Friday, July 19, 2019

People: The Dougherty Family

William P. Dougherty and his first wife,
Jane O'Connor, several months after their
wedding in 1861.  [Katherine E. Mudd]
William Patrick Dougherty may have been the "Lumber King of the Santa Clara Valley," but he was more importantly a major investor, entrepreneur, and lumberman in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Dougherty was born in 1832 in Ireland and migrated with his family during the potato famine alongside so many of his compatriots. He was raised in Edina, Missouri, but moved to Santa Clara, California as soon as he was old enough. From 1858, he was involved in the local lumber industry and he was quite successful, too, since he was able to buy his own farm—the Naglee Estate—in 1859. But his was not the life of a farmer and he returned to lumbering in 1864, but as an entrepreneur rather than a laborer.

William's first mill was established around 1864 and was a small operation on the west bank of Los Gatos Creek near the modern-day junction of State Route 17 and Bear Creek Road at Lexington. Within a few years, several other small shingle and lumber mills were erected along the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and William used his profits to purchase more valuable timber tracts further afield. His biggest early operation was harvesting the redwoods to the west of Los Gatos Creek toward the summit, which eventually led him to build the oxen skid-way that evolved into Bear Creek Road. The success of this operation led him to incorporate the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company on January 13, 1873. This company quickly became one of the largest lumber firms on the West Coast, dominating the Santa Clara Valley lumber industry for nearly twenty years. Its impressive yard in Santa Clara supplied lumber to the entire Bay Area, which was rapidly growing and urbanizing at the time. A large portion of split stuff also went to the quicksilver mines at New Almaden, where it was used as firewood in the cinnabar kilns. The company made tremendously William Doughertys wealthy and influential.

An unused stock certificate for the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company. []
William's brother, James, was a substantially different person. Not imbued with the entrepreneurial obsessions of his brother, James instead proved to be a reliable manager. Like his brother, James migrated to America in the late 1840s and came of age just as the American Civil War began. He enlisted in the 21st Missouri Regiment of the Union Army and served until the end of the war. He remained in Missouri for another five years but finally decided to join his brother in California in 1870. The arrival of James may have finally prompted William to found the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company. In any case, James was entrusted with the management of all three active mills in the Los Gatos basin and he took command with a passion. He maximized efficiency while working directly with the crews to improve working conditions. Management loved his cost-cutting measures while crews appreciated his congeniality. Eventually, James was placed in charge of the company while William focused on other investments.

Staff of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, 1876. [History San José]
The company was immensely successful throughout the 1870s, but the brothers struggled to extract timber from the summit area of the Santa Cruz Mountains due to the steep terrain. Efforts to harvest timber at the headwaters of Newell and Zayante Creek both failed and there were some fears in the mid-1870s that the Doughertys' timber claims were unreachable and the company was approaching collapse. Fortunately, the arrival of the South Pacific Coast Railroad to the area in 1877 signalled a change in focus. Negotiations with the company, with help from Frederick A. Hihn, among other local parties, led to the alignment of the railroad passing down to Zayante Creek. James Dougherty was quickly able to capitalize on this development and had a narrow-gauge track installed along the valley floor and installed a switchback to the South Pacific Coast grade above. A small mill may have opened as early as 1878, although the railroad would not finish its connection to the site until 1880.

Once linked to the rail network, thousands of board feet of lumber rolled out of the Zayante Creek basin every day. Zayante became the company's only substantial mill but it was more than capable of fulfilling all lumber orders. For seven years, it was one of the most productive lumber mills in the county and it made a name for the Doughertys in Santa Cruz County. Yet disaster struck the Doughertys right when they could ill-afford it. In the depths of summer, 1886, a fire broke out at the Zayante mill that destroyed almost everything. The brothers spent much of the rest of the season rebuilding even though the timber tracts were almost logged out. Nonetheless, they reopened at a more limited capacity in early 1887 and finished logging the area by the end of the year.

The San Jose Brick & Tile Company (formerly the San Jose Brick Works), 1965. Photo by Michael Luther.
[California Bricks]
The Dougherty brothers did not limit themselves to operations directly under their control. In 1882, they joined Timothy Hopkins and several Watsonville-area investors to form the Loma Prieta Lumber Company. The company planned to harvest seven thousand acres of timber along Aptos Creek – a massive undertaking that required a large mill and a railroad. But the project succeeded spectacularly and the Doughertys profited from the investment. They, their wives, and their children remained investors in the firm until it finally shut down in the mid-1920s. William also owned the San Jose Brick Company and served as director of the Hotel Vendome in San José.

