Thursday, December 1, 2022

Bridges: Woods Lagoon

The area known as Twin Lakes referred to a section of unincorporated Santa Cruz County land between Woods Lake and Schwan Lake, both actually lagoons formed at the outlets of Arana and Leona Creeks respectively. While Schwan Lagoon retains much of its wetland charms, Woods Lagoon endured a substantial transformation in the 1960s when it became host to the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Yet long before this event occurred, the lagoon suffered its first major human terraforming effort, when the Chinese workers of the Santa Cruz Railroad installed a bridge across its midsection in 1875.

Southern Pacific #2764 running a Sun Tan Special across the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 28, 1940. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon was named after John Woods and Mary Ann Silvey of Georgetown, Ohio. The Woods family moved to California during the Gold Rush but soon gave up and moved to Santa Cruz County. In 1849, John worked at the Bennett mill on Love Creek (today's Ben Lomond). Soon, though, he applied for recognition of a tract of land that he had acquired on the west bank of Arana Creek, which was registered to he and his wife on November 14, 1849.

Woods Lagoon, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

Over subsequent years, the lagoon became a popular picnic and swimming spot, and it also later became well known to duck hunters. When the Santa Cruz Railroad's surveyors arrived in 1874, the Woods sold them a right-of-way through their property. The completion of the railroad two years later led the Woods to sell substantial acres of their property to interested parties, though the family kept a large section for themselves until after John's death on October 11, 1887. One such party was Samuel Hall, who founded Lake Marina in 1880, in the process briefly renaming Woods Lagoon. His resort failed after only one season, though. Shortly before John Woods' passing, Foster N. Mott founded Camp Seabright in 1884 on a small twelve-acre tract beside the lagoon. As a result, Woods Lagoon was sometimes called Seabright Lake in promotional material.

Early Southern Pacific diamond stack locomotive hauling a strange mixed train over the Woods Lagoon bridge, ca 1888. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Woods Lagoon proved to be a mostly insubstantial impediment to the railroad's Chinese construction crews. The western approach to the bridge required a shallow cut that John Woods and his son dug by themselves. Beyond that, the bridge crossed Woods Lagoon at the narrowest point. Although no photographs survive of the original narrow-gauge bridge, it is likely that the later standard-gauge bridge, enlarged by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1883, was in fact just an upgrade to the original structure. The photographs that survive show an austere open deck trestle viaduct with sixteen redwood piling piers, all standing almost perfectly upright, and wood abutments at either end. Some of the fill material pulled out of the shallow cuts on either approach to the bridge may have been dumped at the ends of the bridge to  reinforce the abutments.

Excursion train passing over the Woods Lagoon bridge, July 7, 1950. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

This structure remained across the lagoon until Spring 1911, when it was replaced with a sturdier, more modern design. The new structure was composed of eighteen redwood piling piers, all tilted inward to provide additional support. These supported a redwood girder closed ballast deck with concrete abutments on either end. The abutments were likely installed to help reinforce the fills behind them. This also resulted in a slightly shorter span across the lagoon, with the bridge measuring around 282 feet. Most historical photographs of the lagoon date to this period.

Southern Pacific survey map showing a proposed pedestrian sidewalk on the north side of the Woods Lagoon bridge, 1946. [Vasona Branch]

After over fifty years of relative peace and quiet on Woods Lagoon, things changed rapidly. In 1964, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged out the section of Woods Lagoon between the lagoon mouth and the railroad bridge in order to create the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Until this time, Santa Cruz did not have a proper harbor protected from the elements, and commercial use of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, built in 1914, had declined to almost nothing. With the new harbor, residents would be able to safely protect their yachts, sailboats, and motorboats from the elements. In the process of creating the harbor, East Cliff Drive was bisected. To correct for this, a new vehicular bridge was extended from the end of Murray Street, which had previously ended at Seabright Avenue, to Eaton Street.

Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor with the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial Bridge and railroad bridge at upper-center, 1973. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Plans to replace the railroad bridge began in July 1968. The trestle viaduct blocked access to Woods Lagoon beyond the railroad grade. Plans for a new bridge were finalized in December 1969 and work began the next year. To maintain continuous rail service, the railroad bridge was built between the viaduct and the Murray Street bridge. Rather than a trestle, which would not allow boats to pass under it, the new design called for a concrete girder closed ballast deck bridge suspended above the lagoon via six concrete piers and two concrete abutments. The bridge reached a height of 31.88 feet above the mean tide line. To achieve this extra height, the bridge had to begin further back along the railroad grade, extending the final length of the bridge to 425 feet. Once the new bridge was completed, the old viaduct was completely dismantled. The expansion of the upper harbor began in 1972 and was completed the following year, adding 560 more berths for boats.

The bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, 2017. [Derek Whaley]

The 1971 railroad bridge remains in place today and is one of the more recent bridges along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. However, due to the closure of parts of the line further to the east, the bridge is only currently used for maintenance-of-way vehicles.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Western abutment: 36.9681, -122.0036
Eastern abutment: 36.9681, -122.0022

The Woods Lagoon bridge is one of the easiest railroad bridges to view since it runs directly to the north of the Glen E. Coolidge Memorial (Murray Street) Bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. It can also be viewed from below by parking at the northern end of the Mariner Park Way parking lot off Atlantic Avenue and taking the road under the bridge alongside the harbor. Another road beneath the railroad bridge is accessible off Murray Street on the east side of the harbor. As with the entire Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, the railroad right-of-way is owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and any walking along the tracks without permission is trespassing.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Santa Cruz County GIS maps.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel. Various articles 1874–1973.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.