clara Railway were formally consolidated with the Peninsular Railroad. Burke remained president alongside other Southern Pacific shareholders and the capital stock of the newly-reincorporated company was set at $12,000,000. The last timetable under the name was published in the Los Gatos Mail on March 21, 1912, nearly three years after the company ceased to exist. After that date, the Los Gatos interurban faded into memory and the Peninsular Railroad went on to rule the South Bay for the next twenty years.

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Companies: Alpine Lumber Company

The Alpine Lumber Company was the last in a series of lumber ventures in the Santa Cruz Mountains run by Andrew Dallas Duffey. Duffey was born in Canada on December 16, 1842 and arrived in Santa Cruz County in the mid-1870s. Newspaper records from throughout his life show how quickly he became a leader in the Santa Cruz County lumber industry. He first entered the scene on May 19, 1879, when he joined in partnership with Hubbard W. McKoy of Vermont, a former Felton hotelier and merchant who had run a mill alongside Thomas B. Hubbard for the previous three years. Later evidence suggests that Duffey served as mill manager, a role he took several more times over the ensuing decades.

The Harmon mill on Bear Creek, ca 1890, later purchased by the Alpine Lumber Company and used by the Enterprise Lumber Company. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
In April 1880, Duffey became a partner in the short-lived Santa Cruz Lumber Association. The collective was primarily a union of the Grover family, which ran a mill in Soquel, and James W. Peery, who ran a mill in the south side of modern-day Boulder Creek. McKoy & Duffey were clearly minor players in the collective, with the only advantage of their small mill in Felton being its proximity to the South Pacific Coast Railroad line. In any case, the association only lasted a year, dissolving in April 1881. 

Duffey decided on April 8, 1882 to end his partnership with McKoy. The next few years of his life are difficult to follow. It seems likely that he worked as the mill manager for the Olive & Foster mill on Granger Gulch near Felton in 1884. This mill was moved to the headwaters of Laguna Creek in Bonny Doon on land purchased from James P. Pierce in 1885, and then shifted a half mile downstream in 1886. Duffey was certainly the manager that year, which was the last year that Olive & Foster operated.

The precise relationship Duffey had with Jared W. Comstock of Connecticut beginning in 1887 is unclear. At that time, Comstock & Company operated a mill on Hester Creek outside Soquel and Duffey worked for Comstock as a contractor. In October 1888, the two men appeared as equals when they negotiated a deal with Edward P. Reed to open a sawmill in the vicinity of Boulder Creek on the San Lorenzo River. This was Duffey’s first experience in the Boulder Creek milling scene, but it wouldn’t be his last. By the summer of 1889, the mill employed forty men and was cutting 15,000 board feet of lumber per day. However, tragedy struck in October when Comstock died following a sixteen-day illness of typhoid. Duffey set out once more to find a business partner.

In 1890, Duffey joined Frank W. Simmons of Maine in running a lumber mill on Two Bar Creek 3.5 miles north of Boulder Creek and 2 miles up the creek near the present Cougar Rock Road. A reporter for the Surf stated that “the mill is placed directly over the creek bed and though an attempt has been made to cover the stream with slabs in which the saw dust is dumped, yet an immense quantity of saw dust is poured into the water, coloring it as black as ink and poisoning the fish.” This mill had a capacity of 18,000 board feet of lumber per day and was also noted as being on Reed’s property, so it may have previously been the Comstock mill.

Although the Surf reporter noted that the Two Bar Creek mill would run for another year, the Sentinel stated on October 10, 1890 that it would close down and be relocated to a tract owned by Pierce on Love Creek. This new mill two miles to the north of Ben Lomond, which opened in May 1891, was actually not on Love Creek, however. It was located between Fritch Creek and the settlement of Clear Creek (Brookdale), probably near the end of Roberts Road or in the undeveloped Hillary Heights subdivision. It had an increased capacity of 20,000 board feet of lumber per day and the plan was to keep the mill running for three seasons. A boiler explosion on May 18 may have slowed operations, but Duffey and Simmons were able to replace it within days. Nonetheless, the partners shut down the mill permanently after the 1892 season and dismantled the structures and machinery. Duffey stored them in an empty lot in Ben Lomond until he found a new tract to harvest.

