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Friday, September 6, 2013

Brookdale Station

Brookdale has always been a bit of an enigma in the San Lorenzo Valley. Hosting its own post office and hotels, it has never quite grown into a full-fledged town. Conversely, though, it certainly is not just another Santa Cruz County subdivision. Perhaps, even after nearly 110 years of existence, its status as a vacation spot is still the best way to describe this scenic waypoint along California Route 9.

1909 Survey Map of Brookdale Station, showing the right-of-way beside the San Lorenzo River. Note the large length of the station area beside the Tennis Courts (visible in the photo below). (Courtesy San Lorenzo Valley Museum)
Yet Brookdale is a more recent invention. The settlement, and specifically the railroad station, evolved from a small set of homesteads along Clear Creek in the 1870s and 1880s. A small trout farm and a railroad spur were built on a landing above a bend in the San Lorenzo River. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad, under the guise of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad, passed through Brookdale in 1885, the site was simply named Reed's Spur. No vacationers paradise had yet formed. That all changed at around the turn of the century when the settlement was more formally named Clear Creek, though no records of the site actually being referred to that exist. Rick Hammon even suggests that the name Clear Creek had already been in use since before the railroad passed through the area.

Aerial view of Brookdale in 1911, with the station visible at left and the Brookdale Trestle at right.
Postcard of the Brookdale Lodge dining room in the mid-1920s.
Judge James Harvey Logan was the founder of the settlement after having built a small vacation lodge on the site in 1890. Although he founded the settlement as Clear Creek in 1900, it was renamed Brookdale on April 3, 1902 when the post office was founded. Donald Clark cites the uniqueness of the name, stating that "brook, as a specific or generic, is seldom encounter in the West. Therefore, we assume that the name was fancifully invented by joining brook with another uncommon term, dale, a river valley between hills or high land (Clark, 43)." The lodge eventually evolved into the sprawling Brookdale Inn & Spa, a famous and potentially haunted vacation spot in the San Lorenzo Valley.

A broad-gauged engine with two passenger cars approaches Brookdale Station, with siding or spur,  in the early 1920s.
Ladies sitting in a car beside Brookdale Station, late 1910s.
(Courtesy San Lorenzo Valley Museum)
The railroad station was built around 1902 to support this burgeoning vacationer community. The earliest timetable in this historian's collection noting Brookdale is an April 1907 Southern Pacific public table. This timetable placed Brookdale 13 miles north of Santa Cruz, 2 miles north of Ben Lomond, and 2 miles south of Boulder Creek. The August 19, 1923 internal Southern Pacific timetable is much more detailed. It places Brookdale 78.3 miles south of San Franciso via the Mayfield Cut-Off and Felton Depot. Furthermore, it is 1.4 miles south of Boulder Creek. It's neighbor to the south is the Fish Hatchery, which was 0.4 miles away, while it's neighbor 0.5 miles to the north was Harris. In this timetable, a spur for Brookdale is also mentioned. This spur, as is discussed on the Reed's Spur article, may be a broad-gauged successor to the Reed's Spur, or may be something else. Extant photographs of the station in the late 1910s certainly show a siding at Brookdale, though other photographs do not. It is likely, therefore, that the spur was in fact a later addition, perhaps for a local industry. Most public timetables in this period only note Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond, Glen Arbor, and Felton as the primary stops along the Boulder Creek branch, emphasizing the importance of Brookdale in the overall branch's itinerary.

Brookdale Station on a busy day in the late 1910s. Note the lack of an obvious siding, though the train could be parked on that siding in this image. This is undoubtedly the most widely-known photograph of the station.
Postcard of Brookdale Station showing the small passenger and freight agency office under the long wrap-around porch of the station building. Reed's Spur, with a parked flat car, is visible at right. (Courtesy Grant Correll)
Station site of Brookdale. Right-of-way was on the left, with the Reed's Spur
heading straight down the shot. Station building was on the right.
Brookdale remained a primary railroad stop until October 1929, at which point direct passenger and freight service to the station ceased. Southern Pacific-funded busses would take passengers from Brookdale to the station in Felton to continue service by rail after that point. Through traffic from Boulder Creek would cease in January 1934. After that point, the fate of Brookdale Station becomes sketchy. According to, the address of the station was at 240 Pacific Street at the base of the road just before it turns to cross the San Lorenzo River toward Huckleberry Island.

The Brookdale Station building, with the walls expanded to their support
posts. The roof has also been modified to allow it to breathe.
Further investigation has revealed that the original station building does still exist in an extremely changed state. The image at left shows the structure, clearly older than 1998, on the above property in the precise location of the station. Walls have been added at the ends of the eaves and the crest of the station has been opened to up allow venting on either side of the structure. Otherwise, this is clearly the original station building. Since it is an annex to the above property, Zillow probably just neglected to mention it. The property above clearly was the site of the right-of-way and its siding, as evidenced by a clear ROW heading off toward the river where there once sat a trestle. The Brookdale station sign which once hung affixed to the roof of the station is at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, truncated due to being installed above a fireplace in a private residence for decades.

  • Donald Thomas Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008)
  • Rich Hammon, California Central Coast Railroads (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).


  1. I liked the photo of the trestle just north of
    Brookdale station. I had never seen a picture
    of this trestle. It appears to be the only crossing
    of the San Lorenzo River north of Brookdale without
    the huge stone piers. The three which came after
    this one all had the big piers which stand in the
    middle of San Lorenzo River to this day. But this
    was also an excellent and informative article too,
    as always! Thank you for your efforts! And I think
    your maps are better than mine!

    1. Hey Duncan, actually the Hotel Ben Lomond Trestle also was a wood-built trestle. I finally went out there and visited the site behind the Tyrolean Inn. Definitely a wood-built trestle and I'll post an article in a bit to prove it. But other than that, it seems only the Brookdale Trestle was wood-built. The photo above is so far the only one I have seen of that trestle.

  2. A few guesses here.

    1. I think trestle #4 will prove to be a wooden truss, not steel.
    2. The switch in front of the station will be Reeds, a spur that remains straight while the main curves. The aerial photo makes a siding unlikely, and the two boxcars are not 'staying' with the mainline. The classic photo shows a freight platform on the left, this would make it a class B. The spur does not end at the river edge either, only at the street. The spur may have had more angles in it while still the original narrow gauge.
    3. Steen's spur was only 0.1 miles further down the line from Reed's. The spur pointed down the line, hugged the main through the curve, and trickled into the fish pond area. I say hugged, but maybe not too tight, creating a separation. The properties around the curve look like they simply annexed the abandoned line as part of their backyards (1909 survey map), while the tail of the spur still exists in the earlier survey maps for the hatchery.
    4. The Fish Hatchery used the spur for only a few years. It's curious that the hatchery is well aligned with the tracks, has a white destination sign on the roof, and has a high foundation (sort of like a loading platform again, although I don't know what kind of structure a hatchery needs). I think the hatchery may have been an early adopter of highway transport, I also see one serious looking fence around it; I think for security reasons the rail connection was dumped. Class B spurs only needed the platform (?), looking for additional structures might be unnecessary.

  3. Hi,

    The old Parcel Map at the foot of Pacific St., crossing the Bridge onto Huckleberry Island is of high interest at the moment around these parts. Any more of that map available around that spot, and the Island Circle???