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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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Car Stops: Laveaga

When the United States annexed California in 1848, what became Santa Cruz County was a mix of Mexican land grants, Catholic mission property, and untamed wilderness. Yet the area later known as DeLaveaga Park, Laveaga Heights, or the De Laveaga Park & Golf Course was none of these things. It was a scrubby meadow on a hill between Branciforte Creek and Arana Gulch that had been mission land until it was secularized by the Mexican government in the 1830s. After this, it remained only partially developed under a succession of American landowners including George and Sarah Smith, Edmund and Harriet Dove, William and Aurilla Jameson, Robert and S. E. McIntyre, Charles and Frank George, Hannah Avery, Paul and Margaret Sweet, John and Annie Turner, John H. B. Pilkington, Alfred and Sara Lee Hinds, and Henry and Lizzie Call. Beginning on September 19, 1887, all of this began to change.

Picnickers climbing up the hill from the Union Traction Company's Pacheco Avenue stop in Laveaga Park, with car no. 17 heading back to Santa Cruz, ca 1915. [Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

José Vincent de Laveaga is a surprisingly unknown man despite the fact that he had an entire 565-acre park named after him. He was born in Rosaria, Sinaloa, México on August 10, 1844, the son of José Vicente de Laveaga Gurruchátegui and Dolores Aguirre. When he was about 20 years old, he and his brothers travelled to Germany to study to become merchants. They returned to México around 1868 and the family then moved to San Francisco, where de Laveaga lived for the rest of his life. De Laveaga never married, was almost entirely deaf, and led a somewhat eccentric, though charitable, life until his death at the age of 50 on August 14, 1894. His land in Santa Cruz County was valued at $81,500 at the time.

José Vicente de Laveaga II, ca 1880. [E. I. de Laveaga – colorized using Deoldify]

De Laveaga likely bought property in Santa Cruz County for the same reason that most San Franciscans did: to have a nearby scenic retreat away from home and work. He may have chosen the year 1887 to begin because of a drop in property prices that year caused by a brief recession. Further recessions over the next five years undoubtedly helped him expand his holdings on the grassy hill that overlooked the Monterey Bay. At the time, there was little commercial interest in East Santa Cruz other than farming and ranching. The area was struggling to grow in population and needed something to spark it into life.

Map of J. V. de Laveaga Heights, 1888. [Santa Cruz GIS and Historic Maps]

When De Laveaga moved in, he immediately set to work carving out roads and bridle paths throughout his ever-growing property. In the first year, he planted orchards and a vineyard using both local workers and Mexican laborers. A former employee of de Laveaga's, C. D. Stocking, later said: "There was a vineyard of several acres on the south slope of LaCorona [today's Top of the World frisbee golf goal] and just east of the naval training center buildings was an orange and lemon grove of several acres. All that remains of it now is the row of cypress which was the windbreak. The eucalyptus which now have reseeded on the south side of the park and all the pine trees were planted by him or have reseeded from the originals." De Laveaga also planted olive and citrus trees, prickley pear, and various other fruit trees on the south slope of his property above modern Prospect Heights. Several of these trees still survive dotted among the eucalyptus and native bushes.

Painting of a tree in Delaveaga Park by Lorenzo Palmer Latimer, 1913. [Artnet]

The park was more than just trails and trees, though. He had a large farmhouse and stables for his horses. He planted an exotic garden filled with plants from around the world. He invited the public to his property frequently, where they could picnic, hike, and enjoy the views of the bay and city. Indeed, even though he was deaf and it was difficult for him to make friends, he loved hosting people and attempted to remember every person that he met. De Laveaga named most roads, trails, and geographic features after Spanish words, including El Pico, Castaña, Linda Vista, El Castillo, Buen Retiro, and Miramar.

View of East Side Santa Cruz from Laveaga Heights, 1910s. [Santa Cruz Sentinel – colorized using DeOldify]

When De Laveaga died in 1894, having only enjoyed his property in Santa Cruz for a few years, he made several valuable bequests to organizations throughout the state. His major intended contribution to Santa Cruz County was a 50-acre home for the deaf, blind, and disabled on Laveaga Heights, but state laws limited the amount he could donate upon dealth and the project was canned. Fortunately, the donation of the rest of the property was allowed and City and County of Santa Cruz became the beneficiary of a massive tract of partially-developed parkland on the East Side. After six years of litigation with members of the de Laveaga family, the transfer to the county was finalized in 1900, after which a joint management arrangement was made with the city.

A pergola at Laveaga Park, ca 1920. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]

Almost immediately after acquiring possession of the property, the city transferred 120 acres to the United States government for use as a National Guard armory. Over the next few years, the park was developed very slowly, with neither the city nor the county certain what to do with it. Several prominent locals suggested turning it into a park akin to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This would include hotels and restaurants, playgrounds, gardens, tennis courts, a golf course, statues and fountains, an aviary and zoo, and other related amenities. It was a bold plan but the county could not justify or finance it, even with the influx of tourists coming annually to the Santa Cruz Main Beach following the opening of the Boardwalk in 1904.

Advertisement for property in the Laveaga Park tract, 1908. [Daniel Modal]

In 1905, the City of Santa Cruz annexed the former pueblo of Branciforte—essentially the part of Santa Cruz east of the San Lorenzo River to Arana Gulch. The next year, Patrick Morrissey subdivided his land on the East Side and a large portion of it came under the control of John Martin, newly-elected president of the Union Traction Company. He hoped that the tract between the County Road (Soquel Avenue) and Laveaga Park would become prime real estate and formed the Laveaga Realty Company in December 1907 to begin selling parcels. The company named the new subdivision the Laveaga Park Tract, inextricably linking it to the adjacent city park. To get to the new properties, the company decided to extend the Union Traction streetcar network to the northeast of the city—but this task would prove more difficult than planned.

