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  Early El Cerrito Quarries

Up Moeser Lane ran what was known as the Stege Spur Track from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company's Coast Lines. The intersection of the Stege Spur and the Santa Fe line was known as Dwight. Probably, Dwight was one of the location markers along the Santa Fe main line. These tracks ran up Moeser Lane to what is now known as Cerrito Vista Park near Pomona Street. Bates and Borland Company's crusher and bunker were situated here as they were in the quarry business and the bunkers were used to fill the railroad cars for hauling the rock. The quarry itself was situated above Arlington Avenue at what is now Camp Herms. [Editor's note: Dwight was a named "station" on the Santa Fe line. It was named after Dwight Hutchinson, owner of the Hutchinson Quarry. Both the spur up to the Stege Quarry and the spur up to the Hutchinson Quarry left the Santa Fe main line at Dwight Station.]

From the bunkers, up to the quarry at the top of the hill, was the tramway where narrow gauge rails ran and metal cars would travel up and down hauling rock to the crusher and bunkers. The loaded cars coming down the hill would pull the empty cars up the hill along the tramway as they were guided by cable along the tracks. Quite often these cars would run off the rails and turn over.

Somewhere along about where Moeser Lane and Sea View Drive are presently located was a small building about 5 foot square. This building was the control building where Kip Morrill would be stationed. His job was to switch the hopper car hauling rock down from the quarry to the crushers onto a side track allowing the empty cars going up to pass the loaded car going down. [Editor's Note: Kip Morrill was blind and he switched the cars around each other based on the sound the cars made as they approached.]

The tracks ran through a small tunnel under Arlington Avenue over to the bottom of a loading chute at Bates and Borland Quarry. Smaller quarry cars from any of the three tunnels that went in the side of the hill dumped their loads into the top of the loading chute. The hopper cars were loaded and ready to travel along by cable back down the tracks to the bunkers at the bottom of the hill. In the middle of the quarry was a building about 12-foot square where the dynamite was stored and the ten workers would keep their tools. Going down along side of the tracks one could see old abandoned cables, wheels and rollers that had been replaced from time to time.

Mr. Stark was foreman for the Quarry and lived on the site near the bunker with his family. Josephine, daughter of Mr. Stark, married Berkeley Smith, whose father owned a dairy on Gladys Avenue between Everett and Norvell Streets. On Saturday nights the neighbors would gather for a barn dance at the dairy.

Hiram A Morrill moved into the quarry property at Moeser Lane in April of 1913 and became Superintendent until it closed down during the depression. He was the father of Lucille Zellers who married the now retired City Treasurer, Robert Zellers.

On the night of August 17, 1914, several of the gravel cars parked on the Stege Spur up Moeser Lane at the Bate and Borland bunkers broke loose. The gravel cars traveled down the Moeser Lane track until they jumped the rails where the track curved to join the main line Santa Fe tracks. Young Thurston Stark, hearing the gravel cars moving, ran out of the home and tried to overtake the now fast traveling cars running down the track. By the time he got to the main line Santa Fe tracks, the cars had already run off the spur and turned over on top of the main line. Young Stark, hearing a whistle off in the distance, ran along the track for several blocks and flagged down the approaching train.

By Stark's action to avert a collision, it probably may have saved someone's life and damage to the oncoming train. He received a letter and check from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company of the Coast Lines. They extended thanks for the assistance he rendered in advising and protecting the trains against the ballast cars that ran out to the main track near Dwight on the night of August 17,1914. It was with no thought of remuneration that he did what he could to prevent the accident that night. As a slight token of appreciation the company presented him with a check for his services.

Children would wait for the train to switch from the main Santa Fe line and to start up the Moeser Lane branch line to pick up the loaded gravel cars. When the switch engine had gone to pick up the cars, the kids would help themselves to the grapes and other fruit on the other cars that the engineer had left on the train rails. They were able to do this as they could reach through the planking on the side of the cars.

Later at the Bates and Borland bunker site there were a number of mules and horses corralled as these animals were used to pull the Fresno Scrapers as a number of streets were being graded in this area. Animals were also corralled at Lincoln and Norvell in old tin buildings.

To the right of Moeser Lane in the Stockton Avenue, Terrace Drive areas, one could see little buildings starting to sprout. People often referred to it as Mushroom Hill.

