Thursday, February 25, 2021

Streetcars: Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway

California was undergoing a growth period at the turn of the nineteenth century and electric streetcar lines helped spread people further and further out into suburbia. In Santa Cruz, the successful Santa Cruz Electric Railroad meandered through downtown, out to the beach, and up to Mission Hill and the West Side. However, the old East Santa Cruz Railroad, a horsecar line built a decade earlier, still was the only service available to people on the East Side, and no attemp t had yet been made to connect Santa Cruz to Capitola, Aptos, and Watsonville by a streetcar network of any type.

Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway streetcar at Twin Lakes on its way to Opal above Capitola, December 29, 1903. [Charles Smallwood Collection, University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Things were changing in 1902, though. Gilroy, Salinas, and Monterey were all looking to add or expand electric streetcar service under the guidance of R. C. P. Smith and John M. Gardiner. They were interested in expanding to Santa Cruz and Watsonville, too, but local businessman Fred W. Swanton acted first. The principal financier for the Santa Cruz Electric Light and Power Company, Swanton had quietly purchased a controlling interest in the East Santa Cruz Railroad and used it as leverage when negotiating with Smith and Gardiner. On May 5, Swanton sold his power company to Smith and Gardiner with part of the deal involving the expansion of streetcar service throughout the county.

A former East Santa Cruz Railroad horsecar converted into a passenger waiting shelter at Atlantic Avenue near Wood's Lagoon, ca 1920s. [Preston Sawyer Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Although nothing else had been revealed yet, surveyors began defining a route between Twin Lakes and Capitola in August. Finally, on September 11, 1902, the Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway Company was incorporated, with a capital stock of $350,000 and pledges of an additional $100,000 from the streetcar line's financial backers, among whom were Smith and Gardiner of Los Angeles, Martin V. McQuigg and O. Z. Hubbell of Ontario, Henry Willey of Santa Cruz, and Warren R. Porter of Watsonville.  The goal of the company reflected a wider dream of connecting a narrow-gauge electric railroad line down the coast from San Francisco to Salinas and beyond. Therefore, the charter included transport by steam, electricity, or any other motive power, and permission to run ships.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville conductor and motorman standing beside their streetcar, with two boys seated at right, ca 1903. [Santa Cruz Public Library – colorized using DeOldify]
While the surveyors finished their work, the company began acquiring necessary permissions from the city government and purchasing easements through properties on the East Side. In December, the company received permission for a short line from Front Street to Center Street and then south to the Santa Cruz Union Depot in order to meet with arriving Southern Pacific Railroad and South Pacific Coast Railway trains. In January 1903, it received permission to electrify the East Santa Cruz Railroad. And on February 16, Swanton finally convinced city operators to give the company permission for a track adjacent to the Southern Pacific tracks to the Plunge at the Main Beach. This effectively halved the benefits of the Santa Cruz Electric Railroad's line, which now only claimed exclusivity of service on the West Side with both companies sharing beachfront patronage.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcar at Twin Lakes, ca 1903. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Grading of the line began in early February 1903 with multiple teams working to both improve the old horsecar line's infrastructure and expand the track beyond Twin Lakes. Besides installing heavier rail and new crossties, much of the route required new bridges. culverts, cuts, and fills. Construction on the section across Twin Lakes Beach and up the hillside to East Cliff Road was especially difficult. Meanwhile, the streetcar company also looked at future prospects. An obvious candidate was a short branch line to the top of Ocean Street at the I.O.O.F. cemetery, which they received permission to build on February 25. The next target was the Lower Plaza, where the company hoped to leach even more profit from the suddenly struggling Santa Cruz Electric Railway. This proposal was not received as graciously.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcar passing the Southern Pacific Railroad station at Seabright, with the Seabright Hotel next door, ca 1905. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
The owners of the older streetcar line, primarily I. Philip Smith and former district judge James Harvey Logan, had spent years developing their streetcar line into the successful service it was in 1903. Despite the threat of the new line to its beach services, it still held a monopoly at the Lower Plaza and on the West Side, two things it did not want to give up. And people genuinely liked Smith, Logan, and the company in general. By March, the fight between the two companies had become such that the local newspapers published letters from angry citizens almost daily, most in favor of the older line. A hearing on April 6 granted the new streetcar company permission to build a slightly modified route to the Lower Plaza, but nothing more was accomplished at the time. For the next three months, lawsuit after lawsuit attempted to block the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway from extending track down Pacific Avenue to the Lower Plaza, but all these attempts failed and the Santa Cruz Electric shifted to improving service to undermine its rival's efforts.

Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville car #1 at the original end-of-track at the Lower Plaza, with the Santa Cruz Electric Railway's streetcar line at right, ca 1903. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]
Construction continued on the line throughout 1903 with the branch from the Lower Plaza to the beach opening in June and the separate branch along the old East Santa Cruz Railroad line and its extension to Opal Cliffs operating by July 25. Meanwhile, rolling stock orders had been placed in April and the first cars were completed in mid-June including two open bench cars, five combination cars, and a parlor car. Full service along the completed branches began on June 28. On July 17, the first Capitola car ran up Pacific Avenue on track that the Santa Cruz City Council had deemed joint use, despite protests from the Santa Cruz Electric which had built and maintained the track.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcar outside the Tent City Office at the Santa Cruz Main Beach, ca 1904. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
In January 1904, the company finally relocated to new offices on Soquel Avenue downtown, where they setup a waiting room beside the main track to Capitola. At the beach, the track was extended slightly to curve into the new Neptune Casino complex, which opened in June, allowing direct access between downtown, the Union Depot, and the casino without any need for transfers or hikes through the dirt. Work on the extension to Capitola finally neared completion in early 1904 once property disputes were resolved and equipment was moved into place to carve a path down to Camp Capitola from Opal Cliffs high above. Actual grading began in April while the route was only clear for the laying of rails in May after shifting several buildings from their foundations.

The Neptune Casino at the Main Beach with Santa Cruz Electric streetcars on the left track and Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcars at the far right track in the distance, 1904. [Preston Sawyer Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Ironically, the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway never finished its planned route to Capitola and never started its route to Watsonville. On September 2, 1904, as track layers were nearing completion of the line into Capitola, the Union Traction Company was formed by the board of directors of both the Santa Cruz Electric Railroad and the Capitola line. Its sole purpose was to consolidate the two electric streetcar companies into one unified operation. The official announcement of the merger came on October 4, the same day that regular service began from Santa Cruz to Capitola. As the larger and better-funded system, the Capitola management dominated the board with newcomers F. S. Granger and E. A. Cole taking over daily management of operations.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway streetcar passing over the new bridge into Capitola, ca 1905. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Over the next two years, old board members began to drop out and sell their shares as the old Capitola line began to lose its independent identity. The first casualty was the beachfront trackage, which was reduced back to a single streetcar track while the Capitola branch went back to operating from the beginning of Soquel Avenue. A brief leasing of the Union Traction Company to the Ocean Shore Railway in early 1906 came to nothing once the San Francisco Earthquake severely curtailed the company's expansion plans. Meanwhile, any involvement Swanton still retained in the company, including in plans to build a short-cut bridge over the San Lorenzo River to connect the streetcar tracks between the beach and Seabright, fizzled when his casino went up in flames in June 1906.

A Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonvile liveried streetcar outside the Hotel Capitola, ca 1905. [Randolph Brandt Collection, UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
The purchase of Union Traction by John Martin of the Coast Counties Power Company (PG&E) on July 8, 1906, likely marked the corporate end for the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway. Throughout 1907, all of the narrow-gauge track was torn out and replaced with standard-gauge trackage, while a new electrical plant was installed and new rolling stock purchased to replace the smaller-gauged stock. These were the last vestiges of the Capitola line other than the rights-of-way.

Citations & Credits:

  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Sources: Photographs

Photography has been around for as long as California has been a U.S. state. The first commercial photographs arrived in 1839 under the guidance of Louis Daguerre, and the processes quickly evolved into more streamlined, reproducible, and higher quality images. By the time the first railroad infrastructure was built in Santa Cruz County in 1874, photography had gone mainstream and several studios had popped up throughout the county. While fairly stationary photograph was still required into the 1890s, the shutter speeds had increased enough that scenes depicting action were not out of the question. Thus, photographs of the age of railroads in Santa Cruz County can be quite helpful in answering research questions, investigating mysteries, and generally giving historians a better idea of the world people lived in at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Felton Covered Bridge and approach with the Old Felton spur in the center, ca 1930, overlaid onto a modern photograph taken at the same location. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections, and Google Street View]

The historical community has always had a mixed relationship with photographs. They are absolutely essential tools for research but their flaws sometimes far outweigh their benefits. But one thing that photographs, especially candid photos, can show is history as it once was. Time machines do not exist, at least not yet, so there is no way to actually go back to see the past today. Historical documents and newspapers can paint a picture of how things were, but they leave much unsaid. Similarly, artifacts can be helpful in showing construction techniques and how things were done, but they often are accompanied with much speculation. Photographs, therefore, are unique in showing a specific snapshot in time. And these snapshots do not just show what the photographer wants the viewer to see, but also everything around it and things outside their control. Despite an eternal uncertainty regarding the viability of using photographs in historical research, they are undeniably a tool that every historian of the Modern era must consider in their research. 

Ways of using this source:

Illustrative Photographs

The primary reason historians and any researcher uses photographs in their work is to highlight or emphasize a point. For example, you are writing a biography of Frederick A. Hihn, so you include a photograph or lithograph (a reproduction of a photograph on a plate so it can be used in a printing press) of him at the side of the page. Often, this type of use isn't even accompanied with a photo caption because it is so straightforward. Illustrative photographs are important for historians to include to better immerse readers and it also makes books more saleable since people always like photographs. Many local history books these days, namely Arcadia Publishing's various offerings, are almost entirely composed of illustrative photographs with the captions telling the history in snippets—an inversion of the traditional way of using photographs in historical works.

Watsonville Depot from Beach Road, ca 1895. Note the multiple sidings, the wagon train at right, and the smokestacks of the Western Beet Sugar Company in the distance at left. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]

Comparative Photographs

Another relatively straightforward means of illustrating a point is to use two photographs that show substantially the same scene but set years apart. Again, this usage is often accompanied with little more than the dates of the two photographs and maybe a description of some key changes. But this is where it begins to veer into historical analysis territory. Where a single photograph can only reveal what is in it, two photographs of the same thing can be used to demonstrate changes. This can be very important, as well, if you are trying to date when a change happened and you have access to two photographs set only a few years apart that depict said change. Comparison photographs can also be used to show how industries or locations have changed from one type to another, such as the shift at a business from using freight trains to truck, or of a place from a bustling town to a rural community. Arcadia Publishing has also begun capitalizing on people's love of the before and after with its Then & Now series, again focusing on the photographs foremost and using the captions to explain the history.

Photograph taken at almost the exact same location on Beach Road looking toward Watsonville Depot, 2017. [Derek R. Whaley]

Stylized Photographs

One domain of photograph that all historians need to be wary of are overly stylized photographs, especially those that were made for mass market consumption. The least offensive of these are stereographs. Stereographs were all the rage in the 1870s and 1880s before being replaced with colorized postcards. Some streographs are even colorized! The two images that make up a stereograph are not identical, but they depict the same exact moment since the pair of cameras snapped at the same time. That being said, these photographs are usually a low resolution and of lower quality than other similar photographs because of how they were produced. The differences between the photos in a pair, though, can be telling. The quarter inch offset sometimes reveals small details not present in the other photo, so these must be inspected closely. Also, the three dimensional aspect of the photograph should not be entirely discounted—it can sometimes bring out details that you may otherwise not have noticed and the added depth, while not perfect, occasionally reveals hidden secrets.

Stereograph of the San Lorenzo Valley flume, ca 1878, showing differences between photos. [Public Domain]

Stereographs shifted to colorized photographs, especially postcards, in the late 1880s and remained in vogue through the 1910s. Colorizing has always had some controversy about it since it is a biased technique. Until recently, all colorized photographs were done by hand, with artists choosing which shades to color specific parts of the photograph before the template was sent to a printer for mass production. And in almost all cases, the colorizer was not present to actually witness the scene they are colorizing, which means the colors are often arbitrary and invented. You can see this in postcards of the Sea Beach Hotel or the Santa Cruz Union Depot, which sport a variety of colors depending on the colorizer. Modern computer colorizing can be better in some respects in that it bases its algorithms on sets of tens of thousands of photographs in an attempt to shade areas with the correct colors based on the implied colors present in the photographs. But in both cases, the result is imprecise.

Colorized postcard of the Garfield Park Tabernacle revealing an old horsecar chassis converted into a streetcar shelterr at the top of Garfield (Woodrow) Avenue, ca 1905. [Public Domain]

Where colorizing can be helpful for local historians is what it can sometimes reveal. Normal monochrome photographs from the three decades either side of 1900 were prone to fading and yellowing, which led to a loss of definition. Commercial grade postcards in general survive better and colorized postcards even more so. Thus, colorized photographs can sometimes make certain details pop out where otherwise you may overlook them. The reverse of this is that colorizing can also downplay or obscure details that the colorizer found less interesting. Computer colorizing does not have this latter bias, however, so it has a tendency to make features, especially natural features such as the sky, trees, and bodies of water, really become more defined.

Stylized postcard of the Sea Beach Hotel on fire, modifying an existing photograph from 1904 with additional people added and artificial flames. Original photograph below. [Public Domain]

The biggest problem with using commercial photographs of any type, including stereographs, postcards, or even modern commercial photograph, is their tendency to be altered. Photographs can always be cropped to focus on a specific feature, but the entire purpose of commercial photographs is to sell prints and postcards so their printers focus very specifically on what they find important in the image. This often means that potentially interesting details are cut-off on the edges, or even cropped out and replaced with something else. In some cases, details are added, such as a train emerging from the tunnel at Laurel or a nighttime fire at the Sea Beach Hotel. It is a good idea to always consider the intended market of the photographs. On rare occasions, this can actually reveal its own useful historical facts. In any case, the use in historical research of any commercial photograph needs to be done with caution, especially when using colorized postcards.

