Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living



Industrial Development: Lumber, Lime and cement, Fishing
by Susan Lehmann

Lumber: The enormous stands of virgin timber found in what would become Santa Cruz County attracted entrepreneurs to the area as early as 1840 when a French Canadian, Francisco Lajeunesse and two Americans, Isaac Graham and Henry Neale made attempts to acquire Rancho Zayante. Graham, a trapper and rifleman, described by Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft as "a loudmouthed, unprincipled, profligate and reckless man" and his partner, were unsuccessful because they were not Mexican citizens. They finally succeeded when they took on another partner, Joseph L. Majors, who was married to a member of the Castro family. Majors was granted the rancho in 1841 and four months later he, and a syndicate that included Graham built a saw mill that was located on the grounds of today's Mount Hermon. Another mill was built in 1845 and, by 1857, there were ten sawmills in the county. By 1864 the number had increased to [twenty-eight].

Photo of a lumber mill
Hubbard and Carmichael lumber mill
at Porter Gulch, 1884

One of the largest problems associated with the industry was transporting the lumber from the mills to markets outside of the area. In 1847, construction of a 20 mile long flume from the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River to the Pacific Ocean was authorized by the California legislature. In 1851 a wharf was built into Santa Cruz harbor which facilitated development of the port area and made possible the shipping of lumber and other raw material. It was obvious that the development of a rail line from the mountains to the harbor was necessary to ensure continued economic growth. Entrepreneurs within the city realized the financial opportunity of having a rail line that began in Felton and ended at a wharf in Santa Cruz harbor. The Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad constructed a tunnel under Mission Hill, laid tracks down Chestnut [Street] and in 1876 ran a line that began in Felton and proceeded to the harbor, terminating at the renamed railroad wharf.

Through the 1800s, lumber production continued to increase and Santa Cruz became one of the major suppliers for the builders of San Francisco. The intense logging activity eventually took its toll, however, and by the turn of the century, timber suitable for cutting, was all but exhausted. In addition, a new conservation movement had [begun]. This ushered in the eventual change in the economic base from industry to tourism.

Lime and cement: The initial availability of a plentiful wood supply gave rise to another major industry in early Santa Cruz County, that of lime production. In the 1850s two engineers from Massachusetts, A. P. Jordan and Isaac E. Davis began investigating commercial possibilities of developing lime which, they discovered, was of excellent quality and abundant quantity in the County. Lime was an important part of the building industry of the time and was used for making mortar, plaster and whitewash. The process of converting limestone into building lime involved the burning of chunks of limestone in large stone kilns. Both the ancient Egyptians and the Roman used the process and the Spanish brought the technology to California, building kilns at several Missions. A post Gold Rush construction boom in San Francisco created a great demand for the product and Jordan and Davis recognized that all the elements for creating a lime industry existed in Santa Cruz County. Besides the plentiful supply of lime, the accessibility of a large timber supply was essential. Each firing consumed seventy cords of wood and redwood was also needed to make barrels for storing and transporting the finished product.

Davis and Jordan built their first kilns in 1853 at what is now the corner of High and Bay Streets in the City of Santa Cruz. They built a 450 foot wharf at the base of Bay from which the lime was shipped to San Francisco on their own schooner, "Queen of the West." In 1858, two other companies went into operation. One owned by Samuel Adams, operated a mile west of the Davis and Jordan and the other, owned by Andrew Glassell, was located eight miles up the coast from Santa Cruz.

As the supply of lime at their original location was exhausted, Davis and Jordan created a quarry on the former Rancho de la Canada del Rincon located on the San Lorenzo River between Santa Cruz and Felton. Part of this property was eventually sold and became the California Powder Works. In 1863, Jordan moved back East and sold his interest in the lime enterprise to Henry Cowell. Cowell, who came to Santa Cruz in 1865, is one of the County's best known pioneers and it is on his former property that the University of California, Santa Cruz is now located, along with a state park that bears his name.

The Davis and Cowell Lime Company became the largest and most profitable of all the operations in the County, shipping about 1,000 barrels a week in 1868. Another company, headed by Thomas Bull and Eben Bennett went into production in the mid-1860s in an area about two miles west of Felton. The company was eventually acquired by a San Francisco lime merchant, Henry Holms.

