Thursday, March 9, 2023

Companies: Glenwood Lumber Company

The Glenwood Lumber Company was one of the longest running logging businesses to originate in Santa Cruz County. Prior to the company’s founding, William Farrington purchased over 500 acres of timberland near the top of Mountain Charlie Gulch, a tributary of Zayante Creek. The land had been owned by Horatio Weymouth, who lost his home on the Santa Cruz Turnpike in a fire on February 20, 1880. In late 1882, Farrington opened a shingle mill near the toll road and operated it through the 1883 logging season. What precisely motivated him to take on partners is unclear, but on March 19, 1884, William H. Covell became the senior partner in the creation of the Glenwood Lumber Company, named after the nearby railroad station from which the firm would ship its lumber. Considering the sheer size of the property, it is surprising that the company only operated on Mountain Charlie Gulch for two more years.

Oxen team operating on the hills new Glenwood, ca 1890. Photo by the studio of E. B. Andrews. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

In September 1885, the shingle mill closed and the machinery was moved three miles to the east to Covell’s property near Vine Hill on the West Branch of Soquel Creek. The new mill was scheduled to open May 1886 and would ship lumber from Highland (later Laurel). As part of this move, the company was reincorporated with Farrington becoming a full partner alongside William Covell’s brothers, Frank M. and Prentice E. Corporate offices were maintained at Glenwood and Laurel, suggesting some residual milling may have continued at the former site. Frank was made superintendent of the Soquel Creek mill.

Advertisement from the Los Gatos News, May 7, 1886.

Beginning in May 1886, advertisements for Glenwood Lumber began appearing in Bay Area newspapers. The business sold a combination of locally sources and imported lumber at its San José yard, which was situated on White Street beside the South Pacific Coast Railroad’s yard. Another retail yard was also maintained briefly in Los Gatos. The Covells left the business in September 1887 and William J. Rogers was brought on as a new partner and superintendent of the mill. At this time, the Glenwood office was closed, suggesting operations had ended on Mountain Charlie Gulch. The company’s Laurel office served as its primary place of business until July 20, 1890, when it was destroyed in a fire. All the company’s paperwork and books were lost.

Early the next year, Rogers became involved in multiple ongoing lawsuits against the Southern Pacific Railroad. The issue related to freight rates discrimination, with Rogers arguing that the railroad unfairly charged more for shipping lumber to San José from Laurel than it did for shipping from the North Bay, which was further away. He dropped this suit in April but then in September, he testified on behalf of the Santa Cruz Lumber Company, which was suing for the same reason. In June 1892, Rogers petitioned the Railroad Commission with a new complaint that shipping from Boulder Creek was cheaper than shipping from Laurel, which was closer to San José and on the same route. Eventually, the disputes were settled when Southern Pacific adjusted its rates in October. 

(Clockwise) The Glenwood Lumber Company's wharf at the Port of Alviso, its lumberyard at the port, the South Pacific Coast Railway's tracks outside its San José lumberyard, and the main mill and offices of its San José yard, 1895. From Sunshine, Fruits & Flowers: Santa Clara County, California

By this point, Rogers had effectively taken control of the Glenwood Lumber Company. On April 29, 1892, it was formally incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. Its corporate offices moved to 34 N Third Street in San José. On the new board of directors, Rogers served as president, C. M. Ayers was elected vice president, and Joseph B. Collins was made secretary, with William Knox Beans and David B. Moody as additional directors. William Rogers’ brother, Charles A. Rogers, was appointed general manager and served in that role until March 1898, when he left for the Alaskan goldfields. One of the reasons the Glenwood Lumber Company was incorporated was to bypass Southern Pacific’s monopoly. It began reaching customers directly in whatever ways it could. The company provided most of the lumber to build the town of Morgan Hill in 1893, opening a retail outlet there to speed along construction. The next year, it opened a yard at Rucker, midway between Gilroy and San Martin, probably hoping to repeat the trick. North of Santa Clara at the Port of Alviso, the company built at least two wharves and purchased at least one steamship. This brought in lumber imported from Northern California to supplement the company’s local stock. To reduce the costs of imported lumber, the company bought a substantial stock in the Cottoneva Lumber Company, which operated out of Rockport in Mendocino County. Rogers took on the role of superintendent at the Rockport mill and erected a general store and hotel there. With its lumber empire firmly established, the Glenwood Lumber Company no longer feared the power of the railroad.

Nevertheless, the company suffered during the financial crisis of the mid-1890s. In July 1896, the company joined the Santa Clara County Lumber Dealers Association, which was an anti-competitive collective that set lumber prices in the depressed market. It also decided to cut costs and closed its retail yard at the end of 1896. From this point onward, the company focused exclusively on wholesale. Another casualty of these cost-cutting measures was likely the closure of the Soquel Creek mill and the sale of its stocks in the Rockport mill. This allowed the company to focus more on resale rather than production. It was around this time that E. Walter Schnabel became vice president of the company, replacing Ayers.