Union Traction car #30 heading into Laveaga Park, February 1913. [Santa Cruz Public Library – colorized using DeOldify]

In August 1907, the Santa Cruz Common Council approved the construction of a streetcar franchise from the Lower Plaza to Laveaga Heights via Water Street, Morrissey Avenue, and Fairmount Avenue. This project required a new dedicated bridge over the San Lorenzo River beside the Water Street bridge. Grading and bridge construction began in early October but quickly stalled due to the financial crisis that struck late that year. Ten months later, Union Traction resumed construction on the line. Because the work was slow, the company resorted to using horses to move cars between Soquel and Prospect Heights from October 1908 while construction continued on the remaining section of track into the park. With the electrification of the Laveaga Branch completed on July 2, 1910, East Santa Cruz entered a new era of growth.

Union Traction car no. 17 speeding down Morrisey Boulevard toward Laveaga Park, ca 1915. [Vernon J. Sappers – colorized using DeOldify]

Like most of the East Santa Cruz streetcar line, there was only a single track into Laveaga Park. As a result, there were actually two stops for Laveaga: one at the bottom of the hill at Martin Boulevard (today, the Morrissey-Highway 1 interchange), and one further north at the end of Pacheco Avenue. Martin Boulevard was the last passing zone before entering the park, so if a streetcar was already in the park, the car at Martin would unload there and people would walk into the park. If the line was clear, then the car could continue into the park, triggering a semaphore along the way that would signal other cars that the line was occupied.

An American bison at the Santa Cruz Municipal Zoo at Laveaga Park, 1920s. [Skip Littlefield]

With the streetcar now bringing tourists and locals into Laveaga Park, the next step was adding amenities to keep people coming. Other than de Laveaga's former gardens and trails, the park did not have many features. A pergola near the current golf clubhouse was the main destination but little else was there yet. Thus, in September 1915, a pair of elk and bison were brought in as the first animals in a bold, new Santa Cruz Municipal Zoo. Over subsequent years, many more animals were added including wildcats (bobcats or cougars), deer, foxes, racoon, a monkey, two brown bears, two grey wolves, and even a kangaroo. Most animals arrived at the zoo as adolescents and grew up in captivity. The zoo also saw its fair share of escapes, with one of the bears and both of the wolves disappearing into the wilderness to the north. Meanwhile, the kangaroo was killed by a wild cougar and the bull bison died from a fall when it was being moved out of the park in 1933.

The Santa Cruz Zoo's remaining brown bear attempting to eat the bars of its enclosure, 1920s. [Skip Littlefield]

Despite the addition of the zoo, the park did not grow substantially during the war years. An athletic field and running track were added in late 1911 but plans for a golf course were likely shelved when the Casa del Rey Golf & Country Club opened that same year. The Pasatiempo Golf Club, which opened in 1929, further delayed any plans for a golf course in Laveaga Park. Nonetheless, people did come to the park, especially in the summer. Streetcar traffic was strong with cars departing every 20 minutes from the Pacific Avenue and Water Street exchange. During the winter, only one car ran to Laveaga in a continuous 30 minute circuit.

Conductor McNamera with a girl at a stop on the Laveaga Branch, 1920s. [Nancy Lucking Sedon – colorized using DeOldify]

The end of the war prompted the growth of the Laveaga Park Tract and the surrounding neighborhoods, but the park did not change with the times and the rapid increase of automobiles on the roads led to declining use of the streetcars to the park. In March 1924, Union Traction petitioned and received approval from the State Railroad Commission to abandon the Laveaga Branch. In September, the Santa Cruz Common Council also gave its approval for abandonment. Giving up the branch to De Laveaga was not done due to low traffic along the branch, although that surely was a factor, but rather to avoid a requirement to pave all of the roads that the streetcar company used as a right-of-way. The last streetcar ran to the park on December 8, 1924 and buses began servicing the former streetcar station at Pacheco the next day.

Oil well at DeLaveaga Park, 1926. [Frances Lausen Totten Collection, Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]

The removal of the streetcar line did little to change the park's development plan. Attempts to drill for oil in the mid-1920s turned up only water. Meanwhile, the zoo closed in 1933 due to costs and its animals were given away to locals. The thirteen acres that had once been the zoo were leased to the United States Naval Reserve for a post. The Naval reserve was abandoned in 1972 but the National Guard armory remained in use until the early 2000s. Other changes to the park included the relocation of the 1894 Branciforte Creek Covered Bridge to the park, the brief establishment of three movie sets in the 1920s and 1930s, the addition of an amphitheatre, and the brief installation of a motocross course. The lower portion of the park on either side of Pacheco Avenue was subdivided into housing with a section turned into DeLaveaga Elementary School on September 30, 1966.

Large picnic gathering at DeLaveaga Park, 1920s. [Frances Lausen Totten Collection, Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using Deoldify]

By 1970, the current form of DeLaveaga Park was taking shape. In that year, the long-planned 18-hole golf course was finally opened alongside an enlarged water treatment plant, designated public parking areas, and a public shooting range. At the same time, several poorly-maintained roads and trails were abandoned or repaired. More recently, an expansive frisbee golf course and an archery range have been added. Today, there are still several walking and hiking trails throughout the park, as well a soccer and softball field, picnic areas, and other hidden treasures. While de Laveaga's vision for the property was never fully realized, it has nonetheless entertained and excited the public for well over as century.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 36.9973N, 122.0017W

Subsequent developments at DeLaveaga Park have almost entirely replaced the layout of the original property, including its approaches and the streetcar right-of-way. The original entryway and streetcar route once continued from the turn on Prospect Heights Road where the Old Vineyard Trailhead is now located. An old stone entry plinth and an overgrown access road now mark the location.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2007.
  • McCaleb, Charles. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.
  • Modal, Daniel. "Origins of the East Morrisey Neighborhood," History of the East Morrisey Neighborhood, 2014.
  • Pumphrey, Ron. "How about a bit of history about the Delaveaga Park?" Santa Cruz Waves, 06/10/2014.
  • Smith, Mildred. "DeLaveaga Park Donor Still Enigma," Santa Cruz Sentinel, 10/23/1966, p21, 22:1-5.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sources: Local Newspapers

One of the most invaluable resources in researching the history of the past two centuries has been newspapers. The origin of the newspaper can be found in Ancient Rome in newsletters that were exchanged within societies and between merchants. Their primary purpose was to explain things that were new—news in its plural form—and they became a popular means of exchanging information about changes in the market, the availability of new resources, and new outlets for sales.

