Friday, March 13, 2015


USGS Map showing Aromas and Sand Cut (at left), 1914.
Near the meeting point of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey Counties, the small unincorporated community of Aromas sits, literally bisected by Monterey and San Benito Counties along Carpenteria Road. The community began its life in October 1835 as the Mexican Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente (translated from Spanish as Little Odors & Warm Water Ranch). The name may have been a reference to the nearby Soda Lake and its sulphur spring, which later became the focus of a short-lived resort. With the American annexation of California in 1846, the rancho became Rancho Las Aromas, a name which stuck thereafter. Despite numerous reports stating that the town descended from an earlier town of Vega, Vega was, in fact, located further to the west, about midway between Aromas and Pajaro.

Rancho Aromitas y Agua Caliente. [Bancroft Library]
The community really came to life in 1871 when the Southern Pacific Railroad built its railroad through Pajaro Gap and Chittenden Pass, following the south bank of the Pajaro River. To get through to Pajaro to the west, a short tunnel was constructed just to the west of Aromas. It seems that the tunnel was either never fully completed or collapsed soon after construction, as it was noted as "Sand Cut" from as early as the 1880s. The site of the cut today is precisely that: a deep cut, overgrown with trees and shrubs on the cut's walls. To the east, meanwhile, vast reserves of aggregate material discovered during excavation of the railroad right-of-way immediately became a quarry for use by the railroad. It would be this quarry that gave new life to the Aromas community, converting it within twenty years into the town as it is known today. A post office under the name Aromas opened in 1894, and the railroad set up a stop on the fringe of the community center probably around the same time. Most of the residents of the town worked at or were related to people who worked at the Logan quarry for Granite Rock. The remainder were educators, shop keepers, and the independent farmers working the surrounding fields.

Crews loading apricot pits onto boxcars at Aromas, c 1920. [Monterey County Libraries]
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake devastated Aromas, which sat near the fault line, and the original station structure was levelled in the temblor. Boxcars full of fruits and vegetables fell of buckled tracks. The station was quickly rebuilt according to the standard model of the time and life moved on.

The newly rebuilt Aromas Station in 1907.
[Monterey County Library, Aromas Branch]
The railroad's presence at Aromas was restricted to the north end of town, with its two-story station located on the northeast corner of Carpenteria Road at its junction with Quarry Road. A pair of tracks ran beside the station, following a double-track that linked Logan to Watsonville Junction. A much larger railroad station replaced the 1907 prefabricated structure at some point in the 1910s. It included a tall freight storage room with loading ramp and a two-story agency office with the private residence of the agent above a standard freight and passenger office. The office included telegraph services. At least one spur and one passing siding sat across from the station beside the double-tracks, with a siding running alongside the freight platform. The siding length was approximately 1,400 feet long, or the length of 35 trains cars.

Aromas Station, October 20, 1946, as photographed by Wilbur C. Whittaker.
By 1940, Aromas had already become merely a flag-stop, with no permanent agency staff on site. Indeed, only one train was scheduled to stop at the site during that year, although all of them were allowed to stop if flagged. The structure, shown above, was probably converted into a private residence by the time this photograph was taken. The spur and siding appear to have been removed no later than 1951 as neither are noted in timetables after that date. When precisely the station went out of use completely is not presently known by this historian. The town still exists with a population of roughly 2,500 residents. The town supports three schools, a library, and numerous businesses.

Official Railroad Information:
Aromas was located 90.7 miles from San Francisco via Gilroy and San José, and 25.9 miles from Santa Cruz.

Aromas Station from a different angle, October 20, 1946. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36˚N 53' 31.181", 121˚W 38' 36.214"

The site of Aromas Station is publicly accessible and quite easily viewed along Aromas/Quarry Road, but there is absolutely nothing there to see except tracks passing over Carpenteria Road. All trace of the station structure has been erased and bulldozed over.

Citations & Credits:
  • Margaret Clovis, Images of America: Monterey County's North Coast and Coastal Valleys. Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 
  • Erwin Gustav Gudde, California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names

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