Stylized photograph of the Laurel-Glenwood Tunnel (Tunnel #3) showing a hand-drawn train emerging at an odd angle, ca 1910. Original photograph by George Besaw. [Ken Lorenzen]

Photographs as subjects of in-depth analysis

In the end, though, photographs can be an excellent research tool when considered properly. They can reveal small details that other primary sources may have left out and they can help complete narratives that are missing vital information. For example, it is well known that the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 severely damaged the South Pacific Coast Railway's line through the Santa Cruz Mountains. But what is less well known is that an early winter storm in January 1909 damaged a lot of the recently-completed repair work, leading to a several months delay. Details from newspapers and first person accounts attest to this fact, but it is in the photographs that the real extent of the damage can be seen. And these photographs are not just illustrative, although they do accomplish that goal as well. Photographs taken around Laurel and Edric reveal massive sinks and slide activity, but they also reveal dual-gauged tracks along the line, as well as a previously unknown siding.

Southern Pacific right-of-way survey photograph of trackage in the Los Gatos area, showing a disused spur, February 12, 1930. [Los Gatos Public Library]

Similar railroad maintenance photographs accomplished this elsewhere, as well. Right-of-way survey photographs taken by Southern Pacific along a three-mile-long section of track through Los Gatos shows the full extent of the existing trackage in 1928, including the lack of freight spurs in the area and the disuse of many of the sidings. Photos taken of the route through the mountains in 1940 shows the extent of the damage to the line, with captions that accurately though concisely describe the locations and conditions. These candid, non-commercial photographs are able to show a degree of information not available elsewhere and not likely to be printed in any newspaper or published source.

Early postcard of Brookdale showing the station with a siding and the Reed's Spur in the bushes in the center, ca 1905. Note extra wide crossties suggesting the narrow gauge tracks would be upgraded soon to standard gauge. [George Pepper]

Despite the unreliability of postcards, they too can sometimes yield surprising things. The Brookdale area was heavily photographed for postcards and this has brought to light at least two photographs of the Clear Creek railroad bridge, several of the bridge to Huckleberry Island, and even one of the bridge north of the island. This has allowed me to identify the types of railroad bridges built in the area, at least after they were upgraded to standard gauge. Postcards and other contemporary photographs have also revealed the longevity of the Reed's Spur that once catered to timber interests at Brookdale before the location became a vacation destination. Some of this material could be derived from maps, charts, and plans of the Brookdale area as well, but the photographs serve as pieces of these puzzles rather than additions to them.

Photograph showing a railroad bridge crossing over railroad tracks, ca 1892. The upper bridge has subsequently been identified as the Loma Prieta Branch mainline. The track below is a private logging spur heading up a gulch. Aptos Creek itself is at the bottom of the hillside in the distance (off camera). [Ronnie Trubek]

More excitingly, though, is when photographs reveal features that seem bazaar or difficult to envision. Just north of the Boulder Creek yard, the Dougherty Extension Railroad passed over Boulder Creek, the San Lorenzo River, and Bear Creek in rapid succession and this arrangement has only completely been captured on maps. However, a sprawling panoramic photograph of Boulder Creek taken from a hill to the east of town shows the full extent of the freight yard there and, when observed closely, reveals the design of the first of these bridges at the extreme right corner. Similarly, a mysterious photograph taken in the Forest of Nisene Marks in the early 1890s shows a railroad bridge passing over railroad tracks, something that was unprecedented anywhere in the county except far to the north decades later. During subsequent research, however, I discovered that a single two-level track did exist in a location along Aptos Creek, which fit the image perfectly. Sometimes the fact comes before the photographic evidence, and sometimes the photograph precedes the evidence.

Mysterious structure on a rock beside narrow-gauge railroad tracks in a forest. Likely the McGaffigan family's home north of Boulder Creek, ca 1890s. [UC Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections]

The more frustrating part of using photographs as research tools is when things still are left unanswered. Mysterious, unidentified or misidentified photographs are the most annoying. For example, this photograph shows a strange fortress-like home beside railroad tracks, but the details of the tracks are too vague and the lack of a caption means that nothing can be known for certain. A secondary source describes a similar structure beside the Dougherty Extension Railroad's tracks at McGaffigan's Switch, but is this Patrick McGaffigan's home? Probably, but it can't be known with certainty and it may not even be a photo of Santa Cruz County! A similar problem occurred recently with several photographs sent to me of railroad construction in Los Gatos Creek, where the surrounding topography definitely did not correlate to what I knew of the area. Thus captions and assumptions must be tested and questioned repeatedly when using photographs for evidence.

Four photographs showing the evolution of Lower Pacific Avenue from ca 1880 to ca 1935. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

Where photographs shine the most as a research tool is actually in documenting change, so as comparative photographs. But rather than posting both photographs for the reader to do the comparisons, the researcher does the comparisons and summarizes the results. For some locations such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, or the Union Depot, or the freight spurs in Watsonville, these comparisons can include dozens of photographs spanning decades and incorporate maps, charts, and other material as well to cross reference information. For example, there are enough photographs of Pacific Avenue just before it curves around Beach Hill to demonstrate a long progression of development from the late 1870s, when the first horsecar line was installed, to the 1940s, when the area finally saw permanent commercial development. With these, you can see the addition of power lines, the upgrading of the horsecar to a single track streetcar line, the widening of the road, the addition of two tracks, the construction of businesses along the road, etc. Some of these details would have been included in newspapers and county records, among other places, but the visual progression is just as useful, so long as the dates of the photographs can be properly assessed. Thus photographs can be used just like any other source when researching, but their importance must be weighed accordingly. 

Downsides and problems with this source:

Most of the major downsides of using photographs are mentioned above, but there are a few more general ones that must be taken into account. First and foremost, a photograph does not tell a story. A lot of people think it does, but it doesn't. Not without outside context, at least. Sometimes a caption on the back of the photograph can tell the story, but that's the only exception. Everything else in a photograph must be drawn from other knowledge, that can also be flawed. If you see a photograph of Walt Disney and Billy Jones meeting beside a miniature locomotive at the Jones Ranch in the early 1950s, you are taking for granted the fact that a) you know what Walt Disney and Billy Jones look like, b) you can identify this as a specific type of rolling stock in the image, c) you know this is the Jones Ranch, and d) you know the approximate year that the two men met at the ranch. Those are a lot of details and any one of them could be wrong, either due to a lapse in memory or because of an incorrect source. Images can help clarify or correct facts but they can't reveal the initial facts. They are always secondary sources in that respect—another type of source needs to be used to fully trust what you are seeing.

Billy Jones and Walt Disney at the Jones Family Ranch, early 1950s. [Billy Jones Family]

Second and related to the first, you can't trust everything you see in a photograph. As mentioned above, photos can be altered and photographic techniques can be used to give image unrealistic depth, color, or angles. Even the captions written on the fronts of postcards can't be trusted and, in fact, are often the least trustworthy part of a postcard. But handwritten captions and postmarks can also be incorrect or not accurately reflect the intent or age of the photo. And geography is not always clear in photographs, so do not assume directions or elevations or ridge lines in scenic images without cross verifying with other images and topographic maps, when necessary. When relying on a photograph as your primary evidence for something, be extra weary for anything out of the ordinary and do not be afraid to acknowledge uncertainty.

