History Pages: 25 - Names Became Towns

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John Brooks Felton.jpg

Rapid growth in our area during the late 1860s was not limited to the new town of Santa Cruz. Surrounding areas of Santa Cruz County were also seeing changes. Up on Rancho Zayante, the old frontiersman Isaac Graham passed on in 1863. His remaining rancho lands were acquired by his lawyer, Edward Stanly.

This was a familiar story for many of the original rancho grantees, who tended to be land-rich but cash-poor. During his tumultuous life, Graham made and lost fortunes several times, and was likely in debt when he died. Especially costly for the rancho owners were the lawyer fees and other costs associated with pursuing validation of the Mexican grant claims in American courts. The process took as long as twenty-five years in some cases, and many of the rancho lawyers ended up being paid for their services in land.

In 1868, new ranchero Stanly laid out a town on the west side of the San Lorenzo River, opposite the spot where Zayante Creek flows in from the east. For reasons unknown, Stanly decided to name the new town Felton, after John Brooks Felton (1827-1877), a philanthropist, UC Regent, and soon-to-be Mayor of Oakland (that's him to the right). In 1884, Felton incorporated as a town, but was disincorporated only two years later. From that time on, Felton was, as it remains today, an unincorporated community with its own post office.

Another county town got its start during this period, at the mouth of Soquel Creek. Frederick A. Hihn, whom we first met in 1851, was rapidly becoming the preeminent subdivider and developer in the County. In addition, Hihn invested in many early infrastructure and industrial projects – mines, roads, water systems, sawmills and - later on - railroads. In 1869, he decided to try his hand at tourism.


Camp Capitola (sketch at left from Elliott, published in 1879) was originally, as the name implies, a campground - a summer vacation destination for families. The origin of the name Capitola is still a mystery. Some local historians believe it was derived from the word “capitol”. Another, more colorful theory, is that the Camp was named after "Capitola the Madcap", heroine of two popular novels of the 1850s. Don Clark collected all the stories about the name. Capitola pier and the railroad trestle shown in the sketch remain today, though in much-altered forms.

Davenport landing beach.jpg

To the north of Santa Cruz, Captain John Davenport, a mariner from Rhode Island who had settled in Monterey in 1849, later moved north to establish a business (which may or may not have involved whaling) at what is still known as Davenport Landing. In the 1860s, Davenport and his partner John King built a wharf and other facilities at the little North Coast cove. In addition to Davenport's own activities, the wharf was used by local lime manufacturers, lumber producers and other exporters. A small town grew up around the wharf and associated businesses. The town that later grew up around the cement plant, a couple of miles to the south, adopted the name Davenport. The original town of Davenport Landing was destroyed by fire in 1915 and never rebuilt. Today's public beach (aerial view at right) retains no traces of its former commercial nature.

Next: History Pages: 25 - The Farmers