The end of the 1850s saw a new burst of development in Santa Cruz, just before the Civil War.

As we well know, the local economy goes through booms and busts. Santa Cruz had two booms and one bust in the 1850s. The first boom was caused by the Gold Rush. The middle years of the decade saw a slump as the influx of miners slowed to a trickle. The slump was most acutely felt by the County's potato farmers, who had been exporting huge shipments of the tubers to feed the hungry 49ers. Business picked up again toward the end of the decade as locals returned with their sacks of gold dust and immigrants from other states looked for places to settle down in California.

Many new ships, especially the new steamships, were built to carry supplies along the coast to San Francisco, and up the Sacramento River to the gold country. The expansion of shipping traffic proved to be permanent, and coastal towns like Santa Cruz saw an increase in maritime trade. The Anthony Wharf (now owned by Davis & Jordan) proved inadequate to handle the increased traffic, so in 1857 David Gharkey led the effort to build a second wharf. Gharkey was one of those 49ers who came to California for the gold and ended up here, apparently with some money to spend. His wharf was located close to today’s Municipal Wharf (see photo), and was later rebuilt to handle railroad cars. According to Clark, Gharkey came originally from Ohio, died in 1877, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery. He’s remembered on the signs of Gharkey Street on the Westside.

The end-of-decade growth also brought two newcomers fated to become closely connected in later years. One of these was a newspaper. The Pacific Sentinel moved north from Monterey in 1856, and stayed on to become the area’s oldest newspaper. The other 1856 arrival was the McPherson family, from New York by way of the Placerville gold fields. Sixteen-year-old Duncan grew up to become the owner of the Sentinel, and the McPherson family became one of the names most associated with civic involvement in Santa Cruz.

By 1860, when F. A. Hihn’s brother Hugo built the two-story brick “Flatiron” Building at the tip of the block where Main and Willow Streets (today’s Front and Pacific) met, the Santa Cruz business center had definitely shifted down the hill from the Mission Plaza (see photo). Although Davis & Jordan had been shipping lime to make mortar since 1853, it took awhile for brick (non-adobe) buildings to catch on here. The Flatiron Building was possibly the first in town – certainly the only one in the 1860 photo. The building activity of that year was soon to be interrupted by a different kind of calamity - the Civil War.

Note: Boom times are usually accompanied by a rise in new construction, so one of the best ways to identify those periods in the past is by looking at the construction dates of historic buildings. The indispensable guide to that information is John Chase’s Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture. With that book as a guide, it’s possible to trace the development of Santa Cruz through those boom-bust cycles.


  • Chase, John L. Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture (3rd ed. 2005)
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names (2nd ed. 2008)
  • Elliott, W. W. Santa Cruz County Illustrations 1879 (indexed ed. 1997)
  • Rowland, Leon. Santa Cruz: The Early Years (1980)

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Milton Leathers November 26, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Interesting article, Mr. Casey. Our daughter used to live near Hihn Road in Ben Lomond. I suppose this was named for one of the two brothers you mention in your piece. I wonder if "developers," for lack of a better term, years ago named some "new" roads off of Glen Arbor for historical figures. Streets named Hihn, Bahr, Clement and such.... Or was there some real community memory of those earlier citizens? Or perhaps families with these surnames owned farms or homes in that part of the county. Do you know how these roads were named? I certainly agree with you about John Chase's "Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture." The boom-bust cycles you mention become readily apparent to the reader of this book. It is an education in much more than architecture! Since I'm asking you about names, is a word like "Larita" just fabricated faux-Spanish or some such? I've never been able to find the derivation of that Ben Lomond street name. Thanks for your good reporting.
W C Casey January 29, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Correction: The "Gharkey" wharf became the "Powder" wharf, not the "Railroad" wharf. For clearing up my (and many others') confusion, my thanks to Frank Perry, Barry Brown, Rick Hyman, and Stanley D. Stevens of "Researchers Anonymous" for an essay titled, "Notes on the History of Wharves at Santa Cruz, California". It can be downloaded from the Research Forum website: http://researchforum.santacruzmah.org/viewtopic.php?t=574
W C Casey January 29, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Response to Milton Leathers: Sorry, Milton, for not seeing your comment sooner - hope you're still reading this blog. I usually get an email when a comment is posted but it didn't happen this time. You're right about Hihn Road (also Hihn Street in Felton). It was named for Frederick Hihn (his brother Hugo never changed the German spelling). The first American owner of that land was probably Isaac Graham. Hihn later acquired a lot of timber and mining land in the area, but I don't know why that particular road was named for him, or anything about Bahr. Clement might be a reference to the climate rather than a name. Larita is probably a name - I couldn't find any translations, but lots of people with that name.


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