Photograph of the C. H. Squire general store at Wrights,  1925. [Public Domain]

Lastly, there is the constant problem of copyright. As a general disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and the following information should all be taken as non-legal advice. If you have specific questions about copyright law, seek a lawyer. Generally speaking however, ownership of copyrights is often difficult to determine and even harder to enforce in the United States. Any photograph published before January 1, 1926 anywhere in the world is considered in the public domain in the U.S. That means that if you find the photo online in a substantively unaltered state (scanned, photocopied, or digitally touched-up images don't count as altered) and you can prove that it was produced before 1926, then you can use it free of charge, although attribution is appreciated. Things get more complicated from here. If it was produced between 1926 and 1977 and the copyright was not renewed—which in most case it will not have been—then it is also public domain. After 1977, the odds are much higher that the photograph is not in the public domain, although there is still a good chance even up to 1989 that it could be. For images that aren't in the public domain, the copyright is usually upheld for 120 years from the date of creation, 95 years after the first publication, or 70 years after the death of the author, all dependent on the status of who owns the copyright. The earliest date that any of these types of images can enter the public domain is 2047.

Nothing to see here. Just a few Italian fishermen on the Railroad Wharf transferring their catch from their boat, ca 1905. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

The onus is on the historian or user of the photos to conduct due diligence in order to determine the copyright status before using a photograph. This may involve reaching out to the owner, contacting the publisher, or doing a comprehensive search to determine either. The key is that if you do not do due diligence and the copyright holder takes issue, then you are liable. This can especially be problematic when you are given collections or given permission to use images from someone's collection, since they also may not own the photographs or have a right to distribute them freely. The benefit of post images online is that they can be taken down relatively easily—published images are not so easy. Also, copyright suits over image infringements have been rare and usually settled out of court, so don't let potential copyright violations haunt your dreams. As long as you are careful and cautious in your usage, you should be fine.

Local History Resources:

  • Library of Congress (Online) – A nationwide mixed media collection with a limited selection of images from Santa Cruz County and its surroundings.
  • Calisphere (Online) – A massive mixed media repository that covers all aspect of California history.
  • Sources material from University of California databases, as well as other state repositories.
  • Online Archive of California (OAC) (Online) – A massive mixed media repository that covers all aspect of California history. Sourced primarily from private collections and smaller institutions from throughout the state.
  • California State Library (Online) – A massive mixed media collection that covers all aspects of California history, politics, and culture.
  • California State Archives (Partially online) – A massive mixed media collection that covers all aspects of California history, politics, and culture.
  • California State Railroad Museum – No online database. A massive mixed media collection that covers all aspects of railroading in California and the neighboring states.
  • Pacific Coast Narrow Gauge (Online) – A small database of photographs and information relating to California and West Coast narrow-gauge railroads.
Santa Cruz County:
  • Santa Cruz Public Libraries (Online) – A somewhat random collection of local images, most derived from donated collections with some public domain material mixed in.
  • UC Santa Cruz Legacy Digital Collections (Online) – A massive mixed media collection from throughout the history of Santa Cruz County, with a strong emphasis on the history of the university and the City of Santa Cruz.
  • Soquel Pioneers (Online) – This small website contains a collection of historical photographs related specifically to Soquel and a little bit of Capitola.
  • Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – No online database. The museum holds an extensive collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum's archives in Santa Cruz. Booking recommended.
  • Capitola Museum – No online database. The museum holds a modest collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum in Capitola. Booking required.
  • Pajaro Valley Agricultural History Project – No online database. The project holds a modest collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum in Watsonville. Booking required.
  • Pajaro Valley Historical Association – No online database. The museum holds an extensive collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum's archives in Watsonville. Booking recommended.
  • San Lorenzo Valley Museum – No online database. The museum holds an extensive collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum's archives in Boulder Creek. Booking required.
Santa Clara County:
  • History Los Gatos (Online) – A comprehensive collection of photographs and other material aggregated primarily from the New Museum of Los Gatos (NuMu) and the Los Gatos Library.
  • History San José (Online) – A comprehensive collection of photographs and other material aggregated primarily from private donations over many decades.
  • Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History – The local history wing of San José State University responsible for collecting material related to Santa Clara County history and its surrounding regions, as well as more general California history. Bookings required.
  • Gilroy Historical Society – Small online database. The museum holds a modest collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum in Gilroy. Booking recommended.
Monterey and San Benito Counties:
  • Monterey County Free Libraries (Online) – A modest mixed media collection of local images, with many derived from private donations over many decades. The actual libraries' archives are located in Marina. Booking recommended.
  • San Benito County Historical Society – No online database. The museum holds an extensive collection of photographs that can be browsed at the museum's archives in Hollister. Booking recommended.
This list will be expanded as more sources of photographs become available to the public.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Railroads: Valencia Creek Railroad

Santa Cruz County hosted several private railroad lines that were built economically in order to achieve a specific goal and them promptly disappeared out of memory. History books have afforded these railroads little room and even contemporary photographers found them less than inspiring, leaving a dearth of photographic evidence. Thus, little is known about Frederick A. Hihn's narrow-gauge railroad line that once meandered along the east branch of Valencia Creek except what historians Rick Hamman and Ronald G. Powell have revealed in their investigations.

The Betsy Jane with passengers on a flatcar beside the Valencia Mill's pond, August 14, 1891. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Unlike the nearby Loma Prieta Company's mill on Aptos Creek, which had been years in the making by the time it finally opened in June 1884, Hihn's milling operations in the Aptos area, which began in May 1883, developed more gradually. Both companies harvested timber from properties in Rancho Soquel Augmentation, with Hihn personally owning thousands of acres throughout the former Mexican rancho. But whereas the Loma Prieta mill was located within the Augmentation and hauled processed lumber out via a standard-gauge Southern Pacific Railroad branch (initially the wholly-owned subsidiary Loma Prieta Railroad), Hihn situated his first mill at the junction of Trout Creek and Valencia Creek just outside of Aptos on land he purchased from the Bernal family. He used wagons and skid roads to haul uncut logs 1.5 miles from the Augmentation to the mill for processing. It was an inefficient system to say the least.

Sanborn map showing Aptos with Hihn's 'Aptos Milling Company' lumber yard sprawling behind the main commercial block, May 1892. [Library of Congress]

Hihn's mill in Trout Gulch had a 30,000 board foot per day capacity, which was considerable for the time, though competitive with the Loma Prieta mill. Everything produced at the mill was shipped via the newly standard-gauged Santa Cruz Railroad, now a Southern Pacific subsidiary. And since Hihn owned much of downtown Aptos, he ensured that he had prime real estate for his lumber yard on the backlot adjacent to Aptos Depot and behind the Bay View Hotel. Delays on the construction of the Loma Prieta Railroad meant that one of Hihn's first contracts was to provide lumber on behalf of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company until the latter could fire up its mills. Nonetheless, the problem of hauling large redwood logs on skid roads and wagons down the grade from the Augmentation to the mill was ultimately untenable. By the end of the second season, Hihn realized that a solution needed to be found to his transportation issues, but it took several years to fully address.

Lumber crew posing on the railroad grade near the Valencia Creek mill, late 1880s. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

For two summer seasons, Hihn's lumber crews harvested the timber up Trout Gulch in the Augmentation using the system explained above. In late 1884, however, he decided to abandon the remaining timber near the head of the creek and relocate his mill to the confluence of Valencia Creek and Cox Creek located on the southern boundary of the Augmentation. To the east of the mill, he established a tiny hamlet he named Valencia where workers with families and others could live. Meanwhile, beside the mill, more workers cottages and dormitories sprang up for unmarried men and between the two locations, several other facilities eventually were erected including a school, general store, and community hall that doubled as a church on occasion. With the mill now three miles closer to the timber, lumbermen did not have to haul the logs so far and wagons could cart full loads of lumber the rest of the way to the lumber yard in Aptos. Yet this new arrangement did not greatly increase efficiency and the Loma Prieta mill still had an output substantially higher despite the two mills being similar in maximum capacity.

