Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

Transportation: Roads; Wharves and piers
by Susan Lehmann

Roads: The wealth of natural resources in Santa Cruz County was obvious to the first pioneers in the area. A major problem in developing these resources, however, was in bringing them out of the rugged and often inaccessible terrain to a point where they could be shipped. Another important goal was to provide links between the settlements that serviced the lumber, lime and powder industries and which would become the County's villages and towns. When the railroads finally arrived and took over this function, the early roads became less important for conveying goods and more important for bringing in the tourists who valued the way they meandered through some of the state's most picturesque scenery.

The first road in the county, actually more a crude trail, was created in 1791 to link Mission Santa Cruz with Mission Santa Clara. The route traversed the Santa Cruz Mountains and was the forerunner of present day Highway 17. The governor of California, Diego de Borica, made it clear that the road, improved in 1799, was not to be used for frivolous purposes. Settlers of Branciforte were required to have advance permission to make the journey, since the governor believed they should remain at home tilling the soil rather than loitering around San Jose. The route, he said, was to be used exclusively for bringing supplies in and out of the area.

During the early 1840s the road, described by some as a "bear trail," was used to transport lumber out of the mountains. Other toll roads came into existence in the 1850s and 60s including one built by Charles McKieran [sic], known in local lore as Mountain Charlie. The road wound through his property on the summit and joined the turnpike toll road of the Santa Cruz Gap Joint Stock Company of which he was a shareholder. This road ran on the west side and parallel to the present day Highway 17 and part of it, called Mountain Charlie Road, is still used today. The road was eventually incorporated into the Santa Cruz Gap Turnpike, which was financed by stockholders in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

This link between San Jose and Soquel, built from 1857 to 1862, was known on various maps as the Soquel Turnpike, the Old San Jose Road, and the Soquel and San Jose Road. It was the chief route over the mountains into Santa Clara County until Highway 17 was constructed between 1931 and 1943. Several stagecoach routes operated on these roads and served as a link between communities until they were replaced by the railroads.

While much of early road building activities centered on linking Santa Cruz County with outside communities, roads that served to move goods within the county were important as well. The lumber, lime and powder manufactured in the San Lorenzo Valley had to be moved out of the rugged terrain and into Santa Cruz to be shipped by sea. In the early 1860s, several incomplete and primitive roads were constructed by local land owners but no direct route existed to connect Felton, the primary lumbering center, with Santa Cruz. Businessmen in both the San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz began a campaign in 1866 to construct a road to serve that purpose.

After succeeding in raising money by subscription, the County of Santa Cruz contracted with lime kiln owner, Eban [sic] Bennett to construct a road at a cost of $6,000. The road, four miles long, connected two existing roads, one coming north from Santa Cruz and the other south from Felton. Completed in May 1868, the road was considered a model of road building, since it was constructed on a continuous hillside grade on an angle of about 45 degrees. It runs along the west bank of the San Lorenzo River and at some places it had to be constructed over 1,500 feet above the water. Although the road had been paid for through subscription and county funds, money was necessary to maintain it and for this reason it became a toll road.

In spite of the decline of the timber, lime and powder industries, the area soon became a popular tourist destination and the road continued to be used by visitors, first by wagon and stagecoach and later by automobile. Now called Highway 9, it still connects the city of Santa Cruz with the San Lorenzo Valley.

Within the city, the street layout, established over the years by patterns of development rather than grand design, persist to the present in many areas. Instead of a standard grid, the streets follow the irregular geography which is characterized by a river and its flood plain, hills and flatlands. The first attempt, in 1866, to map the city reinforced the existing conditions of individually subdivided tracts of land connected by little more than cowpaths and trails -- most going back to the mission era. In recent years, highway incursions into the Mission Hill area, redevelopment between Front Street and the river and attempts to affect traffic flow by changing street directions have all had an effect on historic patterns of street development.

[Wharves] and piers: Before railroads and motor roads linked the community to the outside world, the city's industries were dependent on shipping. Getting goods to waiting ships was the first problem and the initial solution was primitive at best. Lumber was dragged through the surf and hoisted aboard waiting schooners. Men carried lighter objects on their shoulders to small boats which in turn brought them to ships. Elihu Anthony, a merchant and foundry owner came up with a marginally better system with his partner Edwin S. Penfield when in 1847 they built a rudimentary wharf at the foot of the present Bay [Street]. The "wharf" was really a plank chute steep enough to slide a sack of potatoes into a waiting rowboat. It was later bought by Davis and Jordan who owned a small fleet of schooners that carried shipments of lime from their kilns. They replaced the structure in 1856 with a 1000 foot wharf and developed a system wherein the lime was transported by tram cars moved by gravity down an incline, then hauled with horses back up the hill. This wharf was ultimately destroyed by heavy seas in 1907.

Photo of the Railroad Wharf
The railroad wharf around 1910.
Photo from the Library's collection.

A second wharf was completed in 1855 by David Gharkey who extended it in 1863 to accommodate larger vessels. When a narrow gauge railroad began operating between Santa Cruz and Felton, tracks were laid and the Gharkey Wharf became the railroad wharf. It was later purchased by the South Pacific Coast railroad. Although the California Powder Works initially used the Davis Jordon [sic] wharf, they began construction on their own which was located on what is now Santa Cruz's main swimming beach. In addition they built a large warehouse on the top of Beach Hill.

For about five years, the powder and railroad wharves were connected but the cross wharf between the two was demolished in 1882. The city's fishing fleet used the railroad wharf as its base of operations but moved to the municipal wharf that was constructed by the city in 1914. The railroad wharf was finally torn down in 1922.

The opening of the municipal wharf, built as a result of a $172,000 bond issue, was dedicated with great fanfare on December 5, 1914. Composed of over 2000 Douglas fir pilings, the wharf was 2,745 feet long. It has been remodeled and refurbished a number of times, including a major project completed in 1984. In contrast to the city's early wharves that had warehouses and businesses associated with fishing and shipping, the current wharf is tourist oriented with restaurants, stores and souvenir shops.

Although it only exists in photographs, the Pleasure Pier, constructed in 1904 as part of [the] development of [the] first Casino and boardwalk, was long a part of the city's waterfront attractions. It was torn down in 1962 at the same time the boardwalk's plunge was converted into a miniature golf course.

[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. 24-25, 27]

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