Friday, October 13, 2017

Stations: Rock Quarry Spur & Lyndon

It is a curious thing when a railroad passes near to a town but builds no stop for it. It is an omen that the town has declined in importance or that, because of its bypassing, it will decline. In the case of Lexington, the former is true. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first built its right-of-way south of Cats Canyon, it skipped Lexington not because of malice or politics, but because the town was no longer important and a stop was not needed. The nearest station was built further to the south at Forest House and such would be the case for decades.

Lexington in the 1860s beside the original toll road that became Glenwood Highway in 1920. [Los Gatos Library]
Two miles south of Los Gatos, the nascent village was founded in 1848 by Isaac Branham and Julian Jank, who built the first sawmill in Santa Clara County near the site. A year later, Zachariah "Buffalo" Jones took over the mill, around which a small town began to develop that picked up the name "Jones Mill." It was organised on a grassy clearing on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek and surrounded by redwood trees. Louis Hebard built the first Lexington School south of the town in 1859 in an area that would later become Alma.

Lexington from across Los Gatos Creek, with the San José-Santa Cruz road in the middle, c. 1880. [Los Gatos Library]
The name Lexington was formally chosen in 1860 after Lexington, Missouri, where John P. Hennings, who bought out Jones in 1857, was born. Hennings and Santa Clara County surveyor Lucien B. Healy planned out the town and decided to dynamite all the old redwood stumps in the region, with the dream of turning the settlement into a city. Since its inception in the 1840s, the town was dominated by the lumber industry, but it was also a popular stop for tourists and an important resting place for travellers passing over the Santa Cruz Mountains. The main toll road between San José and the Summit area was built through the town in the late 1850s and, as the road was upgraded to the Glenwood Highway in 1920 and State Route 17 in 1940, it continued to pass through the town until the reservoir was filled in 1953. Eight different sawmills were built in the immediate area, and the town hosted a hotel, livery stable, blacksmith shop, church, and general store. John Weldon Lyndon owned the general store and his Lexington House drew adventurous men from across the country to hunt grizzly bear and deer. For a brief moment, Lexington had a larger population than Los Gatos and more businesses as well.

People on a stroll on a railroad bridge, probably over the unnamed creek that sat across from Lexington. The Novitiate vineyards are visible on the hills in the background, c. 1890. [Bruce MacGregor]

The town reached its peak around 1870, at which point the lumber industry moved further to the south into the upper reaches of Zayante Creek and along Bear Creek. The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, owned by the Dougherty Brothers, continued to dominate the lumber industry in the area for a few more years, but they moved their mill away from Lexington and closer to Forest House, taking a number of the local residents with them. The first sign of decay came when Lyndon shuttered the general store and took over operations at the Ten Mile House in Los Gatos in 1868. The post office at Lexington soon followed in 1873, when it moved to Forest House. But the big blow to the town came in 1878, when the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed the town on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek and did not even afford it a stop. There simply was no longer the population to support the village. The remaining commercial businesses closed shop or moved south over the subsequent decades. Alma became the stagecoach and train hub of the region, and Lexington began its eighty-year decay.

A Southern Pacific passenger train passing by Lexington, 1909. [William A. Wulf]
Although the railroad basically neutered the town, it continued to exist until Lexington Reservoir inundated the site in 1953, forcing the remaining residents to relocate. In 1884, the town became briefly infamous when Lloyd Majors, Joseph Jewell, and John Showers brutally murdered Archibald McIntyre there in 1884. But probably the town's most persistent legacy is the Lexington School, which was relocated in 1953 to a nearby site above the waterline of the reservoir and continues to operate as the local elementary school today. The town also got the last laugh since the new reservoir was named after it and not the far-more-populous town of Alma, which was also inundated.

But there is a little-known footnote about Lexington: it did eventually get a stop. In 1890, a narrow-gauge spur was built just across the creek from the town up Limekiln Canyon that was named "Rock Quarry Spur." The length of this spur is unknown, but it likely was built on behalf of the Los Gatos Lime Company, which operated a lime quarry midway up the canyon. The company was founded by J.E. Ellis in 1888 and the primary kilns for the company were located on the Forbes Mill spur in downtown Los Gatos. The location only lasted for five years, disappearing from agency books in 1895 and never appearing in employee timetables. Plans to reactivate the spur in 1907 were proposed by the Stauffer Chemical Company, who purchased the quarry prior to this, but it is unclear whether they actually upgraded the spur to standard-gauge and used it.

A view of the Lexington Quarry at the top of Limekiln Canyon, currently mined by Vulcan Materials Company. [Ziasus]
Perhaps ceding to local demands, the Southern Pacific did finally create a station for Lexington in late 1911. The stop was named "Lyndon," after the Los Gatos magnate and early Lexington resident John Lyndon. Conveniently, this coincided with yet another attempt to restart the lime quarry up Limekiln Canyon. The railroad built a short platform at the station for passengers and the Los Gatos Lime Quarry, founded by J.W. Taylor, installed an aggregate-loading tower beside the tracks. Records do not indicate any siding or spur at the site. This station remained in use until 1938, when the station was reduced to a flag-stop. By the time the railroad route was abandoned two years later, no residents were reported to live in the vicinity of the stop, suggesting it was completely unused.

Lexington Reservoir drained in 1991, showing the
original path of State Route 17. Lexington was near
the upper end of the abandoned road. [Richard A. Beal]
At this same time, the new State Route 17 was completed and traffic could pass through Lexington without needing to stop. Thirteen years later, the remaining 100 residents of the Lexington-Alma area were relocated and the area flooded. Only a few foundations remain of Lexington and nothing of the former right-of-way. What does survive is only visible when the reservoir is nearly empty.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.197˚N, 121.986˚W

The site of the Lyndon flag-stop is now underneath Lexington Reservoir, as is the site of the former township. However, the stop was located close to the modern Los Gatos Rowing Club dock near the confluence of Limekiln Creek and Lexington Reservoir. The town itself was located midway between the Los Gatos Rowing Club and the large water tower on the opposite side of the reservoir.

Citations & Credits:
  • Beal, Richard A. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Conaway, Peggy. Images of America: Los Gatos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Hoover, Mildred Brooke, and Douglas E. Kyle, Historic Spots in California. Sanford: University Press, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek. R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

If you have information about the Lyndon Quarry or its spur,
leave a comment below or email

1 comment:

  1. I still want to go check out these sites with you sometime. I'm up for a hike or a drive just about anytime. Just say the word!


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