Masthead of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian following its merger with the Watsonville Morning Sun, 1943.

With the arrival of the printing press in the mid-sixteenth century, it was only a matter of time before these newsletters became more widespread. In 1609, Johann Carolus published the first modern newspaper entitled Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen (Account of all distinguished and commemorable stories). Within a century, most major cities in Europe had at least one newspaper, and over the following century, it was difficult to find a town without some local rag. Most focused on a combination of local news and society, with politics and statistics filling up what advertisements did not.

Spanish colonial Santa Cruz did not have a newspaper, or rather no evidence of one has ever been discovered. The Spanish Empire did not look favorably upon freedom of expression or speech and printing presses outside of government offices were rare. Similarly, California under Mexican leadership had some wealth but was still so far-flung that printing presses were just not a high priority for its residents. When Americans began arriving en masse with the Gold Rush in 1848-1849, printing presses came along for the ride and newspapers sprang up in San Francisco and the Gold Country immediately. But they were somewhat slower to spread outside this area. The major Santa Cruz County newspapers of the past 170 years followed the trend of most small city papers: they had an often obvious political perspective, focused on the wealthier half of the population, and were under the close direction of their owners.

Ways of Using This Source:

Newspapers are the wildcard of local history research. They can include everything you are looking for or they can completely miss something that today seems vital. When they are most helpful, they provide long and detailed explanations and descriptions of events, places, or people. The one thing you must always keep in mind when using a newspaper as a source is that everything is being told from a single perspective, and there may be multiple layers of bias showing through including political, racial, gender, and religious. In the nineteenth century, most newspapers were pretty obvious regarding their political leanings but they weren't always as clearcut otherwise.

Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel masthead, 1906.
The safest way of utilizing a newspaper is to use it to hunt for leads. If you suspect something but can't prove it, start with a newspaper and go from there. Remember, though, newspapers are not objective sources so you often still need to corroborate information once you find something in a newspaper. Still, newspapers are great for birth announcements, death notices and obituaries, and marriage announcements (collectively called BDMs in genealogical circles). They also are great places to find when new companies are incorporated, when businesses have gone bankrupt, or when land has been transferred. All of these should have supporting government documentation in the county records office as well, but newspapers are great at narrowing down dates.

More generally, newspapers can be used for investigating everyday life in a specific period. The society columns always include specific details of the comings and goings of a town's elite as well as strange happenings. Even the advertisements can be useful in identifying what is being sold, how it's being sold, and who's selling it. Other useful things can include local political information, such as the results of local elections and the issues that politicians are campaigning for or against. And then there are the opinion articles and editorials, which reveal the major issues of the day, often in precise—albeit opinionated—language.

Downsides and Problems With This Source:

As mentioned above, there are some major problems with relying heavily on newspapers for empirical information. They are by their very nature biased documents, with the reporters and editors writing from their own perspectives. They also generally focus on the happenings of the elite, so the everyday person is rarely portrayed and only appears when something unusual occurs. Also, for much of the period before 1950, newspapers relied on freelancers for stories, so what gets sold to the newspaper for inclusion was from a small selection of writers who represented a population of mostly white men who were of well enough means to survive on a periodic income. Thus, articles can be quite random and inconsistent between issues and partial stories that began in one issue may never

The Mountain Echo office on Central Avenue, Boulder Creek, ca 1900. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Historians in general often warn researchers away from newspapers entirely, but that's not fair or even a good idea. Newspapers can be very useful, but they must be understood to be used properly. While some things like BDMs, incorporation notices, etc., may be generally trustworthy, that does not mean they are accurate. Dates are often wrong or must be taken in perspective—just because something was published in a daily newspaper does not mean the event occurred in the previous 24 hours! Reports of events may tell a story, even a true story, but it may not tell the whole story. When two newspapers are available, always try to find the equivalent story in the other newspaper and compare notes. One may focus on society and the other on the facts; one may look into the politics and the other the personalities. More sources are always better, especially where newspapers are concerned.

Background and Local History Resources:

In the section below, all of the major newspapers of Santa Cruz County history prior to 1950 are examined in brief. In addition, links and references are provided for where these newspapers can be found by researchers.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel masthead, 1867.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (1855 – Present)
The Santa Cruz Sentinel is the oldest and longest-running newspaper in Santa Cruz County, but it didn't start in the county. The weekly Monterey Sentinel began life on June 2, 1855 under the ownership of John McElroy and Delos R. Ashley. It ran for one year—until June 7, 1856—from Monterey, when McElroy moved to Santa Cruz. Once in Santa Cruz, the newspaper was rechristened the Pacific Sentinel in its first issue, released on June 14. Fred K. Krauth was its initial publisher in Santa Cruz but A. M. Parry & Company, came to run the newspaper on behalf of McElroy and Ashley shortly afterwards. McElroy partnered with a man named Graves in 1859, followed by Samuel Wallace Blakely from 1860 to 1862. In 1863, McElroy sold his stake in the company to Wallace W. Broughton and John F. Liston, the former of whom sold his share to Jeremiah D. Hyde, Charles Osgood Cummings, and Oscar T. Hecox in 1864. This second iteration of the newspaper lasted until June 6, 1862 when the owners chose to retitle the newspaper the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and this is the name that stuck.

