Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: William Waddell
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

Surely back in the mid-to-late 1800's there were many who were looking for new adventures, and with the onset of the California Gold Rush in 1849, many moved west in search of that opportunity. The mass migration brought many an entrepreneur to California in search of a prosperous new life. One of those was Santa Cruz's own William White Waddell.

Photograph of William Waddell's Memorial
William Waddell's Memorial

Waddell was born on January 31, 1818 in Madison County Kentucky, and moved to Lexington Missouri in 1837. There, through several successful business ventures, he amassed a large fortune. Unfortunately for Waddell, a few investments went sour, and within a short amount of time, he found himself with a dry bank account and a thirst for a fresh start. The golden hills of California, thought Waddell, held the answer.

In 1851, Waddell arrived in Santa Cruz where he began working at the Williams Landing lumber mill. Over the next 10 years, he operated several prominent lumber mills, including Rincon Mills, Branciforte, and Blackburn Gulch. In 1862, he purchased his own "goldmine" -- the famed Rancho del Oso -- and began constructing the largest and most productive lumber mill in Santa Cruz County.

In 1865, he built a wharf on the beach at Waddell Creek from which his lumber could be shipped. The wharf, however, exposed to the power of the Pacific, was soon crushed by the high wind and pounding surf of the Northern California coast. In 1866, another wharf, built in the more protected waters of the bay at Año Nuevo just up the coast, lasted until well after the mill closed down.

Photograph of William Waddell's railway tram to Ano Nuevo
Waddell's railway tram to Año Nuevo

As successful as it was, Waddell's lumber mill wasn't without its problems: besides losing his first wharf to the elements, his first mill burned to the ground in 1864. Unwilling to accept defeat, he rebuilt the mill, which, as testimony to its success, acted as the center of a small settlement called Seaside. However, this sawmill was eventually destined for disaster as well, and also burned in 1883 -- but not before Waddell's own death in 1875.

On October 1, 1875, Waddell was hunting deer on the land above his homestead. Unlike today, at that time, California's coastal mountain ranges were stillhome to many bears, and as Waddell started up a ravine, he was attacked by a large Grizzly and severely mauled. He lived just long enough to tell the story to his closest friends and family, and to have one of his arms amputated; he died five days later.

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