Bates and Borland closed their El Cerrito operation in the early 1930's. The tramway to the top of the crusher was very dangerous what with all the children around so in 1930, Sam Long and Victor Belfils, both volunteer firemen, agreed to tear it down for the wood. They removed the timbers and cut them into firewood, which they sold by the cord. Between this wood and groves of trees they had cut down throughout the city they had accumulated quite a number of cords. People would steal the wood when they were not around, so the decided to store it inside. They rented a building at Manila and Kearney that was vacant but had been a sheet metal shop, garage, and also a washing machine repair shop.

They stored their wood there until the city decided to purchase the building to house their road equipment. The city later remodeled it and that is where the present city hall is located.

When this building housed Charles Sanford's sheet metal shop he had 21 men working for him. He occupied this building from 1923 until 1925.

Another quarry was the Hutchinson Quarry at the end of Schmidt Lane, situated on land which is now owned by the city. One can see the quarry's tremendously large cut into the hill from various locations in the bay area. This quarry was abandoned, because homes started to be built above and around the site. Large dynamite blasts being shot off would break windows and dust would cover the homes. People complained and the city requested the company abandon this site, which they did in the late 1940's. The bunkers were burnt down in 1953 at a fire department exercise. The city built its corporation yard at this site, which also houses the Stege Sanitary District Corporation Yard and office.

Mr. Anson Blake, who was in business with George Schmidt in 1897, purchased some of the Galvin property. They paid $17.00 per acre for the hillside property and sold it for $80.00 per acre. The flat area they purchased for $65.00 per acre and later divided some into lots which they sold for $50.00 per lot. [Editor's note: the Galvin family is descended from the Castros, who were the original Mexican landowners in West Contra Costa County.]

According to Earl Brown of the H&B Rock Quarry, (the former Hutchinson Quarry) at the head of Schmidt Lane, the quarry started around 1900 after being purchased from the Schmidt family, who had purchased it from Anson Blake, the former property owner. This property ran practically all of the way down to the Great Western Power Company, which supplied electricity to the bay area and whose substation still stands and is in use by its successor P.G. & E.

The spur track, from the Santa Fe Railroad tracks up Schmidt Lane to the quarry, was installed after a permit was issued by the County Board of Supervisors in 1913. As the city was not incorporated at the time, the control was under the jurisdiction of the county.

Schmidt Lane may have been named after Kathryn and John Schmidt, former property owners in this area to the right of the quarry site. Navellier Street was first called Blake Street after Anson Blake but was later changed to Navellier after the long time residency of the Navellier family.

At the northeast corner of Schmidt Lane and Navellier Street was the property of Edward Temperli, who purchased the land from the Schmidt family. He had a number of fruit trees on the property, a dancing platform, and a place for picnickers to visit and spend the day. The dust and blasting from the quarry caused Mr. Temperli to complain, so instead of having a complaint made, with the chance of the quarry being closed down, the company decided to buy his property. They purchased his property in 1914 for $50,000 and gave him the right to live in his home for the rest of his life. He since has passed away and it is believed the money was buried somewhere on the property but never located as far as anyone knows.

The type of rock removed from this quarry over a period of years was rated one of the best in the whole bay area. Later in years, the Hutchinson Quarry was merged with Earl Brown's company and called the H&B Rock Company. Its office was once located on the southwest corner of Schmidt Lane and Navellier Street. This office was moved off of the old foundation that still stands at the end of Portola Drive and moved to the Schmidt and Navellier location. This building had been used for room and board workers and the quarry prior to being moved.

Another quarry, that did not run as long as the others, was situated between Cutting Boulevard and Arlington Avenue, just below the big rock that is above Arlington Avenue and usually is referred to as Murietta Rock. To get their rock materials they tunneled up into the hill under Arlington Avenue towards this big rock that still stands. The rock is not as big as it used to be as it has been blasted with dynamite and some of the materials hauled away.

This quarry was operated by an Italian fellow by the name of Leone and his partner. They would haul the rock out of the tunnel on small cars to the crusher and bunkers that were situated on the hillside. No traces can be seen of the old quarry site as this area is almost all built up now. After the quarry was abandoned for years the children going up to the golf course to caddy would stop and pass part of the day playing and exploring the tunnel.

It is said that Joaquin Murietta, the famous outlaw, camped in the area and used the high rock as a lookout in the early days.

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006

 

   
PO Box 304, El Cerrito, CA 94530