Friday, June 7, 2019

Freight Stops: McGaffigan Switch

The Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company would not have found the success it did without the careful supervision of Patrick J. McGaffigan, who served as superintendent the company's operations north of Boulder Creek for a decade. McGaffigan, in addition to his skills as a manager, also became a relative of the Dougherty family through his daughter, Angeline B. McGaffigan, who married William James Dougherty, Jr., in 1897. As superintendent, McGaffigan was constantly on the move with timber crews, overseeing the cutting of specific groves and the loading of timber onto rolling stock for transport for the mill. As the tracks wound up the San Lorenzo Valley past the mill beginning in 1890, McGaffigan found it inconvenient to live so far from the site of the logging activities.

He settled on a site 1.5 miles to the north of the mill that sat on a small hill that overlooked the Dougherty Extension Railroad tracks. Due to the heavy logging in the area, McGaffigan's home could probably look all the way south to the mill and quite a distance to the north, allowing him a good view of the activities over which he superintended. Although there are no surviving photographs of his home, descriptions of it suggest an elaborate and expansive Victorian-style house easily visible to anybody in the area. The fame of the home as a waypoint along the railroad and the likely presence of a short spur below the home gave the location the name McGaffigan Switch.

The site, though, probably served a dual purpose, at least initially. When the track was first extended in 1890, it may have terminated at or near the site of McGaffigan Switch and served as the Dougherty mill's first logging camp. There is certainly enough space for such a camp at the site, which today is a narrow meadow along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. The next location that could have functioned as a logging camp is Waterman Switch, which was not established for several more years, giving further credence to the idea that a logging camp was here. As with many logging camps, especially along railroad lines, the camp probably hosted a small shingle mill to process timber that was either too small to cut into lumber or had broken during felling. This would provide an explanation for the current name of the road through the area: McGaffigan Mill Road.

Direct logging operations at McGaffigan Switch were fairly short-lived. Logging crews relocated their primary logging camp to Waterman Switch around 1897 and probably moved the shingle mill to the new camp at this time. While it is unclear whether McGaffigan continued as superintendent after 1897, both he and his son, James, remained at the home for several more years.  The fate of the property after they left is unclear, but it seems to have been demolished by the time the San Lorenzo Park subdivision was established in 1932. The railroad tracks were removed no later than 1917, although they went out of use around 1914 when the California Timber Company ceased operations above Waterman Switch. Patrick McGaffigan died in 1917 at his home in San Francisco.

A rusting narrow-gauge rail sitting behind a property along the former right-of-way at McGaffigan Switch, 2013.
[Derek R. Whaley]
The site developed into San Lorenzo Park, a small subdivision laid out by R. J. Dillon in 1932. It consisted of small private cottages, a service station, a general store, and a swimming hole. Unfortunately, Dillon failed to file proper paperwork and the subdivision reverted to Isaiah Hartman, who subsequently transferred the property to the Wood Brothers. The Woods developed the park and sold lands, but the subdivision never thrived, partially due to the economic conditions of the Great Depression and partially due to the remoteness of the locale.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1955N, 122.1466W

The site of McGaffigan's Switch is easy to find. It is located along McGaffigan Mill Road along State Route 9 roughly 5.5 miles north of Boulder Creek on the west side of the road. Notably, it is the last road before drivers enter Castle Rock State Park. Few relics of the railroad or mill survive. Along the former right-of-way, which is only accessible from behind a home, a few rails still sit stacked alongside a shallow cut. Otherwise, the road itself sits atop the railroad route, burying any remnants. The precise location of the shingle mill is unknown. While the road is public, the homes remain private properties and trespassing is not advised.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographic Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railroads. Santa Cruz: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • McCarthy, Nancy F. When Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons. Palo Alto, CA: Garden Court Press, 1994.
  • Robinson, Lisa A. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2012.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

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