History Pages: 27 - How the trains came to Santa Cruz (part 1)

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Hihn mansion.jpg

As Santa Cruz waited impatiently through the first half of the 1870s for the trains to arrive from outside the county, local businessmen and investors decided to take matters into their own hands. One group wanted to go southeast to Watsonville and a connection with the Southern Pacific at Pajaro. The other group’s first goal was a better way to bring lumber down from the San Lorenzo Valley to the wharves of Santa Cruz. A third group was more interested in getting around town – by building a streetcar system. Following “the quiet years”, there was suddenly a lot of rail-laying all over the county. So much happened in such a short period of time that I’ll have to split the story up into four parts.

The most prominent name initially involved in all three rail transportation groups was F. A. Hihn, whose name is already familiar in these History Pages. Hihn had prospered since coming to Santa Cruz, and in 1872 he built the largest and most ornate residence in the city, on Church Street. The Hihn mansion later became the second Santa Cruz City Hall, and stood about where the City Council chamber is today, or maybe just to the west toward the annex.

Hihn had more on his mind, however, than genteel living. He was, by this time, the largest landowner and investor in the county, with interests including timber lands, lumber mills, the Santa Cruz water system and the tourist development at Camp Capitola. These investments were scattered throughout the county, so a railroad in just about any direction would benefit Hihn, along with various hoteliers, merchants, manufacturers, loggers and farmers along the routes.

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Hihn’s right hand man in his business dealings was his lawyer, Charles B. Younger. Younger, born in Missouri, came with his father Coleman Younger to San Jose in 1850. He began his law practice there, but soon opened an office in Santa Cruz and later moved over the hill permanently. He married a daughter of William Waddell, the north coast lumberman, and acquired a farm just north of Santa Cruz at what is now called "Terrace Point". Younger’s son and grandson kept the property intact, and the family donated forty coastal acres to UCSC in 1973. Today it is the site of the UCSC Long Marine Lab. The Younger name is still attached to the adjacent lagoon and beach, as can be seen in the Google satellite view at left.


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The San Lorenzo Valley Railroad was first to break ground and progressed rapidly at first up the west bank of the river, helped by the proximity of Eben Bennett’s toll road, which followed roughly the same route. Unfortunately, progress was stopped for several years by a legal dispute with Davis & Cowell, who owned some of the land along the route. Time is money, and the railroad company went broke in 1874 before completing its task. A few months later, a new group of investors took the baton under the name Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad and, in 1875, was the first to “reach the beach” in Santa Cruz.

This newer group had deep pockets: not only did they finish the narrow-gauge rail line; they built a whole transport system to bring redwood lumber down from the mountain canyons to the San Lorenzo River, then on to Santa Cruz. The northern end of that system included a web of sawmills, wagon roads and smaller rail lines, all converging on the area now called Boulder Creek. The sawn lumber got a watery ride from there to Felton in an elevated, V-shaped wooden flume – a marvel of wood construction. At Felton, the lumber was transferred (as shown in the photo at right) to rail cars for the last five-mile leg of the trip to the coast.

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Upon reaching Santa Cruz, the tracks at first ran straight down Pacific Avenue and out onto the company's new wharf. Not wanting noisy and dangerous steam engines rolling down the town's main commercial street, town leaders made the railroad agree to decouple the locomotives at the edge of town and pull the freight cars the remaining distance to the wharf with teams of horses.

The “railroad wharf” stood right next to today’s Municipal Wharf, which opened in 1914. The photo at left was taken in 1913, as the new wharf neared completion. The older and shorter "railroad wharf", demolished in 1921, is the one on the right. A side-effect of the new railroad was that, because of all the rough-cut lumber coming down to this location from the San Lorenzo Valley, storage yards and lumber mills sprang up nearby, turning out more-finished wood products.

Among other developments in part 2 of this series, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad finds a solution to the Pacific Avenue locomotive ban.


Next: History Pages: 28 - How the trains came to Santa Cruz (part 2)


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