History of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The areas now described as Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park were Rancheros in the 1830′s and 1840′s. Various landowners have purchased parts of the Rancheros throughout history. In 1867 Joseph Warren Welch purchased 350 acres containing the forty-acre stand of virgin redwood now part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

In 1868 Welch planned a resort building with dining room, kitchen and sleeping rooms. By 1889 the resort was complete with train station, hotel, dining hall, cabins and dance pavilion. Dignitaries from all over the world came to marvel at the trees.

In 1889, a painter/photographer named Andrew P. Hill was hired to take pictures of redwoods in Welch’s Grove. But Welch would not let him take pictures of his grove so Hill traveled to Big Basin area instead. He was so inspired by the grandeur of the redwoods, and so alarmed that all these giants were being cut down, that he vowed that the magnificent trees should be saved for generations to enjoy.

He and friends such as journalist, Josephine McCracken, attracted wealthy and influential people who formed Sempervirens Club. These visionaries raised funds and convinced legislators to purchase Big Basin. Thus began the preservation movement and the establishment of California’s oldest State Park. And the beginnings of this vision began in Welch’s Grove because Hill could not take a photograph.

At the turn of the Century the Welch family looked for a buyer for the resort and surrounding property. Welch’s son and the County worked out a purchase that would make the grove a county park, thereby preserving the redwoods. In 1930 Santa Cruz County paid $75,000 for 120 acres which included the incomparable 40 acre Big Trees Grove.

In 1952, S. H. Cowell decided he wanted to give the property he was especially fond of next to Welch’s Grove to the State of California in memory of his father Henry. Cowell wanted the County to give up Welch’s Grove so that all the property could be managed together. This was accomplished on August 14, 1954, when Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was formally dedicated as a new unit of California State Parks.

Who was Henry Cowell?
Henry Cowell arrived in Santa Cruz area in 1865 and bought half of the shares of the Santa Cruz limestone business from Albion Jordan for $100,000.

By 1886 he was reported to have the highest income in Santa Cruz County in addition to owning 10,000 acres of land in the area. His businesses included limestone quarries, shipping, logging, cattle, cement trade and large land holdings, ranches and lime deposits in 15 counties.  His property included over 1,600 acres of forest adjacent to Welch’s Big Trees Resort

He developed lime quarries at Rincon and Fall Creek.  The limestone were an excellent grade and available where there were large quantities of fuel for the kilns.  During the years of highest demand, 80% of the statewide need for lime was supplied by Santa Cruz County.

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