There was not a major competitor to the Sentinel for its first three decades, which made the Republican-leaning paper the dominant source of news for mid-county Santa Cruz. In late 1864, Hyde bought out the shares of Hecox and Cummings and sold theirs and his own stake to Duncan McPherson. McPherson became the business manager and an editor for the paper despite having no prior experience in newspapers. Hyde, meanwhile, acted as Ashley's representative in the company and wrote most of the columns. Not long afterwards, Hyde left and control of Ashley's shares went to J. D. Allison and, in 1865, to Benjamin Parke Kooser. For five years, little changed, but in April 1870, McPherson left to take over the San Mateo Gazette in Redwood City and he sold his shares to Frank Parker Littlefield.

The Sentinel grew rapidly in side and prominence throughout the 1870s. The first casualty of this growth was the Santa Cruz County Times, which was taken over by the Sentinel in mid-1871. Its last owner, Charles R. Hoff, was brought on as a third partner in the Sentinel alongside Kooser and Littlefield, but he sold his share to McPherson in December 1871. Littlefield and McPherson sold their shares in 1873 to James Henry Hoadley, who then sold a third of the company to Henry G. Shaw. Shaw, in turn, sold his share to Kooser in 1874. Kooser then sold his shares to McPherson and Charles Westbrook Smith Waldron in 1876. Hoadley sold his shares to McPherson on May 27, 1879, giving McPherson control of the company.

Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel masthead, 1884.
As the population of the county increased, largely due to the influx of lumber workers in the 1870s and 1880s, McPherson began publishing the Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel starting April 14, 1884. The daily paper eventually led to the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, as it had been rebranded, being abandoned after February 15, 1908. Meanwhile, McPherson introduced a daily Evening Sentinel on June 2, 1896 to cater to a different audience than his morning paper. This led to him renaming the other daily the Morning Sentinel from August 11, 1899 to December 31, 1931. The Evening Sentinel was eventually spun off as its own independent newspaper, the Santa Cruz Evening News, on November 1, 1907.

An elderly but friendly Duncan McPherson walking beside two oxen during a parade down Pacific Avenue shortly after the end of World War II, ca 1919. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Duncan McPherson died in February 1921 but his family continued to own the company for six more decades. The family adopted an "independent Republicanism" mindset in how they viewed their content and focused first and foremost on local matters. Duncan McPherson, for example, was a champion in protecting Big Basin in the late 1890s from being harvested for timber. The family continued to dominate the local newspaper industry and managed in late 1941 to reacquire the Evening News 34 years after it had spun off. In recognition of the merger, the newspaper was rebranded the Santa Cruz Sentinel-News from January 1, 1942 until June 15, 1956, with morning and evening editions running concurrently. From June 1956, the newspaper reverted to simply Santa Cruz Sentinel and has continued to run under that name ever since.

Santa Cruz Sentinel-News Evening Edition masthead, 1942.
The McPherson family finally sold their long ownership of the Sentinel to Ottaway Community Newspapers in 1982. Ottaway retained local offices and the quality of the newspaper was not seriously impacted initially but did decline over the years that Ottaway owned it. In 2006, Ottaway sold to Newspaper Holdings, which in turn sold it to MediaNews Group, a subsidiary of hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which also owns the San José Mercury News, the San Mateo Times, the Monterey County Herald, and many other newspapers across the Bay Area and California. MediaNews became Digital First MEdia in 2013 but remains under Alden Global Capital's control.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the California Digital Newspaper Collection website:
Santa Cruz Sentinel (1884 – 2010)
Evening Sentinel (1896 – 1907)

The following is available via a subscription to
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel (1862 – 1908)
Santa Cruz Sentinel (1884 – 2005)
Evening Sentinel (1896 – 1907)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz

The Pajaro Times masthead, 1864.
Pajaro Times and Santa Cruz County Times (1863 – 1871)
The Pajaro Valley was not long behind Santa Cruz in developing its own local newspapers shortly after Watsonville was established as a settlement. In 1863, the first significant paper, the Pajaro Times, under the ownership of Matthew Kearney, James Bernard McQuillan, and William Andrews Duchow, entered the scene. With their first issue on April 25, 1863, the paper took off with a new issue every week. In its third year, on April 22, 1865, the name was expanded to Pajaro Valley Times to better incorporate the wider region.

Santa Cruz County Times masthead, 1867.
Over the next several years, the paper underwent major management change and a shift in focus from south county to the county as a whole. On November 3, 1866, the name was changed to the Santa Cruz & Pajaro Times. Four months later, on February 23, 1867, it was changed again to Santa Cruz County Times under the management of Duchow and Edwin Augustus Stevens. The next year, on October 29, 1870, Oscar Hecox and McQuillan changed the name to simply Santa Cruz Times. But W. E. Cook took over shortly afterwards and adopted the clunky name Santa Cruz Semi-Weekly Times on February 28, 1871. This lasted only a few months when G. W. Green took over and chose the much simpler Santa Cruz Weekly Times. The paper lasted only a few more months under this name when Charles Hoff took over and promptly sold the newspaper to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The last issue ran on July 19, 1871.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the City of Watsonville website:

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Humboldt State University
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside

The Pajaronian masthead, 1908.
The Pajaronian (1868 – Present)
The only truly successful newspaper in south county is The Pajaronian, which began life as two rival weekly newspapers, The Pajaronian and the Watsonville Register. The earlier of the two was The Pajaronian, founded by Joseph A. Cottle, who released the first issue of the paper on March 5, 1868. As its title suggests, the newspaper focused on news across the entirety of the Pajaro Valley, including north Monterey County and a little of San Benito and Santa Clara Counties, although the primary focus was on Watsonville and its immediate vicinity. 

