Santa Cruz County History - Places

Coast Dairies Property: A Land Use History

[Excerpt from Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Use Plan: Draft Exiting Conditions Report for the Coast Dairies Property, Section 1.0.
Figures and photos referenced in text are not included in this web version.]

1.2 - A Humanized Landscape

1.2.5 STATEHOOD (1850 - 1900)

The first 50 years of statehood witnessed continued slow and fitful development on the North Coast. Settlers struggled up the coast periodically and tried to carve out their livings, but the isolation made it extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the years immediately following the Gold Rush saw a surge of activity during which any locale which could produce and ship anything useful was brought into the economy. Products were shipped off the "landings." Without a dependable road connection in any direction, the residents of the North Coast had to transfer goods in and out across several stretches of beach, where in fact no ship could actually land, at the mouths of the coastal creeks. These coastal facilities were quite different than those to the east of Santa Cruz, within the relatively sheltered confines of Monterey Bay: the North Coast landings were exposed to the power of the open ocean. Wharves along the North Coast rarely survived through one winter season, and most shipping was handled using combinations of buoys, winches and cables.

The landings operated with the ebb and flow of economic as well as natural tides. When the prices of commodities were high, such as in the early 1850s when San Francisco began to emerge from the sand dunes and gold dust flowed into that city from the Sierra Nevada, few expenses were spared to operate the North Coast landings. When prices dropped, the landings grew quiet, as during the depression of the mid-1870s when most of them ceased to operate. The North Coast continued to be a wild, rugged, and unforgiving place.

The Shape of Santa Cruz County

When Santa Cruz County was officially established on February 18, 1850, its northern boundary was the headwaters of San Francisquito Creek, many miles north of the troublesome bluff at Waddell. The county included the watersheds of Pescadero Creek and San Gregorio Creek as well as the settlements that had grown up there, such as the town of Pescadero.

The County Road between Pescadero and Santa Cruz

For the North Coast, having county neighbors to the north meant that they were on the way to somewhere. As long as Año Nuevo, Pigeon Point, Pescadero and San Gregorio were part of Santa Cruz County, efforts and resources might be expended to improve the run-it-at-low-tide situation at Waddell. Those who lived in Pescadero and wished to use the legal services at the county seat of Santa Cruz were 40 miles of bad road away.

The State of the Road in 1865

An article written in 1865 declared that the county road was a "great hardship and injustice to the people living at Pescadero and its vicinity." The writer described it as "one of the most abominable roads this side of Kamchatka--a road, a portion of the distance must be traveled along the beach which is encompassed by a high bluff upon one side and the foaming billows upon the other..." (Pajaro Times 1/20/1865)

North Coast Land Ownership Patterns

Where the Californios living along the California Coast to the south and east often lived on their Mexican land grants well into the 1870s, the three grantees on the North Coast seemed eager to dispose of their lands and move elsewhere. There were no Californios living on the North Coast by 1860 (Census of 1860). During the early years of statehood, the land that eventually became the Coast Dairies Property passed to newly-arrived settlers. The Aqua Puerca Rancho was bought by James Archibald, a native of Scotland; the San Vicente grant was purchased by Peter Tracy; the Rancho Laguna was bought by the Williams brothers (Clark, 1986). The optimistic new Americans living in California operated at least four landings, mentioned frequently in the shipping records at the harbor of San Francisco.

