Thursday, February 15, 2024

Sources: Evolving Terminology

Everything is not always as it seems, and this is certainly the case when researching history. From changing colloquialisms to evolving definitions to extinct words, there is a wide range of linguistic obstacles someone may run into in their research—even when the history is relatively recent and in English! Language changes and that is something every researcher needs to always keep in mind.

The Hotel Lyndon across North Santa Cruz Avenue from the South Pacific Coast Railway's passenger depot, ca 1905. The tracks of the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway pass directly to the right of the hotel. [Los Gatos Public Library – colorized using MyHeritage]

Researchers of railroads and Santa Cruz County history will encounter many different terms from the wide variety of sources that are available to them, and it is important that the definitions of these terms are clear. Some are relatively straightforward but used inconsistently, while others are very different than they appear. Thus, this article will help break down some of the common terms railroad and local historians may find in order to help them in their future research. New terms with evolving meanings will be added to this list as needed.


railway / railroad / road: Some terms are a matter of change over time, while others are a matter of specificity. Here, though, it is simply a matter of taste.

  • Railways developed in the United Kingdom in the early nineteenth century. They then were introduced in the United States, beginning on the East Coast. The term mostly stuck and even today, railway generally refers to British, Commonwealth, or East Coast companies. When it appears in the names of West Coast companies, an East Coaster or Brit is almost always to blame. It is often abbreviated as "RW" or "Rwy."
  • In contrast, the term railroad evolved mostly on the West Coast as a regional variant of the name and then spread back east. Early company registers and newspapers sometimes spelled the term "rail road" or "rail-road," but there is no functional or legal distinction between the terms and they have been interchangeable since the very beginning. It is usually abbreviated to "RR."
  • Frustrating in its simplicity, the term road is the oldest in relation to railroads and railways and can refer to either or any other vehicular thoroughfare. While few railroad companies neglected to include "rail" somewhere in their name, newspapers especially had no qualms about leaving off this pertinent detail, leaving many to confusion when reading primary sources. Road, importantly, can refer to railroads, railways, highways, backroads, or city streets.
Boulder Creek depot with people milling around, ca 1900. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using My Heritage]

stop / station / depot: There is a lot of confusion around these three terms and they are often used interchangeably. However, there are differences.

  • stop refers to any place that a train may stop, official or unofficial, regardless of the services offered at the location. Thus, a stop may include registered and unregistered flag-stops, freight stops including spurs and sidings, or former stations that still retain a small clientele.
  • A station on the other hand is an officially-registered stop that appears on a public timetable, an employee timetable, and/or in a station book. Station status does not confer any formal need for trains to stop at the location—that is determined by timetables and customer needs—but it recognizes a formal relationship between the railroad company and the stop, and in many places, a government recognition of the stop as well. This means that a railroad usually has to petition the state government to abandon a station, whereas this is not necessary for all types of stop.
  • A depot is a term that specifically refers to a structure at a stop (usually a station) where tickets can be sold to customers and/or freight can be transferred. Strictly speaking, a depot can exist where there is no longer a stop, as happened at the Santa Cruz Union Depot after 1940. Depots can be small or large, but generally feature a freight-storage and/or luggage-storage space and seats for passengers, when applicable. Smaller ticket offices and passenger shelters are not technically depots, but sometimes are included under this term. 
The trestle bridge over Shady Gulch, overlooking the California Powder Works, 1895. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

bridge / trestle / truss: Not all railroad bridges are trestles, not that the common person would know this from common parlance. The term trestle and bridge have become synonymous over the past century even though railroad engineers generally keep the terms separate, for good reason! In reality, there are a lot of types of railroad bridges, and many are of mixed type. Differentiating them is important to historians.

  • A bridge is the term at its broadest definition and means any raised span. It can cross a tiny gully or it can cross a wide river—either way, it is called a bridge. When in doubt, call a bridge a bridge.
  • A trestle, meanwhile, is a bridge constructed using bents and posts arranged under the roadbed in a repeating pattern. The bents and posts can be made of any material, such as steel or concrete, but all of the historic trestles in Santa Cruz County were made of wood. 
  • A truss is a different type of bridge that is usually prefabricated and later moved into place. They often appear as boxes or curved structures with triangular supports redistributing the weight across the superstructure. The right-of-way can either be built on top of the truss—a deck truss—or inside the truss—a through truss. Multiple trusses can also be linked together with piers sitting at anchor points between each span.

