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Friday, August 16, 2013

Siesta Flag-Stop

Layout of Siesta Subdivision with station site
and right-of-way. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Just before it's third crossing over the San Lorenzo River along the Boulder Creek Branch, the Southern Pacific Railroad encountered the oddly-named and fanciful Siesta flag-stop, presently located just south of the corner of Riverside Road and Fern Street south of Brookdale. A small subdivision present adjacent to this site is the likely reason for the flag-stop. The origin of the name is unknown, though it likely relates to the Spanish word for "taking a nap". Donald Clark attributes the name to the Southern Pacific Railroad, though it is more likely that the subdivision itself was created under the name "Siesta" and that the station's name reflected that.

Subdivision survey map, 1909.
(Courtesy SLV Museum)
The size and importance of the stop is unknown, and considering the community around it was relatively small, it is likely the stop saw little use during its short existence. Clark notes its first appearance along the right-of-way in 1913, and it seemed to have remained until the end of the branch in January 1934. It's lack of mention in the 1899 Station Book supports the dates above and a subdivision surveyor map released in 1909, supported by current estimates of the oldest properties in the area, date the subdivision to at earliest 1908. Formally, the Southern Pacific internal timetable of August 19, 1923 mentions the site. It was located 77.6 mile south of San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and Felton Depot. In addition, it was 2.4 mile south of Boulder Creek. It's closest neighbors were Phillipshurst 0.3 miles to the south, and the Brookdale Fish Hatchery 0.4 miles to the north. Siesta does not appear in public timetables nor in any other timetables in this author's collection. The 1909 surveyor map includes notes on the properties within the subdivision, most surprising of which is the ownership by Fred Wilder Swanton, founder and promoter of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, of all of the riverside section of the subdivision beyond the tracks. What purpose he had for this land is unknown, though it may explain the existence of a spur at the site, noted in both the surveyor map and in the timetable.

Siesta Swimming Pool, which was likely created from a bend in the river
directly north of the Siesta Trestle, from which this photograph was most
likely taken. (Couresty
The spur was a simple parallel track that ran immediately north of the main track from Redwood Street to just beyond Fern Street. The reason it was a spur rather than a siding is probably because of the bridge, which was forced to cross the San Lorenzo River at such a place that the spur could not reconnect with the main line. Its purpose is unknown, although this author's speculation above is that it was related to Fred W. Swanton's properties south of the tracks. Alternatively, it could have been related to a local fruit industry, possibly one that existed in the large clearing between Phillipshurst and Siesta, now along River Road. It certainly was not for logging, as this area was already recovering from its first bout of logging and being repurposed for residential uses. In addition, a spur for a logging mill would likely go up into the hills rather than simply parallel the main tracks. The spur probably held a boxcar of freight from local industries which would be picked up in southward-bound trains whenever necessary. Otherwise, the spur was probably empty and its existence into the 1920s was probably a hold-over from earlier times.

The photo at left also proves that the community at Siesta had at least a small desire to advertise itself. This postcard shows the Siesta Swimming Pool, which was quite clearly in fact a swimming hole on the San Lorenzo River. The photograph was likely taken from the west side of the subdivision from atop San Lorenzo River Trestle #3. This is evidenced by the flow of the river heading toward the photographer. Advertised merits such as this likely brought vacationers to Siesta to begin with and the proximity of the railroad allowed them to settle without fear of being cut off from the outside world.

Right-of-way at Siesta Station facing south. 

Right-of-way at Siesta Station facing north. Note the width which one allowed for a siding here.
Looking over the ledge northward toward the river, with the two bridge piers visible on its banks.
Close up of the bridge piers from the ledge. The piers are level, the camera is not. Note the rods still popping out from the tops of the piers where they once connected with the steel frame of the prefabricated trestle. Despite heavy moss and some light decay, these piers look like they could still support a railroad trestle today.
The fate of Siesta is inevitably the same as the rest of the small flag-stops along the Boulder Creek Branch. Disuse and the advent of the automobile all spelled the end of the branch line, removing the small community at Siesta forever from direct interaction with the larger Brookdale community. Today, residents of the small community must travel north to reach a crossing over the river then cut west through Brookdale to exit. The right-of-way has been claimed by homes in parts within this area, but portions of it are still visible and bridge piers still sit in the river beside Siesta. The immediate area of the station and siding is still clear of homes, though it is on private property with extensive "No Trespassing" signage to deter aspiring railroad hunters. The two tall cement piers rise menacingly out of the San Lorenzo River and are staggered slightly due to a slight bend in the right-of-way that once spanned between them. The ROW south of Siesta disappears into the gated River Road community, soon becoming that road. North of the river, the ROW passes through numerous properties and roads, lost entirely beneath the residences of Brookdale.

  • Clark, Donald Thomas, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).


