The Paul Sweet Tannery 1840-1874

During the last half of the nineteenth century, one of the most important industries in Santa Cruz County was the manufacture of leather. The first known commercial tannery established in the county and in California was the Paul Sweet Tannery in Scotts Valley.

The quality of leather from this area was superior to any in the world because of the ready availability of hides and the abundant supply of tan oak trees, which yielded the best kind of bark for tanning.

The Paul Sweet Tannery was located on twelve acres near where Lockwood Lane and Mount Hermon Road intersect. In approximately 1840 Francisco LaJeunesse, a French Canadian trapper, began tanning hides on that site. The land, a part of the Rancho San Augustin, was owned by naturalized Mexican citizen Joseph L. Majors. Eventually, LaJeunesse left to join Captain John Fremont, leaving the tannery to Paul Sweet in 1843.

At the time Paul Sweet operated the tannery, it consisted of eight vats, made of split redwood logs. The logs were dug out in an oval shape and measured five feet wide and two and one half feet deep. The hides were soaked in these vats which contained the tan oak bark solution until the air was loosened. The bark itself was ground by a large horse-driven wooden wheel, grinding about one half cord of bark per day. The tannery had the capability of processing about 200 steer hides and 300 deer hides annually.

In 1846 Sweet joined the Bear Flag battalion selling the tannery business to Pauline Weaver and Pruitt Saint Clair. In 1847 William Blackburn bought the tannery. He brought in Richard C. Kirby to run it for him, paying him $75.00 per month. In 1852 Kirby married and moved to Santa Cruz. Blackburn sold out his interest at that time. Kirby had also worked his own tannery in the Squabble Hollow or Glen Canyon area. He is most famous, however, for his large tannery in Santa Cruz.

The Scott family probably took possession of the tannery in 1852 when they moved into the area. It was lying idle, however, in July of 1864 when John Wagner and his brother-in-law Robert Anderson and Gottleib Zeigler leased it from Joseph Scott, then owner of the property. The men signed a ten year lease paying $30.00 per year. Wagner had been working for Kirby in Santa Cruz but did not like Kirby's idea of using the Chinese as a cheap source of labor. Despite the latest methods employed by Wagner and his partners, it took about one year for a hide to complete the tanning process.

In 1874 the lease expired and the three men decided to try farming, a more secure and profitable occupation. Wagner bought a portion of Tres Ojo de Aqua Rancho in Santa Cruz, a part of which later became Harvey West Park. His son, Fred Wagner, still lives on the property in his father's house. We are grateful to Mr. Wagner for sharing the picture of the tannery which he had drawn from memory. He was one of the last persons to see the building before it burned in the forest fire of 1929.

There is little record of the tannery after 1874. In 1869 the property had been sold to D. M. Locke, a dairyman. The bark at this time was less accessible, which made the operation more time-consuming and costly. As late as 1888, the voter registration records listed George M. Shippy as a tanner residing in Scotts Valley. By 1895, however, he had become the owner of the Rock Farm Dairy south of the Manana Woods area.

Most of the surviving tannery structures were destroyed in 1929, with the exception of the bunkhouse. Local residents have said that it was built in 1859 to house the tannery workers, but more than likely, it was built after 1864. The J. J. Graham family was living in it at the time of the fire and were able to save it. In 1937 it was remodeled and from 1947 through 1968 it was used as a rental. The Graham family donated it to Pinnacle Pass in September 1969, and it presently serves as the dining room for Cassidy's Pizza Parlor.

Researched and written by Charlene Detlefs. Edited by Janice L. Bowman.


Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of California. The History Co., Vol. vii, 1890.

McHugh, Tom. The Frontier Gazette, Vol. 1, No. iv, Summer 1958.

Riptide, Published 21 Vine St., Santa Cruz, Calif. Vol 21 No. 41, Oct. 6, 1949.

Rowland, Leon. Annals of Santa Cruz. Privately printed in 1947.

Rowland, Leon. Files. Courtesy of Jeanette Rowland.

Willey, S.H. and others. History of Santa Cruz County, California. Published by Wallace W. Elliot and Co., S.F., Calif. 1879.

Records from the Santa Cruz County Archives.

"The Bunkhouse" from Cassidy's Pizza Parlor, Pinnacle Pass, Scotts Valley.

Graham, Bill. Interview 1975.

McHugh, Tom. Interview 1976.

Wagner, Fred, Interview 1976.

Picture of Paul Sweet Tannery, loaned to the Scotts Valley Historical Society by Fred Wagner. Original drawn in 1973 by Gary Masamori. Redrawn under direction of Mr. W. Wagner in 1976 by Mrs. Agnes Knox Lewis for the Scotts Valley Historical Society.