Friday, December 8, 2017

Stations: Wright

Of all the inevitabilities that the South Pacific Coast Railroad faced on its descend up Los Gatos Creek, one was that the right-of-way would have to pass through the land of Reverend James Richard Wright, who owned an entire stretch of the creek basin north of Austrian Gulch. Fortunately for the railroad, Wright saw great opportunity in the arrival of steam to his neighborhood. Wright owned a fruit orchard and a stagecoach stop called Arbor Villa and the railroad would accomplish two things: allow him to cheaply ship fruit out of the valley and bring potential tourists to his frontier hotel. But the coming of the railroad did much more in the end—it turned the little settlement into a thriving backwoods resort area.

People visiting Wright on a push car, c. 1880. Photo by Rodolph Brandt. [Bancroft Library]
In 1877, grading crews for the railroad reached the area and began calculating their final path over the Santa Cruz Mountains. A gully located on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek and within Wright’s property was chosen as the site of the Summit Tunnel, the largest bore along the line. Early the next year, a Chinese labor camp was established beside the hole while a small village popped up on the opposite bank of the creek. By the end of 1878, the hamlet would include a kitchen, maintenance sheds, a turntable for the construction trains, a small saloon, a general store, smithy, and accommodations for visitors to the site. By 1879, intermixed with those official visitors were curious Bay Area tourists, who took trains from San Francisco and San José to watch the action and enjoy a picnic in the woods along the tracks to the tunnel. To support the increased traffic, sidings were added on both sides of the creek and an extra spur was installed near the tunnel. In 1879, a station structure was built near the tunnel’s portal, within which the post office for Wrights was located.

The town of Wrights on a busy market day, with box cars being loaded, c. 1895. [Los Gatos Public Library]
As soon was the tunnel was opened to through traffic on May 10, 1880, Wrights began its rapid transition into a thriving—and optimistic—resort town. Homes quickly appeared on the surrounding hills while small hotels and resorts popped up throughout the area. Across the creek at the primary settlement, A.J. Rich began construction of a new township that would place Wrights on the map. But before he even got started, the entire town burned to the ground on July 4, 1885. Within a year, new buildings sprang up on the opposite bank of the creek, beside the tunnel portal and depot, and the second town of Wrights began its life. The area became a gathering place for local farmers, ranchers, and fruit-growers to load their goods onto trains bound for Bay Area cities. A souvenir book produced by the San Jose Mercury in 1895 describes in detail this period:

The Rich Fruit-growing Section in the Surrounding Mountains. Fertile Soil and Grand Scenery. Private Residences and Summer Resorts. Natural Gas and Mineral Springs. 
Wrights Station, though a small village, is an important shipping point, as it is the depot for the extensive fruit growing sections in the surrounding mountains.  Travelers on the cars receive little intimation from what they see along the route or at the station, concerning the rich and beautiful section which crowns the mountain above the heavy belt of timber which covers the hillside, and reaches down into the stream which rushes through the canyon. The roads which leave the little space of open ground by the depot to enter the leafy tunnels through the woods furnish no suggestion of the vine-clad slopes, the towering redwoods, the green fields, the cozy homes and bending fruit trees which adorn the great territory above and beyond.  The beauty of this section can scarcely be described. There is a wealth of resource, a grandeur of scenery, and a fertility of soil that challenges description. 
The Great Mountain Fruit Region The amount of fruit shipped indicates in a  manner of horticultural wealth of the county.  There are in the vicinity about 3, 200 acres being of various varieties.  The fruit raised in this section takes on a richness of flavor which is always noticeable. It is is firm in texture, also, and its keeping qualities therefore , pronounced.  The in season, about two carloads of green fruit are shipped daily.  The brush is being cleared from the northern side of the canyon, and the land planted to vines.  When these come into bearing the output of the vicinity will be very materially increased.
Soils and SpringsThe body of  the soil consists largely  of disintegrated sandstone and clay, and has the appearance, particularly on the hilltops, of the "white ash" soil of the Fresno raisin district.  It is rich in plant food, and never lacks moisture, as the rainfall in this section is always sufficient for all needs.  Springs emerge from the mountain sides in numerous places, some of which are mineral, and from every steep ravine rushes a sparkling stream.  The atmosphere is always cool, influenced as it is by breezes from the coast. 
The Flow of Natural GasWrights Station has a resource which may yet prove to be of great importance.  When the great tunnel was being driven through the mountain by the railway company a strong flow of natural gas was encountered, and an explosion followed, which resulted in the death  of thirty-two Chinamen. The main leak was subsequently stopped, but gas still escapes in small quantities.  The extent of the supply is unknown, but is probably great enough to warrant developments.
Grand Scenery and Picturesque HomesThe scenery is everywhere beautiful, and within the past few years people in search of sites for homes have climbed on mountain sides, searched out the springs, and made winding roads around the knolls, up the canyons, and to the very summits. The brush has in many places been cut away, and trees and vines cover knolls and hillsides.  White houses stand on projecting points far above the canyons, or nestle in groves of trees on the benches.(From Sunshine, Fruit and Flowers: Santa Clara County and its Resources—Historical, Descriptive, Statistical)
In 1896, a freight depot was installed across the creek to support the thriving industrial culture at Wrights, and in the first decade of the twentieth century, a water tower was installed to provide water to large trains. A school was built the next year to educate the young children of families that had moved to the area. Wrights remained an important upper Los Gatos Creek industrial hub until the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Photo by Frank Herman Mattern of Wright Station, 1905. [Greg De Santis]
The final thirty years of Wright, as it was formally renamed in 1904, is a story of declining fortunes. The earthquake forced Southern Pacific to seek newer picnic areas elsewhere along their lines, shifting the focus away from the Los Gatos Creek region. Meanwhile, most locals were forced to reassess their options regarding the profitability of local agriculture and began the long process of relocating to more profitable and accessible areas of the state.

