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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Boulder Creek Station

1897 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Boulder Creek,
showing the a very limited depiction of the rail yard.
(Courtesy UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections)
The town that developed at the triple junction of the San Lorenzo River, Boulder Creek, and Bear Creek would have been quite different without the railroad. The town developed through the late 1860s and 1870s as a logging community under the name Boulder, with the San Lorenzo Flume & Transportation Company's flume traveling beside the town through a flat near the river. A rival town, Lorenzo, was developed two miles south by Joseph W. Peery, though it would eventually be subsumed into its larger neighbor. This was largely due to failed negotiations with the South Pacific Coast Railroad which began surveying a right-of-way through the area.

Boulder Creek, named after the nearby creek, truly became a town because of the prosperity that the railroad provided via its terminus east of Central Avenue. But this almost didn't happen. On 13 January 1883, the Felton & Pescadero Railroad was founded as a subsidiary of the South Pacific Coast. It's short-term goal was to built a railroad up the San Lorenzo Valley to a point where lumber from the flume and other sources could be loaded onto flat cars and delivered to the Santa Cruz Wharf where it could be shipped away. A long-term goal—white unfortunately became a pipe dream—was to continue the railroad through a tunnel to Pescadero where it would drive toward the coast and connect with the anticipated Coast Line Railroad (which was eventually built, but never reached Pescadero). When the railroad graders reached Lorenzo, they assessed the situation and, despite vehement protests by the residents, passed by the town and set up their terminus at Boulder Creek in 1885.

A long lumber train entering Boulder Creek (engine house visible behind train), c. 1890s. (Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
W.S. Rodger's map of Boulder Creek showing a few of the spurs.
(Courtesy UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections)
A terminus at Boulder Creek had multiple advantages. It was a very wide area with little development thus far. The flume passed through the clearing, which meant that lumber could be offloaded and immediately loaded onto waiting trains. This was, in fact, what happened for the first two years of its presence in Boulder Creek. When the Southern Pacific Railroad took control of the South Pacific Coast in 1887, it closed the flume and allowed the Dougherty brothers to establish a narrow-gauged feeder railroad from Boulder Creek to their mill at Riverside Grove. Boulder Creek Depot thus became one of the largest train yards in Santa Cruz County, with so many sidings and spurs that surveyors over the years were not always able to correctly document them. A survey map done by a local, W.S. Rodgers, in 1905 shows two spurs even continuing around the north side of the town, terminating behind where the post office is today.

Boulder Creek Station on a busy day, c. 1900. (Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
Railroaders standing outside the engine shed, c. 1890s.
(Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
By 1899, Boulder Creek was a bustling town of over 800 permanent residents. The 1899 Station Book reports that it was to be found 81 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point and Felton Depot. It had telegraph services, a freight and passenger agency, a class-A freight station with a platform located on the west side of the tracks. The class-A freight access is truly an understatement for Boulder Creek included a turntable, at least six sidings and spurs, a two-engine house, and a water tower. Also, its freight station was on the west side of the main line, but included a spur on its opposite side as well.

A special party car advertising Fourth Liberty Loans on the tracks outside Boulder Creek Depot, c. 1910.
(Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
The first station at the site was installed around May 1885 and was a simple Coleman parlor car placed on blocks beside the tracks. A canvas canopy was draped over it and telegraph wires were strung inside. This station was placed behind the Cunningham Store on Central Ave, a store that would soon become the Dougherty & Middleton Store (often known by both names). By early the next year, a permanent station structure was erected. It was a simple, often repeated but very long building with a high peaked ceiling. The agency office was on the north side while a short freight platform was on the south. Around 1910, Boulder Creek's depot was either replaced a second time or modified, with the freight platform on the south side completely removed and the interior agency offices expanded.

The town of Boulder Creek with the rail yard at back right, c. 1905. (Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
Things began to change around the turn of the century. The Southern Pacific began to broad gauge the entire network of tracks in its system, and Boulder Creek was included in that upgrade. Beginning at some point in 1905, tracks between Santa Cruz and Boulder Creek were being upgraded. The earthquake in 1906 halted this conversion, but not for long. By 1907, the entire line was broad-gauged to Boulder Creek, and the third rail was "thrown over". However, the conversion in Boulder Creek was slightly different. Due to the continual existence of the Dougherty Extension Railroad heading north for seven miles on narrow-gauged tracks, Boulder Creek retained a third rail at the switch yards, though all lumber had to be transferred to standard-gauged trains before leaving town. The earthquake also forced increased production of lumber in the mountains as much of San Francisco had been reduced to rubble or burned down. A great part of San Francisco was rebuilt using Santa Cruz Mountain lumber.

View of Boulder Creek Freight Yard from opposite hillside. (Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
Last train out of Boulder Creek, 1934. (Courtesy Valley Press-Banner)
By the early 1910s, though, Boulder Creek's railroading days would enter a prolonged decline. Most of the mountain redwood mills would shut down and passenger service waned with the advent of the automobile. The Dougherty Extension Railroad continued until 1914 and then became a real-estate line for two more years before closing permanently. By Summer 1929, passenger service to Boulder Creek had reduced to one train a day; by the next year, passenger service to Boulder Creek was done. Freight continued until a last run January 26, 1934, when all remaining rolling stock was shipped out of town. The Southern Pacific abandoned the line a few days later in early February.

Little remains today of the Boulder Creek Depot that once sprawled across the flats east of town. Names such as Junction and Railroad avenues, and Junction Park survive, but none of the structures do. The station site now sits at the junction of Middleton Ave and Railroad Ave where the Boulder Creek Parks & Recreation building now stands. The right-of-way into and out of town is utterly buried under a morass of roads and properties, lost forever to history.


  • Rick Hamman, California Central Coast Railways (Scotts Valley, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Bruce MacGregor and Richard Truesdale, South Pacific Coast: A Centennial (Pruett Pub., 1982).
  • Lisa Robinson, Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2012).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for clarifying where the Boulder Creek depot was located! I am glad that
    my assumptions about it's location were correct. If you are trying to locate it
    on the USGS maps, you have to look at the very bottom left corner of the
    Castle Rock Ridge Quadrangle where only a tiny portion of the Boulder Creek
    branch would have been shown if it was still operating. This Quadrangle is
    pretty barren of railroad sites. A portion of the site of the Peninsular Railroad
    between Los Gatos and Saratoga can be found in the upper right corner.