Names on the Signs in Santa Cruz - Return of the Limeburners

With the end of the Civil War came an expansion of the Santa Cruz lime industry.


The end of the Civil War in 1865 allowed California to resume its pre-war growth. Returning veterans resumed their jobs at the Davis & Jordan Lime Company. The Company’s success attracted competitors who found plenty of accessible limestone on land not controlled by Davis & Jordan.  Small-scale lime operations were revived and expanded by a new crop of entrepreneurs arriving from the east.

To the west of present-day Felton, New York-born Eben Bennett built a few kilns and began to dig. It was Bennett who, in 1866, described his occupation as “limeburner”. It's a reference to the lime-manufacturing process, which involves heating limestone to a high temperature in a special oven called a kiln. One creek over, another New Yorker named Thomas Bull started a similar operation. To get the lime to market, Bennett began construction of a new road to Santa Cruz in 1866. To pay for maintenance, it was decided that a toll would be charged. The structure built to house the toll collectors was situated just south of Felton, and still stands today at the entrance to the Toll House Resort on Highway 9. Bennett prospered and later built a very nice home that still stands at the corner of 3rd and Main Streets on Beach Hill. Bennett and Bull Creeks are named after the two limeburners.

Over on the other side of the ridge, former 49er Samuel Adams (probably no relation to the famous Massachussetts family) bought 200 acres to the west of the Davis & Jordan lands and began his own quarrying/lime-making operation. To avoid paying to use the Davis & Jordan wharf, Adams built a wagon road down to Russian Landing, so named because it was on land belonging to "the Russian", Jose (Josef) Bolcoff. Adams’ road is today the main road into the upcountry of Wilder Ranch State Park. The ruins of the lime operation are still visible on what used to be known as Gray Whale Ranch, before it was added to the State Park.

In 1865, A. P. Jordan became ill and sold his share of the lime company to Henry Cowell, yet another easterner who came west and profited during the Gold Rush. Cowell immediately took on Jordan’s role as the Santa Cruz end of the partnership, moving into Jordan’s house near the lime works.

Cowell eventually came to own all the lime manufacturing operations in Santa Cruz County, and his son Samuel continued to live on the family ranch until his death in 1955. The S.H. Cowell Foundation sold and/or donated the land that is now UCSC and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Today, the Cowell name probably appears in more Names on the Signs in Santa Cruz than any other family.

Further reading

  • Perry, Frank A.; Piwarzyk, Robert W.: Luther, Michael D.; Orlando, Alverda; Molho, Allan; Perry, Sierra L. Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County. The Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center (2007)

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Frank Perry January 04, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Although some of Davis & Jordan's workers left to serve in the Civil War, the lime business continued. The Sentinel, August 15, 1863, page 1, says that they were producing about 50,000 barrels of lime per year. "From eighty to one hundred men are employed on the place during the summer months at the kilns and on the ranches."


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