Friday, May 17, 2019

Freight Stops: Hihn Mill on Kings Creek

James King is not a person that comes up much when discussing Santa Cruz County history. Born in Missouri, King later established a small cattle ranch and homestead in a clearing two miles north of Boulder Creek at the confluence of a small meandering creek and the San Lorenzo River. King disappears from history soon after this, but he lives on through the creek named after him. By the mid-1880s, the area of Kings Creek was teeming with activity. Near the bottom of the creek, the flume had its primarily mill, which in later years became home to Cunningham & Company. Further up the creek, homesteads arose and various lumber firms cut timber well into the 1900s. But enough virgin redwood survived for the F. A. Hihn Company to make a profit.

F. A. Hihn Company crews posing for a photograph at the Kings Creek mill, 1908.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
On April 18, 1906, the earth shook and operations at Hihn's mill at Laurel ground to a halt. Although the mill returned to operations shortly afterwards, damage to the railroad line ensured that only small amounts of lumber could be hauled out of the isolated valley at the top of Soquel Creek. Fortunately for the lumber industry, demand was now at a peak with half of San Francisco burned to the ground and thousands of buildings across the Bay Area in need of repair or rebuilding. Hihn began searching across Santa Cruz County for other available timber tracts to harvest and his eyes fell upon Kings Creek, where a settler named Newman owned a large unharvested parcel.

Primary Hihn mill on Kings Creek, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In early 1907, F. A. Hihn Company crews began hauling equipment up to the junction of Kings Creek and Logan Creek, a small seasonal tributary. There crews erected a small 30,000 board feet capacity mill that utilized steam-powered saws, probably brought over from Laurel. Although most of the mill was constructed by March, poor weather and a recession delayed opening of the mill until September. There was also talk at this time of extending the Dougherty Extension Railroad up Kings Creek from the bottom of the valley, with plans to even extend the line to Los Gatos. These plans fell apart, though, and only a short spur at the bottom of Kings Creek, splitting off from the main track near the old Cunningham mill site, was ever installed to cater to the mill.

The tramways to the lumber stacks at the Kings Creek mill, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In April 1908, full operations at the mill finally began with a crew of 45 men cutting trees and timber. Good financial and weather conditions allowed operations to continue until November of that year, with a total yield of three million board feet produced in just the first full year of operation. For the next two years, the mill continued to cut at capacity with all of the lumber shipped to the Santa Cruz Lumber Company yard at the Santa Cruz Union Depot. A corporate takeover in 1909 meant that the lumber, once cut, became the property of the Hihn-Hammond Company, but that barely impacted daily operations.

Two horse teams idling in the lumber yard at the Kings Creek mill, 1908. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
In November 1910, crews determined that there was insufficient timber for another season and the mill closed. The equipment was removed and returned to Laurel, which resumed its former status as the primary Hihn mill in the county for several more years. Southern Pacific once again returned to the idea of building a branch line between Boulder Creek and Los Gatos in 1912, but the idea never materialized. The spur track was probably removed soon afterwards. The area around the spur was developed into Wildwood No. 2 and Rices Junction, while the mill property itself returned to a state of nature.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Approx. 37.1850N, 122.1228W

The site of the mill is now a private property located 2.5 miles up Kings Creek. Nothing visible remains of the mill, although ironically, a more modern railroad flatcar functions as a bridge over the creek today. Trespassing on the property is not advised.

Citations & Credits:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Derek!
    Is there any more specific location where James King's house was? Kings Creek and San Lorenzo River converge deep below the surrounding land.
    Robert Mandler


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