Friday, June 19, 2020

Freight Stops: Santa Cruz Lumber Yard

Over a decade before ground was broken on the Santa Cruz Union Depot, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad began the slow process of turning the area between Neary Lagoon and Pacific Avenue north of Blackburn Terrace into the Santa Cruz freight yard. The area was convenient for several reasons. The lagoon and a seasonal stream that passed through the area made formal development difficult. At the same time, it was where the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad line met with the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's mainline before the tracks passed through the Beach Hill cut and split again at the Main Beach for the wharves and bathhouses. The proximity of the Santa Cruz Railroad, which bypassed the yard in a wide loop to the west, also meant that there was more space for expansion. Whether any lumber was stored there at this time is unknown, but it seems likely that excess lumber brought down from the San Lorenzo Valley flume awaiting shipment from the Railroad or Steamship Wharves may have been stored in the vicinity. In any case, by 1878, the Santa Cruz & Felton was prepared for expansion and moved its engine house to the area and installed a turntable and water tower. That same year, the first private lumber company leased space at the yard.

Crowds at the Santa Cruz Union Depot seeing off troops going overseas, 1917. Note the various lumber company-related structures in the distance to the right along Center Street. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
The Grover brothers had been operating a commercial lumber mill in the hills above Soquel since 1866 and shipped its goods from the Soquel Landing Wharf. Why the company decided to relocate operations to Santa Cruz in May 1878 is unknown, but it was likely to tap into the larger ships that could call in at the Santa Cruz wharves. How the lumber got to Santa Cruz is also a mystery, but it may have been transported on the Santa Cruz Railroad or via smaller coastal ships that shuttled between Soquel and Santa Cruz. The earliest existing Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area from 1883 shows that Grover & Company owned a mid-sized planning mill with a spur between the two tracks of the horsecar line. Two additional spurs to the northwest of the mill and beside the South Pacific Coast Railroad's mainline were used for accessing stacks of railroad crossties and lumber produced by Grover. At this time, all of the tracks were narrow-gauge and remained as such until the yard was converted around 1907.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the original lumber yard at Santa Cruz, 1883.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
In 1881, George Olive established his lumber yard on either side of the Grover & Company yard, possibly along an otherwise undocumented backlot spur. His initial property was a small lot along Pacific Avenue in the shadow of the Centennial Flour Mill. It had no milling structures, only some storage sheds. His lumber was derived from a tract high above Laguna Creek twelve miles north of Santa Cruz, so why he decided to move his operations downtown rather than use the Davenport Landing wharf or build their own wharf to ship lumber is not known. In any case, Olive took on a partner, Howard Foster, in 1883 and their combined firm became Olive & Foster. They soon expanded their operations from split stuff and shingles to full-sized lumber via a new planing mill at the northern end of the freight yard. The 1888 Sanborn map shows the mid-sized structure sitting directly across from where the South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroad tracks crossed on Chestnut Street, in the vicinity of today's Jenne Street. A second larger lumber yard was built beside the mill, but the old yard was also retained, and the Sanborn map shows a suspicious right-of-way connecting the two, suggesting a private railroad spur may have linked the two facilities.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Santa Cruz freight yard in 1886. [UCSC Digital Collections]
Foster left Olive & Foster in 1886 and the company was renamed George Olive & Company. Around the same time, Grover & Company took over the abandoned Centennial Flour Mill property, taking over the majority of the yard. The company initially intended to use the mill to produce flour and then abandoned that idea to use the building as a second planing mill. Neither idea came to fruition, though, and the structure sat vacant from about 1886 to 1897. Olive reincorporated again in 1889 as the Santa Cruz Lumber Company and bought stumpage rights to a new timber tracts on Liddell Creek seven miles north of Santa Cruz. It appears that Olive ceased using his lumber yards and planing mill in Santa Cruz at this time, although both remained his property. The yards may have been leased to Grover & Company but the mill was converted into a hay barn. After only four years, Olive abandoned his Santa Cruz properties and sold the entire Santa Cruz Lumber Company to Frederick A. Hihn. That same year, the Santa Cruz Union Depot opened, which led to the reorganization of much of the trackage in the area. In 1897, Hihn leased the Grover & Company property in the area, thereby obtaining complete possession of the lumber yards at the union depot.

