Highway 17 Stage Coach Lines & Charley Parkhurst

This is a sample section from the book Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz by Richard Beal..

The first stage service between San Jose and Santa Cruz began in 1854. The only stage route went through San Jose, San Juan Bautista, Watsonville and then north to Santa Cruz. Travellers from San Francisco took two days to reach Santa Cruz. One way fares from San Jose to Santa Cruz were $4.00.

By October 1858, the new toll roads over the Santa Cruz Mountains shortened stage travel to a one day trip from San Jose. The first stages used Mountain Charlie Road, but soon there were several competing stage lines using the two different routes (Soquel or Mountain Charlie) with service daily. Fares were dropped to $2.50 one way.

One of the most famous stagecoach drivers was Charley 'Parkie' Parkhurst, known as one of the toughest and most reliable drivers on the line. He lived for 20 years around the Freedom Blvd. and Day Valley Road area in Aptos. Wearing a black patch over one eye, he was referred to as 'one eyed Charlie'. However Parkhurst is best known for having living her life as a man, until her death when her true sex was revealed for the first time to startled friends. Many people have confused Mountain Charlie McKiernan with Charley Parkhurst. Although both were colorful figures living at about the same time, they were quite distinct individuals. Born Charlotte Parkhurst in 1812 and orphaned at an early age, she apparently escaped the orphanage dressed as a boy - a custom she continued throughout the rest of her life. She found work as a stable boy and eventually came west in 1851 during the California gold rush. She worked as a stage coach driver and was well known in the area.

She smoked cigars, chewed tobacco, drank moderately, played cards and shook dice for cigars or drinks. [Barriga, Women, p. 24]

In 1868 Ulysses Grant was running for President and Parkhurst went to Soquel where she registered to vote - making her the first woman to vote in California! In 1955 the Pajaro Valley Historical Association placed a gravestone in the Watsonville Cemetery on the West side of Freedom Road:

Another old stage road to San Jose left Santa Cruz by fording the San Lorenzo River, where the River Street bridge is now. Then up Graham Grade, passing over what is now the Pasatiempo Golf Course and onto the first stop, the ranch of Abraham Hendricks in Scotts Valley where two horses were added for the long pull ahead. Then up to Mt. Charlie's station and eventually down into Santa Clara Valley. Apparently Mountain Charlie McKiernan owned the line until 1874 when it was sold to George Colegrove. They used a popular yellow Concord coach with leather springs. In the late 1800s a 'mud wagon', all terrain vehicle was put in use as a replacement for the much heavier Concord coaches.

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