Charles O. Cummings and someone named Palmer took over the paper in 1874 and ran it for seven years before selling it to William Richard Radcliffe in 1881. Radcliffe eventually partnered with James G. Piratsky and, on April 7, 1903, began printing the newspaper daily in the afternoons under the banner Evening Pajaronian. The weekly issues were abandoned at some point in the 1910s and the daily became the local evening newspaper. Radcliffe's son, George Grant, took over from his father in the early 1900s.

The Watsonville Register, meanwhile, was established in 1876 as the Watsonville Transcript, although the specifics of its early years are difficult to determine since many of its early issues are now lost. The original owners were S. A. Jones & Bro. and they appear to have run the paper from 1876 to early 1880. On February 10, 1880, the paper appeared under the name The Semi-weekly Transcript with William H. Wheeler now listed as the owner. This increased number of issues per week did not seem to work since George Washington Peckham was listed as the owner by October 1881 with the title reverted back to Watsonville Transcript when weekly issues resumed. The name was changed to Watsonville Register in 1894. Peckham's son, Charles Eugene, turned the paper into a daily beginning on December 5, 1897, beating The Pajaronian to the chase by six years. Charles Henry Prisk bought the Register in 1904 and then passed it to his son, William Frederick, a few years later. He then sold it to Ernest Herman Haack in 1910.

Watsonville Register was purchased by future mayor Frederick W. Atkinson in 1919, who subsequently purchased The Pajaronian in 1930. When he died in April 1937, the John P. Scripps Newspaper Group purchased the two newspapers and consolidated them together into the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian beginning on September 1, 1937. Fred H. Jenkins, R. C. Jenkins, and their business partners were responsible for the merger and Watsonville has only ever had one major newspaper since this time.

Watsonville Morning Sun masthead, 1939.
A short-lived rival, the Watsonville Morning Sun, run by John N. Hall, was printed from November 17, 1937, but merged with The Register-Pajaronian on March 1, 1949. From 1949, the newspaper ran as the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian & Sun until the latter title was eventually dropped on August 30, 1969. Three years later, "Watsonville" was removed from the name as well. The newspaper was sold to NewsMedia Corp in 1995 and later to Good Times in 2019, the latter of which renamed the newspaper one final time to The Pajaronian in what they considered a return to the roots of the newspaper.

A large database of newspaper issues can be found for free on the City of Watsonville website:
The Pajaronian (1868 – 1913)
Evening Pajaronian (1903 – 1937)
Watsonville Morning Sun (1937 – 1942)
Register Pajaronian (1938 – Present)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside
Watsonville Public Library

Santa Cruz Surf masthead, 1889.
Santa Cruz Surf (1875 – 1919)
The first rival to the Sentinel was the Santa Cruz Local Item, a boring name for a low-circulation weekly newspaper. The first issue, put out by Hezekiah Coffin, released on April 16, 1875 and the newspaper ran for about five years. As could be expected, it took the opposite perspective of the Sentinel and was pro-Democrat in its opinions. The next year, on May 26, 1876, another paper appeared on the scene, the Santa Cruz Weekly Courier, run by Holmes Cunningham Patrick and Green Majors.

Arthur Taylor sitting at his desk with a Surf on the bureau, ca 1892. [Colorized using DeOldify]
After each newspaper struggled for half a decade, the two were merged by Arthur Adelbert Taylor on March 3, 1880 to become the Santa Cruz Weekly Courier and Local Item. Taylor clearly realized that the name was mouthful and after a year simplified it to the Courtier-Item on October 6, 1881. Still unsatisfied, Taylor rebranded the newspaper again on June 4, 1883 to the Santa Cruz Surf, and this is the name that stuck the longest.

The Surf initially ran as a weekly newspaper but a separate daily began on September 9, 1889. Unlike the Sentinel, the Surf focused much more on the middle and working class than the upper echelons of Santa Cruz society, although they certainly were mentioned too. The newspaper is well known among historians for its detailed descriptions of life in Santa Cruz County and its stronger focus on society in general. The last issue of the Surf in its standard format released on February 5, 1919, after which it was rebranded the Santa Cruz Surf & Superior California Farmer, which ran for three more months, ending on May 29, 1919.

The following is available via a subscription to
Santa Cruz Surf [Daily] (1883 – 1907)
Santa Cruz Surf [Weekly] (1883 – 1899)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley

The Mountain Echo masthead with leaf veins, 1916.
Mountain Echo (1896 – 1916)
Far removed from the metropolitan centers of the county, Boulder Creek needed a newspaper and Charles Campbell Rodgers had the bold idea of publishing one. The San Lorenzo Valley was at the height of its logging era and Rodgers decided that it had sufficient population for a weekly newspaper. The venture paid off and for two decades, his Mountain Echo was the valley's premier newspaper. The first issue released on October 24, 1896 and it ran for ten years before its readership expanded through the merger of the Ben Lomond News in November 1906. The News only ran for a year from April 1905 under the leadership of Arthur C. Probert of C. P. Davis & Company. After merging, the newspaper was rebranded the Santa Cruz Mountain Echo. Rodgers died in 1914 and his brother briefly ran the paper until selling to Luther Eames McQuesten, a Santa Cruz Surf printer. McQuesten was unable to turn a profit with the paper and even several issues in November 1916 on actual leaves to try and embarrass debtors, but he only embarrassed himself. Only a month later, on December 23, 1916, he closed shop. The lumber era in the San Lorenzo Valley had ended and there were simply not enough interested locals left to support the struggling newspaper.

