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HISTORICAL FELTON

Felton had its start in 1843 when Isaac Graham transferred his limber mill from the Zayante land grant to the San Lorenzo River at Fall Creek.  From this point until the 1890's the town became more and more of an industrial center, adding lime kilns, a powder works, a paper mill, and more lumbering.  It had its final industrial days during the World War One era, when lime for concrete was more in demand than ever before.  A number of factors since then contributed to the town's decline; seventy years later Felton is a small town noted for its beauty and quiet little self.



Saw Mills in the valley circa  1880


water power saw mills


saw mill workers

In 1849 California became an U.S. state drawing more immigration from the East and South of the country.  Two of the people who came were John Stanly and his uncle, Edward from South Carolina.  The need for a tool road in the south Valley became apparent with Felton's industrial and population growth during the decade following California's admission into the Union.  Under Mexican rule in the 1840's it was sufficient for Isaac Graham to haul the lumber from his water-powered sawmill over the makeshift road to Santa Cruz, which now bears his name.  However, American expansion during the next decade necessitated another more direct route.

The Davis and Jordon lime kilns started to dot the mountains to the southwest, extending from what was to become Felton down to Rincon.  Three additional sawmills began operating along the San Lorenzo River.

        The County had built a road from Santa Cruz to Rincon, but the growing transportation needs necessitated it be extended further north.  Edward Stanly and Eben Bennet assumed a $6,000 contract with the county to complete the road up to Big Trees in the Gold Gulch area, making it a toll road until the $6,000 was recovered.  Around the same time, George Collins, a Felton lumber man who ran a shingle ill on Bean Creek, built a road from Felton to Big Trees.  These early roadways closely approximate the Highway 9 of today.

        In 1897, Collins erected the Toll House. (Still sits at Hwy 9 and Big Trees Road)  The building stands on a bluff overlooking Toll House Creek.  With the advent of automobile travel, cabins were built in the Big Tree Flat alongside the creek and the property became a motel.

         Isaac Graham went into debt in the 1860's in disastrous speculation involving silver mine deal and a coal prospecting operation. Both worthless. The upset was that he mortgaged much of the land he had held near the Zayante land grant since 1843.  This land was bought by John Stanly at this time. In 1868 Felton attained official status as a town when John Stanley's uncle, Edward Stanly, decided on the best way to dispose of the land: make a town out of it.  Sell the land off bit by bit in plots to prospective settlers.  He named the whole future town after John Felton, the educator and senator.

There had been a settlement there for some time, what with Graham's extensive milling works.  The heart of this center through the 1870's had been the long log flume from modern Boulder Creek to Santa Cruz.  But with the coming of steam to the San Lorenzo valley in the 1870'', things became more complicated: a different kind of waterpower would mill and transport the wood hacked down from the mountains.  For in 1868 Page, Donned and Lee built the first steam mill at Gold Gulch (to be bought in 1870 by George Treat and by 1875 the steam locomotive had come, spelling the end of the old water driven mills and the old water flumes.  Of course, the transition was not sudden; in the year after the fist rails were laid down (the rest of them weren't built for fifteen years) a brand new 14 mile flume from Weatherman Gap to Felton was built by a San Jose syndicate as the cheaper alternative to rails.

Narrow Gauge railroad 

Flumes carrying logs

In 1868 Horace Gushee was pushing the Felton lots for Edward Stanly, and by the early 70's he was involved in a number of other community projects; thus from the beginning he had a great deal of interest, financial and otherwise, in the town's growth.  He saw that the locomotive was the way of the future, so as early as 1867 he was exerting himself in convincing the people of Santa Cruz that a railway was not only feasible, but necessary.

        In 1870 Gushee and his allies began to build it, with plans to extend it twenty miles up the valley to King's Creek, but the rails never made it past Felton, at the modern site of Roaring Camp park. Those narrow gauge rails were finished in 1875 and on October 9th of that year the first train ran on them to Santa Cruz, porting lumber.  Those rails have been maintained over the years; they are the same rails that run in front of the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.  That area is where the limber was unloaded form the 1870's to the 1920's.  This made Felton a real center of activity, where the flumes from up the valley and the mountains met the head of the narrow-gauge railroad tracks.

Other major components of the industry in Felton at this time were the lime kilns; by 1878 Felton was putting out $200,000 worth of lime annually.  Limestone powder is a necessary part of concrete and mortar.  The lime was shipped to Santa Cruz via the new railway.  Many prosperous companies had their start in this ear;  the Henry Cowell Ranch kilns just south of town;  the IXL Kilns and the Holmes Lime Kiln quarries to the west of town.
From this industry in the 1870's the town developed the usual suspects; in short order there came a general store, a hotel and a saloon (built by Walter Cooper and JM Merrill);  a man named Hubbard McKoy, Vermonter, opened a private post office and hauled mail; the same McKoy later opened a blacksmith's with master blacksmith Potter Paschall in charge; James F Cunningham and McKoy opened another general store in 1871, in anticipation of the settlement's growth. A constable and a justice of the peace set up shop there in 1878.  Even the school district, which had been founded in 1863 at Ashley's on the San Lorenzo River, changed its name to the Felton School District and moved into town in 1875 to reflect the facts of population density in the valley.  For by 1880 the majority of people in the San Lorenzo Valley lived Felton.




         In 1869 Edward Stanly donated a lot for use as an Episcopal Church and he even named as trustees Gushee and Joseph Boston.  The church was never built, though, several years later the Ben Lomand Episcopal Parish annexed Felton and the trust was dissolved.

         The flume finally saw its last days in 1884, when the Southern Pacific Coast Railroads laid tracks all the way up to Boulder Creed and the flume was torn down.  In fact, most of the flume's path was used as the right of way for the railroad.  Boulder Creek was an almost entirely created town;' it was laid out in 1884 by the railroad company who put in a general store and encouraged mills to move from Felton to Boulder Creek.

         The early 1890's were the zenith of the town's prosperity and growth.  The Presbyterian Church was built in 1893 on Gushee Street; another hotel went in, a drugstore and a fire station as well.



From there it was all downhill as an industrial site, and the progress of the years would convert Felton into a quiet residential area (like Ben Lomand) by the late 1920's.  A number of fires took place in the last years of the nineteenth century;  the first major fire on October 29th 1898, took out Cunningham's Big Trees House, Dre's livery stable, the town hall and the post office.  Fire stores and four other buildings.  Another blaze, eight years later, on September 17th, 1896 destroyed the Kent buildings and several other cottages.  In 1907 the schoolhouse burned down; it was located where Grocery Outlet is today.

Veiw an Extensive Photo History of Felton
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2001 @2001 Copywrited  Arlene Pike, no copying or reproductions without written permission of Arlene Pike of Felton or Felton Volunteer Fire Department. Bibliography:  Felton Library, Mr. Ted Toft, Santa Cruz Libraries, Mr. Alan Hiley, Arlene Pike