How the Trains Came to Santa Cruz - Part 1

Santa Cruz waited impatiently through the first half of the 1870s for the trains to arrive - then they suddenly came from two directions within the same year.


Santa Cruz waited impatiently through the first half of the 1870s for the trains to arrive from outside the county.

In the meantime, local businessmen and investors decided to take matters into their own hands. One group wanted to go south-east to Watsonville and a connection with the Southern Pacific at Pajaro. The other group’s first goal was a better way to bring lumber 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 two or three parts.

The most prominent name initially involved in all three rail transportation groups was , whose name is already familiar to blog followers. 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 City Hall, and stood about where the City Hall Annex is today.

Hihn had more on his mind, however, than home construction. 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 hoteliers, merchants, manufacturers, loggers and farmers along the routes.

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 , the north coast lumberman, and acquired a farm just north of Santa Cruz at 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.

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 , which followed roughly the same route. Unfortunately for the S.L.V.R.R., 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 get redwood lumber out from the San Lorenzo Valley to Santa Cruz. That system included a web of sawmills, wagon roads and smaller rail lines, all converging on 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 back to rail cars for the last leg of the trip to the coast. Upon reaching Santa Cruz, the tracks ran straight down Pacific Avenue. Finally, the company built a new wharf at the end of the tracks. It was known simply as the “Railroad Wharf” and stood right next to today’s Municipal Wharf.

In part 2 of this story, another train arrives in Santa Cruz – from Watsonville, and beyond.

Sources (both available at Santa Cruz Public Library):
Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways (1980).
McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars (1995).

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Art du Jour April 10, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Brilliantly told... Can't wait for parts 2 and 3
Watzon McWats April 12, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Great read.


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