The final location of Wright depot, 1908. Photo by Frank Herman Mattern. [Greg De Santis]
After the earthquake, few revenue and tourist trains went to Wright during this time because of the activity surrounding the repairs of the Summit Tunnel. Because of damage sustained to the tunnel, Wright’s depot was relocated across the creek and, after 1908, slightly further north on that same side of the creek.

Wrights Station Hotel and the Squire General Merchandise store, c. 1910.
For the next decade, Charles Henry Squire’s general store served as the center of the town, with a hotel across the tracks from it and a few other smaller businesses and homes rounding out the community. Across the tracks, the station sat isolated across from a dilapidating pair of narrow-gauge passenger cars that had served as the tunnel repairs shops from 1906 to 1908.

Postcard showing Wright with wineries on hills behind, c. 1915. [Ken Lorenzen]
The start of Prohibition in 1920 bankrupted the local wineries, which were some of the only freight patrons still using the station by that time. The local fruit orchards, which had thrived at Wright for two decades, had mostly given up on commercial growing due to severe competition in the Santa Clara Valley. Also in 1920, the Glenwood Highway (State Route 5) was completed, which diverted much of the traffic away from Wright, which at that time sat on a lightly-used San Jose-Santa Cruz road. Accordingly, the Southern Pacific Railroad cut back all the excess trackage at Wright and began using them only as passing sidings for passenger trains. In 1923, Squire’s general store, a centerpiece of the town for over two decades, shut its doors. Five years later, a lack of pupils caused the Wright School to close, too.

Wright a few months after the line was abandoned, 1940. The tracks sit under an overgrown landslide.
The end came on July 16, 1932 when the depot at Wright closed. In 1936, the entire town was purchased by the San Jose Water Company to make management of their properties on either side of Wright easier and to reduce creek pollution. Two years later, on May 25, the passenger and freight depot buildings were demolished, leaving only a sign on a post to mark the stop. Since the post office was located in the station by this time, it too closed. All the remaining buildings in town, except a few residences, were similarly removed by the water company. By 1940, only 50 people lived in the vicinity of the station. When the line between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was irreparably damaged on February 26 of that year, few people in the Wright area cared. The line was abandoned, the station scrubbed from timetables, and the location became a secret hidden by the water company. To mark the final finis on the town, Arbor Villa burned to the ground that summer, erasing the last commercial business associated with the once-dominant settlement in the Upper Los Gatos Creek basin.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.138˚N, 121.947˚W

The original site of Wright’s is easy to access—it is located at the bottom of Wright Station Road, which is off of Morrill Road on the Summit. Look for the row of mailboxes, which sit roughly where the depot structure once was located. There is virtually nothing of the town left except a few concrete foundation blocks and the old bridge that has sat across Los Gatos Creek since around 1914. The San Jose Water Company patrols this area frequently so people are advised not to leave their cars alone for prolonged periods of time. While the road itself is public access, the shoulders are not. The original site of the town, across the creek, is visible across the bridge to the south. The later site of the station, also across the creek, is unfortunately now behind a razor-wire security gate and trespassing is not encouraged. Wright Station Road is now a dead-end road—the three listed roads in this area are not open to the public.