Pigeon Point

The northernmost of the four landings was located on the south side of Pigeon Point in present-day San Mateo County. Pigeon Point served people living in the watersheds of Pescadero and Butano Creek as well as on the coastal terrace in the vicinity of Point Año Nuevo. By the early 1870s, the landing had a typical cable and winch system:

"At Pigeon Point there is a semicircular bay, partially sheltered from the northern winds, but the heavy swells rolling in from the southwest prevent any wharves being erected. Out about two hundred yards from the shore is a high monument-like rock, rising to a level with the steep rock bluff which half encloses the bay. From the bluff to the top of this rock stretches a heavy wire cable, kept taut by a capstan. A vessel rounding the reef runs into the sheltered cove under this hawser, and then casts anchor. Slings running down on the hawser are rigged, and her cargo lifted from her deck load by load, run up into the air fifty to one hundred feet, than hauled in shore, and landed upon the top of the bluff...This system is in extensive use along the coast..." (Evans, 1873)

Waddell's Landing

Several efforts were made to provide a shipping point on the south side of Franklin Point to ship the products from the dairies near Point Año Nuevo as well as the lumber and agricultural products from the valley of Waddell Creek. More will be said about this landing in the logging discussion below.

William's Landing

Located at the mouth of Liddell Creek, William's Landing was the most important of the early North Coast Landings. The Williams brothers owned the adjacent Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna and established the landing in the early 1850s (Clark 1986). The landing comprised a large hawser hanging over the water, its ends attached to the cliffs that formed a small cove. Small schooners would attach themselves to the hawser and loads of lime, lumber and agricultural produce would be lowered to the ship in a loading bin suspended from the rope. During the 1850s the harbormaster at San Francisco noted regular shipments from the landing including lumber, firewood and agricultural produce (Alta 5/10/1858).

An account published in 1867 provides a good description: "It assumes quite a business air, on account of several fine roads from the timber region, and limestone quarries, north of the place. This port is the present shipping point of large quantities of lime and leather, tanbark, etc...Shipping is safe and easy, the vessel being moored to a large hawser extending across the estuary, from cliff to cliff." (Sentinel 7/6/1867) William's Landing was not safe, in spite of the Sentinel's confident boosterism. On at least two occasions, lives were lost while attempting to load the wildly pitching ships. On July 12, 1857, two crewmen from the schooner Harrison drowned when they were knocked out of a small boat by the hawser (Sentinel 7/17/58) and in January of 1869, a small lime and lumber schooner named the A. Crosby was dashed on the rocks with her entire crew of five lost (Sentinel, 1/16/69) .

Davenport's Landing

In the fall of 1867, shore whaler John Pope Davenport [11] moved from Soquel to the small bay at the mouth of Molino Creek and began to build a wharf. A newspaper account in October of 1867 noted Davenport's early success: "Already three schooners have cleared from the wharf with full freights of lumber, shingles and tanbark. (Sentinel 11/23/1867)

By 1872, Davenport's Landing eclipsed William's Landing to become the primary shipping point on the North Coast, and a small community grew up beside the road that dipped down beside the beach. The landing boasted a hotel, saloon, general store, and blacksmith shop. A surprising variety of goods was shipped from the landing including lumber, posts, pickets, shingles, shakes, lime, tanbark, butter, cheese, dried venison and deer hides (Sentinel 9/21/1872).

The small community at Davenport's Landing was destroyed by a fire on April 26, 1913, and though some of the buildings were rebuilt, the town of Davenport that had grown up beside the cement plant took over as the commercial center of the North Coast (Sentinel 4/27/1913). EARLY NORTH COAST AGRICULTURE

The dominant agricultural use of the North Coast up to 1900 continued to be livestock production. While the broader, flatter alluvial valleys of the Pajaro, San Lorenzo and Soquel Rivers were transformed from pasture to intensive agriculture (beginning with the potato boom in the early 1850s), the North Coast continued the pastoral tradition that had begun a century earlier. The coast's isolation and dearth of available labor certainly inhibited intensive farming practices, and the majority of the arable land was either of poor quality or too steep to grow anything but grasses or cereal grains.[12]

The North Coast's persistent summertime fog extended the growing season for perennial grasses well into the summer months (see Section 3.1.1), and the green hills above the coastal terrace became one of the Coast's emblematic views. Periodic droughts that often drove Central California's livestock industries into bankruptcy were not as severe here; during the drought of 1862-1864, for example, hundreds of thousands of cattle perished in the Salinas Valley and the adjacent hills. Enterprising North Coast ranchers bought Monterey County cattle for next to nothing and drove them into the hills and terraces of the North Coast, where enough survived to make selling them profitable once the drought ended.

