Friday, September 25, 2020

Railroads: Love Creek Railroad

Logging activity in the Santa Cruz Mountains was on the rise in the 1880s. Redwood mills from south of Felton to north of Boulder Creek and along many of the San Lorenzo River's feeder creeks rapidly expanded following the construction of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company's v-flume that ran down the valley. It alongside its subsidiary Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad brought millions of board feet of lumber to market via the Railroad and Powder Works Wharves at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. James Pieronett Pierce, a Santa Clara entrepreneur and speculator, wanted in on the local action and approached the task from several angles. Already the founder and president of the Bank of Santa Clara, Pierce used his wealth to embed himself within Santa Cruz County community and industries. He purchased the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad line in 1877 as well as the Santa Cruz Opera House. He became a director in both the railroad and flume projects. But more importantly to Santa Cruz history, he bought the land of Harry Love midway between Felton and Boulder Creek in order to harvest thousands of acres of redwood timber.

A waterfall below a narrow wooden bridge on Love Creek, c. 1900.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
Captain Harry Love, 1860s.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries –
colorized using DeOldify]
The California Ranger Harry Love was famous for having tracked down and killed the outlaw JoaquĆ­n Murrieta Carrillo on July 25, 1853. In the late 1850s and 1860s, Love lived on a ranch three miles north of Felton along a creek later named after him. At some point in the mid-1860s, Love fell on hard times and sold portions of his ranch to several individuals, including a Captain Staple, who grew Christmas trees on a section and otherwise worked for George Treat's sawmill south of Felton, and Charley Brown, who ran a mid-sized lumber mill somewhere along Love Creek. James Pierce bought Staple's property around 1876. The original tract encompassed the entire west bank of the Love Creek basin, which at the time was estimated to contain between thirty and fifty million board feet of redwood timber. Across from the confluence of Love Creek and the San Lorenzo River, Pierce built his baronial summer residence on a slight rise from where he could view the entire surrounding valley. This property would later evolve into Hotel Rowardennan in the 1890s, but in the meantime, Pierce grew hay for the livestock used in his logging operations.

In 1877, Pierce bought the Enterprise Mill on Love Creek from John Mill, presumably a relative of Harry's. Two years later, he incorporated the Pacific Manufacturing Company. By 1881, he had bought out a former business partner, H. W. McKoy, and took control of his mill as well and shipped this new machinery up the San Lorenzo River. At the confluence of Love Creek and the river, he erected a mid-sized lumber mill, which grew quickly as Pierce added more machinery and expanded the size of the affiliated settlement, initially known as Pacific Mills. During the next few years, he joined many other lumber firms in using the flume that passed through the village to transport lumber to market. When the Felton & Pescadero Railroad snaked through the area in mid-1884 to replace the flume, Pierce jumped at the opportunity to expand his reach up Marshall and Love Creeks, areas which had only lightly been harvested thus far.

County survey map showing parcels for sale in Ben Lomond with all of the Southern Pacific and Pacific Manufacturing Company's trackage in town, September 1887. [Santa Cruz County Records]
From the time that the new railroad passed through his mill town, Pierce planned to install private narrow-gauge railroad tracks to his timber tracts. Other local lumber firms had already done so including the Santa Clara Mill & Lumber Company, the Union Mill, and the F. A. Hihn Company, so its feasibility had already been proven. A September 1887 survey of the town of Ben Lomond shows tracks heading up Hubbard Gulch (then called Paterson Gulch) to the west, another track across the San Lorenzo River beside the vehicular bridge to the south, and a third track up Love Creek to the north, in addition to the mainline track and many spurs that ran through the village. The route up Hubbard Gulch crossed the San Lorenzo River to the west in roughly the same location as the Highway 9 bridge today. It then turned up Hubbard Gulch Road and continued for an unknown length. Pierce hoped that it would eventually run for three miles until reaching the logging community at Pine Flat at the top of Ben Lomond, but this never appears to have happened and the track probably did not extend more than a quarter mile up modern-day Hubbard Gulch Road. The southern track was certainly the shortest and probably catered to Pierce's personal residence just across the river.