A transloading platform along Valencia Creek where a skid road met with the Valencia Creek Railroad's grade for loading logs onto flatcars, 1889. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

For two seasons, Hihn allowed this reduced output to persist, but he knew it wouldn't work as a long term solution. When the mill was first moved, the hills around Valencia were still being actively harvested, but by the end of 1885, timber crews had moved further up Valencia Creek, away from the mill, meaning that they were once again dragging logs ever longer distances. This meant a lower return for Hihn since either fewer trees could be cut or more lumbermen were required. Meanwhile, the Loma Prieta company was building railroad spurs up onto the hills above its mill at Monte Vista, quickly hauling the felled trees to the mill for processing. At this point, the two mills were almost incomparable in output due to the restrictions impacting the Valencia operation.

Chinese crew carving out the Valencia Creek grade, 1886. [Aptos Museum – Colorized using DeOldify]

Hihn changed tact after the 1885 season ended and finally decided to invest some hard cash into his Valencia Creek milling operations. He decided to build a railroad, but a mule- and horse-drawn line. During the late winter and early spring, while fellers were in the forest cutting trees, Chinese work crews were brought on to grade a 2.76-mile-long narrow-gauge railroad line from Aptos Depot to the mill. Roughly three-quarters of the line was along a level grade, running either above the creek or almost in the creek bed, which had a controlled flow due to the millpond and its requisite dam. Not far from the mill, a 3,400-feet-long stretch of track ran at a relatively steep grade of 3% downhill, but gravity could take cars through this section and empty returning cars found little trouble surmounting this grade. Beyond the mill, the track initially was extended a mile but was gradually extended further over subsequent years in order to reach ever more distant timber tracts.

Mules hauling flatcars with logs to the millpond at the Valencia Creek mill, ca 1886. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]
A mule team hauling small logs around the last turn before the pond of Valencia Creek mill, ca 1886. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

The summer of 1886 proved to be a bonanza year for Hihn and his Valencia Creek mill. With the increased efficiency of the mule-driven railroad line, the mill was able to increase daily capacity to 40,000 board feet. This still lagged behind the Loma Prieta mill, but it confirmed Hihn's suspicions that his biggest problem was transportation. As a result of the boom, more jobs were made available and the town of Valencia began to bustle. Things were finally looking up for Valencia. So naturally, a fire destroyed it all. On November 28, the mill burned to the ground but most of the logs and lumber survived. Fires were no uncommon occurrence in lumber mills, but this was Hihn's first fire. But it happened at a perfect time. Operations were wrapping up for the year so the loss was less than it could have been. And Hihn was a generally optimistic man, so he saw the task of rebuilding as an opportunity for expansion and improvement.

Betsy Jane hauling flatcars with logs to the millpond at the Valencia Creek mill, ca 1890. [Aptos Museum]

In late winter 1887, construction began on the new mill, but Hihn no longer wanted to lag behind the Loma Prieta operation. So he built a much larger mill capable of producing 70,000 board feet of lumber per day. Beside it, he erected a box factory and planing mill, meaning that a wider range of products could be shipped finished directly from the mill. But with these new products, more than a simple mule-led railroad were required: Hihn needed steam. He upgraded the trackage of the four mile railroad and purchased a saddleback locomotive that he named Betsy Jane after the first locomotive that he brought into the county a decade earlier. Along with the locomotive came a new set of flatcars, one of which was upgraded with seats and railings for passengers to ferry workers, their families, and tourists up to Valencia and the mill. All of these entered full operations by July 1887.

Excerpt from the Hatch Map of Santa Cruz County, 1889, showing the route of the Valencia Creek Railroad (right), compared to the Loma Prieta Branch at the same time (left). [Aptos Museum] 

This enlargement of the mill and upgrading of the railroad line marked the peak of railroading in the Valencia Creek basin. For the next six years, from the summer of 1887 through the summer of 1892, lumber crews tore down nearly every old growth redwood tree that they could find and access on the hills either side of Valencia Creek. These trees were dragged to the railroad grade and then hauled on flatcars led by horses, mules, or the Betsy Jane to the millpond, where they were processed into lumber, boxes, and other wood products and shipped via train to Aptos, where the Aptos Milling Company, as it was popularly (though inaccurately) named maintained its yard. Regular freight trains passing through Aptos would pick up prepared standard-gauge flatcars of lumber and products from the yard for shipment to locations across California and beyond.

The Valencia Creek mill with high piles of lumber beside several railroad spurs, ca 1889. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]
The Valencia Creek mill during its peak years, ca 1890. [Aptos Museum – coloried using DeOldify]

With the improvements to the mill, Hihn could also finally compete with the Loma Prieta mill, which had just reached new tracts of timber in the vicinity of Five Finger Falls far up Aptos Creek. The mill crews, who often interacted on weekends and on days off in downtown Aptos, began a fierce production competition in the summer of 1888. Despite the set capacities of the mills, these could be stretched if workers were prepared in advance and the machinery was well tended to. The extent of this became clear on July 30, 1887, when the Loma Prieta crew cut 93,000 board feet in a day. The next year on August 15, Hihn's crew doubled its maximum capacity and cut 143,000 board feet. Loma Prieta would not be beat, though, and cut 181,000 board feet on October 8, and that in less than seven hours! This race could not be sustained both because of available logs to cut and the amount of energy it took to cut them. Loma Prieta set the state record for most lumber cut in one day, which it held for several years.

Tourists standing on logs on a flatcar beside the millpond, with the Valencia Creek mill in the background, 1888. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The Valencia Creek mill continued to operate until the autumn of 1892, when the major machinery was removed and relocated to Gold Gulch south of Felton. While some crew remained behind to gather the remaining split stuff and cut the few remaining trees, the operation was largely considered to be at an end. With the move to Gold Gulch went the Betsy Jane, which thereby left the Valencia Creek Railroad all but abandoned except for some light hauling by horses and mules. Many of the workers remained behind, either to work for the Loma Prieta company or to raise families on tracts sold to them at low rates by Hihn within the former timber tracts. Much of the land was converted into apple orchards, and the railroad tracks remained behind for some years to help former employees and new settlers transport equipment and building materials into the relatively isolated Valencia Creek backcountry. The town of Valencia persisted but never thrived over the next two decades. A post office was established there in 1893 but shut down in 1909. The school remained open until around 1931.

Workers cottages above the Valencia Creek mill at a transloading site, with mules leading a train of logs beside empty flatcars, ca 1886. [Aptos Museum – colorized using DeOldify]

Nothing is left of the Valencia Creek Railroad today except some parts of the right-of-way that have been repurposed for private driveways. Even the precise route is unknown, although much of it ran just above the creek-bed and, therefore, has suffered landslides and sinks. The former apple barns that sat beside the railroad tracks in later years remain in Aptos but have been moved from their original site, where they hosted an antique mall for many decades.

