Saratoga Gap is located in Northern California’s Santa Cruz Mountains at the intersection of Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) and Highway 9. Today, the gap is a popular resting stop for bicyclists and travelers. Back in the late 1800s when this important junction was known as Saratoga Summit, horse drawn wagons loaded with redwood lumber from the Hubbard and Carmichael mills in the Pescadero basin passed through on their way to Saratoga and San Jose.
Harmonious hame bells, mounted on the lead horses’ collars, warned other drivers of their approach. The teamsters stopped to rest and feed themselves and their teams at the small inn at the summit. Ranchers along the ridge arrived on their way to market with smaller wagon loads of apples, prunes, and grapes.
All drivers had to pay a toll to use the private turnpike (twenty-five cents for one man with one horse and one dollar for a loaded wagon pulled by four horses). Officially known as the Saratoga and Pescadero Turnpike and Wagon Road, the road was opened in 1871 to access the redwood timber in the upper San Lorenzo Valley and the Pescadero basin. The turnpike never came close to its initial objective, the town of Pescadero. Later it became known simply as the Saratoga Toll Road. At one point there were separate toll houses on either side of the Santa Clara/Santa Cruz county line. There were numerous complaints about the condition of the toll road, and within twenty years, the roadway had been purchased by the respective counties and made public.
Summit Road, the forerunner of Skyline Boulevard, came through the gap in 1884, providing an important link to the toll road. Before this time there had only been a trail along the summit linking the different ranches. When one of the ranchers began charging a toll to pass over his property, his neighbors petitioned the county for a public road, putting an end to this practice.
From 1901 until 1914, children from nearby ranches and the Hubbard and Carmichael lumber company received their education at Fairview School. In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many one room school houses serving all eight grades dotted around the mountain. Each school was its own district, built and governed by local ranchers and mill owners. The teacher usually boarded with a local family. Once a year, the county superintendent would make the rounds to see how the teacher was doing.
Education was a hit or miss affair for many pupils. They had to walk or ride miles to reach the school and often were absent due to childhood illnesses, or when their labor was needed on the the ranch. Even the teachers often came and went from these out of the way, and therefore undesirable assignments. For the children who attended, though, the schools provided valuable friendship for peers and opened a window to a wider world. If they wished to attend high school, many of them would have to live with a friend or relative in town for the term.
Highway 9, was seen by local as a superior modern highway when it replaced the old toll road in 1915. The Santa Cruz county portion of the highway, along with Route 236, was promoted as the entry to the redwoods at Big Basin. Early photos show a gateway to California Redwoods Park (now Big Basin State Park) at Saratoga Gap even though it is many miles from the park itself. When Highway 9 was designed, the state had reserved a 200 foot natural corridor into the park, along the highway. Years later, the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail was fitted into this right-of-way.
Changing Land Use
A comparison of then and now photos shows the difference in vegetation at the gap. On the northeast corner, native trees replaced an old vineyard. On the northwest corner, the fir trees that were planted in the early 1930s are dying off in 2015. Where these nursery trees not native to this locality?
Several trails head out from the gap. A trail on the west side of Skyline, very close to Highway 9, leads to the Skyline-to-the Sea Trail in Castle Rock State Park. It starts out following the path of the old Saratoga Toll Road.
The Saratoga Gap Trail leaves Highway 9 on the northeast side and leads to Charcoal Road in the Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve with access to the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.
The Skyline Trail, a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, leaves the parking area on the southeast side. This trail parallels the boulevard with several access points along the way. In a little over three miles, it reaches the entrance to Castle Rock State Park (across the boulevard) and continues beyond in Sanborn County Park.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
Much of the information in this tour comes from a book called The South Skyline Story by Janet Schwind and the Skyline Historical Society, 2014. It is a well written, fun and informative read from the Native Americans, through the early loggers and ranchers, commune dwellers, wine makers, conservationists and homebuilders. You can get a copy at Alice’s Restaurant in Skylonda (the junction of Highways 35 and 84) or by contacting Skyline History President Chuck Schoppe, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 408-867-9229.
- The South Skyline Story. Janet Schwind and the Skyline Historical Society. 2014.