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Friday, July 26, 2013

Steen's Spur

Site of Steen's Spur south of Brookdale, 1894.
(Courtesy San Lorenzo Valley Museum)
Beginning in at least 1894, a short freight spur was built just north of the Siesta bridge crossing over the San Lorenzo River south of what would become Brookdale. It first appears as Stein's Switch in an 1894 property survey of the area, though that name is a misspelling. The 1899 Station Book mentions the otherwise unremarkable spur under the proper name, Steen's Spur, and it was found 78.9 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point and Felton Junction. Additionally, it was 1.9 miles north of Ben Lomond and immediately (0.1 miles) south of another little-known spur named Reeds Spur. The township of Brookdale would develop just north of Reed's Spur at the turn of the century. Steen's Spur included a B-class freight station for holding waiting freight. Donald Clark's Place Names book notes that the site went by two other names, Steen Switch and Steens.

Site of Fish Pond and Fish Hatchery, 1905, after the spur has been removed.
(Courtesy San Lorenzo Valley Museum)
The site was named after Jacob Steen whose company, J. Steen & Co., removed stumps for lumber companies to allow settlement in the logged areas. Jacob Steen was a relatively wealthy local businessman who appears in multiple court records including a multiple appeal case involving the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company owned by the Doughertys. He was a shareholder in the Santa Cruz Railroad and also owned a business in downtown Santa Cruz which burned in a fire. In Felton, he also owned a general store that doubled as the Felton Post Office for many years. His wealth came from a variety of sources, but he made a small profit off of the stumps he pulled for the local lumber companies, making additional money by selling the stumps for various uses. He likely set up a stumpage operation along the railroad right-of-way near Brookdale soon after the right-of-way passed through the area. With the plethora of mills in the area, there would be a great need for stump removers and Steen's company likely fulfilled that role through the assistance of railroad flat cars that, once filled, could be hauled down to Santa Cruz for processing or shipment. However, by 1894, when records of the site apparently begin, we find that Steen's Spur is serving as a freight station for not stumps, but fish. A fish pond was built beside the spur in this area from which fish were likely grown for consumption. The predominant fish in the area was steelhead trout and those were likely bred here. When the spur was built and if it ever served as a stumpage station is unknown at present.

While the fish pond would survive until at least 1905, it was gone by 1909 being supplanted by the Brookdale Fish Hatchery built that same year less than 0.1 miles north. In all likelihood, the fish pond became the hatchery since the hatchery's growing pool was not completed until 1906. The spur itself did not appear on any future timetables or maps and probably was removed when the Boulder Creek Branch was broad-gauged in the early 1900s. Many years later, Jacob Steen went on to help found the Santa Cruz Lumber Company organized by George Ley in 1923.

Site of the fish pond and Steen's Spur, off of Larkspur Street, looking north.
 (Courtesy Google Street View)
The various maps pinpoint the precise location of Steen's Spur. The fish pond was located at 212 and 240 Larkspur St. The spur ran on the right-of-way directly east of those lots, following exactly the route of Larkspur Street through that neighborhood. The main line itself passed through the adjacent properties. It seems likely that the California Department of Fish & Game retained the property into the 1940s as the current properties date to that time. When the pond existed, it was nestled between Larkspur, Center Street, and the right-of-way, though Center Street has since been taken over by adjacent properties.

  • Clark, Donald Thomas, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.


  1. My! You DO get around don't you? I never heard of
    this Steen's Spur. It is amazing how much was
    packed along such a short branch line!

  2. This side track was bracketed by cattle guards, if one compares the two maps. Also, loading strangely shaped chunks of wood into freight cars would probably be best done at a spot away from the mainline. I'm still with the 1899 Station Book and fully expect Steen's Spur to be within the curve up by Clear Creek, and that the segment of track that shows above the Hatchery Cottage to be an abandoned left-over from the narrow-gauge operations. The mapmaker was wrong.