History of the San Vicente Lumber Company in Santa Cruz County
On August 3, 1907, the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company sold 16,000 acres of virgin woodland between Davenport and Swanton on the North Coast to Frank S. Murphy of Salt Lake City, Utah. Murphy had three lumber companies in Idaho, Nevada and California. On May 8, 1908, the Santa Cruz operation was named after its Spanish land grant, San Vicente Lumber Company, under the leadership of President CW Nibley and Vice President George Stoddard.
With a capital of 10 million dollars, it was to be the largest logging operation in the history of Santa Cruz County. Then it was learned in 1906 that earthquake damage was about to shut down the Ocean Shore Railway, the nearest source of transportation. San Vicente offered the railroad a 25-year shipping contract, in exchange for building a 9-mile-wide timber branch through Swanton and a 300-yard spur off the junction of Little Creek. The logging company has made the Folger Station on Scott Creek a collection point for loading lumber onto the Ocean Shore platforms.
Santa Cruz site
Plans for a sawmill in Folger were put to rest, when Santa Cruz offered to locate the sawmill and its taxes in town. The advantage was that a city location could accommodate more cost effective high capacity sawmill equipment, as opposed to the simpler low capacity equipment required in nature. The company could turn Moore Creek into a factory pond, with Ocean Shore Avenue as its rail right-of-way.
Entrepreneur Fred Swanton realized that with a sawmill next to the dairy his wife had inherited east of Swift Street, they could use it as a source of building materials, subdividing the farm into a stylish development. Carmel named Swanton Beach Park. It would feature a resort hotel on what is now Natural Bridges State Beach. Because of this proximity, the logging company made sure that the buildings near the complex and the houses would be attractive.
The northwest corner of present-day Delaware Avenue and Natural Bridges Drive was Rapetti station, named after Italian breeder Louis C. Rapetti. The mission-type station served as the city center for employees of San Vicente. It was 59 × 60 feet, built with 18-inch concrete walls and iron gates, with wraparound arched porches facing the tracks. It housed the United States Post Office substation, payroll bank and lumber company business offices, a dance hall, and a general store run by Dr. Calston Dodson, who could perform chiropractic adjustments for sore loggers.
Across the street to the southwest was the 50-room Hotel San Vicente, a lumber company guesthouse with seating for 150 residents, as well as a large dining room on the ground floor. – floor. A second wing of 50 rooms was added later, creating a U-shaped building that served up to 300 residents. Behind the hotel was a town six blocks from artisan bungalows, whose network of streets included Nibley and Stoddard after the directors of the factory. The Stoddard Mansion stood for a long time on Mission and Baldwin Streets (now moved to Baldwin).
The plant complex was built for $ 250,000 and included a sawmill, shingle plant, planer mill, door and frame mill, large concrete boiler room, and kilns for burning hardwood in charcoal. All buildings were painted barn red with white trim, except for the unpainted concrete boiler room. The mill machinery was installed after April 1908.
It was the only closed mill in the county, intended to protect state-of-the-art machinery. The scrap wood was chopped to feed the boiler room, which produced steam for the entire mill. This included a steam “shotgun” log feed cart that drove past the bandsaw at breakneck speed, dramatically increasing production. The concrete boiler room was to protect the wooden complex from fire, with a tin roof designed to tear off and direct an explosion upwards.
Meanwhile, freight and passenger service reached Swanton in July 1908, but building the wide-track branch 9 miles beyond was no small feat. It was the largest logging railway in the history of the county, traversing some of the most rugged terrain to be operated. The steep canyons could only be traversed by trestles (some up to 90 feet), as the embankments would be washed away by the heavy rain runoff. Five switchbacks and steep inclines were used to ascend 59 feet in Swanton, up to 1,440 feet along a corkscrew course, according to railroad author Rick Hammon.