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
San Lorenzo Valley Museum (Boulder Creek)
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Evening News masthead, 1911.
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)
One of the contributing factors to the decline of the Surf was likely the entry of a rival afternoon newspaper, the Santa Cruz Evening News. The paper began as the Evening Sentinel but was bought out by Edward J. Devlin and Henry Ray Judah, Jr. The first issue released on November 1, 1907 and was clearly part of an agreement with the Sentinel since their Evening Sentinel was discontinued the same day. However, the Evening News soon took on a life of its own and shifted quickly to a Democratic perspective, putting it in contrast to the Republican-leaning Sentinel. The newspaper was reabsorbed by the Sentinel in late 1941 and its final issue was published on December 31 of that year. For the next fifteen years, the Sentinel recognized the merger by rebranding itself the Sentinel-News.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the California Digital Newspaper Collection website:
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)

The following is available via a subscription to
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley

Citations & Credits:

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Streetcars: Union Traction Company

Monopolism was in the air in the early 1900s and all the hip capitalists were trying their darnedest to become the next big thing. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company dominated the petroleum industry. E. I. du Pont de Nemours ruled over the explosives market. And E. H. Harriman had just accomplished the impossible by merging the Union Pacific Railroad with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Even the tiny county of Santa Cruz was not immune from the monopolistic fervour. Between 1881 and 1887, all of the county's railroads were consolidated into Southern Pacific, with their gauges finally unifying in 1909. But the rival streetcar systems were still a mess. Enter the Union Traction Company.

Union Traction #2 at the Santa Cruz Union Depot beside a Southern Pacific mail car, ca 1910. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Incorporated September 2, 1904, Union Traction was created with the specific purpose of consolidating the two electric streetcar systems that operated in downtown Santa Cruz. The older of the two firms, the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, had been running for just over a decade and for most of that time held a monopoly on motor transportation between the Lower Plaza at the northern end of Pacific Avenue and the Santa Cruz Beach, with additional trackage to the Upper Plaza, Garfield Park, and Vue de l'Eau. The younger company was the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway, founded in 1902, which intended to connect the Santa Cruz Beach to Capitola via a line that clung to the coast. This company was well-funded and well-connected, which allowed it to gain trackage rights to Pacific Avenue and the beach, presenting a direct rival to the Santa Cruz Electric. The rivalry was never going to last long.

Two Santa Cruz Electric Railway streetcars on the esplanade outside the newly-opened Neptune Casino with the Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway tracks at far right with a car parked beside the casino in the distance, 1904. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections — colorized using DeOldify]

Even as construction began on the new electric streetcar line to Capitola, backroom deals were being negotiated between the two companies and several related firms. Fred Swanton, who had a long-term interest in the Santa Cruz Electric but had jumped ship to the Capitola line, was investing heavily in his Neptune Casino and Tent City complex at the beach. He wanted a fluid, functional streetcar system to bring people to the beach from the Santa Cruz Union Depot and elsewhere.

An electric Monterey & Pacific Grove Railway Company car near Pacific Grove, ca 1902. [Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library – colorized using DeOldify]

Meanwhile, John M. Gardiner, vice president and general manager of the Capitola line, was busy acquiring new properties for the company. His partners also owned the Monterey & Pacific Grove Railway and wanted to expand it. Meanwhile, they merged various power companies that they controlled to create the Monterey County Gas & Electric Company, thereby expanding their power and influence in the region. Together, Swanton and Gardiner wanted to extend the Capitola streetcar line over the San Lorenzo River to cut the distance to Capitola by around three miles.

One of three locally-built electric locomotives used by the Ocean Shore Railway in San Francisco, 1907. [Walter Rice Collection, Cable Car Guy – colorized using DeOldify]

At the same time that Swanton and Gardiner were advocating for new streetcar projects, the Ocean Shore Railway Company, led by Big Creek Power Company president John Q. Packard, was incorporated, with many speculating that it planned to take over either or both streetcar lines in order to build a railroad route across the Santa Cruz County. In June 1904, the company was granted by the Board of Supervisors for permission to build the line but no further action was taken at this time.

San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company #2, ca 1902.

Rumors reached a fever pitch soon afterwards when it was revealed that F. S. Granger was moving to Santa Cruz. Granger had been responsible for building the San Jose–Los Gatos Interurban Company and had agitated for an interconnected network of streetcar and interurban lines spanning the breadth and width of the Santa Clara Valley, potentially connecting to existing lines south of San Francisco. However, in early 1904, the Southern Pacific Railroad announced plans to build a rival streetcar line and Granger sold his stake in the firm to the larger company to avoid competition. On June 22, the Santa Cruz Surf speculated that Granger would take over as president of the Santa Cruz Electric at the annual general meeting. The next day, the Santa Cruz Sentinel revealed that just such a thing had happened. Granger now controlled half of the electric streetcar lines in the county.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcar on the Santa Cruz Electric track in front of the Tent City office on Beach Street, 1904. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The backroom deals shifted to even darker backrooms as little word was leaked of negotiations between Granger and the Capitola line's management. Speculation focused more on cooperation between the two lines, which Granger periodically touted even as several serious accidents and confrontations occurred in July and August. But an insider in late July revealed that more was happening and that the possibility of the two companies merging was increasingly likely, with Warren Porter, treasurer for the Capitola line, meeting with Granger frequently.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonvile liveried streetcar outside the Hotel Capitola, ca 1905. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The ultimate merger of the two electric streetcar lines on September 2 did not come as a surprise, but it was not revealed to the public immediately. The Sentinel was still speculating about goings-on throughout September and the news only broke on October 4, the same day that the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville completed its route to Capitola. The board of the Union Traction Company was a composite of directors from the two companies, including Gardiner, Porter, Granger, and former Santa Cruz mayor and California lieutenant governor William T. Jeter. Swanton and other major stockholders in both firms retained a stake in the new company. Granger surprisingly sold his stock in the new company around November 27 and moved to San Luis Obispo to promote a new electric streetcar line there.