About 8,000 barrels of lime a month total were produced in the County by the end of the 1860s. With the completion of a railroad line between Felton and Santa Cruz in 1875, the operations became even more profitable and companies continued to be created including the I. X. L. Lime Company which was located two miles north-west of Felton. The North County saw increased development as well when the Santa Cruz Lime Company began constructing facilities in 1875 three miles inland from Davenport. The peak of the lime industry was reached in the 1880s when the Santa Cruz Companies: Davis and Cowell, Holms and I. X. L. produced half of California's total supply. By the 1890s, however, a decline began caused by a number of factors. The first was the lack of cheap fuel. Intense logging by the timber, powder and lime industries had resulted in an almost complete removal of the forests that had covered the Santa Cruz Mountains. Alternative fuels to power the kilns had to be imported and were expensive. In addition, the development of cement, which involved a process that could utilize a cheaper and less pure grade of limestone, had begun to replace lime as the building material of choice. Santa Cruz Lime Company stopped shipping lime in 1906. It was replaced by a cement plant built by the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company at Davenport. Cowell's operation eventually purchased I. X. L. and continued under the management of Cowell's son Samuel until 1925. In Felton, the Holms Lime Company was able to continue operation for a time using kilns that burned oil but it too shut down in the 1930s.

During its years of operation, the lime industry made use of both skilled workers and laborers. Stone cutters shaped the granite and limestone boulders used in making the wall of the kilns and lined the inside with fire brick. Other workers, called "archers" were responsible for stacking the pieces of limestone within the kiln in arches four or five feet high and seven to nine feet long. This required an exacting skill since the firing took three days and if the pyramid of limestone collapsed before the process was complete, the entire load was ruined.

In addition, laborers were needed to cut timber, load and unload kilns and care for the livestock. No record has been found of the ethnic origins of the first workers. In the later Henry Cowell operation, however, Swiss-Italians and Portuguese from the Azores made up the majority of the work force. Most were single men who lived in cabins on the company land and were paid ten to fifteen dollars a month in addition to room and board. A few of the worker's cabins still stand on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz although they are in deteriorating condition and are in imminent danger of collapse. Other remnants of Cowell's lime operation and ranch can also be found on the campus, the most noteworthy being the lime kilns which are the largest remaining kilns in the county and possibly in the state. Another example of kilns can be found in the city owned Pogonip Park.

Fishing: Earliest reporting commercial fishing operation in Santa Cruz County was a small Chinese colony established in the 1850s. The camp was temporary, however, and the first viable commercial fishing company was not created until a narrow gauge railroad line was built between Santa Cruz and the Southern Pacific station near Watsonville in 1875. A group of Italians, along with some Californios already living in Santa Cruz began a fresh fish business at the terminus of the railroad in Santa Cruz. In 1879, 139,000 pounds of fish were shipped from that port. Italian families, most from Genoa and the towns nearby, became associated with the fishing industry and many of their descendants are still residents of Santa Cruz. These include familiar local names like Stagnaro, Carniglia, Canepa and Faraola.

Cottardo Stagnaro arrived from Italy in 1874, and along with his sons and grandchildren, established the C. Stagnaro Fishing Corporation. In 1902, John and Sunday Faraola whose father emigrated to California in the 1860s, established a commercial fishing company on the old railroad wharf. They built a fleet of fishing vessels that was one of the largest on the Central California coast. At the height of the industry, 75 to 100 boats a day unloaded tons of salmon, sea bass, rock cod and sole. Sport fishing has been a top attraction since the turn of the century and the Faraola family ran a charter service on the wharf in addition to their commercial fishing business.

World War II proved a disastrous time for the Santa Cruz fishing fleet. As a result of Executive Order #9066 issued in February 1942, Italian families, many of whom had established neighborhoods at the lower end of Bay Street near the waterfront, were made to leave their homes and move inland. Even those who had sons who were born in the United States and were serving in the armed forces, were not permitted to enter restricted areas that included the entire coastline. The boats were abandoned or confiscated for use in the war effort. After the war, many of the fishing families became involved in other business pursuits. Although Santa Cruz no longer has an active commercial fishing fleet based in the city, the sport fishing business is still active and the names of pioneering Italian families can be seen on the concessions and restaurants lining the present day municipal wharf.


[From: Fully Developed Context Statement for the City of Santa Cruz. Prepared for City of Santa Cruz Planning and Development Department. Prepared by Susan Lehmann, October 20, 2000. Chapter 3, Context I: Economic Development of the City of Santa Cruz 1850-1950, pp. 8-10, 14]


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fishing, jobs, limestone, logging, mining, World War II

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