Friday, January 31, 2014

Grover Planing Mill

At the elbow of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz once sat the Grover & Company Planing Mill, a sprawling facility built alongside the South Pacific Coast Railroad's tracks to the Santa Cruz Railroad Wharf. S.F. Grover was the president of the company, with D.W. Grover as the treasurer and secretary. The company's board of directors were rounded out with the widow of J.L. Grover, and Mrss. S.H. Brown and May L. Halstead. The Grover Company owned multiple mills throughout Santa Cruz County during its existence, with the Enterprise Mill along Soquel Creek and the El Dorado Mill in Scotts Valley. Additional mills were acquired south of Lorenzo in the San Lorenzo Valley and built in the thereafter-named Grover Gulch (now Glen Haven). In addition to lumber enterprises, the Grover & Company operated a shingle mill and a mercantile store. The residences of the D.W. and Mrs. J.L were both noted for their elegance.

1883 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Boulder Planing Mill (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
The specific date of when the Pacific Avenue facility was first built is not known, but it was in full production by 1883 when it is recorded on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Company survey map. The mill had three dedicated spurs to its lumber yard and directly to its planing mill, with a fourth spur continuing on toward the neighboring Centennial Flour Mill and Oliver & Forester Planing Mill. The mill itself was a relatively small rectangular structure with a engine room. Three outbuildings, primarily for storage, were just south of the mill. The two spurs led off of the main spur and led between finished lumber and railroad ties. All the tracks were narrow-gauged.

1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Boulder Planing Mill (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
By 1886, the facility had expanded somewhat, but the access to rail transport had decreased to a single spur ending at the planing mill. Lumber still was stacked where the old spurs had once led, but Cedar Street had crept into where the Centennial Flour Mill spur once sat. The mill itself had expanded since 1883 to include a now-linked set of outbuildings and an expansion to the western side of the mill. Finished lumber was now primarily stacked beside the tracks heading into the mill, rather than alongside the absent spurs. During this time, Pacific Avenue climbed up Beach Hill along what is now Front Street, while Mill Street sat at the bottom of the hill. For the first time, the mill is noted as being "old" in the Sanborn maps, suggesting the facility predates 1883 by a number of years.

1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Boulder Planing Mill (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
Little changed between 1886 and 1888, when the next survey came out from Sanborn. The enlarged map shows that the Grover & Company kept its large reserves of finished lumber beside the tracks in long rows, just as it had when the spurs were there. This begs the question: why did they remove the spurs? Regardless, the facility looked just as it had in the previous survey, including with the note "old" written beneath the name of the mill.

1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Boulder Planing Mill (UC Santa Cruz Digital Collection)
1892 saw changes to the Grover & Company operations in Santa  Cruz. The old mill had been abandoned and was remaining only until a new facility, built behind it, was completed. Still, lumber lined the Grover Mill Spur and at least one row of lumber still sat in the yard near the South Pacific Coast's main line. Yet this photograph is the last to show the spur. The Grover Planing Mill continued operations in its new facility, but it seems rail access to the site was removed following the renovation, which was noted as occurring soon after this map was drawn.

Grover & Company closed down operations by 1901, as accounted by the sudden closure of all its facilities in the county. It is not known at present why the sudden closure, yet it meant the end of the planing mill off Pacific Avenue. The next available Sanborn map of the area is from 1905 and shows no mill or spur at the site. By this date, the line has also been upgraded to standard-gauge, suggesting the spur was removed no later than then.

Today, the site of the mill is roughly the Bay Front Inn and South Pacific Apartments complexes at the end of Pacific Avenue just before the roundabout. This area remained relatively desolate for many more years after the Grover mill closed down operations, but it remained an industrial area until the early 1990s.


  • Edward Sanford Harrison, History of Santa Cruz County, California (1892).

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