Instead of a full-size locomotive, the tight turning radius and steep inclines led to the purchase of two short but powerful Shay engines. Yet the harsh conditions made derailments and wrecks a common problem. Employee Michael Bergazzi recalled in an interview in 1964 that Shay No.2 jumped onto the runway and knocked down engineer Harry Delameter, who spent the rest of his life selling newspapers from a wheelchair outside Woolworths in Pacific and Walnut.
In the spring of 1909, logging was in full swing in what would become six logging camps operated simultaneously. Each had its own name, but was called “Rollervilles” because all the buildings were on wagons and moved to each new site as the forest receded.
In Santa Cruz, Ocean Shore trains would park atop the Moore Creek Dam (now Delaware Avenue) to dump their logs into the Mill Pond (now Antonelli Pond). A crescent railway branch ran through the factory property, connecting to the South Pacific Railway at a station called Orby, where finished products were sent to market by train. Orby is believed to be an acronym for Oceanshore Railway BY-pass. The plant had a capacity of 70,000 board feet, with 9 million board feet of finished product in its yard.
The company employed 225 men in the forest and the mill, who in 1915 had a payroll of $ 80,000 a year. This averaged $ 20 per month per person, although a portion of their salary was donated to the Mormon Church, whether or not she was a member. But few objected, because $ 4 a week was a good salary for the time.
Yet despite half a year of lucrative activity, the Ocean Shore went bankrupt in the fall of 1909. Their rolling stock was purchased on the installment plan, which returned to the builder, who then leased the cars to the Ocean Shore for 30 cents a day. The bond committee was chaired by CC Moore, who blamed the timidity of bondholders following the earthquake. The Ocean Shore was sold at public auction on January 17, 1911, and Moore’s own coalition was the sole bidder, buying it for $ 1,135,000.
One morning in 1917, Swanton Beach was suddenly found littered with hundreds of logs. At first it was feared that the Moore Creek Dam had collapsed, having already been repaired once in 1910. But it was soon discovered that a raft of thousands of logs towed from Oregon to San Diego had lost part. of its load. A donkey motor was therefore installed on the beach and the logs were collected for San Vicente.
World War I ended with a global influenza pandemic, disrupting the work of many. Ocean Shore Railway was in debt of $ 50,000 when struggling workers went on strike for a $ 1 per day increase in 1920. The railway ceased to operate, leaving the San Vicente Lumber Company with no direct access to it. their factory. But they had their own standard gauge train, so they drove their lumber around town with a bone-shaking Shay motor. Unable to find a new buyer for the railway line, Ocean Shore abandoned and sold the line to the San Vicente Company in October 1921 for $ 100,000.
This purchase was great for business, but destroyed San Vicente’s profit margin so they increased the working day from 8 to 9 hours. They gave 80 men the week off of July 4, then made the layoff permanent. Business for the remaining 140 men was at an all-time low until January 1923 when they closed the factory and halted logging, with the remaining dismantling of equipment and machinery to be sold.
Of the 400 million feet of timber felled, only a portion has been turned into lumber, due to the hollow imperfections of ancient trees. Despite all the devastation this clearcut caused, Stoddard said their 14-year operation had only paid off.
The redwoods in San Vicente were returned to the cement plant, becoming the largest private plot in the county and one of the largest in the state. When CEMEX closed permanently in 2010, a consortium of conservation groups pooled their money in 2011 to buy 8,532 acres of forest for $ 30 million, adding 320 adjacent acres in 2019. The coalition is Peninsula Open Space Trust, Santa Cruz County Land Trust, Nature Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League, and Sempervirens Fund, with support from the Packard and Moore Foundations.
Despite clear-cutting, 90 ancient sequoias have survived and the site is habitat for endangered species of California red-legged frog, marbled murrelet, Mount Hermon beetle, and Zayante’s banded-winged grasshopper. Then the August CZU 2020 lightning complex fire burned down much of the forest, in one of the most destructive fires ever in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It would normally take several decades for nature to restore this setting. But climate change is the wild card that impairs our ability to predict.
Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and Santa Cruz Sentinel.