Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: Thomas J. Weeks
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

Thomas Jefferson Weeks was born into a prominent family in the town of Wayne, Kennebec County, Maine on November 22, 1829. But as a child, he had a strange far-away look in his eyes, the kind of look that made it impossible for him to fit into the niche his family had carved out for him.

While still in his teens he was seized with the wanderlust and set out for New Bedford to sign aboard a whaling ship, but along the way, news of the discovery of gold in California reached him. Against everyone's advice, Weeks set sail on the ship New Jersey, bound around Cape Horn for San Francisco, and he never looked back.

After a long and dangerous six month voyage, Tom Weeks arrived at California and set out immediately for the goldfields. A summer spent in the rough and tumble mining camps made it clear to him that this was not the life he sought. He wandered south and during the month of November 1849, emerged from the Santa Cruz Mountains into the sleepy village of Branciforte.

Photograph of the Memorial for Thomas J. Weeks
Memorial for Thomas J. Weeks

Looking for a place to stay, he went down to the harbor where he found an old schooner that had run aground, and literally tore the cabin off of the rotting hull. After placing it on the beach and filling it with supplies, he moved into his new "home."

One day while lounging around the shore, he hit upon an idea for a career. Noticing the sandy bottom lands that lay between the San Lorenzo River and Branciforte Creek, Wooks decided to experiment with potato raising. He and a partner rented 25 of these acres from Judge William Blackburn at $15/acre and put in a crop. That first year, the partners, harvesting four hundred sacks of potatoes to the acre, cleared $5,000 each. The following year, they met with the same success, only now they were forced to pay rent at the rate of $100/acre.

The idea quickly caught on and soon potatoes were the number one crop in the state. Within a few years, however, the bottom fell out of the market when the production out stripped demand. But Tom Weeks had secured his future, investing his earnings into real estate, buying much of what is now downtown Santa Cruz. Over the years he sold off his holdings, while maintaining a large farm on the land where Santa Cruz High School is now located.

In his later years, he became noted as a breeder of fine horses. His animals, both work and race horses, were highly prized. Tom Weeks died on April 18, 1905, after leading a long and successful life, during which he never once returned to his native New England.

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