Skyline Boulevard: The Ever Evolving Saratoga Gap

Saratoga Gap in 2015, looking northward.

Saratoga Gap in 2015, looking northward.

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.

Wallace Moody leaves Saratoga Summit on his way to the Santa Clara Valley with a load of firewood from his family’s ranch. Fairview School in the background. Photo courtesy of Louise Cooper.

Wallace Moody leaves Saratoga Summit on his way to the Santa Clara Valley with a load of firewood from his family’s ranch. Fairview School in the background. Photo courtesy of Louise Cooper.

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.

A state survey shows Skyline Boulevard (dark line) plowing through a tangle of local roads at the gap, 1928, superceding the Summit Road. Map courtesy of CalTrans, modified by Janet Schwind.

A state survey shows Skyline Boulevard (dark line) plowing through a tangle of local roads at the gap in 1928. In the early 1930s, Skyline Boulevard was extended along the general route of Summit Road making it straighter and improving the experience. Map courtesy of CalTrans, modified by Janet Schwind.

Fairview School

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.

Read the rest of the story here at MobileRanger.com to see how different the gap looks now compared to 80 years ago.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of a tour all about South Skyline Boulevard by The Skyline Historical Society. You can download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond at www.mobileranger.com.

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Julia Gaudinski


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