Thursday, June 2, 2022

Stations: Farley

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Claus Spreckels was a prominent individual within Santa Cruz County throughout his life. By 1871, he was already becoming the sugar king, importing 125 tons of raw sugar per day from Hawaii, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and isolated areas of California to his refinery in San Francisco. But in 1872, he became interested in refining sugar from beets to maintain his thriving empire. He turned to Santa Cruz County and settled his eyes upon roughly 1,000 acres of Rancho Aptos.

Stereograph of the Aptos Hotel, late 1870s, by C. W. J. Johnson. [California State Library – colorized using DeOldify]

Rancho Aptos had been a Mexican land grant given to a member of the Castro family, Rafael de Jesús Castro, in 1833. Castro continued to hold most of the land for the next forty years, primarily using the sprawling marine terrace to raise cattle. However, he also built a 500-foot-long pier near the mouth of Aptos Creek around 1850, from which he shipped lumber, flour, and cattle hide. This was extended another 500 feet in 1867 by Titus Hale, allowing larger ships to dock at the pier. Hale used the pier during these years to ship cords of oak to San Francisco, where it was used to heat homes during the winter. Castro finally relinquished ownership of most of his property in 1872, when his wife, María Soledad Cota, abandoned him. Spreckels swooped in and bought it for $80,000.

Lithograph of Claus Spreckels, ca 1875. [Public domain]

In the grand scheme of his enterprises, Spreckels’ operations in the Aptos area were minor, although not insignificant. There were signs that the region was primed for beet growing and Spreckels needed to experiment before expanding his operations. However, Santa Cruz County was exceptionally isolated, with only a few rugged mountain roads and steamships providing ways out. To the south, however, the Southern Pacific Railroad had opened a new route to San Francisco the previous year. To make shipping goods easier, Spreckels joined with Frederick A. Hihn to finance and support the construction of the Santa Cruz Railroad, which passed through his property on its way to Pajaro in 1875. Meanwhile, Spreckels began planting beets while closely observing the activities of the nearby California Beet Sugar Company, based out of Soquel. Spreckels' precise relationship, if any, with this firm is unclear, and it is unknown if he ever produced a commercial crop at his Aptos property. Nonetheless, he saw the potential of Aptos as a tourist destination and continued to invest in the area.

Engraving of the Aptos Hotel complex, late 1870s. By W. W. Elliott & Company. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections]

On May 22, 1875, Spreckels opened the luxurious Aptos Hotel above the cliffs between the railroad tracks and the Monterey Bay south of Aptos. The Santa Cruz Sentinel of March 27, 1875, says of the hotel complex:

This establishment is quite a village of itself. Besides the main building, which is nearly as large as any hotel in the country, there are two large buildings which will be used for club-room, reading-room, billiard saloon, library, etc., etc. There are also in course of erection several cottages for the use of such guests as may wish to be a little to themselves. This establishment is supplied with water from one of the cool mountain streams and the whole buildings will be lighted with gas and furnished in a handsome and convenient style.... For the convenience of guests there will be connected with the hotel a livery stable, well supplied with horses and carriages, and also at the beach there will be a fine sail boat, where the lovers of old ocean, and other lovers, can have a sail on the ocean wave. There will also be at the lake before mentioned—to which a nice drive has been graded from the hotel—a sail boat better suited to those of a less daring nature. This place will also be a favorite resort for picnic parties.

The hotel featured gas lighting, indoor plumbing, an elevator, high ceilings, and verandas that overlooked Aptos Creek and the ocean. The surrounding area also featured cottages, a dance pavilion, and other recreational facilities. As a major investor in the railroad, Spreckels also ensured that the Santa Cruz Railroad established a stop directly beside the hotel property.

Engraving of the Aptos Hotel's main building with private cottages on the hill in the background, late 1870s. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

Spreckels and the hotel’s proprietors continued to enlarge the hotel over the years in a desperate bid to compete with the growing number of rival resort hotels on the Monterey Bay, especially the Hotel Del Monte, Capitola Hotel, and Douglas House (later Sea Beach Hotel). Spreckels’ hotel had a good balance of features, but each of its rivals had better singular attractors: expansiveness of property, beach comforts, and accessibility respectively. The hotel remained in continuous operation until 1880, and then operated periodically through the 1884 summer season, after which Spreckels abandoned attempts to maintain the decade-old structures. Recurrent proposals to revive the aging complex fell on deaf ears and in 1896, Spreckels decided to demolish the resort and convert it into his private summer residence, although he never actually built his new home. Parts of the old hotel went toward the construction of Spreckels’ massive sugar beet refinery outside Salinas.

Aptos Wharf with Spreckels' Aptos Hotel complex in the center distance, ca 1885. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Spreckels still retained an interest in Aptos because of his private properties and the small seaport he had established at the mouth of Aptos Creek. Castro’s pier, which had been extended in 1867, was lengthened another 300 feet in 1880 to support the large vessels of Spreckels’ Oceanic Steamship Company. From the pier, Spreckels received sugar directly from Hawaii and shipped back prime Valencia and Aptos Creek redwood that was used in the construction of new buildings in Hawaii. Between Aptos Landing and downtown Aptos, a wooden mule-powered rail line was installed to make deliveries between the two points easier. This would later evolve into Aptos Wharf Road. Sugar received at Aptos Landing, meanwhile, was shipped to San Francisco from Spreckels’ private siding. The pier at Aptos was damaged in a storm in 1889 and Spreckels ceased to use the port thereafter. In any case, lumber could just as easily be delivered via railroad to anywhere within Spreckels’ empire after the Santa Cruz Branch was standard-gauged in 1883.

