History of Aptos

A Brief Overview of the History of Aptos

by John Hibble

Visit the Aptos History Museum Website!

“Views of the Past”
Early Times

Aptos was named by the American Indians who lived here for thousands of years before Mission Santa Cruz was completed by the Spanish in 1794. In 1833 the government of Mexico granted Aptos Rancho to Rafael Castro. The Rancho would eventually total almost 6,686 acres. Initially Castro raised cattle for their hides, but after California became a state in 1850, Castro leased his land to Yankees for industrial developments. A wharf, general store, and lumber mill were built. The original town was located where Aptos Village Square is now. In 1853 a leather tannery was built, and the main building is now the Apple Lane Bed & Breakfast Inn.

“The Palo Alto” Cement Ship
Aptos the Resort

After Spreckels’ death, Seacliff Park and Rio Del Mar Country Club were developed in the late 1920?s. Rio Del Mar Country Club included a clubhouse, a grand hotel on the bluffs, a beach club, a polo field, and a golf course. The estuary was filled in, and Aptos tanker made of cement and converted it into an amusement pier with restaurants, swimming pool, and a dance pavilion. Both Rio Del Mar and Seacliff were popular during prohibition as drinking and gambling were discreetely available. These amusements were interrupted by the great depression and World War II.

“Official Opening of the Aptos Bridge Circa 1929?
A Residential Community

In the early 1960?s Aptos began a period of rapid development.

Cabrillo College opened in our strategic location halfway between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center and the Seascape development soon followed … and the rest is history!

“The stately Bayview Hotel has participated in the life of Aptos since the turn of the century”
Claus Spreckels

By 1872 Claus Spreckels, the sugar millionaire, began buying the land from Castro. He built a hotel near the beach. Spreckels Drive was the private entrance road. He also built a summer mansion and ranch with a racetrack for his horses. A large area was fenced and stocked with deer for hunting, and that area became known as “The Deer Park.” Spreckels also helped finance the Santa Cruz Railroad which opened in 1876. The original steam engine “Jupiter” is now in the Smithsonian. With the coming of the railroad, the town moved to the other side of Aptos Creek. Spreckels brother-in-law Claus Mangels built himself a mansion, and Rafael Castro’s son-in-law Joseph Arano built the Bayview Hotel. Both are now Bed & Breakfast Inns.

“The Old Cement Ship at Seacliff Beach Circa 1921?
The Logging Era

From 1880 to 1920 Redwood timber harvesting became the major industry, and Aptos became a boom town. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company logged all of what is now Nisene Marks State Park. The Valencia Mill logged everything to the east. Valencia Hall was the community center of this mill town. Within 40 years the hills were bare, and apples became the next industry. Village Fair Antiques is now located in the old apple packing plant.