  1. Craig here. Wow, another fantastic post! The bridge piers are definitely still there - I was able to scale them years ago with some climbing gear. I also remember finding that swimming area from the postcard south of the Larkspur bridge when roaming along the river as a kid.

    it sounds like the appearance of Siesta coincides pretty closely with the creation of Brookdale itself right around 1910 or so. I know Brookdale was a planned vacation community - I wonder if Siesta was a similar kind of place, maybe even with different owner/developers? The spur is a bit of a head-scratcher, as I was under the impression (quite probably wrong) that logging was mostly done by then, and that Brookdale (and I would assume nearby Siesta) were well into their lives as vacation destinations. Weren't there some spurs that were vacation-oriented, like up near Wrights (where stops were made by picnickers and cars left on a siding for the day)... is that a possibility?

  2. BTW, you used to be able to clearly see the bridge piers by parking near Larkspur, then walking back along Hwy 9, looking down the very steep hillside towards the river from the very narrow path behind the guardrail. I used to look for them from the school bus. Don't know what the view is like today.

  3. Hey Craig,
    Good news all around. And I'm glad I properly identified the swimming area as it was a bit of a guess based on the river's course. I don't think Siesta had much at all to do with Brookdale's development, though. Numerous subdivisions were being created in the county in the 1900s and 1910s so I assume this was just another one. Some wealthy railroad tourist probably just noticed the large clearing beside the tracks at Siesta and thought it would be a good place to build some homes. I could be wrong, of course, and there could have been an actual little tourist village there. Much of the mountains were populated by seasonal residents who either eventually stayed or sold their homes to people who did. I rather feel this may be the case with Siesta.

    The spur probably was not a picnic line, though. The Southern Pacific mostly went away with that prior to the earthquake because the picnic spots would become places of drunkenness and become quite littered. I suspect the "spur" here may have just been a dead-ended freight siding that was perhaps used to queue some local fruits and vegetables. You are correct that most of the logging in the area was done by the 1920s, but some people still had small private operations, so it is not entirely impossible. Still, it was likely for a local business rather than logging.

    I'm hoping to stop by the Siesta subdivision in just an hour or so to check the place out. I'll check the condition of the right-of-way and see if I can find the bridge piers.

    1. I figured that Siesta mostly was tied to Brookdale via the timing of the developed communities there, as opposed to an actual joint land development... the timing due to the waning of lumbering and the growing awareness of money to be made by selling former lumbering lands as vacation plots. The gold rush towns in the Sierras have a similar history to the Valley towns, where once the lucrative industry that spurred development has left (here is was mining), the company-oriented settlements underwent a transformation into rural towns and communities... and more the case in the Valley, vacation destinations.

      Even when I was growing up in Brookdale in the 70's, the majority of the houses were empty most of the time, being owned by out-of-towners and used only for a few weeks or months out of the year. Our house on Larkspur, built in 1928, had a sink and medicine cabinet in each bedroom, such was the 'vacation' nature of the area. It even had two light weight sections of what looked like narrow gauge rail for the fire dogs in the fireplace (sadly, the current owner tells me those are gone now). Of the houses surrounding us that I can think of, 4 houses were occupied by permanent residents (a realtor, and retired old man, a retired couple, and some hippies-types), and 4 were usually empty with drawn curtains most of the year... always gloomy and dark places in the winter months. The hills were filled with small 1 and 2 room cabins.

  4. Yes, there are indeed two bridge piers at Siesta. You have to find just the right
    spot to look down on them from next to the guard rail on Highway 9 as you are about to enter Brookdale city limits headed north. These bridge piers stand like impressive stone monuments in the middle of the San Lorenzo River. Further north, the railroad bed crosses the San Lorenzo River four times between Brookdale and Boulder Creek and there are more of these impressive monuments at three of these four river crossings. One of these you can easily see from Irwin Way as IT crosses
    the San Lorenzo River near this road's southern end.

  5. Went to Siesta today and took a few photos of the bridge piers, though they are at bad angles. I knew about the Irwin Way ones but I still need to check them out soon. I was disappointed to see that River Road is a gated private road beyond Siesta, so I can't follow the right-of-way in that area at all.

  6. I found the gate to River Road open one day and walked down it. I could not find traces of the
    railroad bed down there and eventually the road ends
    at another gate with very threatening "No Trespassing" signs. Because of this, I have not been
    able to see what is left of the bridge crossing
    just south of this. The bridge pier south of the one seen from Irwin Way requires wading down the river a little way. The one closest to Boulder Creek can be reached by crossing through an empty lot off of Lorenzo Avenue. I agree those piers
    at Siesta are hard to see or photograph.

  7. Thank you Derek for clarifying the location of Siesta which I mistakely thought
    was on the west side of the river. You have also provided views of the bridge
    piers from a much better angle than way up by the guardrail on Highway 9. I have
    never seen these piers from this angle nor the right of way you photographed!
    I DO wonder what is left of that SECOND crossing of the San Lorenzo River going north.
    I tried approaching it from both sides but the owner of the property around
    there has made it clear from all of the signs he has put up that he does not
    welcome railroad expolorers. Thank you also for putting together the article
    on Big Trees.

  8. Arrrgh! It's gone. There was an old house/bungalow that would have been facing you as you snapped those photos, and I'm saying only a few feet. It was on the southwest side of the tracks, oriented with the tracks, and with its front door and front yard opening up to the tracks. I've always wondered about it because of the placement.