That new tract Duffey acquired was back on Laguna Creek (Bonny Doon) on land purchased from Pierce. Indeed, this remote tract on the backside of Ben Lomond Mountain was likely the same property sold by McKoy to Pierce back in January 1882. For this new venture, Duffey partnered with Roscoe Green Longley, a recent immigrant from Maine born in 1836. Longley proved to be Duffey’s longest lasting partner and they remained in business together for seven years. Their mill in Bonny Doon employed sixty men during the three years that it ran along Laguna Creek, and the partners employed the Ryder Brothers to transport the lumber to market.

The Laguna Creek mill closed in December 1894, but Duffey & Longley continued shipping lumber over the winter, only dismantling the mill around June 1895. By July 15, the mill had been moved to a new site 2 miles up Lompico Creek at the confluence of Mill Creek. A reporter for the Evening Sentinel visited the mill in September 1896 and was welcomed by Edwin Roscoe Longley, a son of Roscoe Longley. The reporter revealed that Duffey & Longley employed fifty-six men at the mill and that the mill had a capacity of 25,000 board feet of lumber per day. The mill shipped twelve wagon-loads of lumber per day out from the South Pacific Coast Railway station at Eccles. The Lompico mill only operated for a year and a half, with the machinery and structures dismantled in November 1896 and stored in Felton. 
 
Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the basic layout of the Duffey & Longley mill on Boulder Creek, 1897. [Library of Congress]
Duffey next venture in 1897 brought him back to Boulder Creek, where he and Longley erected the mill on the Logan tract near the confluence of Boulder and Jamison Creeks, 3 miles west of town. Like the previous mills, the new mill employed around sixty men and had a capacity of 30,000 board feet per day. Cruisers estimated that there was 12,000,000 feet of marketable timber on the tract, enough timber to last four years. Most of the lumber was shipped to the Santa Clara Valley, thereby bypassing the trade war occurring between various lumber companies in Santa Cruz. An average of two to three flatcars of lumber were shipped out of Boulder Creek daily during the milling season. 
 
Jamison Creek, July 1, 1887. [Bancroft Library – colorized using DeOldify]
The mill on Jamison Creek was the longest operating of Duffey’s mills in Santa Cruz County, running from 1897 through 1900. It also was his most successful. Perhaps due to a surplus of lumber, the partners opened a lumberyard in Ben Lomond in September 1898. Strangely, they sold it only two months later to Benjamin Lloyd. In April 1899, the Evening Sentinel announced that a 4-mile-long railroad was going to be built from the mill into the redwoods along Jamison Creek, although no other source mentions this and the total length of the creek is only about 2 miles. It is more likely that this railroad was the proposed route to Big Basin, along which the mill may have been a planned stop. 

A steam donkey on a sled on the fringe of Big Basin, 1901. Photograph by Andrew P. Hill. [Sempervirens Club – colorized using DeOldify]
Duffey and Longley dissolved their partnership on February 8, 1900, before the start of the milling season. The partners had planned to relocate to Mendocino County at the end of the year, but those plans were temporarily shelved. Duffey finished out the year cutting the remaining timber from the Jamison Creek property, as originally planned, although he rebranded his firm the Alpine Lumber Company. His next target, for the 1901 season, was the redwood grove at Big Basin. 
 
Newspaper advertisement for the Enterprise Lumber & Development Company mill on Pacific Avenue and Laurel Street, July 18, 1899.
Longley sold his half interest in Duffey & Longley to a new firm named the Enterprise Lumber & Development Company, which was little more than a front for the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company. Enterprise had been founded on June 24, 1899 by Henry L. Middleton, James Dougherty, and three other investors as a holding company for various properties in the vicinity of Big Basin, including Middleton’s own timber tracts and property owned by the Bloom family. The company operated independently for a short time, albeit under the management of Middleton, and ran a lumber yard on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz in July and August 1899. Ultimately, the company made an arrangement with the Loma Prieta Lumber Company whereby the latter would run both yards. 
 
