At the north end of the San Lorenzo Valley is Boulder Creek.
“The end of the line,” said James May, a San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum docent.
That phrase was more literal in the railroad days when Boulder Creek was the end of the railroad line, shipping out lumber and hauling in supplies, timber men and tourists.
Sunset magazine listed Boulder Creek in its “woodsy” section, and the woods are what drew people to the area more than 160 years ago.
Lumber was in high demand to build supports for belowground mines after the initial rush of gold-panning gave way to other mining techniques. A few decades later, the demand would come from San Francisco, as the city rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake.
A flume line was built in 1875 to move the cut timber to Felton. The flume was a marvel, winding its way down the valley for 14 miles. It floated lumber nearly 24 hours a day, six days a week.
After the railroad was built in 1885, the flume was dismantled and reused in local construction, May said.
The history of Boulder Creek is a patchwork quilt of stories pieced from longtime residents, museum records and what still stands of the picturesque town today. Though, originally, it wasn’t Boulder Creek. There were two settlements in what is now the town of Boulder Creek. Lorenzo was at the southern end of town, and Boulder was north of the current town core.
“We use the year 1868 as the year of Boulder Creek’s founding,” said Lynda Phillips, the executive director of San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum.
While people were here before that and the railroad came after, 1868 is when the first school was built. “And we decided what really makes a town a town is when people decide this is where to raise and educate their children,” Phillips explained.
Unique from the outset
Almost from the beginning, landowners and workers seemed to agree that Boulder Creek was a special place.
“Men would come here to work and then realize they wanted to stay and make this place their home,” May said.
The area’s attraction was official with the establishment of Big Basin State Park in 1902. California’s first state park preserved the old-growth trees from the clear-cutting practices of the time.
Boulder Creek native John Holm was born in 1929. His parents, Otto and Margaret, settled into the small, rugged town after World War I.
“The whole family moved here,” Holm said. “The in-laws and the outlaws. After seeing the beauty here and its warm climate, they knew they didn’t want to spend another cold winter in Michigan.”
John’s parents ran Otto’s Place, a saloon and restaurant in the building that now houses Boulder Creek Antiques. His father also owned a riding stable, and the extended family owned and operated Redwood Rest, where vacationers could take guided horseback trips and stay in tents and small cabins.
The area was also popular as a filming location for movies, and Holm recalls stars visiting.
His father provided horses at a rate of 75 cents for the first hour and 50 cents for each additional hour for the movies that required horses.
“Dad even doubled for Wallace Beery,” Holm said, naming one of the silent-movie actors of the time. Museum records also list Henry Fonda and Tom Mix among the famous actors to shoot here.
Boulder Creek’s remoteness was appealing in the 1920s and ’30s during the days of Prohibition, as rugged terrain made the production of alcohol easy to hide. Holm tells of local families making wine, brandy and “some awfully good vodka.”
“One farmer would bury his jars of white lightning in his garden,” Holm said. “You’d pay your dollar or dollar-fifty, and he’d tell you where to dig.”
Boulder Creek’s early history shows 26 bars and brothels operating at one time. Museum records suggest there was even a brothel upstairs of the rolling skating rink operating on the ground floor of the old Firemen’s Hall (which is now Kessler’s Martial Arts, with no upstairs business).
In response to that wildness, the temperance movement was active, playing a part in one of the town’s most notable stories.
After campaigning to rid the town of alcohol, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union won a battle, and every saloon closed in 1908.
The victory was short-lived, however, and certainly not peaceful, as loggers burned down two churches in retaliation. Oddly, they did not burn the WCTU’s building, which today houses Art Services.
A spirit of togetherness
Holm now lives in Nashville, Ind., but he maintains friendships and ties in Boulder Creek. He played a significant role in collecting items for and promoting the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum.
Holm grew up during the Great Depression and remembers members of the rural community pulling together to support one another during those lean times.
“You have to have some of that old pioneer spirit to live in the valley,” he said.
Holm said he remembered his mother giving food to hobos camped in the area.
“The depression didn’t impact us as bad as the city dwellers,” he added. “Most had a garden, chickens, rabbits or a cow or a goat. Everyone made sure everybody else had enough to eat.”
Karin Park, owner of Joe’s Bar, talks about the same type of community spirit.
“There’s camaraderie amongst the people in Boulder Creek,” Park said. “You can easily feel you know everybody here.”
Park moved to Boulder Creek 34 years ago.
“I came here for the business, but the small, picturesque town and proximity to the ocean really appealed,” she said. “And I felt it would be a good place to raise my children.”
Park has been recognized for her volunteer work organizing multiple fundraisers supporting Valley Churches United Missions and other community efforts.
“The very best comes out in the people here in disaster times,” she said. “It’s a small community, but people will come out of the woodwork to help each other.”
Phillips, the museum director, echoed that sentiment.
“It takes a special person to live in Boulder Creek,” she said. “I’m struck how people here are independent and self-sufficient. But if a disaster happens or someone is hurt, we rally so fast.”
Nik Beiden, a senior at San Lorenzo Valley High School, also said Boulder Creek was a great hometown.
“People keep to themselves but aren’t antagonistic,” he said. “Everyone’s pretty easygoing.”
Beiden said he planned to travel and see more of the world, but “I know Boulder Creek will draw me back. I’ll miss romping through the forests.”
Holm, who grew up in a quieter Boulder Creek, where he could roller skate down Highway 9 to Brookdale and most times never see a car, nonetheless agrees.
“Boulder Creek will always be the best place anyone could grow up in.”
n Charise Olson is a fiction writer who lives in Boulder Creek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.