The new Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore and Pacific showing a streetcar and repair vehicle in two bays and the passenger waiting area and office at the corner, 1905. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Within weeks of consolidation, the two streetcar systems were unified and new timetables released to coordinate the various lines. The Santa Cruz Beach returned to having only a single streetcar track and cars to Capitola began at the corner of Soquel and Pacific Avenues. The entire system encompassed 18 miles of track with branch lines to Vue de l'Eau on the West Side and to Arana Gulch. Plans to build a track across the San Lorenzo River and a line up to the California Powder Works via the Ocean Street cemetery were both abandoned as being too costly. Meanwhile, the old and somewhat dilapidated Pacific Avenue Street Railroad carbarn at Pacific Avenue was demolished and replaced with a new structure to house the many cars of the system, provide a maintenance facility, and protect the network's electrical motors that powered the overhead wires.

Changing times—a Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway streetcar at Vue de l'Eau following its merger with the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, 1904. [Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]

By 1905, the dust had begun to settle on the politics around the consolidation and the board of directors began to take action on their long-term plans. Service along several of the small branches was cut back, including streetcars to the San Lorenzo River at the beach, up Arana Gulch, down Center Street, and up Walnut Avenue to Mission Street. The latter was reduced to Rincon (Chestnut) Street, where it could access the Park Street railroad station. Meanwhile, Martin V. McQuigg, a board member who represented the interests of the Monterey County Gas & Electric Company, began advocating for a connected service between Santa Cruz and Monterey, with an extension of the line to Salinas. Monterey County supported this plan by donating a 50-foot-wide right-of-way and $50,000 to build the line. However, McQuigg was not able to convince Gardiner and his faction, which were eager to sell the streetcar system to the Ocean Shore Railway.

The main streetcar track down Capitola Avenue to the Hotel Capitola, ca 1913.  [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

In September 1905, Gardiner entered negotiations with Henry Huntington of Los Angeles with the goal of eventually unifying all of the electric railroad systems from San Francisco to San Diego into one vast system. The immediate goal was to create a Santa Cruz-Monterey Counties network that could later be extended to Hollister to the east and linked to the Ocean Shore Railway to the north. Unfortunately for Gardiner, Huntington dropped out of negotiations and the plan fell apart. Gardiner and McQuigg decided that their futures were elsewhere and sold their stakes in Union Traction. This placed control of the company into the hands of James W. Forgeus, a former Capitola line stockholder who had not yet given up hope on an Ocean Shore deal.

Union Traction #2 with closed side panelling on the Vue de l'Eau line, ca 1910.  [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Despite losing funding, the Ocean Shore Railway's directors decided to build its railroad anyway and grading began September 17, 1905 from Santa Cruz. This put Forgeus in an interesting position since he supported the railroad's plan but was aware of its potential for failure since the Ocean Shore was at least the sixteenth company to propose a route to San Francisco via the coast. In late 1905, Ocean Shore attempted to buy Union Traction outright in order to acquire its electrical plant and rights-of-way, but Forgeus rejected the offer. After further negotiations, however, the Ocean Shore purchased Union Traction on February 5, 1906 and began running a streetcar down Beach Street to the San Lorenzo River in order to secure a right to build a mainline track there at a later point in time. Ocean Shore control over Union Traction proved brief, however, when it stopped making payments shortly after the April 18, 1906 earthquake. Control of the streetcar company reverted back to its former directors around mid-June.

A Union Traction car on Garfield Avenue near Vue de l'Eau, September 1907. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Following the Neptune Casino fire on June 22, Forgeus approached a group of men planning to rebuild the casino and bath house complex at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. The leader of these men was John Martin, who co-founded Pacific Gas & Electric Company in October 1905 and had helped consolidate the Santa Cruz Electric Light & Gas Company and the Co-operative Electric Light Company into the Coast Counties Power Company. As an electric company itself, Union Traction had a mutual interest in working with Coast Counties and Martin. On July 7, Coast Counties bought Union Traction and most of the former board members resigned. Martin took over as president and moved the corporate offices to San Francisco.

The Union Traction maintenance-of-way vehicle with crew on Mission Street near Santa Cruz High School, ca 1915.  [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Like the previous owners of Union Traction, Martin set out a grand plan for his streetcar network. One of his first stated goals was to extend new branches out to Big Trees near Felton, to Soquel, and even to Watsonville. In the meantime, though, he wanted better trackage rights along the Santa Cruz Beach, double track downtown, and new routes to the IOOF cemetery at the top of Ocean Street, to de Laveaga Heights, and across the San Lorenzo River to Seabright. In other words, he wanted to double the current trackage of Union Traction.

Passengers in a Union Traction open-air car on the Pacific Avenue double track, ca 1910. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

For many of these proposed improvements, Martin hired S. Waldo Coleman, an electrical engineer who had worked in both the electricity and streetcar industries. Coleman had the vision but money was always an issue. The first thing he pushed for was standard-gauging the tracks and adding double track to Pacific Avenue. All of the Santa Cruz streetcar tracks had been narrow-gauge since the first horsecars began running in the 1870s. Standard-gauging would allow the cars to directly exchange with the Southern Pacific trackage, when necessary, and also would make acquiring parts easier. After receiving permission from the Santa Cruz Common Council in January 1907, Coleman set to work and began standard-gauging the line, double-tracking Pacific Avenue, and enlarging the carbarn on Sycamore Street to support the larger cars and increased power requirements. The route from the Lower Plaza to the beach re-opened on standard-gauge tracks on September 13—the line to Capitola re-opened on November 14.

