Pogonip : The Cowell Family, Polo, and a Poltergeist

Honeysuckle hill on the way to the Lost Boys house. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
A beautiful honeysuckle hill on the way to the Lost Boys house. Photo © Lauren McEvoy

On the University of California, Santa Cruz Campus, east of Stevenson College and across Coolidge Road, you will find one of the seven entrances to Santa Cruz’s beloved open space preserve, the Pogonip. With 640 acres and 8 miles of trails, the Pogonip is a favorite place for locals to connect with nature. Inside, dark mystical redwood forests with light dappled understory give way to oak woodland habitat that open onto warm sunlit grasslands comparable to scenes from “Little House on the Prairie.” The challenge is to decide where to linger.

View from Prairie Hill. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
View from Prairie Hill. Photo © Lauren McEvoy

Cowell Family Estate

The UC Santa Cruz campus and much of the Pogonip land was originally part of Cowell Ranch. Henry Cowell bought the land in 1865 for its extensive lime and timber resources. Cowell and his family owned the Pogonip portion until 1989 when the Cowell estate sold it to the City of Santa Cruz. The Cowell estate has their name stamped on some of Santa Cruz’s most beloved retreats left to public good. Besides Cowell College on the UCSC campus, the Cowell family name can be found on Cowell Beach next to the Boardwalk, and Henry Cowell State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, all due to land gifted to the public by the Cowell family.

The Pogonip Clubhouse

In the heart of Pogonip lies a dilapidated building with peeling paint that is rich in history. In the early 1900s, it was called the Casa Del Ray Club and Golf Links, or the Pogonip Clubhouse. It was a hot spot for the surrounding golf course at Pogonip. People would come far and wide to play at the spectacularly beautiful golfing spot.

Casa Del Ray clubhouse circa 1900. Photo courtesy of  Museum of Natural History, Santa Cruz.
Casa Del Ray clubhouse circa 1900. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

In the 1930s, Dorothy Demming Wheeler revamped the golf links into polo fields that soon became a haven for talented women polo players. She called the new and improved clubhouse the Pogonip Polo Club. Wheeler helped break a long standing barrier for women in sports. The clubhouse was closed during World War II and was used as a rehabilitation facility for wounded soldiers. In 1948 the clubhouse reopened for use as a social club before the City of Santa Cruz bought it in 1989.

Golf players flock to the beautiful golf club at Pogonip, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Golf players flock to the beautiful golf club at Pogonip, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

The clubhouse was used as a set for three movies, including one teenage vampire movie that trumps all modern day teenage vampire movies: “The Lost Boys”. There are free showings of this action packed thriller on Main Beach in the summer projected on a giant screen. Heart throb (in 1987 of course) Corey Feldman who played one of the leading roles occasionally attends these showings.

At first sight the once hopping clubhouse looks as though it may collapse from even a mere sneeze. There’s now a six foot wire fence barricading the building from the interested tourist and the party spot seeking UCSC student.

The Pogonip Clubhouse front lawn is a great place to have a picnic with loved ones. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
The front lawn of the Pogonip Clubhouse is a great place to have a picnic. Photo © Lauren McEvoy

A Pogonip Haunting

Near the northern section of Pogonip, the ghost of Henry Cowell’s daughter, Sarah Cowell, is said to drift among what locals call the Haunted Meadow. In 1903 the local paper touched on the story of Sarah Cowell and Evelyn George, the wife of the Cowell Ranch manager. They were apparently thrown from their horse-drawn carriage while returning to the ranch. Mrs. George was severely injured but survived. Sarah Cowell died after repeated, desperate attempts to revive her.

The Haunted Meadow does not look so haunted in midday.  Photo courtesy Lauren McEvoy
The Haunted Meadow does not look so haunted in midday. Photo courtesy Lauren McEvoy

Some say her ghost haunts the meadow in the darkness of the night. She is seen only as a long white cloak hovering above a shadow below the moon light. Only the bravest of souls should explore the haunted meadow in search of Sarah Cowell. The story of Sarah Cowell’s death has transformed over time and despite the ghostly stories at Pogonip, her accident actually occurred “near Cowell’s upper kilns” which is now a part of Wilder Ranch State Park. Despite the true location of the accident, maybe Sarah’s ghost visits the Haunted Meadow anyway.

Visiting the Pogonip

The Pogonip is a captivating gem loved by Santa Cruzans and visitors alike. Visitors should be aware that on-site parking, drinking water and toilets are non-existent. Before heading out, be sure you know what poison oak looks like, as it can cause a itchy, angry rash!

