1877 Bird’s Eye View of Santa Cruz

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1877 Birds Eye Santa Cruz.png

The image at left is from the OAC online version of the 1877 birds eye view of Santa Cruz, which includes a note that the image is a "Clipping from a Swedish-language periodical". You can see some of the Swedish text around the edges of the clipping.

About a year after Leon Trousset painted the panoramic view of Santa Cruz now proudly displayed at Santa Cruz MAH, an anonymous artist created a new “birds eye” view of our town, which appears to be a woodcut rather than an etching. With a viewpoint similar to the 1870 view previously examined in this blog, this 1877 effort was published in Europe. Like the earlier “birds eye”, it’s now reproduced for online viewing at Bancroft Library’s OAC website. You can also find it on the back end-covers of Bruce MacGregor’s fine book, The birth of California narrow gauge (2003 book).

As you might expect, not a whole lot changed in the approximately one year elapsed between the Trousset painting and this newer view, but there are one or two new things for us to find. Also, the “birds eye” perspective shows many features not visible from Trousset’s riverside hilltop. A word of caution, however – this less-meticulous 1877 effort contains many inaccuracies.

1877-4 wharves.png

Compared to the 1870 view, the most noticeable Santa Cruz changes are in the area of today’s Municipal Wharf. In 1870, there were two wharves and no railroad tracks. By 1876, the “railroad” wharf and the Santa Cruz RR tracks were added. One year later, in 1877, there’s a fourth wharf – the curving “cross” wharf that connected the still-new railroad wharf on the left with the older California Powder Works wharf on the right. All four wharves can be seen in the detail view at right. In 1884, both the powder wharf and the cross wharf were removed - before the next "Bird's Eye" lithograph (1888-89) was created.

To recap the track-laying chronology:

  • 1875 - Santa Cruz and Felton RR built the railroad wharf and tracks leading out onto it, initially traveling down Pacific Avenue.
  • 1876 - Santa Cruz RR completed its own line into town along the beachfront, crossing the SC&F track at a right angle in front of the wharf entrance.
  • 1876 - With completion of the Mission Hill tunnel, the rerouted SC&F line paralleled (or shared) the SCR line down Chestnut Street for a ways, then separated or crossed over and curved around to line up for entry to the wharf. That S-shaped maneuver is indicated vaguely in the top-center area of this detail. It's not clear whether the owners of the two railroads ever agreed to allow their trains to share any part of the tracks, however, so the merging shown may be inaccurate.
  • 1877 The SCR may not have been allowed to use the SC&F wharf at all – a situation that, if true, probably didn't change until the SC, SC&F and SPC railroads were all acquired by Southern Pacific in the 1880s (if even then).

There’s a drawing that clearly shows both the crossing of the rail lines and the curving “cross” wharf, in W. W. Elliott’s Santa Cruz County Illustrations, with Historical Sketch (1879 book). The 1997 indexed edition, published by Santa Cruz MAH, is especially useful. In that edition, the rail/wharf drawing is found on page f70.

A question: the 1877 view shows two separate rail lines going out onto the railroad wharf: one for trains and another for streetcars. The Elliott drawing shows only one rail line: Which one is accurate? I tend to believe that the 1877 view is correct in this detail. The streetcar track would have been the original SC&F line coming down Pacific, which was taken over by the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad after completion of the railroad tunnel through Mission Hill. A horsecar is shown on that track, not far from the wharf. The separate railroad line shown is the newer one coming from Chestnut. Oddly, though, no rails are shown on the connecting wharf. The whole reason for building the connector was to carry rails over to the California Powder Company wharf.

Other oddities: when adding watercolors to the 1877 print (from a woodcut), the artist got carried away with the blue, making it appear that – after passing the railroad wharf - the SCR tracks run in the bed of Santa Cruz Creek. Also, the woodcut artist failed to notice that the creek comes from Neary Lagoon (the 1870 view shows creek and lagoon more accurately). Nearby, a warehouse apparently sits atop one of the railroad lines, and a horsecar track wanders off into a field and disappears.

1877 Davis & Cowell wharf.png

The detail at left shows more points of interest. At far left is the Davis & Cowell wharf - oldest of the four - with its tram line emerging from the warehouse on the bluff above. This is accurate: barrels of lime were brought down Bay Street on huge wagons to the warehouse, where they were transferred to tram cars for the ride down the steeply-sloping wharf to waiting ships. The tram line was added sometime between the earlier 1870 view and 1877, and the top section of the wharf realigned to accommodate the tram tracks.

Elihu Anthony’s original 1849 bridge (first bridge in Santa Cruz) was built to convey Bay Street/West Cliff across Santa Cruz Creek from the end of Pacific Ave. to the first wharf (the 1849 “potato chute”, also built by Anthony and replaced by Davis & Jordan/Cowell). The 1877 view shows that a much taller trestle was built in 1875-6 to allow trains to pass under. That span was replaced, in turn, by the current wood truss design in 1918.

There are two places around town where copies of this 1877 view can be seen. One is a large print at Santa Cruz City Hall, on the wall in room 10. The other is an even larger mural on a wall in the courtyard of the Tannery Arts Center. The Tannery mural has an added key, similar to the one included with the 1870 "Bird's Eye View" lithograph. The key proudly notes that the oldest of the surviving tannery buildings also dates from 1877, when it was owned by Jacob Kron.

For a table of contents, see History pages