Waddell’s Wharf: Ordeals of Shipping Lumber from Año Nuevo Bay

Cove Beach at Ano Nuevo State Beach. Walk along here and you will get to where Waddell's second wharf was. Photo: Julia Gauidnski/ Mobile Ranger
Cove Beach at Año Nuevo State Park. Waddell’s Wharf went out to the sea in the center left of the photo where you see a large clump of trees and the waves are at the highest point on the beach. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/ Mobile Ranger

Over 150 years ago, the coastline at Año Nuevo State Park, between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California, was home to a bustling lumber industry. Even though the wharf at Cove Beach in Año Nuevo Bay once shipped over two million feet of lumber in just one year, it’s hard to find signs of its existence today. The story of this wharf begins about two miles south of Cove Beach at Waddell Beach, now a popular spot for kite surfers and the coastal entrance to Big Basin State Park. In the 1860s, William Waddell, a failed businessman from Kentucky, built his home, a steam-powered lumber mill, the first of two shipping wharves, and a five-mile tramway here in the canyon that now bears his name.

Waddell Beach, unknown date. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
Waddell Beach, the site of the unsuccessful first Waddell’s Wharf, unknown date. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

The millworkers cut an impressive 20,000 feet of lumber a day at the mill’s peak operation. Waddell had one major problem, though: He didn’t have a way to ship his lumber to the market.

A Tale of Two Wharves

To solve this problem, he began construction of a 1000-foot wharf in 1864. He built it at the mouth of what is now called Waddell Creek. Unfortunately, he hit a layer of bedrock after spending $30,000 ($686,000 in today’s money) and had to abandon construction.

Not to be deterred, Waddell built a second, 700-foot wharf at Cove Beach. Less than a year later, the wharf was washed away in a storm. Waddell replaced it, only to have a large portion washed away again in 1870. It took four men and a horse to retrieve that section.

The Waddell Wharf, circa 1868. It shows a newer platform built on top of an older wharf likely damaged in a storm. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
The Waddell Wharf, circa 1868 at Cove Beach. It shows a newer platform built on top of an older wharf likely damaged in a storm. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
In the center of the photo where you can see a wooden step is where Waddell's Wharf went out to the sea. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/ Mobile Ranger
In the center of the photo just past the wooden step, is where Waddell’s Wharf went out to the sea. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/ Mobile Ranger
Cribbing built by William Waddell for the rail line that took his lumber out to New Year's wharf. It later became the foundation for a Santa Cruz County road. Unknown date. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
Cribs built by William Waddell for the rail line that took his lumber to Waddell’s Wharf at Cove Beach. This area later became the foundation of a Santa Cruz County road. Unknown date. Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

It Ends with a Bear

On an autumn day in 1875, Waddell went hunting with his dog and the local blacksmith. Near the entrance to a ravine, a grizzly bear attacked him, but his faithful dog jumped into the fray and lured the bear back into the woods.

“A rough and tumble with a grizzly,” by H. Bullock Webster, ca. 1874 – 1880. Image: University of British Columbia
A rough and tumble with a grizzly by H. Bullock Webster, ca. 1874 – 1880. Image: University of British Columbia

He made it home, but he died five days later from blood poisoning and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Santa Cruz. Waddell was one of the last grizzly bear victim fatalities recorded in California before the species went extinct statewide, from hunting, in 1922.

Where to Look for Remnants of the Wharf

A few remnants of the mill and Waddell’s Wharf remain, but you have to know where to look and the last pier has been eroded away from the beach for decades.

The last remaining piling of William Waddell's Wharf at Cove Beach, January 16, 1977. Photo: Courtesy Jerry Weber.
The last remaining piling of William Waddell’s Wharf at Cove Beach, January 16, 1977. Photo: Courtesy of Gerald Weber

Many of the wharf timbers were reused to build the dairy and horse barn at Año Nuevo State Preserve, which are now the visitor center. Boilers from the mill now function as culverts at May Creek and an unnamed stream. And about two-thirds of the way up Waddell Canyon, you can still find four posts from the five-mile tramway.

Timbers from Waddell’s Wharf were salvaged and reused by Edwin Dickerman to build a dairy and horse barn in 1881: these buildings and their supporting wharf-derived beams are now part of the visitor center at Año Nuevo. Photo: Mike Merritt.
Timbers from Waddell’s Wharf were salvaged and reused by Edwin Dickerman to build a dairy and horse barn in 1881. These buildings and their supporting wharf-derived beams are now part of the visitor center at Año Nuevo State Preserve. Photo: Mike Merritt

These leftover pieces are reminders that Highway 1 was once a wild place where pioneers tried to stake their claims on the land, only to be knocked back again and again by the forces of nature. Today, we try harder to coexist with these wild places, study them, explore them, and protect them for many generations to come.

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This piece is part of the Santa Cruz Marine Protected Areas Beaches Tour made possible by the Santa Cruz Collaborative with support from the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Resources Legacy Fund. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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About The Author

Molly Lautamo is a content strategist and writer in Santa Cruz, California. She loves exploring and researching her surroundings and then writing about her discoveries to inspire others to get out and explore too. You can check out more of Molly's writing at mollylautamo.com.

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