Thursday, December 7, 2023

Stations: Ellicott

Rancho San Andrés west of Watsonville hosted four Southern Pacific Railroad stations at various times, but the oldest and most versatile was Ellicott near the modern-day junction of Buena Vista Drive and San Andreas Road.

A double-headed Southern Pacific excursion train passing through Ellicott, April 25, 1949. Photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – colorized using MyHeritage]

Ellicott was established by the Santa Cruz Railroad in 1876 under the name San Andres. By the time Southern Pacific took over the line in 1881, this name had degraded to its common phonetic spelling: San Andreas. Its namesake was a Mexican rancho granted to José Joaquín Castro on November 26, 1833. Several of his descendants remained on the property after his death from smallpox in 1838. At 8,911 acres, Rancho San Andrés was a mid-sized rancho bounded on the north by Ranchos Aptos and Laguna de las Calabesas, the east by Harkins Slough, the south by Watsonville Slough’s outlet, and the west by the Monterey Bay. The area was predominantly ranch- and farmland, with significant sections of forest, a sprawling swamp, and six continuous miles of beach. A two-story adobe home was erected in the 1840s, probably by Joaquín’s son Juan José Castro, on the northeastern edge of the rancho. This survives today as the Castro Adobe State Historic Park. In 1852, Joaquín’s widow, María Antonia Amador, contested his will leading to the first subdivision of the estate. Another lawsuit in 1872 resulted in a second partition, after which the Castro family lost all of their land except for that in Larkin Valley.

The Castro Adobe, early 20th century. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]

The timing of the second lawsuit benefited the Santa Cruz Railroad, which soon acquired a right-of-way that ran the length of the rancho. Grading began in the spring of 1875 and the site of San Andres Station was reached in late September. The station immediately became a shipping center for wheat, grain, and sugar beets, the latter of which were processed at the recently-opened California Beet Sugar Company’s refinery in Soquel. When the first timetable was published in the Sentinel on June 10, 1876, San Andres was an inaugural passenger station. Around the end of September, a depot was erected on the property of Peter Leonard. By this time, the former rancho had evolved into a farming community, the most prominent feature of which was San Andres School, established in 1861 just south of the railroad station at the corner of San Andreas Road and Whisky Hill Road (Buena Vista Drive).

San Andreas School with the Santa Cruz Branch passing beside it, Buena Vista Drive in the distance, and San Andreas Road in the foreground, ca 1935. [UC Santa Cruz]

The name San Andreas for the station did not stick, however. When the Northern Division was restructured in 1891, Southern Pacific decided for unknown reasons to change the name to Ellicott. Why this name particular name was chosen is unclear. There is no record of anyone with that surname living in Santa Cruz County at any point in the nineteenth century. The most likely answer is that it was named after Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland, where in 1830 one of the first railroad stations in the United States was erected for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

View of Ellicott's Mills, Maryland, ca 1854. Lithograph by E. Sachse & Company, Baltimore. [Library of Congress]

Frustratingly little is known about Ellicott as a destination. No later than 1890, a 256-square-foot platform was installed on the south side of the track, presumably to help local farmers load their freight. In 1897, a telephone was noted as being available at Ellicott. The station likely had at least a spur from the beginning, but no additional trackage was recorded until 1905, when a 421-foot-long siding was noted in an employee timetable. A Southern Pacific-owned warehouse was at the station from at least 1902 and may have been there since the time of the Santa Cruz Railroad. John H. Covell had leased the building for three years when, on January 16, 1906, it burned down, destroying hay, straw, and farm tools owned by George Leonard. The railroad did not rebuild the warehouse, but it installed a 12-foot by 21-foot wood frame enclosed passenger shelter in 1911.

Flooding in a field beside newly-repaired Southern Pacific tracks at Ellicott, 1909. [Neil Vodden Collection, Jack Hansen – colorized using MyHeritage]

Despite its new shelter, Ellicott declined in passenger patronage from the 1910s. Its freight customers also declined, though sand gondolas from the Olympia quarries near Felton often parked on the siding in later years. Part of this was due to the creation of stations at Manresa and Cristo just northwest of Ellicott, while the increase usage of trucks to haul out produce grown in the area also greatly contributed to the station’s decline. Regular passenger service along the line ended in 1938 and the passenger shelter at Ellicott was dismantled November 11, 1940, though excursion trains still periodically called at the stop into the early 1960s.

Wide view of Camp McQuaide near Ellicott, 1942. [WorthPoint]

Ellicott had a slight renaissance during World War II as the station point for nearby Camp McQuaide. In 1926, the National Guard had established the facility, named after Spanish¬–American War and World War I veteran chaplain Joseph P. McQuaide who had died two years earlier, on the site of the Capitola Airport near New Brighton. Protests by local poultry farmers as well as residents of the nearby El Salto Resort convinced the National Guard to relocate to the less populated marine terrace south of Ellicott.

