Friday, October 26, 2018

Stations: Fahihn

Only one new station ever appeared along the Old Felton Branch that ran along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River after the South Pacific Coast Railroad purchased the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad in 1879. This little-known locale was called Fahihn, created out of the initials and surname of Frederick Augustus Hihn, who operated a lumber mill along Boulder Brook from 1895 to approximately 1901.

Lumbermen posing beside a felled redwood tree along Gold Gulch, c. 1895. [History San Jose]
Hihn's operations in Santa Cruz County are legendary, spanning from Laurel near the Summit to Valencia Creek near Aptos to King's Creek north of Boulder Creek. But the mill south of Felton was perhaps the most interesting of his operations. The Valencia Creek mill had shuttered in 1894 after operating for over a decade. Hihn owned or otherwise obtained vast tracts of land in the Soquel Creek basin, purchased from the Martina Castro estate, but these were still quite difficult to access and the property magnate wanted something easier. He turned his gaze upon the Gold Gulch watershed, a relatively minor tributary of the San Lorenzo River that had briefly been the source of a local gold rush in the 1850s that indirectly marked the initial population of the Felton township. Hihn had been one of the earlier profiteers from the gold rush and had maintained a proprietary interest in the area. He also gained a good portion of local land around 1868 from Edward Stanly, who served as the executor for Isaac Graham, the original owner of Rancho Zayante.

An oxen team hauling logs in Gold Gulch, 1898. [History San Jose]
With the closure of the Valencia Creek mill in 1894, the F. A. Hihn Company began the process of relocating to a small clearing beside Boulder Brooke, up Gold Gulch. The narrow-gauge railroad tracks ran over Gold Gulch about a half mile from the site, and Hihn quickly installed a spur up the creek to his new mill. Most of the machinery from Valencia Creek was installed in this new mill. Above the mill, an unusually small mill pond was installed to store logs waiting to be cut. Above the mill, a brick kiln was built that was capable of producing 100,000 bricks per year, mining the ingredients from nearby hillsides. During the 1895 season, 40 men were hired to work the mill, but this increased to 200 by the 1899 season, when a large gang of Japanese were hired. Most milling was done by mule or donkey engine teams and skid roads, with the train tracks only running to the mill due to adjacent steep hillsides.

Poor quality property map showing the railroad right-off-way from Fahihn to the Hihn mill, c, 1900. [Randall Brown]
The stop at Fahihn was little more than a switch for the spur. While there was certainly a station sign there, no evidence suggests there was a siding, platform, or station structure. Hihn had his own small saddleback locomotive, the Betsy Jane, which shuttled flatcars between the mill and the branch line tracks, where passing South Pacific Coast trains would pick up waiting cars.

Gold Gulch proved to be a rather poor investment for Hihn. While the operation made money, there were simply not enough trees in the region to make the mill profitable for more than a few seasons. In 1898, the mill was forced to close early "for want of timber to cut." The next year proved to be the mill's last when crews finished harvesting the remaining strands in the area and work crews were cut to a minimum. In 1900, the only people left working were Japanese gulchers, whose job was to basically seek out anything left behind by the lumber crews that could turn a profit. By this point, Hihn had moved most of his operations to Upper Soquel Creek where he built a mill near Laurel. The tracks to the mill were probably removed in 1901 to be used on the cable tramway at Laurel. Fahihn station itself remained in Southern Pacific Railroad agency books until 1909, when the line south of Felton was removed.

Original property sign for Forest Lakes. [Howard Rugg]
The F. A. Hihn Company began leasing property almost immediately after operations ceased in the area. Various mining concerns attempted to strike it rich over the subsequent three decades following rumours and legends as much as any successful prospecting. Meanwhile, a number of people began moving onto parcels in the area, especially around the mouth of Gold Gulch, where a small residential subdivision soon developed. The company also leased logging rights to various private companies, such as C. H. Jewitt, who both mined and cut lumber along the creek in the 1910s.

In January 1924, news broke that Fred O. and Jeffie Hihn were subdividing 845 acres along Gold Gulch Creek for use by the Seminary Avenue Land Company, which planned to create a residential and vacation rental subdivision among the rapidly regenerating redwood, fir, and oak trees. The named this new area Forest Lakes, which reflected the series of small terraced ponds that cascaded down from the former Hihn mill pond through a swimming hole and then down the creek to the boundary of the property. George H. Hoyt and J. A. Martenstein were the initial real estate brokers. To support the subdivision, a mutual water company was founded to control and manage well water and the various tributaries of Gold Gulch, including Edelweis Gulch, Tunnie Gulch, and Boulder Brook. Other amenities included a picnic area and barbecue pits at the site of the former brick kilns, and changing rooms and showers beside the swimming hole.

The area continues to grow in population and remains both a part of and separate from the rest of Felton due to its isolated water district. Former sheriff's deputy and Tanglewood store owner Len Ashley eventually became the property manager of the area in the 1930s and continued advertising new and available properties. While many of the vaunted amenities have since disappeared, the water hole built at the site of Hihn's mill survives and remains of some of the terraces can still be seen in the creek below Lakeview Drive.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.0385N, 122.0699W

The site of Fahihn is roughly the intersection of Lakeview Drive and Gulch Road in the Forest Lakes residential subdivision south of Felton. From this point, Lakeview Drive more or less becomes the former spur's right-off-way until the road reaches the Forest Lakes community pool, which marks the site of the old mill. The current dam was installed in the 1920s – the original mill pond is located where the parking lot is today. The mill itself was situated at the northern end of the pool, where large old-growth redwood posts still sit in the water. On the hillside above the mill site, a very overgrown pile of sawdust still sits.

Citations & Credits:
  • Report of the State Mineralogist, vol 17. Sacramento, CA: California State Mining Bureau, 1921.
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Harrison, Edward Sanford. History of Santa Cruz County, California. 1892.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Derek; These are great articles, but I'm confused. Isn't the SP line on the opposite side of the San Lorenzo from Tanglewood and Forest Lakes? How did the Felton branch reach this far south? Were they still using the old Santa Cruz & Felton narrow gauge line that ran up the west side of the San Lorenzo? Or was this after they built the Std Gauge spur that crossed the San Lorenzo at Covered Bridge and then turns south?


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