The North Coast Dairies

Dairying was a logical next step and a perfect match for the North Coast. The land was still in large enough parcels to support extensive grazing, and grassland was abundant. Perennial streams to support the water requirements for a dairy operation transected the terrace at regular intervals, now an asset at least as much as an obstruction. By the 1850s, what we might call the North Coast Model had developed: herds of cows grazing across the terrace and hills, with a dairy tucked down in each coastal valley, beside the stream and out of the wind. The dairies produced cheese and butter, commodities that could be shipped relatively easily and had a high value by weight. Those dairies close enough to Santa Cruz could transport their butter and cheese to Santa Cruz by wagon, while farther up the coast, it was shipped off Williams' and Davenport's landings.

The Marin County Dairy Connection

In the 1850s Marin County was the primary butter and cheese-producing region for the San Francisco market and many of the pioneer dairymen in Santa Cruz County came from there. Mr. L. K. Baldwin, himself a dairyman who migrated from Marin County, noted in 1879 that the North Coast dairies "are mostly owned by men who have been residents of Marin County, and been engaged in dairying there." (Elliot, 1879) Santa Cruz soon developed a reputation for producing a sweeter butter that commanded higher prices in San Francisco (Sentinel 1/4/1871). L. K. Baldwin summed up the reasons that he established his dairy on the North Coast: "...we find the climate, grass and temperature pretty much the same as Marin, which requires a cool temperature, fresh, breezy air, good sweet grasses, pure water from our numerous springs and streams, and with cleanliness are not excelled in the manufacture of good, sweet butter by any place in the state." (Elliott, 1879)

Early Immigrant North Coast Dairymen

Though the majority of these early dairymen may have come from Marin County, they had very diverse immigrant backgrounds. Some, like James Hall, were from originally from New England. James Archibald, the dairyman at Scotts Creek, was from Scotland, and the manuscript census of 1870 lists several from Ireland. One prominent diary operator was Antone Silva (sometimes spelled Silvy), a native of the Azores Islands, Portugal.

Early Swiss on the North Coast

Scattered through the 1870 manuscript census we can find the origins of what later will become the Swiss-dominated dairy industry on the North Coast: John Stauband and Jaques Martin were Swiss-born dairymen, as well as Ambrose Gianone, also listed as working in a North Coast dairy. At that point in time, however, the majority of the Swiss living on the North Coast in the 1870s worked in the lumber industry, and most listed their occupation as woodcutters (Census 1870). EARLY IRRIGATION ON THE NORTH COAST

It took the Spanish several summers in Central California to learn that irrigation was the key to successful intensive agriculture in this land of little or no summer rainfall. Early missions, such as that in the Carmel Valley, were hampered by their inability to get water up onto the mission terraces. Since the Spanish had no pumps, the only way they could water terraces was by bringing water down from above, through ditches and canals. It is not surprising that Father Palou, a veteran of several difficult summers at Carmel, noted the potential for irrigation on Santa Cruz's North Coast. In December 1774, while passing Laguna Creek, he notes: "We then continued on our way in sight of the beach by a wide plain which skirts the range of hills, all good arable land with fine pasture. In half an hour we crossed an arroyo of more than two bueys of water which flows with the slope of the land. By means of it, it would be easy to water the plain, more than half a league wide, which we passed, and another one as long which reaches from the hills to the cliff on the beach." (Priestly, 1937)

Horace Gushee's Laguna Creek Irrigation Project -1873

A century later, in August of 1873, the first major irrigation project was undertaken on Laguna Creek by Horace Gushee. A newspaper reporter attended the picnic marking the opening of the flume:

"Mr. Gushee invited some fifty friends and neighbors to a picnic on the occasion, and a right jolly good time there was in the pleasant laurel grove on the creek, about a half mile above the crossing. We attended early, so as to angle for trout before the company arrived. On starting up the creek, trout bit freely and the water was cloudy and running at full force; but when half through the cañon, the water suddenly diminished about one-half in quantity and force, so that we knew the creek had been tapped; the gorge is very narrow and extremely rocky, yet we made good time, climbing over huge boulders and around hanging cliffs until the open stream was reached, and the flume was visible, hanging above us on the eastern hill-side like a golden thread, wove by some fairy-wand in a single night. We proceeded up to a short distance below the dam, and then left the creek and started back down the flume--a distance of two and one-half miles to the present end of the ditch. The flume was brimful of pure, clear, sparkling water, rolling in gladsome volume, as if hurrying to reach the termination, where its invigorating and fertilizing effects would be brought into requisition, and utility appreciated. We followed the flume--which is staunch and strong--alternately walking on it and in the side-path, until we reached the first piece of ditch, where a break occurred, which let one-half the water out; hence the flume and ditch winds around the head of a steep cañon to the hillside, opposite Butler's old residence, where it strikes across the divide and to its termination, to be distributed over some 200 acres of land by numerous branches.

A portion of the water will be conducted to the dairy-house, and thence over another large field of over 200 acres, below the house.

It is the intention of the proprietor to grow alfalfa, sugar beets, carrots, corn, etc, for stock and at seasonable times, irrigate the land so as to furnish green food for his dairy cows. The flume, with a six-inch head, takes out of the stream 144 square inches of water, which is about one-half the creek's supply at this season of the year. The enterprise is a new feature in Santa Cruz county, and if successful, will add materially to the value of agriculture and dairy lands along the coast. Mr. Gushee has already spent about $5,000 in ditching and fluming, and calculates to run small ditches in various directions to water stock and irrigate the land." (Sentinel 8/9/1873)

A North Coast Irrigation Rush - 1873

Within a month several other North Coast landowners were planning to follow Gushee's example:

"We are informed that the plan adopted for irrigating the coast land, by Mr. Horace Gushee and Claus Spreckles [sic][13] is working an entire change in the diary business along the coast. Every dairyman along the many streams which drain the western slope of the Santa Cruz range, [is] preparing to flume or ditch the banks of the stream to lead the water out over the table land for household purposes. Mr. J.P. Laird, will, during the coming Winter and Spring, flume the San Bicente [Vicente] creek, and others up the coast are talking of similar enterprises. At Gushee's ranch south of the Laguna creek, a fine opportunity is offered of the advantages of irrigation, for grazing purposes. Where heretofore, in this season of the year, everything was dry as powder, now the soil is moist and covered with a luxuriant growth of vegetation, nearly a foot high. The stock of milkers are grazing it, and the return is more than double in milk, butter and cheese, than that from the dry uplands. About 200 acres are irrigated and next year as much more will be brought within the scope of the zanzas or irrigation ditches, and small distributing flumes. Alfalfa will be sown on the sandy soil below the road, and all over the sea-coast plateau below the road. The burr clover, alfilera [newsprint is smudged] and other native clovers and grasses do well, but are not so permanent and durable, in food or production as the alfalfa or Chili clover. Timothy, (or herd's grass) red clover, Kentucky, blue grass and sweet vernal grass will also be tried, as an experiment, and if found successful with irrigation will be adopted. There are at least twenty-five streams along the coast south of Waddell's creek, to the Pajaro, inclusive, that might be utilized with their tributaries for irrigation purposes....Mr. Gushee's farm is more valuable, since irrigated, by a third. Mr. Laird estimates that his land would be improved in value one-half, if he had now the waste water flowing into the sea through the San Bicente creek, to irrigate his land with." (Sentinel 10/4/1873) EARLY NORTH COAST LOGGING