Citations & Credits:

  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Powell, Ronald G. The Reign of the Lumber Barons: Part Two of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Freight Stops: Ocean Shore Maintenance Yard

The existence of the Ocean Shore Railway in Santa Cruz County was in hindsight such a fleeting thing that it is often forgotten how important the project once was to the county. From anticipated electrification of the entire system to a substantial pier at the Main Beach to a massive viaduct over the Southern Pacific Railroad's yards to extensions of the route north to San Francisco and south to Fresno and beyond, the company had a grand vision and aspirations to something great. And while all of those dreams vanished in the fires of the 1906 Earthquake and the financial crises that followed, the railroad did successfully build some infrastructure in the county. The heart of that infrastructure was the company's maintenance yard on the West Side of Santa Cruz.

The Ocean Shore Railroad's maintenance yard near Garfield Park with a locomotive in the engine house at right and the remains of Ocean Shore #2 in the center with its tender at left in front of a passenger car, ca 1910. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Permission to construct the yard was granted by the city in June 1905 and building began shortly after. The completed yard encompassed several blocks within David Gharkey's old tract between Lighthouse Avenue to the east, Gharkey Street to the north, Centennial Street to the west, and Oregon Street to the south. Through this section, the Ocean Shore's track curved gently southwest from its bluff-top passenger shelter. From just south of Gharkey Street, the track split, with double-track running all the way to Garfield Avenue. A crossover was located near the junction of Delaware Avenue and Colombia Street, although the double-track continued to Garfield, where it stopped abruptly. Presumably, this was the start of the long double-track that was intended to continue up the coast to San Francisco, but only this short section was ever built along the Southern Division. Where the double-track broke off, a second track also detached to form the southern wye, which stretched south to Oregon Street. The wye allowed the railroad's locomotives to turn around without the need of a turntable, which was not available along the Southern Division. The other wye on the Southern Division was located north of Davenport at Folger beside Scott Creek.

Only complete layout map of the Ocean Shore Railway's yard in the Gharkey Tract from microfilm, showing curve angles, spurs, the wye, and support structures, ca 1907. [California State Library]

In addition to the double-track and wye, the maintenance yard had four other spurs throughout the area. The northern most of these, measuring 415 feet in length, broke off from the wye track and crossed Santa Cruz Street where it paralleled Laguna Street before stopping at Monterey Street. Another 450-foot-long spur broke off from the main line near the same place but turned west to stop at Liberty Street. A structure near the top of these spurs sat alongside Laguna but no purpose for this building is described on the only available map of the area.

The final two spurs more clearly related to the engine house and maintenance yard, which was located on the north side of Monterey Street midway between Centennial and Liberty Streets. The spurs flanked the buildings with a 466-foot-long spur snaking over them to the north and a straight 337-foot-long spur cutting through the engine house, with both ending at or in Centennial Street. The engine house was capable of housing two locomotives but no additional rolling stock, and no other covered areas were provided in the yard. Three tanks capable of holding 310,000 gallons of water stood beside the engine house to refuel locomotives. Two maintenance shops in an L shape were connected to the engine house. Most of these features can be seen in the photograph at the top of this page, with a tender and car parked on the longer spur and a locomotive in the engine house.

The yard limits for the Ocean Shore's Santa Cruz operations spanned from the end of track above the Southern Pacific yard at West Cliff Drive to the city limits at Moore Creek and the San Vicente Lumber Company's millpond (Antonelli Pond). Within this area were three stations—Santa Cruz, Garfield Ave. and Rapetti—the middle of which was composed entirely of a small 8' x 10' wood frame passenger shelter located at the southwest corner of Garfield (Woodrow) and Delaware Avenues. This structure served as a transfer point with the Union Traction Company's electric streetcar line between Vue de l'Eau and the rest of its network and, as such, was a regularly scheduled stop. No photographs of the shelter exist, unfortunately.

Subdivision map of "Marx's Property" within the Gharkey Tract, showing details of the Ocean Shore Railroad's freight yard, October 13, 1913. [California State Library]

The maintenance yard was linked directly to the operations of the Ocean Shore Railway and may not have survived much into the Ocean Shore Railroad's existence after 1911. The San Vicente Lumber Company, which had its mill on Shore Investment Company (an Ocean Shore subsidiary) land at Rapetti Ranch beside Antonelli Pond is noted on a Sanborn map in 1917 as having a long car shed and a separate car shop. These were not present in 1911. It is possible that these were or became the new maintenance facilities for the Ocean Shore Railroad in the mid-1910s, especially since the railroad only operated two locomotives at a time on the Southern Division during this time. The Rapetti property certainly served as the maintenance yard after October 1920, when the railroad sold its southern rolling stock to the lumber company and abandoned any remaining stations and shelters in Santa Cruz County. If the original maintenance yard survived until the end of the railroad's existence, it was decommissioned at some point in late 1920 or early 1921. Most of the property remained undeveloped until after World War II, when it was subdivided into housing parcels.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

36.9580N, 122.0315W

The location of the company's shops were at 404 Centennial Street, which today is occupied by a private home. No visible trace of the Ocean Shore's maintenance yard survives but there are relics that can be found on property lines. Indeed, the entire route of Delaware Avenue between Columbia and Santa Cruz Streets is due to the Ocean Shore's alignment and its subsequent conversion to a public road in the 1940s. The properties that most obviously still reflect the former Ocean Shore right-of-way through this area are 224 Gharkey Street, 403 Laguna Street, 302 Monterey Street, and 301-303 Santa Cruz Street, although the orientations of some structures in the area may also reflect the railroad's original alignment.

Citations & Credits:

  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "Ocean Shore Railroad." December 2017.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Streetcars: Watsonville Transportation Company

Watsonville was not immune from the excitement of the streetcar age nor did it miss an opportunity to undermine Southern Pacific's relative monopoly on rail services around the Monterey Bay. The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was incorporated in 1889 partially for this purpose, but it quickly failed in its goal and became almost exclusively a freight hauler for the Western Beet Sugar Company owned by Claus Spreckels. A different sort of excitement came with the incorporation of the Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway in September 1902, which hoped to build an electric streetcar line linking the Santa Cruz Main Beach to Capitola, Aptos, and Watsonville.

Watsonville Transportation Company car #2 on a maintenance spur, 1904. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Progress on the new line did not begin until the next year, and it seemed to many that the Watsonville aspirations of the company's directors were more wishful thinking than reality, with Capitola and Aptos the primary initial targets. To complicate matters further, there were no good spots on the shoreline north of the Pajaro River for a port, yet Watsonville sorely needed one if it wanted to avoid the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's monopoly on coastal trade.

Map showing the original route of the Watsonville Transportation Company's line in relation to the other local railroad lines. Drawn by H. W. Fabing. [Western Railroader]

The solution to all of these problems was to create a new locally-owned railroad and streetcar line that would also interact with a brand new port that was all Watsonville's. Thus, on February 13, 1903, several local financiers and entrepreneurs founded the Watsonville Transportation Company. The leader of these men was William J. Rogers, who was appointed general manager of the line. Other officers of the company included President Robert E. Eaton, Vice President and Treasurer Fred A. Kilburn, and Secretary H. H. Main, with Stephen Scurich serving as a director. The capital goal of the company was set at $200,000 and the goal was to attract mostly local money.

