Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Latter-day Saints
by Paul Tutwiler


  1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  2. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Joseph Smith in 1830 established the Latter-day Saints in Upstate New York. He and his followers moved West, founding communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, where he was murdered by a mob in 1844. Within two years about 20,000 Mormons, led by Brigham Young, were on their way by land to found a community in the West, out beyond the borders of the United States.

Latter-day Saint beliefs are Christian and biblical in inspiration, but their doctrine also rests on the Book of Mormon and other records of Joseph Smith's revelations concerning God's relation to proto-civilization in America. Mormon practice is now very much like that of conservative, evangelical Protestantism. (These basics of Mormon belief are in Melton, Encyclopedia, pp. 93-96. The terminology, "Utah Mormons" and "Missouri Mormons," which I use below, is from p. 96 of the same.)

The full history of the Latter-day Saints in the Santa Cruz area involves the 238 who sailed from New York on the ship Brooklyn to San Francisco in 1846 with the intention of joining their coreligionists who were marching westward by land. The Brooklyn group, led by Samuel Brannan, quickly founded New Hope, a community near the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers. Brannan trekked over the mountains and found Brigham Young in what is now Wyoming. He tried to convince Young to keep on going to California, but Young and the body of the Mormons stopped at the Great Salt Lake. When Brennan returned to San Francisco to relate what had happened there were mixed feelings about the proper allegiance. Eventually the passengers of the Brooklyn scattered; some joined the body in Utah, others remained in California, including Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

The facts of the previous paragraph can be found in any one of these historical studies:

  • Paul Bailey. Sam Brannan and the California Mormons. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, Third Publication 1959.
  • Kenneth N. Owens. Gold Rush Saints; California Mormons and the Great Rush for Riches, Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2004.
  • Reva Scott. Samuel Brannan and the Golden Fleece. New York: Macmillan, 1944.

The complete passenger list of the Brooklyn is in Scott, pp. 451-453, and on the website 2010. Scott, pp. 453-455, lists places where some of the 238 were later found.

There was a settlement of Mormons in San Jose for a while, but they moved to San Bernardino, which was the only organized Mormon community in California, and it was abandoned in 1857, when the leadership in Salt Lake City recalled all the California members to Utah. (Owens, op. cit., p. 254) From then on the members were prohibited from emigrating to the state until 1892, when the presidency reopened a mission in Northern California. (Ibid., p. 349)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

» Latter-day Saints Aptos Ward. Watsonville, 1946-2010.

There was an LDS church at 17a 3rd St. according to Polk 1946 through 1954. Then, in 1954, the LDS church at 114 East 5th St. was dedicated, ("History of the Watsonville Ward" from Chapel Dedication Program, August 29, 1954) and the congregation remained there until 1981, when it moved to the Holm Road site. (Polk 1955 through 1964 and the 1964 through 1981 Yellow Pages)

The present address is 255 Holm Road, Watsonville 95076, tel. 722-0208. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Latter-day Saints Ocean Branch Church. Santa Cruz, 1950-2010.

The church of the same denomination at the corner of Melrose and Harrison (Polk 1950 through 1961) appears to be the precursor of this one, which went into service in 1962. (SC Sentinel, Aug. 17, 1962) The Ocean Branch is listed as Santa Cruz Ward in SC Sentinel, July 26, 1984.

Currently the location is 220 Elk St., Santa Cruz 95065, tel. 429-9315. (2010 Yellow Pages)

» Latter-day Saints Church in Ben Lomond. 1958-2010.

Sunday school was held in Ben Lomond from 1958, and worship began there in 1959 at Central Ave. and Love Creek Road. By 1965 this was a ward. (McCarthy, Grizzlies, p. 93)

In 1984 it was listed as the San Lorenzo Valley Ward, (SC Sentinel, July 26, 1984) and it continued to be listed in the Yellow Pages through 1998, although 1995 was the last year it was called a ward there until 2007 (White Pages). The 2010 White Pages list it as the San Lorenzo Valley Ward and give its address as 9434 Central Ave., tel. 336-2707.

» Lehi Park. Conf center, Bonny Doon, 1972-2010.