North Coast Logging Potential

The most prominent products stacked on the landings awaiting shipment during these early years were lumber, pickets, posts, shakes, shingles, tanbark [14]and firewood. The terraces that faced the ocean may have been treeless, but around the first bend of each of the coastal streams, hidden from the desiccating effects of the salt air, were groves of stunted coast redwoods. And with each succeeding bend in the canyon, the trees grew larger and the groves more pronounced until, in the upper reaches of streams on the west flank of Ben Lomond Mountain, stood some of the most valuable timber stands in all of Santa Cruz County. Lumbermen marveled at the logging potential, but, from the 1850s into the 1880s, they did not have the technology to get the logs or lumber out of the canyons and out to market. None of the North Coast streams had a volume of water sufficient to carry logs down to the landing (as was practiced on the coast of California north of the Golden Gate), so the logs either had to be skidded down using oxen, or processed where they fell. The best the lumbermen could do was fell the redwoods closest to the landings and split them on site, carrying the posts, pickets or shakes out to the landing on mules or wagons. These "split-stuff" operations were episodic, blooming when the price of lumber was high, and wilting when the price dropped and the statewide economy was depressed. Because Marin County could get redwood lumber to San Francisco markets more cheaply, the North Coast timber industry remained relatively dormant until the end of the nineteenth century (see Photo 1-1).

William Waddell's Mill and Landing

The major exception to the primitive aspects of North Coast logging was the construction of a steam sawmill in 1862 by William Waddell on the stream that eventually bore his name. Blessed with a stand of timber "more extensive and compact" than any other on the North Coast, Waddell built his sawmill about two miles inland, and then brought the finished lumber down on small railroad cars that rode on wooden rails (Sentinel 4/16/1864).

Waddell built a series of wharves near the mouth of the creek off which to ship his lumber, but the ocean always succeeded in turning them into kindling. The most successful method for off-loading lumber continued to be the system of winching it out to ships anchored offshore. An unfortunate encounter with a grizzly bear in October of 1875 permanently interrupted Waddell's operation.



11Shore whaling was the practice of hunting whales in thirty-foot whaleboats and then towing the carcass back to shore for processing. John Pope Davenport pioneered the practice on the Pacific Coast in Monterey in 1853 with a crew of Azorean whalers. Davenport moved his whaling operation to Soquel in 1865 and then moved to the landing at the mouth of Agua Puerca Creek. Though some historians have written that he whaled at this last location, there is no evidence to support that contention. He gave his occupation as whaler when interviewed by the census taker in Monterey in 1860, but he responded with the occupation of wharfinger when he was interviewed at the landing in 1870 (Census 1860, 1870; Orlando pers. comm., 2000).

12 The Project Achives (interviews) contain a discussion of early dry farming and dairying. The pattern of dairies and hay fields described by Frank "Lud" McCrary is probably close to the pattern in the late 1880s. See especially the annotated 1928 aerial in the Project Airphoto Archives for a depiction of early dry farming operations.

13 Claus Spreckels had just purchased most of the Aptos Rancho and was laying out an extensive farming operation there, east of present-day Aptos.

14 The bark from the tanoak tree was the source of tannin for the early tanning industry in California. The trees were felled, the bark peeled from the logs and shipped off the landings. See Lud McCrary Interview, Appendix 1.2.1.

Other sections:

View similarly tagged articles:

agriculture, dairying, Davenport, farming, logging, North Coast, water supply


It is our continuing goal to make available a selection of articles on various subjects and places in Santa Cruz County. Certain topics, however, have yet to be researched. In other cases, we were not granted permission to use articles. The content of the articles is the responsibility of the individual author. It is the Library's intent to provide accurate local history information. However, it is not possible for the Library to completely verify the accuracy of individual articles obtained from a variety of sources. If you believe that factual statements in a local history article are incorrect and can provide documentation, please contact the Webmaster.