Friday, April 27, 2018

Stations: Virginia

For a station that sat on employee railroad timetables for twenty-four years, Virginia is one of the least conspicuous, most remote, and undoubtedly least used stops along the Southern Pacific Railroad's line through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Located midway between Tank Siding to the west and Clems to the east, the site itself served as a construction camp when the Mountain Charlie Tunnel was first built in 1878. However, it was only three decades later, in 1905, that the stop was first registered in timetables under the name Virginia, after the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company. The company operated out of West Virginia but in mid 1899 purchased a large tract of timber that likely included at its southern end Mountain Charlie Gulch. It is probably around this time that the company first started operating off the South Pacific Coast track in the area, possibly at Tank Siding, although there is no evidence to support this at present. By September 1903, the company was involved in a lawsuit with the Glenwood Lumber Company, which operated along nearby Bean Creek, suggesting it had been operating in the area for at least that year, if not earlier.

There is very little documentation of this station. It first appeared on the December 31, 1905, Coast Division employee timetable as a full station 67.2 miles from San Francisco via Alameda Point. It had no passenger service but did have a spur that measured 98-feet-long. This was a narrow-gauge spur since the line was not converted to standard-gauge until 1908. After the conversion, the spur was extended tenfold to 952 feet, which would have allowed a number of freight cars to park beside the mainline track. This massively extended spur can probably be explained as a result of the massive need for building materials required to rebuild San Francisco. Virginia was indisputably a freight stop specialising in lumber exports, although it is not clear whether the lumber shipped out of the station was shipped to a planing mill or whether it was planed on site. What is strange, however, is that the spur's length is reduced to a more reasonable 271 feet by the end of 1909, suggesting the longer length may have simply been an administrative error. Although it began as a freight-only stop, by the early 1910s it was designated a flag-stop along the Santa Cruz Limited passenger train, which catered to all local stops in the mountains. This service seems to have ended in the early 1920s, when all scheduled traffic to the location ceased. The spur at the station, meanwhile, disappeared from timetables in 1917, suggesting the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company had abandoned operations at their mill there. Considering the company's lack of coverage by the Sentinel and other news outlets, it seems likely that this was always a relatively small milling operation in a region that had already been heavily logged in the 1870s and 1880s. Nonetheless, the stop remained on the books until January 1930.

The Virginia Timber & Lumber Company slowed its operations by the late 1910s and ceased entirely by the 1920s, if not earlier. Through the course of the 1930s and 1940s, the company divested itself of most of its lands in the Bay Area, including vast tracts that ran along Skyline Boulevard through San Mateo County. No known photographs exist of the station or the operation along Mountain Charlie Gulch.

The present-day site of Virginia above Mountain Charlie Gulch, 2013. Railroad right-of-way crosses from the left of the photo to behind the tractor. [Derek R. Whaley]
Official Railroad Information:
Virginia was located 67.0 miles from San Francisco via the Mayfield Cut-Off and 13.0 miles from Santa Cruz. It included a 98-foot-long spur which was used by the Virginia Timber & Milling Company. The class-B status of the station implied that there was a siding at the stop, but no platform or other facilities were noted there.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.102˚N, 122.004˚W

The site of Virginia is just west of the eastern portal of the Mountain Charlie Tunnel (Tunnel #4) where the railroad right-of-way crosses a private driveway. While the right-of-way across this private road is owned by the Santa Cruz Water District, it is unmaintained and generally hosts a pile of debris from the nearby residents. Trespassing is not advised but explorers are unlikely to be fined by the water district.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Whaley, Derek R.. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.


  1. Based on your description, it sounds like Virginia was a siding right outside the Clems south portal. We hiked there the other day and I have photographs on This clearing has an access road that crosses the old right of way, and there is a lumber dump that is kind of a mess. I'm not sure if this is Water District junk or not.
    Aside from this clearing, we saw three others between Zayante village and the Clems tunnel. One of them is pretty big, and is also at a crossroads-- a dirt road that leads down to E. Zayante. This is definitely SC Water District. Between E. Zayante Rd and the siding near the tunnel are two other clearings that were big enough to have a siding. One of these must be the famous "Tank Siding".
    That region is weak on cell service, so my locations of some photographs are a bit of an educated guess: (tick the "Show photos not selected for Google Earth" to see all of my photos)

  2. My June 1918 S.P. Public System Timetable shows Virginia as a flag stop for Passenger Trains # 70 and 501. This is on Table 60 on Page 22. My next public timetable for the S.P. system is from 1931 and Virginia is no longer listed there.

    1. Thank you Duncan. I checked my records again and, although I can't be certain, it seems the Santa Cruz Limited stopped there on flags from roughly 1913 to around 1924. Unfortunately, most of my timetables for that period are cut off just before that column, so I can't be absolutely certain, but it definitely was a flag-stop, so you are correct. Thanks!


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