Friday, February 26, 2016

Upper Beach Road Railroad Patrons

Google Maps satellite view of the entire former freight area.
Watsonville has always been a major agricultural industrial center and the advent of the railroad into the town in 1873 turned it into a major local hub for canneries, fruit dryers, packing plants, and other agriculture-based factories. In the immediate vicinity of Watsonville Depot, along Beach Road, a number of businesses popped up that used or potentially used the railroad to haul its goods.

The first such company founded beside the railroad tracks was the Watsonville Fruit Dryer & Cannery, located on Beach Road (3rd Street) at the modern-day end of Harvest Drive. The Santa Cruz Railroad Tracks were installed about a half-block away from the packing house and, in response, the company placed a warehouse between the two, allowing it to use the tracks. The company was in operation only from circa 1886 to February 1888 when it fell vacant. The Western Beet Sugar Company purchased the vacant structure around the time that it was erecting its Pajaro Valley Railroad in 1890. A siding that ran on the cannery side of the mainline tracks skirted the edge of the structure on its way to the PVRR passenger and freight depot, located just south of the Southern Pacific Railroad crossing. By 1902 the cannery was gone and the side of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad depot had tripled in size, taking over much of the old packing company's space.

Sanborn Map, 1902, showing the Adamson Fruit Company.
(UCSC Digital Collections)
Just opposite Beach Road from the cannery, Adamson Fruit Company erected a fruit drier factory at some point in the late 1890s, this time with the adjacent railroad tracks clearly a part of their operation. By 1904, a fruit packing warehouse sat beside the tracks further to the south, as well. While little is stated on Sanborn Company Insurance Maps regarding the operation, a notation in 1911 states that the facility was run by Chinese workers. It still existed in 1920 under the management of Chinese, but the name of the company was no longer listed in Sanborn maps suggesting the original owners had left.

The Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard south of the Southern Pacific tracks, 1902
(Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
In the late 1890s, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company – which operated a mill in the Aptos Creek area during this time – opened a new lumber yard and planing mill immediately beside the Adamson Fruit Company, likely using the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad tracks, which ran to the west of their grounds, and the Southern Pacific tracks, which ran to the north, to ship their goods to the Salinas Valley and elsewhere. This locale may have been in response to the Hihn-Hammond Lumber Company yard that was erected on the former Spreckels Beet Sugar Company grounds just to the north along Walker Street. Loma Prieta Lumber Company had previously operated its yard directly in the center of the large Pajaro Station wye. But the relocation may have been to capitalise on the potential of dual shipping routes. The Beach Road ran on either side of the street, with the majority of its facilities located to the west of the Southern Pacific depot. By 1904, the area to the north of the road had been abandoned and only the section beside the PVCRR tracks remained, with limited warehouses beside the track to support export shipping. The lumber yard on Beach Road appears to have been abandoned entirely by 1920, which coincides with the closure of the company in that year.

Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company facility, 1914, published by Edward H. Mitchell.
In 1902, a small ice house owned by the Western Ice & Cold Storage Company was built at the end of a short north-bound spur that ran beside the Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard. It remained there in 1904 when the yard was abandoned and then, around 1910, it relocated to the south-eastern corner of the Southern Pacific junction with the PVCRR. This convenient location allowed it to be used by both firms. By 1920, the Southern Pacific had also extended a spur out to this ice house, alongside which it installed a coal shed and a wood shed, presumably to support railroad operations. By 1914, a much larger facility for the Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage Company was erected on the north-west corner of the PVCRR and Southern Pacific junction. This massive and modern facility likely catered to all the local packing houses that required freeze-drying or refrigerating their goods.

Original trackside packing houses, 1902. (Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
Further to the north, the Southern Pacific Railroad erected a grain warehouse and freight house on the southern side of the Santa Cruz Branch tracks by 1886. In the early years, the freight house also housed the ticket office and a small waiting room for passengers. The building was probably built by the Santa Cruz Railroad by 1875, although it is possible it was a newer structure built in the 1880s. The depot was relocated to the other side of the tracks in the late 1890s and the old structures were taken over by four local packing firms: M.N. Lettunich & Company, Porter Brothers Company,  George Wilson Rowe, and the Earl Fruit Company. Mato N. Letunić, known locally as Martin Lettunich, was a Croatian settler who moved to the area round 1890 where he founded, with his brothers Petar and Edwin, the packing business. The former mainline track, since downgraded to a freight spur, ran behind these four packing houses while the fronts of the buildings were extended to Beach Road.

Borcovich & Dragovich advertisement, c. 1920s.
By 1904, only Lettunich and Earl Fruit remained and their buildings were both expanded to full street frontage, filling in gaps left between the original two structures. By 1920, Lettunich had cut his operation in half, leasing out half of his building to Borcovich Dragovich & Company. Earl Fruit had been replaced with the primary packing house of the Loma Fruit Company (the other house was on Walker Street). Next door around 1910, the California Fruit Packing Company placed a rather extensive complex of two large fruit packing houses on the old Loma Prieta Lumber yard property that ran almost to the PVCRR tracks. The operation was short-lived, though, and by 1920 the property had been taken over by a whole lineup of small private packing houses, including J.M Luckrich, M.L. Kalich, Scurich & Jerinich, N.M. Borina, L.P. Cikuth, and P.P. Stolich. For whatever reason, the Croatian farmers were drawn to this block of warehouses. All of these people were local farmers who purchased packing houses beside the tracks and Beach Road to make shipment of their goods easier.

Trackside packing houses, 1920. (Sanborn – UCSC Digital Collections)
Sources available to this author are rather sparse for the period between 1920 and 1973, when a yard map is once again available. However, little seems to have changed at the site except for owners.  Agricultural packing houses and cold storage facilities were still the common residents. Just beside the depot, on the northern corner of Walker and Beach, California Farm Products maintained its warehouse. Immediately beside it, West Coast Farms took over the properties of Lettunich and the Loma Fruit Company. These two corporations occupied the entirety of the block and both properties are now owned by the Dole Food Company, except for a small portion leased to the Resetar Bros. Farming Company. The Dole corporate office sits directly atop the original site of the Watsonville Fruit Dryer & Cannery from the 1880s. Dole still uses some of the old structures of its predecessors and has taken over the entirety of the former Watsonville Depot yard. The Santa Cruz Branch now only has one operable track beside the station.

It seems very unlikely that Dole ever used the rail services available here since no tracks now pass through their properties (although traces of one remain). What was once a vibrant freight and industrial area at the upper end of Beach Road in Watsonville has now declined to such a point that rail services are not even available for local freight. For this area, at least, the age of rail has ended.

Official Railroad Information:
Freight services are rarely listed in official Southern Pacific Railroad timetables and agency books, but a series of SPINS charts provided by George Pepper shows what was still active in 1973. Unfortunately, this is the only record this author has access to from the SP.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.906˚N, 121.766˚W

Most of these properties are now owned by Dole Food Company which occupies the northern part of West Beach Street from Walker Street to the bend in the road just past Harvest Drive. Harvest Drive was once the right-of-way of the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad and can be used as a reference point. The entire property between Walker Road and Pine Street was the site of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company yard, while the office complex on the south-west corner of Beach and Harvest was the site of the Adamson Fruit Company.

Citations & Credits:

  • Google Maps.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1886 to 1920. UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad, SPINS: Watsonville  1973. California State Railroad Museum Collection.

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