senator hamden ben lomond innColumns History 

Ben Lomond’s Senator Harry Hamden

By Ronnie Trubek

Turn of the 20th century Ben Lomond didn’t offer much in the way of live entertainment so when the 400+ residents learned a minstrel show was to be held in the recently opened Park Hall Theater, anticipation ran high. Locals arrived to “witness the performance given by Senator Harry Hamden and his troupe of amateur minstrels, who kept the house in a gale of laughter for two hours. After the show and all-night dance was enjoyed.”

Hamden was born in Barbados in 1865 as James Adolphus Hamden. The “Senator” stage moniker originated as a joke, a play on the name of the racist southern politician Senator Wade Hampton. 

Senator Hamden however was no out-of-town stranger, having originally performed at the Santa Cruz Opera House in 1883. During an 1889 tour of the West, he played to a full house in Boulder Creek as one of a “Consolidation of Black Stars.”

The minstrel show back then was a popular type of stage entertainment featuring songs, dances, and comic routines based on stereotypical depictions of African Americans usually performed by white actors with blackened faces.  As minstrel shows faded in popularity, house receipts dwindled until the final time Hamden’s troupe, now known as the Black Kentuckians, played Boulder Creek’s Fireman’s Hall in 1906, the Sentinel hoped “that such a poor show will not last till the next town is reached.”

In June 1911, the Mountain Echo noted that “The original Senator Harry Hamden is with us once more — and this time for keeps. He has rented a place for a short order, up-to-date Restaurant, at reasonable rates.” His skills were also valued by the proprietors of the town’s Commercial Hotel.  When the San Lorenzo Valley Board of Trade held its annual dinner in March 1912, Hamden’s catering drew positive reviews. “Senator Hammond, once of Santa Cruz,” noted Santa Cruz Sentinel editor Duncan McPherson, one of the guests, “was in charge of the banquet Saturday night, when all went merry as a marriage bell.” The Mountain Echo reprinted the item, misspellings and all, under the heading “Of Such is Fame.” 

When the Senator’s associates left Boulder Creek in 1913 to take over management of the Redwood Park Inn at Big Basin, they recruited him to help. When that contract ended, Hamden was able to open the Ben Lomond Inn, where he posed proudly in front of a sign offering “Meals at All Hours.”

Passionate about the history of Santa Cruz County, in her spare time you’ll find Ronnie Trubek participating in history classes, lectures, and walks around the county or at shows collecting maps, postcards, photos and other ephemera relating to our rich and diverse community.

Photos are from the Ronnie Trubek Collection

Featured photo: Senator Harry Hamden and the Ben Lomond Inn

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