Types of truss bridges used in Santa Cruz County. (Derek R. Whaley)

Truss designs also vary heavily across the world. Three variants of the Warren truss-style of bridge dominated the river and creek crossings in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In addition, Howe, Pratt, and Lattice truss bridges could be found over specific spans. Truss bridges are usually named after their original designers and stand apart from each other by how the support beams are arranged. Other common types of bridges found in Santa Cruz County include wood and plate-girder ballast and open deck bridges, which were used heavily for short spans and in more recent years.

Santa Cruz County had many different types of railroad bridges to cross the rivers, creeks, gullies, and gulches, especially along the mountain branches. The following is a brief list of some of those found along the Santa Cruz to Los Gatos route:

  • Golf Course Drive: wood ballast deck
  • Shady / Powder Works Gulch (Highway 9): wood trestle, replaced by wood trestle with two open-deck plate girder spans
  • Coon Gulch / Inspiration Point: wood open-deck Howe truss, replaced by concrete arch half-bridge
  • Big Trees / Henry Cowell (San Lorenzo River): wood trestle with open-deck Warren truss, replaced with wood trestle with lattice through truss, replaced with steel through Warren truss atop one concrete pier with a short plate girder span
  • Mt. Hermon (Zayante Creek): deck plate girder bridge atop two concrete piers
  • Jackass Flats (Zayante Creek): open-deck Warren truss bridge atop two concrete piers with two plate girder spans
  • Los Gatos Creek (Creek Trail): open-deck Warren truss bridge, replaced with plate girder span atop two concrete piers
  • Forbes Mill spur (Los Gatos Creek): wood trestle
Union Traction streetcar no. 24 at the end of track on Woodrow Avenue, 1926. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

horsecar / streetcar / interurban / tramway / cablecar / incline railway: Santa Cruz County has featured a variety of conveyances that rely on rails and this has led to a lot of confusion over the years.
  • A horsecar or rather horse-drawn car is a form of railroad transport where a horse pulls a car or cars along a wood or metal rail. It is the earliest form of railroad and dates back several centuries before the creation of the first self-powered railroad. Santa Cruz County had three horsecar lines: the City Railroad, the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad, and the East Santa Cruz Street Railroad.
  • Streetcars are a more general term that can refer to horse-powered or self-powered railroad systems, though they more generally apply to "traction railroads," i.e., street railroads powered electrically from overhead lines. They are also sometimes called trolley systems in the United States. Santa Cruz County has had a number of traction lines, including the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park & Capitola Railroad, the Santa Cruz Electric Railroad, the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railroad, and the Union Traction Company.
  • Interurban lines rely on heavier-duty traction engines that can run longer distances, sometimes under their own power, though they usually include sections where overhead lines provide direct power. The cars are usually larger and they cater to both rural and urban passengers. Santa Cruz County only had one interurban, the Watsonville Transportation Company (later the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company), but Los Gatos also featured the more well-known interurban, the Peninsular Railway Company.
  • The term tramway has divergent meanings depending which continent you are on. In British Commonwealth countries, tramway almost always is interchangeable with "trolley" or "streetcar" system, referring to an urban or suburban passenger railway network. In the United States, it has a more limited meaning and usually applies to industries, especially logging. Tramways in this context refer to short tracks where freight can be wheeled from one destination to another, such as lumber from a mill to the lumber yard. Tramways can be quite long, especially if shuttling logs from the forest to a mill, but they are always directly associated with the operations of an industry.
  • Cablecars never graced Santa Cruz County—they are almost exclusive to San Francisco and a few other cities built upon rolling hills. Cablecars, also often called trolleys, are unique in that they get their motive power from underground cables that are always moving. Cablecars latch onto these cables to move and release the cable to stop. All of the cables are run from centralized hubs.
  • Incline railways are another special mode of transportation specific to steep hillsides. Essentially, a car is pulled up or down a hill with a cable attached to an engine located at the top of the incline. When the cable is released, the car descends, and when the cable is pulled, the car ascends. Santa Cruz County featured at least one true incline railroad in the form of the Molino Timber Company's incline, which lowered flatcars full of splitstuff down from China Ridge to alongside Aptos Creek during the mid-1910s. Other inclines related to logging may also have existed in the county, though evidence is scarce. The only remaining incline railway operating in Santa Cruz County today is the privately-owned car run by Shadowbrook Restaurant on Soquel Creek in Capitola.
The F. A. Kilburn docked at the Port Rogers Wharf in Watsonville, ca 1905. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using MyHeritage]