Workers building Port Rogers, using a flatcar to shuttle supplies and lumber, early 1904. [Louis L. Stein, Jr. – colorized using DeOldify]

The articles of incorporation described the plans of the company as thus:

To construct a single or double track railroad of either narrow gauge or standard gauge, operated by steam engines, electrical power, gasoline motors or any lawful means of power, from the city of Watsonville along any feasible route to Monterey Bay at an estimated distance of five miles. Also to erect and maintain telephone and telegraph facilities and furnish electric current for such use as it may be put to use.

The proposed pier at the beach was to be named Port Rogers after the general manager, while the steam schooner the company planned to buy would be branded the F. A. Kilburn, after the company's vice president and treasurer. In reality, it became known as the 'berry boat,' probably because its primary function was shipping berries to San Francisco. The Kilburn was built by the H. B. Bendixsen Ship Building Company of Eureka. The 175-foot-long ship was known to be fast and reliable. It had 45 rooms for travellers on the top deck and a large hold below for freight.

Port Rogers with a Watsonville Transportation Company streetcar rounding the curve, ca 1904. [Randolph C. Brandt]

The narrow-gauge line was planned to begin at the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street (Beach Street) and from there run parallel to Beach Street all the way to the beach, where the track briefly zigged north around Camp Goodall before turning back toward the bay where it would end on the Port Rogers pier. The reason for this zigzag was to move the line out of the domain of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which owned the rights to all port access south of Watsonville Slough. Almost the entirety of the route was level and, with the exception of the two curves, ran in a straight line to the beach. The track ran on the road for half the length and then shifted to the north side of Beach Street from near the Lee Road crossing. The only bridge on the route was a short span of unknown design across the slough.

Colorized postcard of F. A. Kilburn docked beside Port Rogers on its maiden
voyage and at the grand opening of the pier, April 16, 1904. [Pacific Narrow Gauge]

At the beach, the company hoped to build a resort around the base of the pier. Construction on the pier began in April 1903 and progressed rapidly. The total length, once done, was 1,300 feet and it was designed in the manner of a wide trestle with a flat deck on top. Meanwhile, the company hired William Henry Weeks to design a dance pavilion at the foot of the pier. The building was to measure 50 feet by 20 feet and would provide views from across the Monterey Bay. These two structures attracted large crowds when the F. A. Kilburn had its maiden voyage on April 16, 1904. Much of the city turned out for the event. The steamship began regular service soon after, leaving Port Rogers in the evening and arriving in San Francisco the next morning, where goods could be sold on the open market.

1908 Sanborn map with annotations showing a likely layout (black) of the Watsonville Transportation Company's maintenance yard trackage (black) in relation to the Pajaro Valley Consolidate Railroad's line (blue) and the Southern Pacific's Santa Cruz Branch (red). [Library of Congress]

As the pier was completed and regular traffic began, work on the streetcar line became the next priority. The directors of the Watsonville Transportation Company entered negotiations with the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad to arrange an interchange between their respective lines. On Beach Street, the streetcar company erected its power house, which operated on oil. Behind it and beside the Adamson Fruit Company's warehouse, it built a large warehouse and streetcar barn, as well as a smaller car barn for the company's boxcars. The warehouse had platforms on the west and south sides and it was near the Pajaro Valley line's tracks, suggesting that the interchange was located at the warehouse, where goods could be easily transferred. The narrow-gauge of the streetcar line was likely in order to fluidly exchange with the railroad, and together the two could bypass the Southern Pacific monopoly even more effectively.

Car #2 on Third (Wall) Street beyond the railroad depot, ca 1905. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

In reality, the exchange between the two railroads was rarely used and probably only by the streetcar line to borrow rolling stock—the Pajaro Valley line had a more reliable deep water port at Moss Landing and had little use for Port Rogers. However, in July 1904, the success of the streetcar line thus far inspired its directors to approve funding for an extension inland to Rancho Vega, San Juan Bautista, Hollister, Gilroy, and ultimately Fresno. These may have all reflected a hope of extending the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad's sugar beet network, thereby binding together the destinies of the two railroads.

View of Port Rogers from the pier, ca 1905. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

The streetcar line was composed of either two or four heavy-duty interurban-style electric cars, four flatcars (later increased to ten), and two boxcars. The tougher electric cars were chosen since they were capable of carrying passengers but could also haul several cars behind it. Photographs only show Car #2 and Car #4 and available sources are contradictory, so the actual number of electric cars remains unknown. The first runs on the line began in mid-November 1903. Passenger revenue in the first year amounted to a modest but promising $13,750. Meanwhile, freight gross reached $36,250. These positive numbers were both key factors in the company's approval of the line's extension east.

Car #4 beside a flatcar on the Port Rogers pier, possibly assisting in construction, ca 1904. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately, problems began to mount in late 1904. The speed at which the pier was built came at a price: worms began eating it as soon as it was constructed and a storm in November washed away 200 feet of the damaged pier. Redwood piles were brought in and the pier was repaired by the end of December. However, early the next year, 500 feet of the pier collapsed in another storm and the cost to repair was estimated at $35,000.

Watsonville Transportation trackage north of the railroad depot along Third (Wall) Street, ca 1905. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

Around the same time, a lawsuit broke out against Rogers and Main, who had served as the company's chief promoters. Stockholders were disappointed with the compensation Rogers and Main claimed for their promotional efforts. On August 12, 1905, a grand jury in Santa Cruz indicted the men for misappropriation of funds and falsifying records. Although the two men were later absolved by an appellate court, the damage to the company's reputation was done. That same day, the Pajaro Valley Bank called in a $19,000 balance due on a loan taken out by the streetcar company's financiers. Unable to pay the loan or attract enough goodwill, the company declared bankruptcy on September 8, 1905.

Streetcar tracks down Beach Road looking south, with the Loma Prieta planing mill at left and the Earl Fruit Company warehouse at right, ca 1910. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

For the next five years, the streetcar line languished, although Rogers would not let the railroad tracks be torn up. Whether a streetcar operated during any part of this time is unclear. When Edward White attempted to dispose of the tracks and rolling stock, Rogers filed an injunction with the California Supreme Court claiming that he was owed money by the railroad. He was eventually given $2,500 in settlement in 1907. With the lawsuit resolved, Rogers quickly moved on selling the firm and reformed it into the Pacific Railroad & Steamship Company in February 1907. He then promptly sold this new firm to the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern Railway Company, which was a subsidiary of the Ocean Shore Railway incorporated on December 28, 1906.

The F. A. Kilburn off the coast, ca 1906. [Worthpoint – colorized using DeOldify]

The new railroad company hoped to use the Watsonville streetcar line as its Monterey Bay port since access to the bay had been blocked by Southern Pacific in Santa Cruz. Its plans to link San Francisco to the San Joaquin Valley via a coastal route, thereby bypassing the Southern Pacific monopoly on the region, required port access and rights-of-way. The Ocean Shore had already briefly leased the Union Traction Company's streetcar lines in February 1906, but the earthquake in April led them to abandon that contract. Yet the option of taking it up again and extending the tracks to Watsonville remained. Once in Watsonville, the tracks could link up to the Watsonville streetcar line and continue up the Pajaro River. To accomplish another phase of this plan, the San Juan Pacific Railway was incorporated on May 4, 1907 with a long-term goal of building a line from Chittenden to Hollister via San Juan Bautista.