    My grandfather built a summer house on Redwood Street, two lots above Hazel, in 1963. From '63 to '71 I spent many afternoons sitting on the foot of that (eastern) pier or on the beach by the "swimming pool". While I never remember seeing who lived in that building or even remember a car parked nearby, it was always kept-up, had planted shrubs around, and felt lived-in. It just had to have been linked to the railway in some way, and yet it seemed too relaxed to have been repurposed. I think it was still there when I revisited the area in 1982.

    At this point I believe Fred W. Swanton equals Siesta Flag-stop, as the 1909 map shows this structure to be on his property. I don't know the years that he remained an active businessman - but if he can help build the Boardwalk, why not Siesta? Was he active in 1900-13?

    Also, your photo that aims north, there was a lot of dirt bulldozed into that spot. The ground sloped away, the roadbed provided a cleaner and higher path to a wooden retaining wall (thus begins the bridge) from which we jumped (not quite four feet). The roadbed was single track with blue granite ballast; I never bothered looking for a very separate spur.

    The roadbed leading south became lost in the tall weeds, we're talking 1967, and no sign of an orchard either. Your southward photo looks just like I remember it.


    1. Okay, I think I've answered my own curiosity. The Swanton Cottage of Brookdale seems about right. I googled and found an image at the top, the one with the child in the doorway, and it is about what I remember. It looks like it pre-dates the rails by a few years (built 1880), and almost looks like something oddly out of the Civil War era. I wonder if it was on some registry where it only received periodical upkeep for years, with Brookdale eventually deciding to move it. I'd like to see more pictures and find out its fate.

      Fred W. Swanton is also responsible for the dam on the river. I'm guessing they mean the wall with spillway that is just above the "swimming pool". Look at the postcard, the highest whitewater is the spillway, the faint line to the sides is the dam, and the quiet water above is the result.


    2. Nice observations. Thanks for the research. I know of the Swanton Cottage, but you are stating that the cottage was originally beside the tracks at Siesta? If so, that's very interesting to hear! If Swanton built the cottage, though, it shouldn't pre-date the tracks. He lived in Santa Cruz from the late 1880s through until his death in 1940. He was a major entrepreneur and mayor of Santa Cruz twice in the 1920s and 1930s. His home is almost certainly on the National Registry of Historical Places, though I've never checked. Good to know about the dam, too, though can I get a link or reference for the source? I totally see what you're talking about in the photo and that was fairly common along the San Lorenzo River.

    3. For the dam, I only searched 'Fred W. Swanton Brookdale' and it was the third item down. The Santa Cruz Library has microfilm available for the Mountain Echo, May 7, 1910 "Dam in River Below Brookdale for Bathing". I had to use my best guess about which was the actual structure; I'm doing a lot of guessing and hoping it doesn't foul the record.


    4. Craig again: I also remember the old concrete dam right about where Grant mentions it. That section of the river is where I spent the majority of my time, and the remains of the dam were a place where my brothers and I always expected to find fish (due to the water that still remained behind the spillway) but strangely never seemed to find any. We always referred to it as the old fish hatchery, though I'm sure that was a very loose attribution to the hatchery on Larkspur & may have had nothing to with the hatchery at all.

  9. Swanton's Cottage was built in 1910 and was called "La Siesta."

    1. Like I said in my comments above, I'd really like to know what house stood along the tracks and continued to exist until recent times. Its location would have been in the middle of Riverside Road if it had continued past Fern Street and on down the slope. Few structures exist that illuminate past patterns of living quite like this forgotten house; and if I were to tour the area I might ask anyone if they knew of its fate.

      If it was the Swanton Cottage, I would hope that more information could be collected. The one photo that is available now, does not extend far enough to the right to see anything that could help us place it. Fred Swanton was an interesting man, part developer and part environmentalist; I'd like to understand what his intentions were with all of that property.


    2. Siesta was built by and for Fred Swanton. His cottage still sits on the river side of the r.o.w. in this area and the r.o.w. continues into the woods a little bit before running into another person's property. It then continues south down River Road.

      Swanton used the property to entertain guests who were visiting him from out of town. The SLV Museum has two almost identical photographs of the railroaders at a picnic at Swanton. The angle is a bit difficult to determine but the small station house may be in the background. Swanton also kept a spur there, probably to park private coaches on when wealthy friends were visiting from out of town. I don't think he really had an intention for the property other than a seasonal cottage to entertain guests at.

  10. The properties above the tracks in the 1909 survey map have a nice straight line to them. I think that the original narrow-gauge line may have taken a slightly different angle that put it closer to these properties, and then swung a left turn to cross the river on a shorter, more perpendicular and possibly taller trestle. This would put the tracks much closer to the corner of Fern and Riverside; and with the number of homes already built, I would expect passengers to have gathered and flagged the train at that site with or without a station. I think that a shelter and maybe a freight platform would have been built, and that the standard-gauge spur was used as a link to those original structures.