National Guardsmen loading blanks into an artillery cannon, ca 1944. [Derek Whaley]

The new facility was built in part through the Works Progress Administration, which was responsible for upgrading San Andreas Road and other local thoroughfares to support military equipment. The base’s airstrip, completed in 1943, was named Allen Field in honor of U.S. Army artilleryman Captain Francis C. Allen, who had died in October 1941 while responding to an ammunition shed fire in Alaska. The camp initially hosted the 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, but throughout the war, over 12,000 Guardsmen passed through the facility, including members of the Signal Corps, Cavalry Medics, and Naval Radar group. As the war neared its end, the base also became a holding camp for soldiers who had broken the law. The base was decommissioned in 1948.

Photo excursionists loitering around a Southern Pacific train at Ellicott, April 3, 1948. [The Santa Cruzian]

The end of the war in 1945 led to the reduction of the siding at Ellicott the next year. Photographic evidence from 1948 suggests that the siding was removed entirely shortly afterwards. Also in 1946, San Andreas School was consolidated into the Freedom School District and the schoolhouse became a private home. Ellicott remained on employee timetables as a station until August 30, 1960, when Southern Pacific petitioned the Public Utilities Commission for abandonment. According to Southern Pacific officials, no local freight customers had used the stop for two years and the newspaper suspected Southern Pacific wanted to avoid paying transit tariffs from the station. Permission for abandonment was granted on December 1, 1960.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.921418, -121.837183
13.4 miles from Santa Cruz Union Depot

The station point for Ellicott was located across from the end of Crest Drive, which was likely originally built as the entry road for railroad visitors to Camp McQuaide, now operating as the Seventh-Day Adventists’ Monterey Bay Academy. The siding was located immediately to the west of Crest Drive, where Peaceful Valley Drive runs parallel to San Andreas Road and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. Indeed, this section of Peaceful Valley Drive likely predates the rest of the road and served as the loading area for vehicles delivering freight to waiting trains. The Santa Cruz-Monterey Bay KOA Holiday Park is located just to the north of Ellicott, while the area east of the station is now the Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

Citations & Credits:

  • Henry Bender, SP72.
  • Donald T. Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, 2nd edition (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008).
  • A. J. Hatch, “Official Map of Santa Cruz County” (San Francisco: A.J. Hatch, 1889).
  • Edna E. Kimbro, et al, “Historic Structure Report for Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe State Historic Park” (June 30, 2003).
  • Ronald G. Powell, The Tragedy of Martina Castro: Part 1 of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation (Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, 2020)
  • Santa Cruz Evening SentinelSentinel, and Sentinel–News.
  • Capt. H. A. Sherwood, “Coast Artillery Replacement Training Center: Camp McQuaide,” Coast Artillery Journal 86:2 (Mar-Apr 1943)
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company, corporate records.
  • Sarah Weston, “A Brief Look Back at Camp McQuaide,” The Mid-County Post 17:16 (August 8, 2006).


  1. Ellicott is still shown on the Coast Division Timetable # 178 of September 27, 1959 with a
    siding capacity of 12 cars. The next Coast Division Timetable I have is # 185 for April 28, 1963.
    Ellicott is no longer listed in this timetable.

  2. That picture: baggage car and day coaches are a strange mix.

    The 'return' of the Suntan Special was at an odd time, especially since the direct route was abandoned for no real reason (although, those tunnels were a problem due to earthquakes and maybe pockets of explosive gas. Plans for the reservoir thirteen years out, might have even been voiced.)

    Does "regularly-scheduled passenger service" not include the Suntan because it only raced along the branch without stopping at smaller platforms? I'm guessing that this might be the case; 1959 was the actual end of service, I think. Was the resurrected Suntan a regular train, or another excursion train?

    1. Suntans Specials were "specials", which means they were not regularly-scheduled, though during the summers you could say they were "regularly-scheduled", just not in the technical sense. It only stopped at Watsonville, Aptos, Capitola, Casino, Santa Cruz, and, on request, Big Trees (North Gate). It also only ran on Sundays. Other excursion trains ran year-round.

      The explosive gases weren't a problem after 1893 when the gas leak was bricked in and then concreted over. Slides were always a problem, though, and were what really ended the line. Well, that and sinks, washouts, etc.

  3. hello. i saw a framed small poster for sale that said "return of the suntan special" kind of cool, wish i had bought it. i cant find it on google. have you seen anything like that? do you think its rare? thanks


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