Meanwhile, James Dougherty was already looking ahead to the company's next project. He and his brother had begun purchasing land north of Boulder Creek in the late 1870s, and the arrival of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad in 1885 marked these timber tracts as their next target for extraction. James joined forces with local property investor and miller Henry L. Middleton, whose name still graces a street in Boulder Creek today, and together they partnered with James F. Cunningham as investors in Cunningham & Company, a logging firm and mercantile business that intended to log a large tract two miles north of Boulder Creek. Cunningham was a well known entrepreneur in the San Lorenzo Valley and helped the Doughertys get a foothold in the area. In 1887, James Dougherty and Middleton purchased Cunningham's share of the general store in Boulder Creek and used it as a local base of operations. It is no coincidence that the railroad station was installed just behind and below the store, and the business housed both the town post office and the Wells Fargo & Company Express agency for several years. It also was the first building in town to have electrical lighting.

The Doughertys finally shuttered operations at Zayante after the end of the 1887 season and immediately began dismantling machinery for shipment to Boulder Creek. Meanwhile, their crews began building the initially four-mile-long Dougherty Extension Railroad line to the site of the new mill north of Boulder Creek in early 1888. Lumber used in building the line was provided by Cunningham, whose mill was reached by the railroad first. The Doughertys' mill opened in June of that year, but in September, the entire complex burned down, with only the logs in the pond surviving. Fortunately, the sawing had just begun so the pond held the majority of that year's harvest. The brothers rebuilt over the following months, with Cunningham & Company fulfilling all of the contracts in the meantime.

The Dinky locomotive near the end-of-track of the Dougherty Extension Railroad, 1892. [Roy Graves]
For the next next twelve years, the mill north of Boulder Creek acted as the heart of a community known as Doughertys. At various times, it included a school, general store, post office, informal railroad service, and other amenities. It was also popular with tourists and campers. At its height in the mid-1890s, the mill town boasted nearly 300 people. James Dougherty managed the property while Patrick J. McGaffigan acted as superintendent. A second disastrous fire in October 1891 stalled operations but James proactively purchased the Cunningham & Company mill outright and relocated it to the north, allowing operations to continue without delay. The mill and the company operated in some form or another until 1902, although by the end it acted more as a waypoint than a fully-operational mill.

William Dougherty, the elder of the brothers, died on March 18, 1894, at his home in San José. His widow, Anna Fenton, continued to sit on the board of directors of the company over the next two decades. James Dougherty took over all operations from this point, although age and overwork began to impact him heavily. In 1898, he finally sold his interest in the Boulder Creek general store to Middleton, and he also began divesting himself of other interests. James died of throat cancer on July 27, 1900, and his widow, Catherine Harris, as well as Anna, were temporarily pushed out of the company, with Timothy Hopkins taking over as president and Middleton acting as mill general manager. It was he who oversaw the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company's last lumber operation on Bear Creek, which ended in 1902.

Although the brothers were gone, their widows returned to help found the California Timber Company on April 4, 1903, which Middleton and Hopkins both invested heavily in. The purpose of this firm was to cut the last unharvested Dougherty properties in and around the San Lorenzo Valley. Their first target was Deer Creek, at tributary of Bear Creek. The moved all of the mill machinery up to the creek in 1903 and ran the operation until roughly the time of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. Following this, the company relocated the machinery again to the headwaters of Pescadero Creek along Waterman Creek, where a new mill was erected and the forests harvested from approximately 1907 to 1913. On May 1, 1905, another mill was opened along Newell Creek near Ben Lomond, where tentative logging efforts had been made over the past decade but no concerted effort had been attempted. This mill proved to be very successful and harvested almost the entirety of the Newell Creek basin in less than a decade. With both of their major operations concluded, the company disincorporated soon afterwards, selling its property to various real estate firms interested in establishing residential and seasonal communities near the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Harris, Edward S. Santa Cruz County, California. San Francisco, CA: Pacific Press Publishing, 1892.
  • History of the State of California: Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California. San Francisco, CA: Guinn, 1904.
  • Robinson, Lisa A. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

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