By Jeff Thomson
Those of you who have wandered up the Loma Prieta Grade Trail recently have no doubt seen the interpretive panel at Porter House Site. If you’re a long time county resident or even a recent arrival to the area, you may recognize the Porter family in the place names of Santa Cruz County – Porter Gulch Road near Cabrillo College, Porter Street and the Porter Memorial Library in Soquel, Porter College at UCSC and the Porter House Site in the Forest of Nisene Marks.
Several men in the Porter family left the East Coast for California in the 1850’s and over time, made their mark on the history of Santa Cruz County. One of them, John Porter, headed west seeking fortune in the California gold fields but like many others, the discovery of gold eluded him although he would become financially successful through business and real estate ventures. John was elected Santa Cruz County Sheriff (1856-1860) then in 1864 teamed up with Charles Ford to form the Bank of Watsonville and a few years later the two men formed the Pajaro Valley Bank.
In 1883, John Porter became an early investor in the newly formed Loma Prieta Lumber Company that was preparing to log almost 7000 acres of redwoods in the hills above Aptos. Over the next 40 years the lumber company built several temporary logging camps along with one small town, Loma Prieta. Established in the mid-1880’s, Loma Prieta was not a typical logging camp with ramshackle cabins. Instead, it consisted of comfortable buildings suitable for families and at its peak boasted a population of about 300 people. Located about 3.5 miles above Aptos Village along the present day Aptos Creek Fire Road, the town included a sawmill, railroad station, post office, Wells Fargo telegraph office, saloon, company store, a small hotel and a one-room schoolhouse.
Shortly after Loma Prieta was established, the lumber company moved its offices there and about the same time, John Porter’s son, Warren, was appointed secretary of the company. A one acre housing area was established along the railroad line which contained three houses: one for Thomas Bishop, President of the LPLC, a director’s “cottage” consisting of seven bedrooms for the lumber company’s board of directors who stayed there during their monthly meetings and a house for Warren Porter and his wife the former Mary Easton. The Porters lived in Loma Prieta until 1899 when they moved to Watsonville as operations at the lumber mill began slowing down. About this time Warren’s interest in politics began to move to the forefront and in 1906 he was elected California’s Lieutenant Governor. In 1911 he returned to the area and assumed a position as a director for the Loma Prieta Lumber Company along with a number of other positions.
Prior to the estsablishment of the park in 1963, the Bishop House and the director’s cottage had already been dismantled but the Porter house was still standing, at least briefly. After the property was transferred to the State, the Porter house was dismantled for public safety reasons so that now if you wander around the area you’ll find nothing but a few loose bricks and stray boards. In addition to the Porter House Site the family name lives on in the park with the Porter Trail, Porter Family Picnic Area and the Mary Easton Picnic Area. – Jeff Thomson
Above picture: Porter House