The Harmon mill on Bear Creek in its last year operating for the company, 1898. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
At the end of the 1900 milling season, Alpine and Enterprise continued to work together for a short time. Enterprise established a mill at the headwaters of Scott Creek in the Little Basin, which it harvested for a year, most likely using Duffey’s old mill, which was nearby. At the end of the year, the mill was moved about a mile down Scott Creek to a property purchased from Grover & Company. Duffey was not involved with this operation. In December 1900, Enterprise purchased the former Harmon family estate on Bear Creek east of the town of Boulder Creek. Duffey joined the venture as mill manager, for which reason the place was called the Alpine mill by newspapers. The company hoped to move the mill to a site at the lower end of the property with plans to later relocate the Scott Creek mill to the upper part of the property. In the meantime, Duffy’s old mill continued to operate on Scott Creek under the management of Pryor & Lemieux. 
 
One of Henry Middleton's mills near Big Basin, 1901. Photograph by Andrew P. Hill [Sempervirens Club – colorized using DeOldify]
The partnership between Duffey and Enterprise ended in August 1902, when the Bear Creek tract was logged out. By this point, Enterprise had effectively consolidated into the Big Basin Lumber Company and Duffey wanted to focus more on his mill in Mendocino County. All of the properties of Enterprise were soon folded into the Big Basin firm, which itself became a part of the California Timber Company in April 1903. At the same time, Duffey’s old mill was moved to the top of Waterman Creek, a branch of Pescadero Creek, where it became the first lumber mill to operate for the new lumber company. After its second season, a new mill was constructed on Waterman Creek and the Duffey mill was moved to Newell Creek, where it operated from May to October 1905, when the complex burned down. 

Colorized postcard of the Alpine Lumber Company mill at Duffey near Fort Bragg, 1915. [California State Library]
In February 1902, Duffey’s Alpine Lumber Company purchased stumpage rights to a massive tract of land east of Fort Bragg from the Union Lumber Company. At the time, the Union Lumber Company's California Western Railway & Navigation Company (the Skunk Train) went about ten miles along the Noyo River into the untouched redwood forest. Duffey had the lumber company extend the railroad another eight miles to the bottom of what would become Alpine or Duffey Gulch, where the town of Alpine would quickly develop. Over the years, Alpine hosted a school, post office, hotels, and saloons. A branch line of the railroad was also extended up Alpine Gulch to the logging village of Duffey, where the Alpine Lumber Company’s primary mill was located from 1904 to 1912. The town of Alpine burned down in 1919 and was never rebuilt. Duffey died the same year on June 24 in Fort Bragg, where he was buried.

The Alpine Hotel in Duffey, 1904. [Sonoma County Library – colorized using DeOldify]
Edwin Longley, meanwhile, continued to work for the Enterprise Lumber Company and, after it was taken over, the Big Basin Lumber Company. Shortly after the creation of the California Timber Company, he was assigned manager of the Newell Creek mill until July 1905. After resigning due to poor health, Edwin and his father, Roscoe, tried to turn their home in Boulder Creek into a summer resort named Glendower, but the quickly gave up the idea and offered it to the Oddfellows instead in 1906. Edwin Longley returned to the lumber industry in 1906 when he purchased an interest in the McAbee Timber Company. The McAbee company was renamed the Southern Lumber Company in July 1906, soon after which Longley became general manager, a role that he held for the rest of his life. Andrew Longley died on November 22, 1915 at his home in Boulder Creek. His son, Edwin, lived another decade, dying on April 14, 1926 when he accidentally drove off the road near Brookdale and crashed into the San Lorenzo River. Both men were buried in Guerneville, California.

Citations & Credits:

  • Powell, Ronald G. The Reign of the Lumber Barons: Part Two of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2021.
  • Stevens, Stanley D., ed. Great Register of the County of Santa Cruz, California, for 1890. Santa Cruz, CA: SC Public Libraries Local History, 2019.
  • Wallen, Robert. A Riders Guide to The Skunk Line: Willits to Ft. Bragg. Robert Wallen Publications, 1986.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.
  • Various articles from the Weekly SentinelSentinelEvening SentinelEvening NewsSurfMountain EchoMendocino Coast Beacon, and Bakersfield Morning Echo, 1876–1926.
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