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Friday, September 27, 2013

Boulder Mill, Grover Mill, Camp Joy & Harris

Site of Boulder Mill, Grover Mill, Camp Joy, and Harris. (Google Maps)
The succession of freight and flag-stops located on the southern side of the last bend in the San Lorenzo River south of Boulder Creek is truly surprising. Over the course of forty-nine years, at least five different names were applied to this location, none documented with any clarity.

The first operation on the site was a lumber mill owned by James Cunningham, who had owned a general store in Felton and would soon transfer his mill to the site of the former flume mill two miles north of Boulder Creek. His stop was simply called "Cunningham's Siding" and only was on station books to about 1890, after which the site was renamed.

The Boulder Mill Company took over operations at the stop after this, renaming the stop "Boulder Mill." During its years in operation, the Boulder Mill dammed up the San Lorenzo River just before its southward turn toward Clear Creek. The dammed area was used as a mill pond for the mill, where logs would sit until they were processed in the adjacent mill property. A hauling bridge was also installed at the northern edge of the pond while the Southern Pacific Railroad operated a trestle slightly north of that. Two existing Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps document this mill’s existence, noting that two railroad spurs—though noted on the map as sidings—descended into the mill property from the north, while the mainline continues off the map toward the trestle. The lower spur dead-ends into the mill while the upper spur passes through the stacked lumber yards then terminates en route to the hauling bridge.

1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the Boulder Mill Company saw mill south of Boulder Creek.
(Courtesy University of California, Santa Cruz)
The 1892 map, above, shows the mill being located roughly 0.9 miles south of Boulder Creek. Further information gleaned from the caption at the bottom-right adds that the mill could produce 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. The mill itself was powered by sawdust-fed steam boilers, with the water being provided by water tanks that could hold 6,000 gallons each. The two tanks are noted on the map as well as a sawdust shed (in pink).  The 1899 Station Book mentions this site by the name Boulder Mill, placing it 80 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point and Felton Depot. It was classified as a class-B station with it's platform on the left (east) side of the track. Nothing else is noted about the station from timetables and it does not appear in any other contemporary public or employee timetables.

Boulder Mill in 1897 according to a Sanborn Fire Insurance map. (Courtesy UC Santa Cruz)
By 1897, when the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company issued its next map, the mill site had changed hands and become a possession of Grover & Company. The Grovers were three brothers and a son named J. Lyman, Stephen Frealon, Whitney, and Dwight W. respectively. They were new to the Boulder Creek area, but had been in Santa Cruz County since at least 1861, which is the date they founded their original mill on Bates Creek north of Soquel in a region now known as Glen Haven. Three more mills were eventually added, with the Boulder Creek mill probably the last. Although it is unclear why the 1899 station book continues to refer to the site as "Boulder Mill", the Sanborn map makes it clear that the mill was under new ownership. Sadly, no photographs of the Brookdale mill seem to exist, but there is one photograph of the Grover family's primary Glen Haven mill (then known as the Grovers Gulch Mill), which is shown at right. The Sanborn map above shows that the layout changed little in the intervening five years since the last survey.

1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the Grover & Co. Lumber Yard south of Boulder Creek.
(Courtesy University of California, Santa Cruz)
A 1901 Sanborn map, and the last such map available of the site, shows a radically changed scene. The mill pond, spurs, and water towers are all still on the site, but the actual mill structure appears to be missing from the scene. Whether that was an omission or the mill had been removed (or destroyed) is not known to this author at present. The note beneath the location data, though, suggests that by 1901 the Grover Mill had become simply a storage site for up to 150,000 board feet of lumber. The Grovers may have owned satellite mills further down the right-of-way or up in the hills, and may have only used this place as storage due to its abundant storage space and its spurs. Or, alternatively, they may have been in the process of closing the facility when the Sanborn company came through to survey the area. The lumber may have been remnants there were in the process of being shipped. Conversely, the Sanborn company was known for keeping old mills in its records even long after the mill had disappeared, which may be the case here.

Original mill owned by the Grovers in Glen Haven. No known photograph exists of the Boulder Creek mill.
(Courtesy Santa Cruz Public Libraries)
Donald Clark mentions the mill in his Santa Cruz County Place Names book, but in his entry, he merely states its singular presence in George F. Cram's Superior Reference Atlas of California, Nevada and the World (Chicago: Davis & Cram, 1908). Donald Clark asserts that this site is the same as that identified by Rick Hammon under the name Harris, which was also sited in Ran McNally's Complete Map of California (San Francisco: McNally Co., 1927), albeit in slightly the wrong location.

By around the turn of the century, the Grover Mill was definitely on the way out. The standard-gauging of the line in 1907 likely caused the removal of the spurs and may also mark the formal renaming of the site. At around the same time, a man named William Joy opened a boy’s camp near the mill site named Camp Joy. To support the camp, a passenger flag-stop opened up just north of the old mill site on the Felton & Pescadero mainline. Very little of this camp has been documented and even Donald Clark writes little about it. A Santa Cruz Sentinel article from 1916 mentions the flag-stop as operating, though the name changed soon after that date. 

Prior to August 19, 1923, the name of the flag-stop changed to Harris, possibly after Leonard "Len" Harris, a Southern Pacific employee who was shot in Boulder Creek in 1894, though that is nowhere near conclusive. For more information on his story, read Western Train Adventures: The Good, The Bag & The Ugly by Mark McLaughlin. By the time Harris was operating, the only structure of the original Boulder Mill that remained was a small square office building, noted in the Sanborn maps above. Of this timetables in this historians collection, only the 1923 timetable notes Harris. It states that Harris was located 78.8 miles south of San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and Felton Depot. Furthermore, its nearest neighbor to the south was Brookdale, which was 0.5 miles away, and its nearest neighbor to the north was Filbert 0.3 miles away. It seems that the spurs had been removed or gone unnoted since they do not appear on the timetable. Much like the previous three incarnations of the stop, there are no available photographs of Harris flag-stop at present.

Service to Harris ended no later than October 1929 when all passenger service along the Boulder Creek branch ceased. Until that time, it is highly likely that Harris continued to serve the boys staying at Camp Joy. The site of Boulder Mill today is located at the end of Camp Joy Road off of Irwin Way. The house on that site is built on the right-of-way and is accessible both from Camp Joy Road and a private road leading from Irwin Way to the south. The current resident of the house on that property notes that the current building spread outward from an original small square structure, likely the 1890s office building visible above. dates the oldest structure to 1911, but that may be simply the date that the original structure was enlarged. The site is inaccessible to the public without permission and those found on any of the owner's property, including the Irwin Way access driveway, will be treated as trespassers.

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

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