Over the next several years, William Rogers became distracted with politics and other ventures. He was elected to the San José City Council in 1901. The next year, he became the lead supporter of the Watsonville Transportation Company’s plan to turn Watsonville into a seaport. Rogers made the poor decision on March 31, 1903 to sell the Glenwood Lumber Company to J. H. Routt, owner of the startup San Jose Lumber Company. The set price was $36,000, with $3,000 paid up front. While Routt took control of the company, he would not own it outright until he paid the balance. As insurance, Schnabel remained on the board of the new company as vice president. Routt spent the next year scamming several local logging businesses out of their lumber. Between March 31 and September 10, 1903, he purchased $1,500 of lumber from I. T. Bloom, $800 from the Gualala Mill Company, $1,600 from the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company, $5,000 from the Wendling Lumber Company, $300 from the Santa Cruz Lime Company, and $90 from the Hartman Bros. To make matters worse, he mixed all the lumber together and gave all of the money he made directly to Rogers rather than repaying the businesses that sold him the lumber. The Glenwood Lumber Company’s reputation took a dive and Rogers sued Routt in February 1905 for damages and failure to fulfil his contract. Rogers had already regained control of the company, but the lawsuits took about two years to resolve. In every case, the judge ruled against Routt.

Around August 1904, Rogers decided to open a new mill in the Santa Cruz Mountains, possibly to restore local confidence in his firm. He hired the well-respected lumberman I. T. Bloom as manager and opened a mill somewhere near the mountain town of Boulder Creek. According to later reports, Rogers only owned a single share in the company at this time. The controlling interest was held by the Schnabel family, with Bloom and Jacob Miller holding the remaining 999 shares. Walter Schnabel served as general manager. This imbalance may have set Rogers against his partners, though this was not apparent immediately. The Boulder Creek venture wrapped after only two seasons and Rogers sought new tracts to harvest.

A San José Daily Mercury photo of the burned mill in San José, taken March 31, 1906.

He decided to jump on the Ocean Shore Railway bandwagon and, on November 14, 1905, the company bought stumpage rights to 1,450 acres on Gazos Creek in San Mateo County from L. Woodard. The cruising report for the acreage, which sat directly north of Big Basin, estimated that it contained 60 million board feet of timber. Before even the first trees were felled, though, disaster struck. On March 31, 1906, the company’s lumber yard on Fourth Street and St. John in San José burned to the ground, taking with it the company’s records and over $10,000 in lumber. As was common at the time, none of the property was insured. Arson was expected, but the arsonists were never found. Less than three weeks later, the San Francisco Earthquake struck and everything in the Bay Area came to a standstill.

After over a years’ delay, the first trees on Gazos Creek were felled in spring 1907. The mill, which cost around $30,000 to build, opened in mid-summer of that year. The company cut around 5,000,000 board feet of timber in its first two seasons of operation. However, the earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 caused the halting of construction on the Ocean Shore Railway. Without the railroad, the Glenwood Lumber Company could not ship its lumber. For the 1907 season, the company negotiated shipments with Loren Coburn, who owned a freight warehouse and shipping pier at Pigeon Point. However, in January 1908, Coburn denied them further use of the facilities. The company ignored him and used them anyway. In June, Coburn sued the company and Schnabel decided to shut down the mill the next month. His timing was perfect since a fire burned through the forest in early August, decimating much of the company’s timberland.

The history of the company after it abandoned Gazos Creek is less clear. Rogers appears to have left the company around the time that the mill opened. Miller was president for a time, but Schnabel eventually rose to the rank no later than 1911. By this point, the company’s offices had moved to 521 South Fifth Street in San José. A proposal to build a new lumber yard at Sixth and Julian Streets in 1913 was rejected, but it is unclear whether the company owned another yard at this time. It still maintained offices in June 1925, and it reportedly auctioned off 150,000 board feet of lumber on March 27, 1954 from a yard at 96 North Twenty-eighth Street. When the Glenwood Lumber Company ultimately closed is unknown.

Farrington's original timber tract on Mountain Charlie Gulch was later acquired by the Virginia Timber & Lumber Company, which operated a small mill beside the railroad tracks. The former Covell Bros. property south of Laurel was eventually bought by John Dubuis on July 27, 1910, who registered it as the Glenwood Basin tract. He converted the property into twenty-nine 5-acre residential lots, most of which never sold as intended. The subdivision is at the end of Tucker Road, accessible off Highway 17 via Sugarloaf Road.

Citations & Credits:

  • Various newspapers including the Los Gatos NewsSan Francisco Examiner, Jose Daily Mercury, Santa Cruz Evening News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Santa Cruz Surf.
  • San Jose Mercury. Sunshine, Fruit & Flowers: Santa Clara County, California. San Jose, CA: San Jose Mercury Publishing and Printing Company, 1895.
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