The Pacific Manufacturing Company planing mill in Santa Clara, 1898.
[Alice Iola Hare Collection, Santa Clara City Library – colorized using DeOldify]
The third and longest track was installed along Love Creek and this route is much better documented both on maps and in newspapers. From the available evidence, it was in operation from December 1887 until at least 1893. The line's only known track joined the mill company's internal mainline near the junction of Fillmore Avenue and Mill Street in Ben Lomond and then proceeded north, crossing the Southern Pacific Railroad's Felton Branch east of Main Street and continuing until merging with modern-day Love Creek Road at Central Avenue. Beyond Sunnyside Avenue, the crudely-built narrow-gauge railroad entered the redwood wilderness of the Love Creek basin. From this point, there is a good description of the route given in the Surf in 1889:
The cream of the day's enjoyment was a trip on this pocket edition of a railway up the picturesque Love creek canyon to the logging camp. Seated in comfortable chairs upon the flat car, steaming along through the mild spring air, stopping to pick up a few ferns, or remove a fallen branch from the track, crossing Love creek thirteen times in a mile and a half and watching the mountains as they rose height beyond height, this was certainly an ideal way of penetrating the everlasting hills. The "man at the wheel," like the mate of the Nancy Bell, was captain and crew and all, and evidently made a pet of his tiny engine.

A glimpse into the canyon where the great body of timber begins enables one to feebly realize the vastness of Mr. Pierce's four thousand acre tract of timber, which extends nearly to the town of Boulder, and which will be tributary to the mill at Ben Lomond.

The train mentioned in this description was a small locomotive and six flatcars that Pierce purchased in early 1888 for use on his private lines. No photographs of the rolling stock have been found and even the style of the locomotive is unknown.

County survey map of Love Creek properties and the Love Creek Railroad, c 1887.
[Santa Cruz County Records]
The actual length of Pierce's trackage in the area of Ben Lomond is inconsistently reported by newspapers of the time. The article above implies that the Love Creek track was at least a mile and a half and the article elsewhere states that Pierce owned a total of 2.5 miles of trackage in the area. The figures for the tracks in town amount to just short of one mile of additional track, so that may be the maximum extent for the rest of the area. However, logging companies often installed and uninstalled track as needed and it is possible that as much as seven miles of track ran up Love Creek at one point, and more frequently three miles is given for the length of this route. The latter seems more likely since the Love Creek basin in total is only four miles in length. The evidence for where precisely the route went beyond Smith Creek is unclear, although it did continue further along Love Creek for at least a short distance. The logging camp mentioned by the reporter was almost certainly at the confluence of Love and Fritch Creeks, which was the last flat area before continuing up increasingly steep grades.

A waterfall on Love Creek, c 1900. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
When precisely the Love Creek Railroad shut down is unknown. Partners Duffey and Simmons began running a mill two miles up Love Creek in October 1890, however, and continued to run the mill on behalf of Pierce until it was destroyed in a boiler explosion in May 1891. Duffey alone rebuilt and shut down for the season in December. It seems likely that this mill continued to use the Love Creek Railroad to get its lumber to Ben Lomond since a December 1892 newspaper report stated that the old locomotive had jumped the track at the southernmost crossing over Love Creek, spilling its lumber into the creek bed. This means that the railroad was still in operation a year later. Following the derailment, horses were used to haul the machinery back onto the grade and the railroad resumed service. 

There are no further mentions of the railroad after December 1892 and it likely was removed before or after the summer 1893 season. By this point, Pierce had incorporated the Ben Lomond Land & Lumber Company in order to consolidate his twin goals of selling his property to interested developers and cutting his remaining timber. The mill in Ben Lomond was also gone and most of the trackage in the town had been consolidated. Whether Pierce even owned the Love Creek Railroad route by 1893 is unclear, but it certainly did not last much beyond that time. In May 1893, the Bank of Santa Clara failed, leaving Pierce short on funds. It was likely this that led to the dissolution of his company and the sale of the remaining land he owned in the region, the remainder of which were sold following his death in 1897. Today, traces of the railroad are occasionally found on the west bank of Love Creek near Smith and Fritch Creeks, where significant bridges were once located. But nothing much remains and that which does is found by chance, usually on private property.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1885–1892.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, 1885–1892.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. My friends sold their home at 12384 Love Creek Road last year. The property is at the very end of the road with a large sandstone clearing. There are obvious signs of industry on the property like ruts worn into the sandstone and the occasional rusted piece metal. Our understanding was that there was a small mill on the property at one point, but I don't know what the timeframe was.


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