Friday, November 21, 2014

New Brighton

New Brighton, located on the coast east of Captiola and west of Seacliff, was originally a small Chinese fishing village in the 1850s. Many fishing families, especially those of Italian descent, were moving into the more populated regions of the county, thereby forcing the Chinese into increasingly remote locations. For decades, Chinese fishermen (they did not bring their families with them) fished at the beach, remaining largely isolated from the Santa Cruz and Watsonville communities on either side of them. The beach, then known as China Beach, had calm waves and the fishing crews were able to built extensive docks for their boats in the waters. The Chinese lived on the beach, drawing their fresh water from leaks in the nearby cliffs. They owned no property and had no public recognition of their land, which sat at the fringe of the high tide line. The Chinese Expulsion Act of 1882 slowly drove the Chinese out of the area and by 1900, all trace of them had disappeared.

The Santa Cruz Railroad first made its was through the area around 1873, though it wouldn't be completed for another two years. In any case, the railroad utterly bypassed the beach throughout the 1800s, only establishing a flag-stop there in 1900, likely at the insistence of local property developers. A resort had existed at China Beach since 1877 when Thomas Fallon, former mayor of San José, built Camp San Jose near the site, but any railroad traffic to the resort was strictly unofficial. The name did not attract the crown either Fallon or Santa Cruz had hoped for, so in 1882 Fallon renamed it New Brighton, after the New Brighton Hotel which he built on the property. Fallon died three years later, and the property fell to his descendants who only periodically chose to use or lease the site. It's location was poor for a campground, being atop the cliffs in an open plain exposed to the elements. Camp Capitola, further to the west, was far more popular and was protected from the elements to a much greater degree. The hotel fell into disuse and was eventually demolished.

Railroad service to New Brighton grew by 1908 when the Southern Pacific began officially entering it into its agency books. By 1909, it was also listed in employee timetables at 6.1 miles from Santa Cruz and 85.1 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off. The site had no spur or siding or, indeed, was a regularly-scheduled stop. It only catered to those who wished to embark or disembark at the location. If any station structure existed for the stop, this historian has not seen it. The station remained on timetables into the early 1930s until it was relegated to the flag-stop appendix by 1939. It was completely removed in June 1941, although passenger service by that time had already ended except for special excursion trains.

Curiously, by the last few years of its existence, the stop may have actually served a permanent stop. New Brighton became a California State Park in 1933, though the name itself wasn't adopted for a number of years due to protests from Fallon's heirs. The state beach has been in constant use ever since, usually paired as an informal unit with the adjacent Seacliff State Beach. It encompasses 95 acres of land including a windswept campground. The site of the station goes unremarked, but was along Park Avenue near the current entrance of New Brighton State Beach. E Clampus Vitus recognized the Chinese history of the park in October 1984 with a plaque, while the Pacific Migrations Visitors Center, which opened in 2003, documents the history of the early residents—including the Chinese—in the area.



  1. You appear to have a mixup with your photos. That looks like a lake, possibly Tahoe.

  2. Confirmed as Lake Tahoe. Look at the lettering on the cab in the 2nd photo.

    1. Very odd. We have a primary source citing these as New Brighton. In fact, it was written on the back of one of the photos.

    2. That's 100% Tahoe City and the "Glenbrook" which funnily enough was just returned to steam this week by the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.

      I'm surprised you didn't notice there was no way that was New Brighton. Are you not a local?

    3. With that air of certainty, I've formally removed the two photographs from the post. I will contact Greg Gardner at the Santa Cruz MAH and inform him that he needs to refile the photos.

      Regarding my localness, I actually have only been to New Brighton one or two times. I'm from the San Lorenzo Valley. We only ever come to town when we have to! I also haven't been to Tahoe for at least a decade, so there's that.

    4. Well that would explain it! For some reason I thought you lived around here. Do you know the MAH catalog numbers for those pics by chance? I was going to send copies to the Nevada Museum folks in case they've never seen them, which is possible if they're originals that were mislabeled.

    5. MAH Catalog Number? HA! I wish they had such a system. They have a very poor system where everything is organized via collection and you have to search and hope to find things. These were in the Paul Johnston Collection. There should be a file on the collection on their website. That may help some. There are a lot of photos of the Aptos Creek trains in that collection, so I recommend it for all railroad fans.

    6. Right on. I'll pass on the jpegs and point them in the general direction. Thanks!

  3. These flag stops are interesting. They often apply to one direction but not another.
    At New Brighton, the Mar. 21, 1937 Coast Division Employee's Timetable shows the westbound
    passenger train, # 187, stopping on flag there but not the eastbound train # 188. # 187 also
    stops on flag at Nuga, Cristo, Leonard, Cliffside and Twin Lakes but # 188 doesn't.
    My guess is S.P worried # 188 might be late for a connection at Watsonville Junction and
    wanted to limit delays for it. On the return trip, this would not be an issue. It appears that
    train # 188 is supposed to connect with Train # 35, the Del Monte, leaving for
    San Francisco at 9:26 AM, 11 minutes after the arrival of Train # 188. Another informative
    article! Thank you for information I never had!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.