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Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living
The California Powder Works Tunnel
by Barry Brown
Map from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Against the hillside, at the head of the stairs on York Ave., you can just make out the exit point of the 1200ft. long, 4x6ft. diameter tunnel that was dug in 1863 to channel San Lorenzo River water to the Powder Works from land now lying within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
Tunneling was begun on both sides of the hill at once, the plan being to meet in the middle. Operating under the assumption that the rock to be excavated was limestone, a relatively soft material, tunneling was expected to be a straight forward affair, but as the workers approached the center of the mountain, they encountered granite which slowed down the process considerably. Nevertheless, on January 9, 1864, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported:
The workmen excavating on either side of this great tunnel, came together on New Years Eve. The hill is now completely perforated. The tunnel is 1200 feet long with a 60 foot decline and is a great achievement of art, energy, and science.
Interestingly, whenever the flow of water was halted to clean the tunnel, workmen often found freshwater shellfish attached to the tunnel walls. It was reported that when cooked, they were very good to eat.
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