In 1846 rebels in Sonoma created the independent republic of California (modeled on the Lone Star republic of Texas but with a bear on it’s flag) but by the time of the gold rush in 1849, the area was part of the United States. That year, the state government in San Jose, created the County of Branciforte. Three months later, the citizens successfully petitioned to change the name to Santa Cruz County.
Santa Cruz had a population of 600 in 1850, and many of the family names of the period are built into the landscape today. Issac Graham, for instance, ran a still, built the first sawmill, and was involved in rebel politics on the hill in Zayante.
Several of the early land grants were to the Castro sisters. Wilder ranch, Nissene Marks state park, and Castroville all derive from that family.
Thomas Fallon (also a rebel Bear Stater) sold his house to the nascent county which used it for its first courthouse. Robert Cathcart grew vegetables near the Soquel Road. London Nelson, a former slave, grew veggies and mended shoes near what is now Water street. He left his property to the then closed public school and insured its survival.
John Watson lived in southern Santa Cruz county and was the first district judge. After less than a year, he resigned after concluding that lawyers made more money than judges (some things never change).
Pajaro was later renamed Watsonville.Captain John Davenport, a whaler, retired and built a wharf north of town, which was rented out to load lumber and lime. William Waddell also operated a wharf north of town. Hugo Hihn built a brick building shaped like a flat iron. Judge John Logan played with vine berries in his retirement, and created what he called a ‘ruby blackberry’ by crossing black and raspberries. Henry Cowell made lime, logged, and ran cattle on his extensive holdings.
The first two streets in Santa Cruz were Main Street (now Front St.), and Willow Street which became Pacific Avenue (home of CruzIO, ScruzNet, WebCom, and others!).
Street names have often changed over the years. At the time of the Civil War, Trust Street became Lincoln Street, and Union street was renamed. The ‘road to the redwoods’ became Bay St., and the ‘road up the coast’ became Mission St.
by Gary Starkweather
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