The only remnant of Wright today—a row of mailboxes where once stood the depot. [Brian Liddicoat]
Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railroads. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.


  1. The local history book "Chinese Gold" mentions two industrial disasters during the construction of this line. One involved a Chinese work camp that was washed down the mountain-- unknown number of Chinese dead. The 2nd was during the construction of Wright's tunnel. Had the crew been working on the south end, it would probably have been Santa Cruz county's worst industrial accident.
    The book has a quote saying that after the line was open, passengers could see the Chinese graveyard before entering Wright's station. Any idea where the graveyard might be?
    I figure the washed out camp probably happened along the ridge up Zayante valley, since the hills are so steep & unstable there. But it could have been in Glenwood canyon or possibly Laurel?
    The audacity of the entire project still amazes me.

  2. Thank you Lawrence for your information and comments. I actually knew and had sources for the Chinese tunnel explosion but was going to save that for later. I try to tie these articles into the history of the site rather than specific instances, but I should have included a bit on the explosion. The mine explosion wasn't Santa Cruz County's worst industrial accident, though, because if didn't happen in Santa Cruz County. Wrights is on the Santa Clara side of the mountains and is just one of many of their industrial accidents.

    Regarding the grave yard, according to Bruce McGregor, apparently grave sites were visible until about 50 years ago, but the location has been completely lost. I have no information at all about the washout and have not heard or read anything about it from any of the prominent South Pacific Coast scholars.

  3. What I meant was that the explosion on the summit might have been remembered better had it happened on the Santa Cruz side-- 40 dead is kind of a big deal in our little county. But maybe it was forgettable mostly because they were Chinese?

    One more thing-- I love that picture of the guy on the railroad bicycle. I wish I had one of those! I live near Olympia station and work at Zayante Depot, so I could ride the rails to work every day! That lucky fellow could turn his bike around and pretty much coast all the way to the beach. Amazing.

    I looked at your other blogs, and you might be interested in something I put together--

    You mentioned on one of your pages that you are interested in Asian history. This podcast is my re-telling of India's greatest ancient epic. It also has the life story of Krishna in it. Maybe you'd enjoy listening to it while you hike the old rail line...

  4. Gang,

    I have been lucky enough to find most, of the tunnel entrances. Here is a YouTube video I put together in 2010 of the Wrights Tunnel South Portal.

    Great website by the way.

    1. Sorry gang my old Gmail and YouTube was hacked and taken down. I've updated the video URL here.

  5. Beautiful video. I should have compiled videos when I did my first hikes. I definitely regret it now with the Clems South Portal, which has since caved completely in. Luckily Brian Liddicoat took a few pictures from a few years ago. In any case, thanks for the share. I plan on doing more posts about the tunnels in the coming months. I believe I've only done a stand-alone for Mission Tunnel currently, though I may have done one for Eccles as well.

    1. Derek Whaley - WIll you PLEASE send me a link to your Clems South Portal photographs - I sooo want to see them!!!

    2. As promised, I have uploaded an article on the Clem's Tunnel, showing the inside from Brian Liddicoat's collection.

  6. That would be under the Clem's or Tank Siding pages, not this page. I'll try to upload a few images of the tunnel tomorrow. Preamps I'll put up a brief article about that portal too. I kind of skipped it.

  7. My Photo Blog of Holy City & also will be posting the Wright's Station images soon!

  8. Replies
    1. Page 7 of Coast Division Employees Timetable #144 of March 21, 1937
      still shows Wright station as a regular stop for Trains 31, 32, 33, 34, and 47. Had the track through the mountains been repaired and returned to service in 1940. the only regular stop between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz would have been Felton and by then Wright and all other stations between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz would by then have been delegated to flag stops or eliminated altogether. See Hamman's CENTRAL COAST RAILWAYS on page 166.


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