Laurel Mill Lodge
LAUREL MILL LODGE is named after the Laurel Mill, which was one of the Bay Area's
main sources of lumber from 1899 to 1913. This was Frederic A. Hihn's first mill,
although lumber was already the largest industry in Santa Cruz County. It was
lumber from this mill that was used for rebuilding large sections of San Francisco
after the earthquake and fire in 1906.
The creek was dammed to make a mill pond on which logs were floated to a steam powered bandsaw. Since the mill needed to be located in a deep canyon, in order to use the creek, it was necessary to build a flat area with “rip-rap,” formed by crisscrossing layers of redwood trunks with rock and dirt fill. This area supported the buildings and drying/stacking area for the lumber. The structure of the rip-rap is still visible from the creek bed in some places. It stretches from the old swimming pool and greenhouse at the front of the property, where the mill was located, to the far end of our parking area.
In 1913, a year after Hihn’s death, the mill was closed. The next owner pulled up the mill dam, and using these rough slabs of wood, built two small cabins. He planted a pear orchard, which proved to be too small for a successful commercial venture.
In 1943, the land was purchased by Alan Medlen, who used the two cabins and the old mill office/mess hall building as a group foster home. It was the boys in the foster home who dug the swimming pool. Some of them have come back in recent years to visit.
The foster home eventually was expanded into a children's camp. Mr. Medlen built additions to the two older cabins, built 9 A-frame cabins and added on to the building that was the mess hall/mill office, and is now the Lodge. He had the building raised up and placed on a perimeter foundation. He doubled the size of the mess hall, which is now our Conference/Banquet Room. He enlarged the kitchen, added a second story and attic over the main part of the building and installed shower rooms below. Eventually the camp was acquired by another couple who sold it again when it was not financially successful.
In the 1960’s and ’70’s the property was a retreat center and massage school called “Getting In Touch.” Some of the A-frame cabins were modernized, forming the present deluxe cabins. The hot tub was added, as was a second swimming pool. The Redwood Lodge Road bridge washed out one winter in the early ’80’s. That and subsequent slide damage to the upper part of Redwood Lodge Road isolated the property and closed down the program. The facility was leased to Nancy Penny who attempted to run it as a nudist recreation center. Members had to park on the road above and scramble down ropes and ladders to get to the lodge and other facilities, and they did so willingly because of the natural beauty of the place. But eventually the venture proved to be financially untenable, and the organization became bankrupt.
The land stood empty for many years, and had been largely reclaimed by a tangle of Scotch broom and blackberry. The present owners acquired the property in 1991. Someday soon, we’ll write that story.