by Al Smith, July, 1990
Indian Days -
of the Indian activity of the Central California Ohlone Tribe took place in the
canyon or valley to the north, Waddell Creek, which runs east and west and has a
greater beach area. Some evidence such as shell piles and grinding stones, show
that the Scott Creek area was visited also.
Mexican Land Grant -
November 2, 1843, Ramon Rodriguez and Francisco Alviso were granted "a
square league of land", more or less, by Manuel Micheltorena, Mexican
Governor of California. It was described as running from Arroyo Puerca to the
Canada de Las Trancas on south and north, to the Sierra on the east, and the
Pacific Ocean on the west. On March 1, 1867, President Andrew Johnson issued a
patent confirming the ownership. The grant was named Rancho Agua Puerca Y Las
Trancas. With all the beautiful Spanish language to chose from, it literally
means Hog Water and the Bars. Agua Puerca probably refers to the stagnant water
in the stream which comes out at Davenport Landing, the original southerly
boundary; and Las Trancas refers to placing poles for a gate or barrier in a
narrow canyon just south of Waddell Creek. An interesting sidelight is that in
the translation of the description to English, the transcriber recognized the
word Sierra and left that as the northeasterly boundary instead of using
"mountain ridge". Some smart lawyer could have laid claim to a strip
land passed through several ownership and ended up in the hands of James
Archibald, who farmed it. He arranged for a Swiss dairyman, Ambrogio Gianone, to
run the dairy. Mr. Gianone built the cheese house (in 1867) and had some
shipwrecked ship's carpenters build the barn (in the late 1880's) at the south
end of the valley, which stands today. (Approximately one-third of the westerly
end of the barn blew off in a severe storm.) Later Mr. Gianone bought the north
third of the rancho, where Swanton Road crosses back over the ridge. It is known
locally as Gianone Hill, and there are two families with fourth generation
children living there today.
Archibald complicated matters by dying in Scotland in 1875. By the time the dust
settled from a two-year lawsuit, Mrs. Archibald sold out to Joseph Bloom, who
lined up water rights and farmed the valley. Homestead land was also available
and settlers moved right up to the Mexican Land Grant line, which replaced the
Sierra designation. (The line is still visible on aerial photos of the area
today. Many of these families are still here. One homesteader was the Staub
Family, great grandparents of Bud and Lud McCrary of Big Creek Lumber.
The Beginnings of Swanton -
Swanton, who built the Boardwalk and was an early mayor of Santa Cruz, was an
early enthusiast of hydro-electric power. He built a powerhouse on Big Creek,
dams on Mill Creek and Big Creek, and several miles of flume. The plant produced
electricity from 1899 to 1948. In that year a forest fire burned the flume, and
it was abandoned. It was the first plant of the Central Coast Counties Gas and
Electric Company, which is now part of PG&E. With all this activity plus the
logging, the area needed a post office. The natives liked Laurel Grove, the name
of the inn and the livery stable, and petitioned the Postal Service, but Fred
Swanton knew the U.S. Senator. The Swanton Post Office was closed in the late
Ocean Shore Railroad was organized to run along the coast between San Francisco
and Santa Cruz. Construction was started from both ends, with the north ending
at Tunitas Creek, about halfway between Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. The south
line was built as far as Swanton. When the S.P. (Southern Pacific) built a
parallel line to Davenport, the cement plant business dried up. The San Vicente
Lumber Company logged from 1905 to 1923 in the hills behind Swanton and had the
Ocean Shore Railroad haul the logs to their mill in Santa Cruz. Much of the
redwood was used to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. A
daily passenger train ran between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, with the 127
missing miles covered by a Stanley Steamer bus.
Ocean Shore was also into real estate development, and in 1907 a town called
Folger was laid out and approved by the County in the area around the big barn.
Apparently the coffee business was on hard times too, because none of the 324 25
by 100 foot lots sold. So, we still grow Brussels sprouts on the corner of
Railroad Avenue and Fir Street. In 1922 employees of the Ocean Shore Railroad
struck for higher pay, and that was the end of the railroad.
several years the University of California (Berkeley), College of Engineering,
ran summer school here. Students would come by train and lay out roads and
survey land for a summer semester. There are many stories told about cold water,
poison oak and snakes, although there are only a few graduates left. (The
building by the Red House was built by the engineering students.)
in the "20's it was discovered that artichokes and Brussels sprouts grew
well in the coastal area. Scott Creek was dammed and huge single cylinder
gasoline engines were used to pump the water onto the upper terraces. There are
the remnants of some twenty reservoirs and numerous gravity flow structures left
on what is now rangeland. Some of the leading citizens of Santa Cruz spent their
childhood here on windswept little farms with such nicknames as
"Siberia" or "Poverty Flats". Some berries were also grown
at this time.
1938 the Poletti and Morelli Families became the owners. World War II caused
most of the tenant farmers to leave, and the ranch was divided into three
phases. There was a Grade B dairy, a beef cattle operation, and row crops.
Artichokes and Brussels sprouts being labor-intensive, a labor camp was
established with mostly Filipino workers.
and Bob Musitelli took over the beef cattle at this time and, with a bulldozer
and herbicide and fire, opened a lot of waste brush land. They had a cow-calf
operation and used a jeep pickup with bale of hay very effectively as a saddle
horse. The Grade B dairy left and the Musitelli's expanded their operation.
the use of chicken manure and excellent water supply, the ranch produced
excellent crops of sprouts year after year.
The Swanton Pacific Years -
bought the ranch in 1978, I left the current tenants in place. I tried a small
cow-calf operation on the Little Creek side, enough to realize it was a lot
different from prunes and apricots. Then the Musitelli's retired and I hired a
cowboy to run the cattle. We ran stockers at first and then went cow-calf, at
the wrong time.
vegetable tenant left. Believing there must be something else in Davenport's
world than Brussels sprouts, I leased the land to flower grower, who grew cut
flowers and market peas. Although he tried hard, worked hard, and was
conscientious to t fault, he could not make it.
cowboy got a better opportunity and left. A good friend in the Cal Poly
administration and I had been talking, so we worked out a deal for a three-year
lease. We are now on the five-year extension of that lease, and I am very
satisfied, and I hope they are also. I am a graduate of Cal Poly, and one of the
phases I liked best was the opportunity for "hands-on" experience.
Although the 178 mile distance is an obstacle, the Swanton Pacific Ranch offers
a real opportunity for those who want or need the experience. It is also good
for class demonstrations.
first piece of land in this ranch is 412 acres of second-growth forest, which I
bought in 1943. This past summer we logged about 65 acres of it very
selectively. The interest of forestry students and faculty has been inspiring.
This is almost the closest commercial forest to San Luis Obispo.
Concluding Statement -
I have wandered from a straight history of the Swanton Pacific Ranch. It got its
name because, somehow, many of my tools were stamped S.P. The brand I selected
was the lazy SP. It is by the Pacific, and it is in Swanton.
is an uncrowded, beautiful place. My goal in putting this acreage together is to
preserve it as such and to share it now and in the future with people who will
appreciate it and profit from the experience. Thanks for listening!