The Union Traction's maintenance-of-way vehicle beside the Water Street bridge over the San Lorenzo River, ca 1910. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Despite endless announcements of new branches and ambitious plans for the future, the financial crisis of 1907-1908 ended the steady stream of East Coast capital that had flowed into California for the past sixty years. Without this money, Union Traction was unable to build its routes to Big Trees, the IOOF cemetery, and Soquel. However, Martin had enough funds for one last extension of Union Traction trackage. In August 1907, the Common Council approved the construction of a streetcar franchise from the Lower Plaza to de Laveaga Heights via Water Street, Morrissey Avenue, and Fairmount Avenue. This project required a new dedicated bridge over the San Lorenzo River beside the Water Street bridge. Grading and bridge construction began in early October but quickly stalled due to financial problems.

A Union Traction streetcar heading into de Laveaga park, February 1913. [Ron Pumphrey – colorized using DeOldify]

Reassessing their options, Martin and his partners decided to move forward with the North Santa Cruz Branch since they hoped to make back their investment quickly via property sales. In December, they founded the Laveaga Realty Company to facilitate the sales of property along the new streetcar line. After months of delays, work resumed on the line on August 17, 1908. A temporary horsecar line was instated between Martin Boulevard and Prospect Heights while construction continued. Permission was received from the Common Council to electrify this section two years later on June 10, 1910 and the first electric streetcar to Laveaga ran on July 2.

A Union Traction car parked outside the entrance to the Casa del Rey Hotel with a Southern Pacific locomotive passing in front of the Casino in the background, ca 1912. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Elsewhere, other minor changes were occurring to streamline the streetcar system and eliminate unprofitable routes. In 1909, the tracks on Walnut Avenue and Center Street were removed and the Arana Gulch branch beyond Cayuga Street was abandoned. In 1911, a short spur was added up Cliff Street to cater to patrons of the new Casa del Rey Hotel. For several years, a dedicated streetcar ran between the hotel and the Southern Pacific Union Depot. In 1913, the Front Street and Riverside Avenue tracks were removed.

Union Traction #17 at the corner of Water Street and Pacific Avenue, ca 1922. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

With the completion of the major construction projects along the line, Union Traction became the accepted transportation system for mid-county. Tickets from Santa Cruz to Capitola cost 10¢ each way and each car could hold 30 customers—more if people squeezed. Streetcars were run by a motorman while a conductor took payment and managed customers. An average day on the main Capitola line brought an average of $80 to $100. In the summer, fifteen cars operated across the network with service to Capitola running every quarter hour. In winter, cars ran every half hour. On normal days, the streetcars were responsible for shuttling workers between various businesses and taking high schoolers from Capitola to Santa Cruz High.

Motorman Moody outside Union Traction #24, a Birney streetcar, at the end of Woodrow Avenue, January 1926. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Financial problems continued for the company throughout this time. The primary problem was that Santa Cruz's population was not growing—it had reached a height of 15,000 in 1906 but had stagnated. Yet costs continued to climb even as patronage did not. Coleman increased fares, cut routes and staff, and reduced the number of staff required to operate trains. Yet despite increased revenue by 1919, Union Traction was still not turning a profit and much of its equipment and right-of-way was falling into disrepair. Fares increased again in 1920 and 1921, and more efficient Birney Safety Cars were bought in 1922 to reduce long-term maintenance costs. 

Union Traction #22 leaving the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for downtown, ca 1923. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Unsurprisingly, it was the automobile that eventually led to the demise of Union Traction, but not for the usual reasons. Rather than some shady backroom deals with auto companies, Union Traction began to fail because the city demanded it pave the roads through which its tracks passed. Despite petitions to various state boards and a public vote defending them, the city still required them to pay for the paving job, the money for which Union Traction simply did not have. In 1924, they received permission to abandon the Laveaga Branch and the Capitola Branch, replacing both with bus service. December 9 was the last day streetcars ran along either branch. The company also sold all but eight of its cars in November. People didn't seem to notice the change and praised the new buses. The removal of tracks began immediately, eliminating the company's fiscal responsibility to pave miles of roadways in East Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz mayor John B. Maher standing beside Union Traction #23 and a new Union Traction bus on Pacific Avenue, late 1925. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

Yet Coleman was not finished. In October, he had also petitioned to abandon the branch to Vue de l'Eau and Mission Street. The Common Council attempted to block him and demanded that Union Traction either retain the West Side trackage or abandon the system entirely. Coleman called their bluff and filed for abandonment in April 1925. After months of negotiations, the city, state, and Union Traction finally agreed to the abandonment of all streetcar service in the city of Santa Cruz in August, contingent upon Union Traction providing replacement bus service and removing all streetcar infrastructure from the city's streets. At midnight on January 15, 1926, the last Union Traction streetcar driven by Lee Baldwin departed from the Santa Cruz Beach and arrived at the Sycamore Street carbarn.

The Twin Lakes streetcar stop with a Model T Ford in the background, ca 1925. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

No scheduled streetcar service has ever since operated in Santa Cruz County. Union Traction quickly sold their bus line to the Auto Transit Company in 1926, which in turn was sold to Pickwick Stages System in 1927. The company was run privately until the early 1940s, when it became the Santa Cruz Transit Company. After experiencing a financial collapse in the mid-1960s, it was finally bought out by the cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola to become the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District on February 20, 1969—today's Santa Cruz Metro bus system.

Capitola Avenue at the end-of-track of the Union Traction line, 1920. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Few remnants of the streetcar system remain except the extra-wide Woodrow Avenue on the West Side of Santa Cruz and the equally wide Morrissey Avenue on the East Side. At very low tides, the pilings of the Twin Lakes Beach viaduct, originally built by the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railroad and later upgraded by Union Traction, are visible. The old Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore Street remained behind for decades to be used by Coast Counties Gas & Electric for various purposes, but it has since been demolished.

Citations & Credits:

  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & Histo ry, 2005.