wharf / pier: A topic of great consternation among some, greater confusion among many, and little importance in the end, yet the question remains: what is the true difference between a pier and a wharf?
  • It must be stated that all of Santa Cruz County's structures for receiving ocean-going ships before 1904 were called a wharf regardless of any official terminology. And this is an important fact to understand. In the context of early California history, the term wharf is the word for pier—the terms are synonymous. Both are structures that jut into the ocean and both are built atop pilings. 
  • In nautical terms, wharves are often, though not necessarily, structures that parallel a shoreline allowing vessels to pull alongside the wharf to transfer cargo. Importantly for defining Santa Cruz's structures, wharves usually are wider and include warehouses or other industrial or commercial structures on them for storage and to conduct trade. Wharves are also usually designed to accept multiple large ships simultaneously. Using this definition, Santa Cruz County had six wharves: Powder Works Wharf, Soquel/Capitola Wharf, Spreckels/Aptos Wharf, Railroad Wharf, Port Rogers/Watsonville Wharf, and Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf
  • Piers, on the other hand, are often solitary structures that are meant simply to convey goods from a ship to the shore. They are frequently designed to only receive one vessel at a time, most often at the end, and they rarely have warehouses or commercial structures built atop them. Piers are also almost always narrower than wharves and are less likely to include railings and other structural features. This definition would therefore include the Cowell Wharf, Electric/Pleasure Pier, the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company's pier at Davenport, and the Seacliff Pier.

Local History

hotel: Modern people apply a certain respectability and status to the term hotel, but this need not apply to the term in the past. Derived from the French word "hôtel," which itself is the modern spelling of the Middle French "hostel," the true roots of the term hotel can be found. At its most basic essence, it means a guesthouse or shelter. Hotels in the United States, especially before about 1920, could be anything from a small boarding house with only a few rooms—akin to a bed and breakfast of today—to a quick and easy roadhouse atop a tavern—like today's motel—to a deluxe resort with gardens, ballrooms, and other amenities. Hotel applied to all of these types of businesses. An inconsistent differentiation sometimes named smaller hotels "houses," while rural hotels were often called a "farm" since their owners still maintained some agricultural or pastoral activities on the side.

Sam's Senate Saloon and "Wheelmen's Rest," on the Soquel–San Jose Road, ca 1900. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

saloon: Similar to hotels, saloons are a greatly misinterpreted thing before 1900. The term is also French and comes from "salon," which itself comes from the Old High German "sal," meaning "house" or "hall." And this is all some early saloons were: lounges or small public houses (pubs). Not all saloons served alcohol, or even food! In the 1800s, saloon meant the same thing that "salon" does today, so the term could refer to a beauty parlor for women or a barbershop. Parties could be held in a saloon since it could serve as a dance hall. Houses may feature a private saloon because it just referred to the lounge or reception area. It was only in the twentieth century, especially with the rise of the Western genre in literature and film, that the term saloon came to mean a tavern or bar.

Neptune Casino on a very busy summer day, 1904. Photo by Charles Leon Aydelotte. [San José Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

casino: Shifting from French to Italian, the word casino did not always refer to gambling. The word in its original language is the diminutive of "casa" and literally just means "little house" or "cottage." Italians once used the term to refer to their holiday homes, so casino evolved to refer to places of leisure. And leisurely people enjoy playing games. While not all games involve gambling, many do, so casino gradually became linked to gambling rooms and, ultimately, entire buildings focused on gambling. This transition was slow, and when the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was first built in the first decade of the twentieth century, casino still retained the broader definition of "place of pleasure," hence why the Casino Arcade below the Cocoanut Grove is still called that today.

Bathhouses on the Santa Cruz Beach, ca 1877 [Chico State – colorized using MyHeritage]

bathhouse: The bathhouse is another term that has evolved much over the past two centuries, and Santa Cruz has witnessed this evolution first hand. When the first bathhouses appeared on the beach, the term referred more accurately to bathing sheds or changing rooms. People would rent bathing costumes and then change in the bathing house before venturing onto the beach where they would enter the water and bathe in the surf or river. Modest women could even rent portable bathhouses, that would be rolled to the water's edge by a horse so that the women could leave directly from the house and enter the water. The term retained that meaning even as it added a second definition: "place where people go to bathe." By the mid-1870s, bathhouses began to add indoor, heated saltwater and freshwater "baths," where people could bathe without risking injury from the surf. As these became deeper, people could enjoy indoor plunge bathing, which now refers to simply swimming in a standard swimming pool. All of the terms related to bathhouses were replaced over the decades, though the principals survive to this day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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