Friday, May 24, 2019

Freight Stops: Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company Mill

The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company was no rookie on the field in the spring of 1888. Founded in 1873 by William Patrick Dougherty with the support of his younger brother, James, the company had systematically harvested almost all of the saleable timber along the western side of Los Gatos Creek in the 1870s, after which it did the same along the upper half of Zayante Creek. But a massive fire in August 1886 destroyed the lumber mill at Zayante and forced most of the residents of the mill town to flee to other areas in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Dougherty brothers replaced the burned husk with a large shingle mill later that year, but the remaining timber was insufficient to justify a resurrection of the once-impressive lumber mill.

In the several years prior to the fire, the company had begun buying tracts of timber along the San Lorenzo River north of the flume mill (later Cunningham Mill) in areas that the San Lorenzo Valley lumber flume did not or could not reach. With sufficient lumber providers located further south along the flume, there was no reason to harvest timber north of the flume mill, so thousands of old growth redwood forest sat idle, awaiting a change in the market. The disaster at the Zayante mill finally convinced the Doughertys to relocate to this untapped area.

Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company mill north of Boulder Creek, 1895. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
As December 1887 approached, company workers began grading a railroad bed between the the Felton & Pescadero Railroad yard at Boulder Creek and the proposed Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company mill site four miles to the north, just below a convenient bend in the river where a dam could easily and relatively naturally be installed to create a mill pond. Most of the initial machinery for the mill was composed of surviving parts of the Zayante mill, supplemented with the newer machinery bought in late 1886 to replaced the destroyed components. These parts arrived at the new mill in May 1888, after the railroad tracks to the site were completed. Cunningham & Company, which was a sometimes partner and other times rival of the Doughertys, provided the lumber used in erecting the mill. When the mill opened on June 1, 1888, it was capable of producing up to 60,000 board feet of lumber per day. Over 100 workers, mostly foreigners, lived and worked at the mill prompting the creation of the Dougherty School in 1889. But as so often happens with sawmills in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Dougherty brothers' first mill north of Boulder Creak met a fiery end in September 1888, less than four months after opening.

1892 Sanborn Map of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company facilities north of Boulder Creek.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
The brothers subcontracted their orders to Cunningham & Company, which reaped great profits during the following year, although this unexpected influx of money led to the company's overextension and collapse during the recession of the 1890s. Meanwhile, the Doughertys rebuilt. A new mill was operating by November but the mill did not return to full operation until the following spring. From 1889 to 1891—three seasons—the mill fulfilled its contracts and ran at capacity. And then, in October 1891, the mill burned down for a second time. By this point, Cunningham & Company had moved its operations to Santa Cruz so the Santa Clara Mill & Lumber Company simply purchased the recently-vacated mill of its rival and relocated it to the north. As the 1890s recession receded in the mid-1890s, the Doughertys began increasing productions and improving facilities, reaching a daily capacity of 50,000 board feet.

This third and final mill is well documented by two Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The main track of the Dougherty Extension Railroad, which originally terminated at the mill, eventually continued north on the east side of the main mill. Two spurs, however, broke off to terminate in front of the mill, while four tramways also ran from the mill in order to shuttle lumber onto stacks. A third spur crossed the San Lorenzo River to the west of the mill and wrapped around the entire facility, reuniting with the main track north of the mill. It was along a short branch of this spur that the Doughertys installed an engine house for their single locomotive, the former Santa Cruz & Felton locomotive popularly nicknamed the Dinky (originally the Felton). Photograph evidence also confirms that another spur broke off from the mainline north of the mill at terminated a short distance to the east behind the employee cook house. This may have been where the locomotive's water tower was installed.

1908 Sanborn Map showing the California Timber Company facilities north of Boulder Creek in their final years.
[UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Doughertys, as the mill and surrounding settlement became known, reached its peak in the late 1890s, although William Dougherty never lived to see this having died in 1894. His brother, James, and Henry L. Middleton, a prominent lumber investor and Boulder Creek's de facto mayor, continued to direct the company in its final years. During this time, Doughertys became a popular tourist location, with picnickers visiting on weekends and camping in unharvested redwood groves or areas that were already in the process of recovery further to the south. As must inevitably happen, though, the timber tracts in the San Lorenzo Valley were nearly all harvested by the end of the century. In 1900, the Dougherty Extension Railroad was extended to its maximum length after which time operations shifted to harvesting a tract of timber near Waterman Gap. In 1902, company's final property along Bear Creek was cut, although it is unclear if the timber from this location was processed at Doughertys or in Boulder Creek. James Dougherty's death in July 1900 signalled the spiritual end of operations, even if they limped along for two more seasons.

In 1903, the Dougherty widows, Middleton, and Loma Prieta Lumber Company chief investor Timothy Hopkins consolidated most of the remaining lumber operations north of Boulder Creek into a new firm titled the California Timber Company. The company quickly packaged up most of the mill's machinery and hauled it far up Bear Creek to a tributary called Deer Creek, which they harvested for several more years. Meanwhile, the remains of Doughertys sat mostly vacant. Some former employees continued to live in their cottages while just to the north, plans were put in place to found a new subdivision named Driftwood, centered around James Dougherty's former home of the same name. The venture proved fleeting, though, and the most of the remaining residents moved elsewhere. The railroad tracks through the site continued to be used by workers at the Pescadero mill until the end of 1913, after which the school shut down and the track was pulled for scrap. Despite several attempts to start a subdivision there, none succeeded for over two decades.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1714N, 122.1397W

The area of Doughertys eventually became the subdivision known as Riverside Grove, established in May 1935. It is accessible off of State Route 9 from Teilh Drive. The mill site itself is south of Riverside Grove, located at the end of Either Way off of Teilh. No signs of the mill or railroad track remains in the immediate vicinity due to subsequent residential developments. A reminder of logging days remains with "Lake Street" sitting along the former site of the log pond. Some property lines also still hint at the railroad's right-of-way, although the right-of-way is otherwise difficult to discern in this area.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California's Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Robinson, Lisa A. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2012.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. When I first searched for the railroad north of Boulder Creek many years ago, I did not
    have the benefit of any maps and was hampered by all of the houses, camps, and
    communities along the right of way. I was only able to find certain sections of the
    right of way such as the northernmost segment which was not eradicated by housing.
    I am glad you have had better luck tracing the line! Good work!


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