Santa Cruz County History - Transportation



Stagecoach Days in the Mountains
by Stephen Michael Payne

Part 1

The roads over the Santa Cruz Mountains served not only the settlers and loggers living and working on the summit, but also provided the means by which people could travel to and from Santa Cruz or San Jose via the stagecoach. The early organized road companies quickly saw the benefit of stage travel and encouraged use by the various stage companies of the day.

The first stagecoach line in California was established by John Whistman in the autumn of 1849. This line operated between San Francisco and San Jose, with the latter city serving as its headquarters. The fare for the nine hour trip was two ounces of gold or $32.00. The line ran an old French omnibus with mules and mustangs pulling the coach. With the first winter rain the operation came to a halt due to the poor road conditions. During the winter the line ran from San Jose to Alviso, where passengers caught the ferry to San Francisco. With spring weather the line went back to full service between San Francisco and San Jose. (36:255-256; 45:236-237; 55:Vol. VII,151)

As the years progressed other entrepreneurs established lines throughout California. The first service connecting Santa Cruz and San Jose was established in 1854. The line ran from Santa Cruz to San Juan Bautista, then on to San Jose. Passengers going on to San Francisco stayed overnight before continuing on to the steamboat landing at Alviso. This line soon had an opposition line running from Santa Cruz to Soquel, then to Watsonville and over the Pajaro Turnpike mountain road into Gilroy and on to San Jose. (49:27; 62:477)

In 1855 the California Stage Company was awarded the United States mail contract between San Jose and Santa Cruz, which paid $1,000 annually. The California Stage Company's fare was $5.00 from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. (5:231; 66:94) The California Stage Company went out of business on March 1, 1855, but local employees in Santa Cruz formed the Pacific Express Company, operating the same route from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. (66:125)

Another stage route to San Jose was established in 1857. This route started in downtown Santa Cruz, crossed the San Lorenzo River at the Water Street Bridge and went up Graham Grade, past where the Pasatiempo Golf Course is now located, to Abraham Hendricks' stage stop in Scotts Valley. At Hendricks' two horses were added to the four-horse team for the journey up the mountain grade to Station Ranch, owned by Charles Christopher Martin, and then on up the mountain to Mountain Charley's stage stop, owned by Charles McKiernan. (62:477) From Mountain Charley's the route went down the mountain to Patchen, Alma, Lexington (where the two additional horses were left off), Los Gatos, and on to San Jose.

In 1858 Frederic A. Hihn joined together with other Santa Cruz businessmen to form a joint stock stage company. The new stage route went from Santa Cruz to Soquel, then up the San Jose-Soquel Road to "Bonny Blink" Hotel at Terrace Grove Road. From there the stage had another stop less than a mile up the road at the old Hotel de Redwood. (62:477) From this point the line went over the Morrell Cut-off to Summit Road and on to Patchen. From there it followed the stage route to San Jose. One stage line ran daily, while the other ran tri-weekly carrying the mail. (5:250 fn.24, 266)

A description of the early stage drivers' duties was written by Lucy Foster Sexton:

"The stages stopped at the towns with post offices, leaving the mail in boxes between. Driving up to farmers' boxes on tall polls, the bundles were thrown in, much as it is done on the rail road. The school children furnished the delivery."

These early stages were "gaudily painted" and pulled by four horses which were changed every fifteen miles at a saloon or hotel, and handled by lively drivers. (37:161)

In 1850 Warren Hall and Jared B. Crandall bought out Whistman's stage line. The new owners purchased Mud-wagons and horses from William Beeks who had brought them across the plains.(Mudwagons were light weight coaches designed for the winter roads, not for comfort.) (36:256) The following year Hall traveled to Concord, New Hampshire, and purchased several Concord coaches from the Abbott-Downing Company. These new coaches were added to Hall's and Crandall's stage line because the earlier coaches were not much more than buckboard wagons of various sizes and descriptions. Although the Concord coaches were the latest innovation in travel, the coaches were too heavy for winter roads, which were hardly more than one mud hole after another. During the winter months the mud wagons were used even though many of the mountain roads were totally impassable. The Concord coaches (For a detailed description of these coaches see 35:392-393.) were used in the spring after the roads dried out, and in the summer until the first autumn rains came. (36:258,260 fn. 17)

The Concord coaches seated nine passengers on the inside and eight on top. In good weather the favored position was next to the colorful driver. Those so honored were expected to treat the driver with drinks and cigars on the road. At the stations the drivers drank for free, although the drivers were seldom drunk on the road. They were considered to be sober and dependable men. (35:392-393; 36:257,259 fn. 13)

N. C. Adams, one of the most accommodating drivers on the Santa Cruz Mountain route, while making up for lost time one day was stopped by a lady, who, after calling to him went back into her house. Thinking that the woman was going to fetch a package, Adams waited. After five minutes, Adams climbed off the stage and knocked at the door, calling out,

"Madame, ain't you pretty near ready?"