The F. A. Kilburn docked at Port Rogers, ca 1905. [Derek R. Whaley – Colorized using DeOldify]

The Kilburn was a key part of the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern negotiations. On April 1, the steamship entered service between Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. It was forced to bypass Watsonville at the time while the pier was repaired and upgraded. After the new railroad scheme fizzled in late 1907, the steamship was sold to Fred Linderman, a former stockholder in the streetcar company. He added the ship to his other steamship operations between San Francisco and Oregon where it operated for several years. It eventually sunk following a fire off the coast of Key West, Florida, on June 16, 1918.

The F. A. Kilburn off the coast of Eureka, California, ca 1916. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using DeOldify]

The Monterey, Fresno & Eastern project failed for several reasons, but locally it was because the company attempted to bypass local laws regarding maintaining roads through which its tracks passed. In June 1907, the company attempted to standard-gauge the line and abandon a stretch of track downtown, which immediately prompted an injunction and a lien on its two streetcars. Shortly afterwards, the Panic of 1907 struck and many of the investors lost their ability to pay bondholders what was owed. The next January, the company was sued, with former Watsonville Transportation Company directors claiming their company was acquired through fraud. A two-year lawsuit ensued with Edward White managing the local properties until the suit was settled.

Colorized postcard of Port Watsonville Beach, 1911. [Derek R. Whaley]

Even before the suit was settled, White attempted to auction the railroad equipment, tracks, and franchise on June 11, 1910. Only one bid was offered for the lot by A. N. Judd, who represented a group of Watsonville businesspeople hoping to reopen the line and port. Rogers intervened to stop the sale claiming that the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern still owned the route, but his case was dismissed. An offer in July by bondholders of the railroad proposed an entirely new structure for the company, but the offer was also declined. A second round of bidding in February 1911 finally led to the sale of the lot to a different group of Watsonville investors, who founded on April 22, 1911 the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company.

Watsonville Railway tracks down Beach Road looking east at the point where the tracks shifted to run along the east side of the road, with a streetcar on the tracks in the distance, ca 1911. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

There was no overlap between the old firm and the new. The stated purpose of the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company was to rehabilitate the decaying line, restore steamship service between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, and resurrect interest in the beach. The first goal was to restore the streetcar line, which resumed service only a week after the company was founded. However, the range was reduced to between the Southern Pacific depot at Walker Street, thereby abandoning the track beyond to Main Street. In addition, the company only had one streetcar and ten flatcars left in its fleet. The other streetcar had burned down in a fire at the carbarn in 1909. Several of the flatcars had seats installed as a stopgap until the streetcar could be properly rehabilitated for service.

A young Preston Sawyer on the Port Watsonville wharf, ca 1911. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The Port Rogers pier had fallen into such a sorry state that it was decided to demolish it and erect a new, longer wharf. The Marine Concrete Construction Company was awarded a $60,000 contract for the job and the new wharf was set at 1,900 feet long, with a wider section at the end for a freight warehouse and double tracks. Something happened, though, that caused this contract to be cancelled. A few months later, a new contract with the San Francisco Bridge Company for a redwood timber wharf of 1,700 feet was commissioned, with parts of the Port Rogers pier repurposed where possible. This made it the longest wharf on the California coast at the time.

Construction on the expanded facilities at Calpaco at the foot of the Port Watsonville wharf, ca 1911. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using DeOldify]

With Rogers out of the equation, the seafront was renamed Port Watsonville. And since this new company did not plan to compete with the railroad or established shipping firms, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company was one of the first to request access to the wharf.

Port Watsonville with a streetcar coming off the wharf and a steamship docked at the end, ca 1911. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Meanwhile, property developers began subdividing and designing a resort on the shore at the base of the wharf and just northwest of Camp Goodall. F. E. Snowden, the new streetcar company's president, founded the California Pacific Company and began developing Calpaco, a tent city resort on the beach. A boardwalk and running water were installed between over sixty tent cabins. A baseball field and horse racing track were built nearby.

Port Watsonville in its prime, with the pier in the distance, William Week's dance pavilion on the beach beside a windscreen wall, and tent cottages in the foreground, ca 1912. [Adi Zahner – colorized using DeOldify]

William Week's dance pavilion was renovated and a new outdoor stage erected beside it. The resort opened on July 4, 1911 and the streetcar was so crowded that flatcars were brought back online to add seats. Estimates put the Fourth of July crowd at nearly 1,500 visitors. The popularity of the resort and wharf lasted for two well-remembered summers.

Port Watsonville wharf with streetcar tracks removed from the end and a wind screen visible on the sandbar in the distance, ca 1913. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately for everybody, the use of wood pilings rather than concrete on the wharf proved once again to be a mistake. A huge storm swell in December 1912 destroyed 160 feet of the wharf and flooded Calpaco with damage valued at $40,000. Rather than pay the cost, Snowden sued the San Francisco Bridge Company for faulty construction, but the suit was dismissed. The relatively cheap repair could not be made due to a lack of financial support from local investors. The wharf was patched up as best as possible and service resumed the next year, but fewer steamships called in and fewer passengers were drawn to the beach and wharf. Meanwhile, Snowden sought out potential buyers of the line and the Calpaco resort.

Streetcar tracks down the center of Beach Road with the Loma Prieta planing mill at left and the Earl Fruit Packing Company at right, ca 1910. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

During the summer of 1913, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad used the streetcar's tracks for sugar beet operations on Beach Street, but the profits were insufficient to recoup any losses. In October, the company filed for bankruptcy and was dissolved on February 24, 1914. It was sold in its entirety to the San Francisco Bridge Company, which was still owed for work related to constructing the problematic pier. In 1915, a group of Los Angeles investors attempted to revive the entire network, but nothing came of it and the wharf was finally dismantled in August. The tracks languished for two more years and were finally removed in January 1917, likely to be sold for scrap to be used in the war. The abandoned dance pavilion and clubhouse were also sold at this time and relocated, putting an end to Calpaco.

Beach Road near the beach where the tracks crossed to wrap around Watsonville Slough on its way to Port Watsonville, ca 1920. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

Following abandonment, several ties were left alongside Beach Street toward its western end, reminding locals of the short-lived streetcar line. After the tracks were pulled, a short portion of the right-of-way continued to be discernable on the road to Pajaro Dunes and modern property maps still show a railroad easement paralleling Shell Road to the east and continuing beyond the entryway. Meanwhile, two rails from the line remained imbedded on Beach Street near Main Street for decades until they were paved over. These likely still sit beneath the surface. The name Port Watsonville has since been borrowed by an unrelated housing subdivision beside Sunset Beach north of the original port.

A baseball game at Port Watsonville after the demolition of the pier and removal of the streetcar tracks, 1920s. [Adi Zahner – colorized using DeOldify]

Citations & Credits:

  • Fabing, H. W. "Watsonville Transportation Company," The Western Railroader 29:11 (November 1966).
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Lewis, Betty. Watsonville: Memories That Linger, Volume 1. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 1986.
  • Ramsdell, Ed. "Last Month's Do You Recognize." The Main Line: The Monthly Bulletin of the New England Electric Railway Historical Society Libraries 12:5 (July 2020): 2-6
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.
  • Various newspapers, 1906-1910.