Final Sanborn Fire Insurance map before he conversion of the yard to the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1892.
[UCSC Digital Collections]
The Santa Cruz Lumber Company was in reality a collective of local lumber businesses, including his F. A. Hihn Company, Grover & Company, Cunningham & Company, George Olive & Company, and several other local concerns. The unification of the yards in 1893 did not unify the gauge of the tracks, so all of the lumber spurs remained narrow-gauge until around 1907. The former Olive planing mill was heavily upgraded and reopened for use by the Santa Cruz Lumber Company alongside the old track near the end of Washington Street. Across Washington, a larger new planing mill was erected with around a dozen stacks of lumber spanning both sides of the road, possibly with railroad spurs running down the street to reach them. Across Center Street to the east, the Sinkinson & Sons yard with its smaller planing mill also operated briefly before moving to the Mission Orchard to the north of Mission Hill. Sinkinson, which specialized in sashes and shingles, was likely affiliated with the Santa Cruz Lumber Company since it had little space to store lumber on its small property.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the new alignment of the Santa Cruz Union Depot yard, 1905.
[UCSC Digital Collections]
Two other lumber companies also established themselves at the Santa Cruz Union Depot yard in this time. The largest was the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, which had a sometimes friendly but often competitive relationship with Hihn's various businesses. Loma Prieta moved onto the property of Grover & Company with the blessing of Hihn and as a part of an agreement to work together. But the cooperation ended in 1898 when economic conditions made such a partnership unprofitable. A fire in February 1904 destroyed most of its structures but allowed the lower end of Center Street and Washington Street, as well as the Pacific Avenue curve, to be realigned and the seasonal creek to be entirely culverted. This effectively marked the end of freight customers on Pacific Avenue but increased the freight presence in the section of road between Laurel Street and the junction of Center and Washington. Loma Prieta eschewed rebuilding its planing mill, since it already had sufficient mills at its lumber sites, and instead extended its lumber yard across both sides of Center Street.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Cash Lumber Company yard on Chestnut Street, 1905.
[UCSC Digital Collections]
Newspaper advertisement for the Cash Lumber Company, 1903. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Across the yard to the west at the corner of Chestnut Street and Laurel Street, the Cash Lumber Company moved in in early 1903 as the only known lumber company to operate on the standard-gauge tracks. Cash appears to have sold mostly doors, sashes, and other specialty wood products similar to Sinkinson & Sons. It may have been owned or operated by the Big Creek Power Company since it was that corporation that sold the yard in January 1906 to J. Q. Packard, the president of Big Creek Power. Packard likely bought the firm in order to subdivide the land and parcel it off. However, Loma Prieta Lumber Company bought the Packard's lumber assets in May. The newspapers in June reported that the reason for this purchase was to increase the price of wood products in the region. Cash was a lumber wholesaler that regularly undercut the prices of rivals. With Loma Prieta suffering from the loss of its mill in Hinckley Gulch in the San Francisco Earthquake and facing a difficult financial future, it clearly felt it was wise to ensure higher prices for its lumber in the immediate future by purchasing its rival. Despite the buyout and the threat of shutting down the yard, it appears that an H. S. Holway continued to run the yard throughout 1907, but the company disappears after February 1, 1908, suggesting Loma Prieta finally delivered on its promise. The property was soon taken over by the Daniels' Transfer Express Company.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Santa Cruz Union Depot following the removal of all of the lumber patrons from the yard, 1917. [UCSC Digital Collections]
The Santa Cruz Lumber Company shut down when Hihn sold out to the A. P. Hammond Company in 1909. By 1911, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company had vacated the freight yard and sold its property to the Hihn-Hammond company, which promptly sold it. Hihn-Hammond, in turn, ended operations at the yard in the summer of 1913 when it was sold to the Central Lumber & Fuel Company, a subsidiary of the San Vicente Lumber Company. From this point forward, only Central Lumber and its successors retained a freight presence at the yard. In 1921, the company petitioned for a new spur to be extended through the old backlot parallel to Pacific Avenue. This gave the company direct freight access at approximately the location of the original Olive & Company lumber yard between Pacific Avenue and Cedar Street. Central Lumber was sold to the Homer T. Hayward Lumber Company in 1923, who continued to use the spur to receive deliveries of wood products from outside the county. In 1932, Hayward sold the property to Lloyd M. Hebbron, who purchased some of the vacant Loma Prieta Lumber Company land on Center Street. It was during this period that the spur to the lumber yard was permanently removed and the use of the railroad by local lumber companies came to an end at the Santa Cruz Union Depot.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Because the layout of the Santa Cruz freight yard has changed considerably over the past 145 years, the location of the older lumber spurs are not immediately apparent or certain. Most sat within the grounds of what is today Depot Park, but the surrounding roads were very different, with neither Washington Street nor Center Street reaching Pacific Avenue. In later years, the lumber yards stretched between Chestnut Street and Front Street, although not all at once. Nothing remains of the lumber yards and most of the land has since been developed into homes and businesses.

Citations & Credits:

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