Friday, February 15, 2019

Stations: Fish Hatchery

Historically, the San Lorenzo River has always been known for its fish. Although the industry has drastically declined in recent decades due to pollution from septic runoff that has almost entirely destroyed the viability of fish along the river, trout fishing once was a significant industry along the river, practiced by Zayante tribespeople, Spanish and Mexican settlers, and American pioneers.

Colorized postcard of the Brookdale Fish Hatchery, c. 1910, showing the railroad tracks in the foreground and three people sitting out front, possibly awaiting a train. [Derek R. Whaley]
Survey map of the area around Steen's Spur and the fish pond,
with depth readings, 1905. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
As the Felton & Pescadero Railroad first passed through the area that would become Brookdale, it cut down hundreds of redwood trees that sat within the right-of-way. While the trees could be harvested and cut by the nearby Boulder Mill, the stumps remained a problem. Jacob Steen, a local Jewish storeowner, ran a side-business as a stumper. For years he had worked with Frederick A. Hihn and George Treat to remove old stumps from around downtown Felton. He was likely hired around 1884 to remove stumps along the right-of-way as well. During this time, he likely purchased the small property along Larkspur Street that would later host an entirely different enterprise. When the general store that he ran in Felton burned down in 1896, Steen relocated to this property to the north, upon which he built a fish pond with the intention of breeding trout. A short 150-foot-long narrow-gauge spur was installed on the east side of the branch line directly beside the pond, from which Stein could presumably dump fish into the pond from boxcars. Little information is actually known for certain about operations at Steen's Spur. The station first appeared in railroad station books in 1899 with no facilities other than the spur, and it subsequently disappeared from the same in 1907, presumably because it was removed during the standard-gauging of the Boulder Creek Branch. Steen moved out of the San Lorenzo Valley but later was instrumental in founding the Santa Cruz Lumber Company with George Ley in 1923. The fish pond at Steen's Spur continued to exist until at least 1905, after which a much larger and more organized effort was begun to breed steelhead trout in Brookdale.

Interior of the Fish Hatchery showing the incubating troughs, 1911. [Derek R. Whaley]
Map of the are around the Fish Hatchery and the fish pond, c. 1908.
The fish pond was likely falling into disuse by the point and all evidence
of the spur has disappeared. Cattle guards along the right-of-way mark
either side of the fish pond. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Judge John H. Logan, who purchased the Grover Mill (previous Boulder Mill) properties at the turn of the century in order to create a resort, turned to the fish pond south of town in 1905 with an interesting idea: what if the settlement ran the fishing grounds? In 1905, the local community allies with the Southern Pacific Railroad and the California Fish & Games Commission to purchase a large property along the Boulder Creek Branch just north of the old fish pond. A staff cottage and breeding house was soon erected, although it took a year for the breeding ponds outside the be completed. During this time, the fish pond was used for breeding and over a million trout were raised, although they had to be released into the river early due to insufficient space. Due to the size of the facility, the Brookdale Fish Hatchery served more as an experimental facility than a fully-fledged hatchery. Fish & Games staff tested various foods on the fish in an attempt to make them grow faster and larger. Nonetheless, an average of two million fish were grown annually at the hatchery using eggs collected at the Scott Creek nursery north of Davenport. Fish & Games took over operations completely in 1912.

The fish hatchery with the warden's house above it, 1909. [Derek R. Whaley]
Like Steen's Spur before it, Fish Hatchery served as a railroad station from 1909, with the main building serving as the station shelter and waiting area.  Unlike its predecessor, Fish Hatchery did not have a spur or platform, so shipments must have been loaded directly along the branch line track, although these would have been relatively rare. Incoming shipments with eggs would arrive only once per year, for the most part, while fish cars would be sent out to San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Monterey Counties and places within Santa Cruz County when the fish were large enough to be introduced to regional waterways. At all other times of the year, the station serviced staff and visitors.

The main Fish Hatchery building, with the exhaust vents on the roof removed, probably late 1940s.
[California Department of Fish & Game]
As with the rest of the Boulder Creek Branch, passenger service ended at the end of 1930, although seasonal freight likely continued through 1933. The line was abandoned and the tracks removed in early 1934. The hatchery continued to run until 1953 when increasing costs made it no longer tenable. The tanks and machinery were removed or destroyed and the property reverted to Logan's heirs.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1074N, 122.1049W

The fish hatchery now serves as a private home off Larkspur Street along the private Old River Lane, which marks the old railroad right-of-way. A private cottage on the property, which housed the facility warden, was later moved to become a vacation home. Larkspur, meanwhile, parallels the right-of-way briefly to the south of the Fish Hatchery until it turns to cross the river.

Citations & Credits:


  1. I have looked at the Fish Hatchery station on the list of Boulder Creek branch stations for years and
    wondered what was located here! Your article was
    very informative! More good work! Thank you for
    taking the time to research this!

  2. The great article about hatchery station i have ever read in my life.You have added lots of amazing and clear historical information .It will help me in my near future research work .Photoes are really amazing .Waiting for your next unique article .

  3. Fish hatcheries have always been security concerns - theft, poaching, vandalism and visits by wild animals, make strong fencing necessary. I don't know if the Brookdale location was open to the public during the day, but I do think that the hatchery was the station. That name sign is a railroad sign, it is extended on the ends for mileage to San Francisco and New Orleans, and therefore meant for passenger traffic. Those three people in the postcard photo are probably waiting for a train. So an easy access opening in the fence and a leveled area of decomposed granite, but also a way to move tanks of fish into baggage cars and later, Southern Pacific 'fish' cars.

    1. I wonder if those items next to the people are tanks containing small fish?

    2. Theft by the employees of hatcheries was also a big problem, and maybe the fish transport tanks needed to remain next to the building until the train arrived with enough supervision. So there they stand, fifty feet from trackside, waiting.

      No apparent spur to the new facilities maybe because these tanks would also need constant oversight to somehow inject air for the fish to survive, so leaving them unattended in a freight car was unworkable. I expect that the baggage cars were used often for sending, but also for receiving fish food, fish eggs, and the return of empty tanks.

      The Scott Creek Egg Taking Station (near Davenport) was a big supplier of eggs from 1905 to 1939, supplemented by the San Lorenzo Egg Taking Station (1935-42) located a little down the river from the hatchery. I suspect that the dam between the Larkspur Street Bridge and the Siesta Bridge may have been used for adding fish ladders that trapped steelhead in holdings tanks. What the process was after the capture is something I have yet to watch (there are plenty of films online with explanations). 1942 was the year that many of the weaker locations were closed in order to have people available for fighting in the war. Long-haul trucking began taking traffic away from railroads around 1930, and the two 'fish' cars on the Southern Pacific were retired in 1937.

    3. The main entrance to the fishery grounds is in all likelihood along the south where it is adjacent to Larkspur Street, and since I see no gate leading to the tracks on the east, I expect all workers to be carrying their freight past the pond to the public road. In that case there might be a sign showing where the train needs to stop, and a shelter for general use by everyone. I always assumed that the north-south leg of Larkspur Street was the former right-of-way, so the former stop should be at the intersection with Old River Lane. Being a little bit of a fan of 'historical beholdership', I'm fascinated by those places one can find with some certitude.

  4. We live next to fish hatchery in the late 60 to 80's. There were several concrete rings left and the owners the vaneycks.added a large addition to the old hatchery house.


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