Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living



The Paper Mill Dam
by Barry Brown

Photograph of a Paper Mll Dam
A Paper Mll Dam
Photograph from the Reichling Collection, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

The San Lorenzo Paper Mill was established by Henry Van Valkenburgh in 1861 on the present site of Paradise Park’s Section 6. A dam and flume provided water power to drive the machinery. The photograph above, shows a similar dam which illustrates the construction techniques used in the mid-19th century. As you can see, the dam was fairly primitive with large tree trunks laid crisscross on an incline. The spaces between the logs were packed with earth and the whole structure was overlaid with planks to make it relatively watertight. The dam was designed to allow large trees and debris to flow over the top, as seen above, when the river was at flood stage.

Unfortunately, the dam backed the river's water far upstream which created a small lake that sometimes flooded the southern end of the Powder Works to the north of the Paper Mill. To resolve this problem, the two companies agreed that the Paper Mill would tear down its dam, and in return, the Powder Works would provide water to the Paper Mill via a flume which ran alongside the river and connected the two operations. After Henry Van Valkenburgh's untimely death, the Paper Mill was eventually sold to the Powder Works in 1872; and by 1873, the CPW began its expansion here by building the brick Powder House located nearby (see Historical Marker #27).

Interestingly, Henry's widow Ellen was an early suffragette who tried to register to vote in Santa Cruz in 1871. She was refused by the County Clerk. She sued and, in 1872, her case for voting rights for women reached the California Supreme Court which ruled against her. It would take another 48 years before the 19th Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1920 granting women the right to vote in California and the United States.


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dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River

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