Published in the August 2 – August 15, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Mike Monroe
In my last column, I discussed the route of the original wagon road that connected southern Santa Clara County with the Watsonville side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today’s Redwood Retreat Road and Mt. Madonna Road are the historical Watsonville Road that joined the two counties. Sometimes referred to as the Pajaro Turnpike, it was developed as a toll road in 1860 and reverted to county roads in 1876.
Part of the fun in writing these columns is that I usually take an exploratory hike to check out the trails and discover what’s new. Each time there is an opportunity to investigate another history or landscape question that always seems to arise. One important thing I did learn from my reconnaissance is that we had better start our walk early because it has been very warm, even in the redwood canyons.
The 1890 Herrmann Brothers Map of Santa Clara County has been chock full of details revealing family land holdings, trail corridors, school sites and watersheds. I’ve often wondered which route the Miller family and their guests would take to visit Camp Pine Cone — the name that Henry Miller bestowed upon his summer retreat at the top of Mt. Madonna. Recall that Henry Miller arrived from Germany at age 23, landing in San Francisco. He parlayed a small investment in a butcher shop into a cattle and sheep empire covering more than a million acres. South of Gilroy, Miller’s Bloomfield Ranch served as his headquarters and staging point for livestock that had been pastured in the Central Valley and were now bound for his operations in San Francisco.
Miller made his first purchase of a portion of Rancho Las Animas totalling 1,700 acres in 1858. He gradually increased his land holdings to include the Mt. Madonna area in 1875. Initially he built a cabin as a get-away place for his family to escape from the heat of Gilroy. Guests and key employees of Miller and Lux firm were invited to Mt. Madonna for BBQ’s and dances, camping in brightly colored tents. Mrs. Miller eventually convinced her husband that more substantial bungalows were in order, so three homes were built – one each for their daughter and son and three story rustic lodge that featured a deep wrap around porch.
Historical accounts suggest that the old Watsonville Road was the primary conveyance to Mt. Madonna, especially for wagons with heavy loads. Near the top of the grade, a roadway was cut or an old logging road was improved which provided a relatively flat driveway to the Miller homes. In the early 1900s it was paved. Even though Mr. Miller distrusted automobiles, he did journey by car and chauffeur to the cool confines of his mountain retreat. Today this roadway is known as the Loop Trail and it connects with Mt. Madonna Road (which is still impassable for cars due to a landslide blocking the lower portion of the road, but it is open to hikers from Summit Road).
Our hike will lead us from the Mt. Madonna Ranger Station following the Tanoak Trail through a meadow to connect with Mt. Madonna Road, and then we will turn back into the park at the Loop Trail junction. There are a number of quick stops at points of interest on our path including an old Civilian Conservation Corp camp, a eucalyptus lined avenue to the Miller site, a still-flowing spring developed by Henry Miller which supplies water to the mountain top and our final stop at the ruins of the Miller property.
One story that I have to relate is about a 1997 addition to the park referred to as the Greeninger Falls Ranch. I recalled a reference to this acquisition in the “History of Santa Clara County Parks” written by David Weintraub. There were no further details about the family or the property. Then the 1890 Herrmann Brothers map came in handy. Mr. Miller did not own the entire mountain. Rather, he had neighbors including an F. Greeninger whose land included a steep ravine identified as Redwood Canyon. During my exploratory hike, I tried to envision the original wagon road cresting the Santa Cruz Mountains with a trail leading to the Miller’s and another to the Greeninger’s. Where would there be a watercourse that tumbled down the hillside to such an extent that it would be known as Greeninger Falls?
I’ll leave that last question unanswered as I’m sure I will be writing another Mt. Madonna column soon. On a more serious note, I have been following closely the scientific research that has been ongoing as it concerns the health of the redwood forest in this, the most southern extent of its range. Increasing temperatures and fewer foggy days may cause some growth or migration issues with our local redwoods. I am reading the science reports and asking questions on a consistent basis now. There are always plenty of stories to tell, so please join me Saturday, Aug. 5, at Mt. Madonna.
Keep on sauntering!
Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.
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