Friday, May 10, 2019

Picnic Stops: Wildwood

The lumber industry in the San Lorenzo Valley was on a sharp decline at the beginning of the 1910s, but local entrepreneurs and real estate investors saw potential in the vast tracts of second-growth redwood forest that was left behind. Property developers from all over the nation were drawn to the untapped acreage north of Boulder Creek in the hope that they would establish the valley's next large settlement or create a destination resort. This was certainly the case for the large clearing just north of the site of the old Cunningham & Company mill, which was dismantled in 1902.

Marketing postcard of Wildwood showing a group picnic, 1915. [Derek R. Whaley]
In 1909, the American Real Estate Company purchased the land from W. H. Booth with the aspirational intention of subdividing the 320 acres of land situated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River into scores of small parcels upon which investors could build small vacation cottages. George H. Wiley was brought in to oversee property sales and immediately christened the subdivision Wildwood, establishing a camping area there to provide further encouragement to investors. Maps even today show the optimistic grid pattern planned for the area, with several roads mapped out between tiny lots that quickly climbed the hillside behind the Wildwood camp ground. By 1910, approximately fifty families had purchased property.

Wildwood Camp showing the boarding house at left, with camping tents, c. 1914. [Derek R. Whaley]
For the next four years, Wiley worked out an arrangement with the California Timber Company to use the Dougherty Extension Railroad to shuttle potential investors up to Wildwood from Boulder Creek. During these years, the former Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad locomotive known as the Dinky (originally the Felton) ran the excursion runs when they were requested. The California Timber Company continued to maintain the right-of-way, since they were still using it periodically, while the real estate firm was responsible for maintaining the rolling stock.

The Dinky making a promotional run along the Dougherty Extension Railroad, c. 1912.
[San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Demand for property and, specifically, development of the area increased significantly in mid-1910 prompting the real estate firm to purchase additional property across the river, which they labelled Wildwood No. 2. Within the original site, a boarding house was erected which also acted as a small general store and real estate office. As many as six-car trains delivered potential residents to Wildwood on busy weekends days, with many visitors coming just for the scenery. Lots sold for around $125, while prebuilt homes ranged from $250-$600.

The promotional autobus on the Dougherty Extension Railroad at Wildwood, c. 1914. [Derek R. Whaley]
The autobus cruising along the Dougherty
Extension Railroad toward Wildwood,
c. 1913. [Rick Hamman]
By 1913, sales had stagnated and the firm rebranded itself as the Wildwood Development Company. At the same time, they redirected their marketing to wealthy Oakland residents, many of whom enjoyed vacationing in Santa Cruz County during the summer months. The aging Dinky was replaced at this time with a new electric autobus that ran along the rails. As a part of this conversion, and due to the fact that the California Timber Company had stopped using the tracks, the rail line was renamed the Wildwood, Boulder Creek & Northern Railroad.

From 1913-1915, potential customers, seasonal vacationers, and permanent residents rode up from Boulder Creek on the autobus but sales continued to stagnate. Promises to install an artificial lake in the river and other promises did not come to fruition. The remoteness of the location and the rapidly increasing use of the automobile, especially by the wealthier population, led to fewer people purchasing remote cottages in the forest. The railroad ceased to convey passengers in June 1915, after which potential customers were transported from Boulder Creek via wagons or buses.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1523N, 122.1365W

Today, Wildwood remains a relatively small community located mostly off Pleasant Way. The small Wildwood No. 2 area is just across the river behind Garrahan Park, accessible via Sequoia Road. Garrahan Park itself, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, are part of the separate Rices Junction subdivision. Although the area remains heavily parcelled on official maps, few homes actually occupy most of the lots and most of the roads were never built. Only the area beside the river was actually developed to any significant extent.

Citations & Credits:

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