Engraving of the club house pavilion at the Aptos Hotel, late 1870s. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

When Spreckels lost access to his primary source of revenue—Hawaiian sugar cane—in 1886, he was forced to reassess his options. He turned once again to Santa Cruz County, realizing that his years experimenting with beet sugar may in fact be the solution to his problem. In 1888, he founded the Western Beet Sugar Company and began building a massive sugar refinery in Watsonville. Mid-county growers suddenly had a new outlet for their produce and a new era began for the Aptos-area beet industry. Possibly to support these customers or else to cater to Spreckels’ ranch, Southern Pacific officially registered Spreckels’ Siding as a station at this time, located 0.6 miles from Aptos. It included a 268-foot-long siding, enough to hold about five cars, on the north side of the branch line. The stop was renamed Claus—after Claus Spreckels—in 1898 and appeared in employee timetables the next year.

Workers at Spreckels' former hotel property preparing for a horse race, 1895. [Cabrillo Times & Green Sheet]

By the turn of the century, Spreckels had become disinterested in Santa Cruz County and his Watsonville refinery had shuttered. Although some farmers in the Aptos area continued to grow beets, the Sugar King directed his attention increasingly to the lower Pajaro and Salinas Valleys. Reflecting this, Claus was renamed in 1904, taking the new name Farley. The origin of Farley remains unclear. The surrounding property remained part of the Spreckels estate until 1910 and it had owned the property for thirty years, so it was not named after another property owner. Donald Clark proposes that it was named after an Irish farmer, Michael Farley, who lived nearby in the 1890s, but there is little reason for this connection. A more likely source is Henry R. Farley, a Monterey County sheriff who was murdered in 1899, the trial of whose murderer lasted for five years. The Farley family was prominent in the Salinas area, where Spreckels built his new refinery in 1899. Two final options are that the station was named after either James Edward Farley, a long-time conductor on the Santa Cruz Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad, or J. M. Farley, an engineer of the Coast Division. The true origin of the name may never be known.

Farley siding at the top of Farley Drive and behind Sumner Avenue, 1939. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

The later life of Farley as a railroad station is almost completely unknown, but the history of the surrounding property is better documented. Spreckels died in 1908 leaving his company and estates to his wife and children. Shortly afterwards, his widow, Anna Christina Mangels, transferred the titles of the Aptos Hotel property to the San Christina Investment Company, possibly as a means of avoiding paying inheritance taxes. Farley station became a public flag-stop the same year. After a decade of legal battles, San Christina Investment finally decided to sell everything in 1922 to Fred L. and Phoebe F. Somers, who intended to construct a resort hotel and golf course on the property. For some reason, this venture failed and nothing more was heard of it. Three years later, in May 1925, a new organization led by the property development firm [Lee G.] Monroe, [William C.] Lyon & [Lawrence J.] Miller, Inc., set out plans to build the Aptos Beach & Country Club resort and housing subdivision. However, in all its marketing, the firm used the name Aptos-by-the-Sea, and soon the country club just became an aspect of the resort, which included a golf course, polo field, tennis courts, pleasure pier, hotel, casino, and beach. In April 1926, the developers re-christened the resort Rio del Mar, the name it retains today.

Aerial view of the Rio Del Mar subdivision, late 1920s. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Throughout this entire period, the small flag-stop at Farley remained with its short siding and simple station sign. Whether this was used frequently by Spreckels family visitors or Rio del Mar guests and residents remains unknown, but it was never a scheduled stop. Rio del Mar provided access to the flag-stop from the northern end of Farley Drive, but seemingly did not advertise the railroad as a means of patronizing the resort. The abandonment of regular passenger service along the Santa Cruz Branch in February 1938 prompted the closure of this station on July 15, 1939. What happened to its siding is unknown, but it was likely removed shortly afterwards and nothing remains today except a wider right-of-way.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

36.9675N, 121.8931W
Northern end of Farley Drive behind the homes.

Today, the site of the station is owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, while the adjacent property is all privately-owned. The station site sits between Sumner Avenue and Townsend Drive beyond the end of Farley Drive, which serves as the only reference to the former station. The siding itself ran behind the homes on Sumner Avenue. Rio del Mar to the south of the tracks remains a densely-populated area of more than 9,000 residents.

Citations & Credits:

  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "SP Santa Cruz Branch [SP72]." 2017.
  • Bryant, Mary. “The Days of the Sugar Pier: Aptos Wharf Once Stretched Quarter Mile from Shore.” Santa Cruz Public Libraries: Local History Collection, 2000.
  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A  Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2003.
  • Collins, Allen. "The Spreckels Era in Rio Del Mar, 1872-1922." Santa Cruz Public Libraries, 1995.
  • Hibble, John. "The Grand Hotel of Aptos". Aptos History Museum, 2020.
  • Newhouse, Kevin, and the Aptos History Museum. Images of America: Aptos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2013.
  • Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Coast Division Employee Timetables. 1884–1938.
  • Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Stations, Officers & Agencies books. 1889–1938.
  • Various articles. Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, Sentinel, and Surf. 1872–1938.
  • Whaley, Derek R. "The End of the Line: The Abandonment of Passenger Services in Santa Cruz County, California," Railroad History 215 (Fall-Winter 2016), 12–33.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

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