Hurrying to the door the embarrassed woman replied,

"Oh, Mr. Driver, I ain't going on the stage, but I want to send a roll of butter to San Jose and it's nearly come. Won't you wait till I finish it?"

With that, Adams swallowed a quid of tobacco to distract his own attention, and waited.

Another driver, Sid Conover, had the self-appointed duty of supplying stamps to the ladies on his route, who "'didn't have a stamp in the house. " (44:81)

One of the most famous drivers on the mountain route was Charley Parkhurst, who drove over the mountain roads about 1868. The story of this driver is well known. Like all stage drivers, Parkhurst wore a heavy muffler, gloves, a buffalo skin coat and cap, and blue jeans-turned up to reveal cuffs of an expensive pair of trousers worn under the jeans. Also, like other drivers, Parkhurst had a sharp throaty whistle, used like a horn to warn others that the stage was just around a sharp corner. For these reasons she was able to hide her identity until her death. (38:6/24/1934)

The drive over the Santa Cruz Mountains was more than merely a means of conveyance from one point to another. The ride was also a form of entertainment, similar to rafting down a river or other dangerous sports today. The ride was described in the May 1873 issue of Scribner's Monthly by Susan Coolidge:

"From San Jose, a day's staging over the summit of the Coast Range brings you to Santa Cruz, the favorite watering-place of California. I would advise any one with a few spare day's at command, to take this excursion, if only for the sake of the ride over the mountain, which is wonderfully fine. Flower-lovers should not fail to do so, for such roses, geraniums, jeasamines, and passion-flowers grow nowhere else as run riot in every little garden in Santa Cruz." (19)

Another description of the mountain route appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on May 16, 1874, titled "The Mountain Ride:"

"The ride across the Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the most attractive stage trips in California. The roads from Santa Clara to Santa Cruz command some very picturesque views. . . . Ward & Colegrove's Concord coaches meet the morning train from San Francisco at Santa Clara. Passengers reach Santa Cruz in time for dinner the same day. From Santa Clara depot to the base of the Mountains at Santa Cruz Gap, the route lays across one of the most fascinating portions of the Santa Clara Valley. . . . The passage through Santa Cruz Gap introduces a change in the scene. . . . The Gap looks like a weird canyon both walls of which are rocky and rugged. It is a slight grade for the coach and the six horses have an easy thing of it climbing up the timber skirted slopes. . . . On the summit fourteen miles from Santa Clara and just before reaching the well known abode of Mountain Charley, the landscape expands and stretches out to such proportions that the eye is lost in the vastness of the scene. Far below, over the tops of the redwood trees an enchanting view of the Bay of Monterey is obtained. It is the distant silver lining to a cloud of forest-crowned hills. The ride now becomes exciting. Ward, a veteran among California stage coach veterans, handles the reins over six splendid and sure-footed animals. Under his skillful guidance these horses seem to fly as they whirl the coach down steep hills, and around the shortest of curves. His partner Colegrove, drives the stage on the alternate days, and his fame as a driver is not second to Ward's. Both are artists in their time and with either on the box there is no danger on the mountainous path."(27)

The coaches, horses, and drivers that traveled the Santa Cruz Mountain stage routes from the 1850's to the 1880's were part of a wild and exciting era. Two of the drivers mentioned in the last account left memoirs, Henry C. Ward and George Lewis Colegrove. Ward's account deals with other phases of early California staging, but Colegrove's account as both a stage driver and later as a conductor on the South Pacific Coast Railroad offers a look back to the stagecoach days in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A look at his life offers a generalized glimpse of what all other stage drivers' lives were like during the stagecoach era in California.

>>Continue with: Part 2.


This article is an excerpt from Payne, Stephen Michael. A Howling Wilderness: a History of the Summit Road Area of the Santa Cruz Mountains 1850-1906. Santa Cruz, Loma Prieta Publishing Co., 1978.

Copyright 1978 Stephen Michael Payne. Reproduced by permission of the author.


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public transportation , Santa Cruz Mountains, stagecoaches

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