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Friday, November 8, 2013

Dougherty's Mill (#2) & Riverside Grove

A map showing the site of Dougherty Mill
(purple marker) and the Riverside Grove
subdivision (flag). (Courtesy Google Maps)
Four miles north of Boulder Creek sits on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River the rural community of Riverside Grove. Few people live in this community today, yet beginning in 1887, this site was one of the most productive redwood logging operations on the Pacific Coast. Built by the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company as a successor to its burned down mill along Zayante Creek, the location was popularly known as Dougherty's Mill (#2), after the president of the company, William Patrick Dougherty. The company had been established in 1873 as a joint venture between William, his brother James, and numerous other Santa Clara Valley financiers. Over the next twenty years, the company had gained possession of vast tracts of land throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. The company built its Zayante Mill in coordination with the construction of the South Pacific Coast Railroad, connecting that mill to the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. When that mill burned down in 1886, W.P. Dougherty decided to move on to more profitable operations up the San Lorenzo River beyond Boulder Creek. The SPC's subsidiary railroad, the Felton & Pescadero RR, had already reached Boulder Creek by the time Dougherty's new mill was processing lumber, but transportation down the now decade-old flume was not cost effective. Working with the South Pacific Coast, Dougherty negotiated a private extension of the railroad up to his mill.

The result was the Dougherty Extension Railroad, a railroad specifically designed to service the SCVM&L Co. mill at Riverside Grove, though also servicing around a half dozen other minor mills via direct connections and loading spurs. Most of these other mills were at least partially owned by the SCVM&L Co. The new narrow-gauged railroad reached Riverside Grove in 1888 and the flume was finally dismantled soon after. The new railroad extension was built to support South Pacific Coast (or rather Southern Pacific, since the transfer of ownership in 1887) rolling stock and much of the right-of-way was built to conform to company standards. For twelve years the Dougherty Extension Railroad would service the mill, allowing the Doughertys to ship all of their finished lumber, split stuff, ties, and shingles down to Santa Cruz or over the mountains to San Francisco. Production at the mill averaged at 50,000 board feet of lumber a day. A small community developed around the mill including a cookhouse, 30 four-person bunkhouses, a schoolhouse, and a meeting hall. An entire school district was established to teach the twenty-odd children living at the mill.

1892 Sanborn Map of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Co facilities at Riverside Grove. (Courtesy UC Santa Cruz)
Four insurance maps of the site exist in the Sanborn map collection at UC Santa Cruz. The oldest of the three, published in 1892, shows the facility sitting at a bend in the river, just south of today's Teilh Drive off CA State Route 9. The mill filled the clearing, with a large mill pond created by a dam located just south of the bend. The primary mill sat beneath this mill pond. A spur of the railroad ended just west of the mill building while four tramways divided up the lumber yard. These trams and the spur were linked together by a perpendicular tram with turntables at all the intersections. In this manner, the various tramways could pass lumber-filled flatcars down to the main line, which was east of the facility. The spur, naturally, could also be used to hold waiting full flatcars. Maps dating from 1897 and later also show a siding that crossed the river west of the mill, looping around the mill pond, and then reuniting with the main line. The purpose of this is not entirely known, though the engine house for the Extension Railroad engine was located off a short spur along this siding. A small log bridge that crossed the river east of the mill pond and west of the main line was later rebuilt and today is the site of Either Way's bridge over the river. It appears in the center of the mill photograph.

Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company facility at Riverside Grove, 1895. (Courtesy SLV Museum)
After the summer of 1902, the Dougherty mill finally shuttered operations. The site was retained by the newly-founded California Timber Company, the successor to the SCVM&L Co, but most of the equipment was transferred to a new mill on Deer Creek that, while using the Extension Railroad for transportation, had its own mill built. A Sanborn map found in Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley shows the site as it last appeared, but a note beneath the caption reads "All buildings removed, except Cook Ho. (vacant)". Similarly, the 1908 Sanborn map, the last such map documenting the site, states (erroneously) "Closed since 1894."

1908 Sanborn Insurance map showing the former California Timber Company site at Riverside Grove.
(Courtesy UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
For ten years, the site of Dougherty Mill sat abandoned, no more than a thoroughfare for passing trains. One or both of the sidings may have survived, though no records remain if they did. The last mill along the line closed in fall 1913 and beginning in summer 1914, the California Timber Company put all their property in the area up for sale. E.S. Cheney, a photographer for an Oakland development firm, became the head real estate broker for the upper San Lorenzo Valley. He borrowed the "Dinky" (formerly the "Felton" of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad) from the California Timber Company, purchased a second eight-passenger street car, and used both to sell lots along what was renamed the Wildwood, Boulder Creek, & Northern Railroad. The site of Dougherty's Mill became known formally as Wildwood #2, but informally as Riverside Grove, a term used by the Doughertys to describe the site many years earlier. The lots sold for $125.00 each while homes sold for as low as $250.00. There was likely no formal flag-stop for the property train, rather it likely stopped at numerous places along the right-of-way to advertise available properties. Regrettably, the railroad's maintenance costs were too much of a burden for the Oakland firm and bus transport replaced rail in June 1915. The tracks remained at Riverside Grove until 1917 when the steel was lifted for use in World War I.

No strong lingering presence of the railroad remains at Riverside Grove. Though the properties did not sell particularly well, those lots with quick access to State Route 9 did better than most. A reminder of logging days remains with "Lake Street" sitting along the former site of the log pond. Some property lines also still hinting at the railroad's right-of-way. Still, the site today remains simply a rural community with knowledge of its railroading past, but few surviving relics of it.

  • Rick Hamman, California's Central Coast Railways (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002).
  • Lisa Robinson, Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2012).

1 comment:

  1. When I first searched for the railroad north of Boulder Creek many years ago, I did not
    have the benefit of any maps and was hampered by all of the houses, camps, and
    communities along the right of way. I was only able to find certain sections of the
    right of way such as the northernmost segment which was not eradicated by housing.
    I am glad you have had better luck tracing the line! Good work!