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History Summaries
Santa Cruz, CA History

The Santa Cruz, CA
Steamship Wharf

Cowell's Wharf and the Steamship Wharf
(This page is not intended for small screens.)
by Vaughn Aubuchon

Here is an early representation of the Santa Cruz, CA Steamship Wharf (1863 - 1882),
along with Cowell's Wharf (1849 - 1907).

Just how accurate are old drawings?
Where is the Railroad Wharf (1856 - 1922)?


The Santa Cruz Steamship Wharf


Cowell's Wharf is on the left, and the Steamship Wharf is in the center.
The Railroad Wharf SHOULD be shown between them.

Something is funny in the picture above. According to my Santa Cruz Wharf summary chart below, the Railroad Wharf was present during the ENTIRE life of the Steamship wharf (a.k.a., Powder Wharf) Then, why is it NOT present in the etching/ photograph above?

Answer me that one. I did not discover this. It was sent to me in a VERY interesting email. Here it is -

"I found your page about the Santa Cruz wharves just by chance, but was impressed by the effort you've put into documenting the sequence of wharves: a chart and a map and a timeline. Somehow those wharves are tricky to visualize in time, but you've made it easier.

As an example how tricky, here's a hand drawn panorama of Santa Cruz from the collection of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. The Library sells prints through

A small copy, but if you trace across it you get an enlarged detail window. Nice panorama, and the Bancroft Library dates it to the 1870's. But it has a fatal flaw: the wharves are wrong, dead wrong. Cowell's Wharf is fine, shown in exact alignment with Bay St., very accurate.

However, there's no Railroad Wharf, it's totally missing. You can see the low point in the shoreline where the railroad was connected to the Railroad Wharf, but there's no wharf there. Instead the only other wharf in the panorama is the Powder Wharf, which is shown quite accurately, connecting directly to the powder warehouses on the top of Beach Hill (no railroad ever went there).

Since the Railroad Wharf was there before the Powder Wharf, and during the entire life span of the Powder Wharf, and also after the Powder Wharf, this panorama is an impossibility. Whatever the exact date, it's missing an entire wharf.

Obviously whoever drew the panorama didn't have your map or your chart or your timeline. As far as I can tell, somebody did walk the streets and take notes about the buildings, that part of the panorama seems reasonably accurate. But then he sent his notes probably to somebody else to do the drawing, perhaps a professional illustrator back East.

And the Powder Wharf got lost, if it was ever in the notes at all. So the result is an impossible picture. Nobody who ever looked at the wharves would have drawn this view, but seems whoever drew the view never saw the Santa Cruz shoreline himself.

The Powder Wharf isn't the only thing that got lost. You can see the detail of the San Lorenzo river canyon, that must have made an impression. But the entire Ben Lomond mountain is gone, vanished. In the direction of Ben Lomond mountain you can only see flat lands, stretching on into the distance. So flat that the edges of the river canyon are higher even.

Turns out that this same picture is one of the most popular items for sale on the Bancroft/Zazzle site: (in the second row)

So that's how history gets written, perhaps. "Sure, there were only two wharves, I saw it on a T-shirt!". Not worth much effort trying to get the Bancroft Library to issue a correction, but you might include a link to their picture on your page. To show how easily anyone could get confused about the number of wharves, even if they saw them in front of their own eyes."

. . . Peter Nurkse

After reading these excellent observations by Peter, one must take historical etchings with a grain of salt. Even the wharves we are shown are suspect, in terms of what they looked like. So, this is an interesting etching - but, it is decidedly not an accurate depiction. Thank you, Peter.

Ross Eric Gibson - Can we get you to weigh in on this issue?


     Santa Cruz Wharf Summary

Santa Cruz Pier Name

Builder/ Destroyer

1. Cowell's Wharf
   AKA Potato Chute Wharf



Elihu Anthony (Bay Street)
Storm Only wharf from 1849 to 1856

2. Railroad Wharf
   AKA Gharkey Wharf


David Gharkey - Torn down

3. Steamship Wharf
   AKA Powder Wharf



D.G., Torn down - Beach Hill

4. S-shaped wharf - (2-3)



Torn Down

5. Pleasure Pier
   AKA Electric Pier


Torn down

6. Municipal Wharf
    Now over 100 years old


Only wharf from 1963 to present

The Santa Cruz Public Library changes URLs like tablecloths.
The old cloth doesn't get washed ... just thrown out.
I will not try to link to them any more. I can't keep up.
WAY too many cooks, none of whom believe in redirection.
The broth is not spoiled, it simply becomes nonexistent,
thereby rendering the SCPL frustratingly irrelevant.

Wharves from West to East (landfall) --->
Cowell's - Railroad - Municipal - S Wharf - Steamship - Pleasure

     Santa Cruz Wharves Summary Map
Santa Cruz Wharf History Map
     Santa Cruz Map compliments of Google

     Santa Cruz Wharves Timeline
Santa Cruz, CA Wharves Chart

Four wharves existed from 1877 to 1882 (5 years).
Three wharves existed from 1863 to 1877 (14 years),
and from 1904 to 1907 (3 years), and from 1914 to 1922 (8 years).
Two wharves existed from 1883 to 1904 (24 years),
and from 1914 to 1963 (49 years).


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This Vaughns Santa Cruz, CA Steamship Wharf
history was last updated on 2019-04-10.