Streetwise History: Harmon Street Boulder Creek
By Lisa Robinson
Have you ever thought about how the street where you live got its name? In this series of articles we will look at street names in the San Lorenzo Valley and explore the history hidden in their names.
We’ll start in Boulder Creek with Harmon Street which runs east-west on the west side of Highway 9 (Central Avenue). Cross streets are Laurel, Oak, and Pine.
The street was not on the original map of Boulder Creek as laid out by the railroad company or on the map of Lorenzo as laid out by Joseph Peery. It was, however, named by 1885. It is right between the town of Lorenzo and the town of Boulder Creek and takes its name from the creek that separated them (today called Stream 346). Early Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show it drawn with dotted lines and the words “Not Defined” and with “High Trees” running down its center. This 1908 map shows the street crossing Central Avenue and terminating at the railroad, unlike today where it terminates at Pine. But have you ever noticed its remnant? You can see it as an alleyway on the south side of the Hilton House (the stuccoed Spanish Revival) on Highway 9.
In 1907, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported: “Harmon street, formerly a tangled labyrinth of brush and vines, was opened this week by Supt. John Arnot, thus affording the residents of Boulder, Pine, and Hillside terrace a shorter route to the business center of the town.”
Twins Austin and Oscar Harmon came to Boulder Creek 1867. They were just eighteen years old. They worked for Joseph Peery felling timber on the site that would become the town of Lorenzo. When they became of age, they applied for and received land grants. They settled on land along Bear Creek Road where they worked for themselves harvesting tan-bark, shakes, and other split stuff.
They left California for a short time in 1876 for a trip east, visiting the exposition in Philadelphia and their childhood home in Maine. When they returned, they became mill owners, first on Boulder Creek, then on the headwaters of the Pescadero, and finally moving the mill to Bear Creek around 1886. Harmon Gulch is also named for them.
The twins are credited with pioneering the construction of the Bear Creek Toll Road to Lexington in the 1870s, along with help from their half brother George and neighbors. This would become a county road in 1890. Half brother Loring was also involved in the lumbering operation.
Tragically, Austin died in 1887 when a redwood tree limb, a widowmaker, fell and hit him on the head. It was said to have been the only redwood left standing near the mill. Oscar was absolutely devastated and his friends were worried he might harm himself. He had recently married Wilhemina McDonald, and it was perhaps through her support that he was able to get through this difficult time.
The Harmon mill burned to the ground in 1890, several thousand cords of wood also burned. The mill was not insured and the damage was reported to be around $15,000, a huge loss. Fifty men lost their jobs. The circular saws were saved, as was the other machinery “… but the loss of the flimsy structure erected over the machinery of these mills is so insignificant that a new mill is quickly erected near the old site.” Oscar passed away in 1899, just 50 years old.
Oscar and Wilhemina had two daughters Jessie and Mignon. They lived together in Boulder Creek on West Park Avenue. In 1960, land still owned by their estate north of Boulder Creek was graciously sold to the Easter Seals for $1 and today is known as Camp Harmon. The Easterseals offers help to children and adults living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other disabilities or special needs, and their families.
Left – Map of Boulder Creek, Calif. 1908. Right – Three of the Harmon Brothers. From left to right: Oscar, Austin, and George. San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Meschi Collection.
Featured photo: The Harmon Mill on Bear Creek Road. San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Holm Collection.
Photos courtesy of Lisa Robinson SLV Museum
3 Thoughts to “Streetwise History: Harmon Street Boulder Creek”
Very nice article
Appreciated historical article.