The Latter-day Saints purchased this 1,200 acre property in 1972 and use about 100 acres of it as a conference facility. (Memories of the Mountain, p. 117) According to McCarthy, Grizzlies, p. 93, it is a summer recreation area for "several branches" of the Latter Day Saints.

Lehi Park is at 16000 Empire Grade Road, Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 454-9034. (2010 White Pages)

» Latter-day Saints Family History Center. Service org, Santa Cruz, c1980-2010.

At 220 Elk St., Santa Cruz 95065, tel. 426-1078, (2010 White Pages) this genealogy center is a resource for all local genealogists. According to one of the genealogists who has used it for many years it was established about 1980.

» Latter-day Saints Family History Center in Ben Lomond. Service org, 2000-2010.

This is located at 9434 Central Ave., Ben Lomond 95005, tel. 336-2707, (2010 White Pages) which is the same address as that of the LDS church in Ben Lomond. It has been called a Family History Center in the White or the Yellow Pages since 2000.

Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

In 1860 some of the Saints who had remained in the East and Midwest when Brigham Young led the main group to Utah, prevailed upon Joseph Smith III, son of the murdered founder, to lead them in a reorganization in the spirit of his father. Three years later the group authorized the sending of missionaries to Utah, Nevada, and California, and before that year was over the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was established in Watsonville under the leadership of George Adams, already a Watsonville resident. A more prominent Reorganized LDS member, one who had arrived on the Brooklyn with his family, was Moses Meder of Santa Cruz. Source for this information is Heman C. Smith, History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Vol. 3, 1844-1872, and Vol. 4, 1873-1890, which is on the website of this church: 2008. Smith has additional information about George Adams's leadership role in the Reorganized LDS Church. That Adams was a Watsonville resident is attested by the U. S. Censuses of 1860 and 1870.

» Latter Day Saints. Watsonville, c1860-1879.

The earliest mention I have of the Reorganized LDS chapel is in the Directory of the town of Watsonville for 1873 Compiled by Ed. Martin, Watsonville. C. O. Cummings, Publisher, page 11. The text is, "Latter Day Saints, A branch of Joseph Smith's church, reorganized, having no connection or sympathy with Brigham Young's peculiar doctrine, have a small church on First street...." This is one of a mere four churches listed in the Watsonville Directory.

The next mention is in Joseph Smith III's own account of his visit to California in 1876. He stayed in Watsonville in the home of D. J. Phillips and wrote,

The Saints held a meeting at their chapel on Saturday evening, but we did not attend; on the morrow, however, the rink having been secured [??], we addressed the people morning and evening, and again on Monday evening, attending a sacramental service on Sunday afternoon in the chapel. The services were well attended throughout. (Smith, op. cit., Vol. 4, Chapter 10)

The entire chapter is about the trip, and it includes interesting observations about Santa Cruz County made by Joseph Smith III.

Ed. Martin wrote in Elliott's 1879 Santa Cruz County, p. 72, that "A branch of Joseph Smith's church, reorganized, have [sic] a small church on First street. Services occasionally by visiting ministers of the Llatter Day Saints."

Details from the Watsonville Pajaronian of Sep. 30,1907 are that the church was established by a certain Bishop Adam [sic] "in the late fifties or early sixties", and that by 1907 it had been moved to the other side of First Street and was being used as a barn.

» Happy Valley Conference Center. Santa Cruz County, 1951-2010.

This is a campground of the "Community of Christ," the name given to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 2001. The headquarters of the denomination are in Independence MO. The facility was a resort hotel until the denomination bought it, in 1951. (www.cofchrist.or 2010) It is located at 2159 Branciforte Dr., Santa Cruz 95065, tel. 426-6627. ( 2010)

» Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Live Oak, 1971-2006.

Polk 1971 through 1981 listed the Latter Day Saints Church at 230 Plymouth St., Santa Cruz. Polk 1982-83 had no listing for the congregation under either name, but the SC Sentinel, July 26, 1984 listed it as the "Reorganized Church..." at 2301 17th Ave. The Yellow Pages continued to list it at that address at least through 1998, but not in 2003. Nevertheless, the church structure and its identifying sign I saw still to be there as late as December, 2006. The Community of Christ, however, no longer lists it as one of their congregations. ( 2007 and 2008)

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