Poison oak leaves an unforgettable rash.  This lobed leaf can be in colors of green and red. Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Elf
Poison oak leaves an unforgettable rash. This lobed leaf can be in colors of green and red. Photo courtesy :Elf

Beyond connections to nature, north of Fern Trail another connection has permeated the forest. Word on the street is that drug dealers linger in those neck of the woods so steer clear of anyone who doesn’t look like a hiker, biker or park worker.

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This piece is part of the UCSC Natural History Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.


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  1. Sources Used

    Tonya Haff, Martha T. Brown, W. Breck Tyler (Eds.). The Natural History of the UC Santa Cruz Campus, Second Edition. Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz. 2008. [Review]

    Joan Gilbert Martin and Colleen McInerney-Meagher. Pogonip: Jewel of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B, 2007. [Review]

    Frank Perry. Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2007.

    Who Was Henry Cowell? California State Parks Website.

    The Pogonip. Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

    The Pogonip. Hilltromper.

    The Pogonip. LocalWiki.

    Pogonip Clubhouse. Deep Blue Moon Website.

    Guide to the Pogonip Collection. Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History Website.

About The Author

Ranger Salazar

Lauren McEvoy is a naturalist and Santa Cruz native with a passion for teaching through writing. She graduated Cum Laude with a BA in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2015. Lauren worked for Mobile Ranger as an intern and created a self-guided natural history tour of the UCSC campus. After graduation she has come back to Mobile Ranger to write and help things run smoothly.

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    1. Ranger McEvoy
      Ranger McEvoy

      I’m glad you are enjoying the posts. Based on my research, the name “Pogonip” means: “a dense winter fog containing frozen particles that is formed in deep mountain valleys of the western United States” explained by Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pogonip). There seems to be other possible meanings to the name though in which I will have to check into.

  1. Gary Niblock

    In the early 1980’s Pogonip was a private club. My wife and I (and two kids) joined so that we could have access to the pool which was adjacent to the club house, which even at that time was in pretty poor shape. We had a lot of fun up there and it was always a treat to enjoy the ambiance and nostaligia of the place. It made us feel connected to the community’s past as well as having good times. Once when I queried a long time Santa Cruzan about the name I was told that Pogonip meant, Po-lo, Go-lf and a Nip after. Made sense to us.

    1. Ranger McEvoy
      Ranger McEvoy

      Thank you for sharing your connection to Pogonip. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to swim in the pool at Pogonip before it was removed but I have seen some great photos of it with happy families in and around it with big smiles on their faces. I have a friend that recalls swimming in it with her family when she was a child. They are fond memories that she, and I am guessing you, will never forget. Thank you for sharing. And as for the name “Pogonip”, I will do some more research and update on I find.

  2. Mike

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    Some comments:: Henry Cowell (born 1861) died in 1955. He was long gone when the city took over the property in 1989.

    Re: The Haunting. It’s worth noting that it’s called Haunted Meadow but Sarah Cowell had her accident in what’s now Wilder Ranch State Park. Source: “Lime Kiln Legacies,” Frank Perry, et al, Santa Cruz MAH, 2007, page 185.

    Regarding the origin of the name, it’s unlikely that it came from “Po-lo, Go-lf and a Nip after…” From “Santa Cruz County Place Names” by Donald T. Clark, 2008, p. 246., “The term had been applied to a stream and to a volunteer fire company (Pogonip Hose Company, established, November, 1885) long before Pogonip Club was named….”

    1. Ranger McEvoy
      Ranger McEvoy

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you for the constructive comments. I did some more research into Frank Perry’s amazing “Lime Kiln Legacies”(one of my favorite books) and edited the post. Thanks again.

  3. Frank Kuhr

    Awesome job I learned a lot about Pogonip park,and Cowell family need to go out and explore these beautiful sights.

  4. Laura (Lapp) Garber

    I remember that I attended year-end choir parties at Pogonip (the club house) in the late 60’s or early 70’s. My father was a High School music teacher and had year-end parties there for his students for several years. I remember swimming in the pool, playing on the tennis courts and running around on the lawn…great times! I also remember BBQ’d hamburgers and all the soda (in cans from an ice chest) that I wanted to drink. Very fond memories…

  5. Tonya

    Enjoyable article. The first photo describes the foliage as honeysuckle, is that right? Looks like plumbago or other….


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