“Houses are like people—some you like and some you don’t like—and once in a while, there’s one you love.”
Lucy M. Montgomery
Emily Climbs, 1925
It is also a story about trees, trains, and—above all—apples.
- 1870: Frederick A. Hihn builds a sawmill on Valencia Creek.
- 1876: Santa Cruz Railroad opens; the Betsy Jane and Pacific depart opposite ends of the county and meet in Aptos.
- 1881: Southern Pacific acquires Santa Cruz Railroad. Valencia School constructed on Valencia School Road to serve the lumber mill town of Valencia.
- 1883: Southern Pacific completes track and builds spur line into Aptos Canyon. Frederick Hihn opens lumber mill on Trout Gulch Creek.
- 1883-1923: Logging era produces 140 million board-feet of lumber. Aptos Village expands to three hotels, thirteen saloons, two railroad stations, and a deep-sea pier.
- 1931: Valencia School on Valencia School Road closes, fifty years after its doors opened. The distinctive two-story building, located directly across from 525 Valencia School Road, was later demolished.
Determined, resourceful German immigrant Frederick A. Hihn (pronounced Heen) and Claus “Sugar King” Spreckels financed the first railroad into Santa Cruz County. Hihn made his fortune—and became the county’s first self-made millionaire—harvesting redwoods: At peak production, his Aptos Mill turned out some 40,000 board-feet of lumber every day. Felled trees were efficiently milled into lumber and shipped out on the railroad as redwood harvesting became the foremost Aptos industry.
Forty years after the massive and relentless logging operations began, the last clearcut redwood fell in the now stark and lonely Aptos Hills. When that day came, as he knew it must, Frederick Hihn was ready. He planned the future, and it was apples.
As the logging industry slackened at the turn of the 20th century, Frederick Hihn hired unemployed lumberjacks to plant apple orchards where redwoods once stood; he then sold his orchards to the newfound apple farmers who were granted ten years to pay off their debt. It was a shrewd move: Hihn controlled the entire supply chain, from apple growing to picking, packing, drying, and shipping—even a vinegar works, which processed apple skins and leftovers.
Already a booming industry in Watsonville, by 1908 the Pajaro Valley had become the largest apple producer on earth, and fruit from the valley’s million trees was shipped throughout the United States and as far as Europe and Asia.
Aptos apples from Valencia were the finest apples in the county, and for years and years won most of the top prizes at the “Apple Annual” in Watsonville. One of the most popular varieties was (and is) the Newtown Pippin, a crisp, sweet-tart green variety that’s great to eat and perfect for juice—just ask Martinelli’s, which still harvests Aptos apples to make their world-famous juices—including Newtowns still grown here, at 525 Valencia School Road, from trees planted a century ago.
San Francisco-based architect Edward Mullen designed this house to be his own: an elegant, distinctive, and approachable home in a beautiful spot with an interesting history, away from corrosive city noise and commotion. With an architect’s fine eye, Mullen heaped hours and more hours to perfectly siting the house, to creating its noble lines and beautiful proportions. One look is enough to tell how well he succeeded.
Sadly, Edward Mullen didn’t live to see his home completed. The unfinished house was purchased in 1986 by the only family that has ever called it home: ours. With enormous care, and to honor Mr. Mullen’s inspired design, we devoted ourselves, heart and soul, into crafting and preserving the home you see today.
Almost a century after the school was built, its distinctive architecture lives on in 525 Valencia School Road. I’ll never know for sure if that was Mr. Mullen’s aim. But he was a meticulous man. I believe that long before a backhoe dug its teeth into the ground, Mullen planned that architectural echo, a respectful nod to the early days of Aptos and its captivating history.
We’ve loved, loved this home and the land it stands upon for thirty-one years. Our son was married here. Dogs (and the occasional cat) have bounded through the orchard gleefully chasing the countless apples we tossed for them. Every spring, we watch for the first quail to show up with a dozen or more chicks in tow. And October! Everything smells like pie, and light’s the color of honey.
Now the ownership of this beautiful, unforgettable place will be turned over to a new family — maybe yours. We wish you years of contentment. And a dog who thinks chasing apples is just the best game ever.