Cowell Beach, Half Moon Bay

Cowell Beach, Half Moon Bay

by | Mar 25, 2021

Cowell Beach is at the southern end of Half Moon Bay and the northern boundary of the Cowell Ranch, one of several historical landholdings of industrialist Henry Cowell, about 38 miles (61 km) northwest of Santa Cruz and 2.8 miles (4.5 km) south of the community of Half Moon Bay, California. The Cowell Ranch at Half Moon Bay was 1,270 acres (514 ha) of rolling, grassy coastal hills, seasonal streams and sandy beaches. The land was sold in 1988 to the Peninsula Open Space Trust. After permanently protecting the lands through a conservation easement, about 1,200 acres (485 ha) were sold to farming families for row crop agriculture and cattle grazing. The remaining lands which include a public trail and spectacular beaches were merged into the California State Parks system.

In 1849, Henry Cowell and his brother John left their hometown of Wrentham, Massachusetts to seek their fortune in the California goldfields. Henry began a successful drayage business that soon grew to include routes to Stockton and the Sierra gold country. He soon realized that the population boom initiated by the Gold Rush would lead to the construction of towns and cities. Lime used for construction and made from processing limestone in wood-fired kilns was high in demand. In the early 1850s, Albion Jordan and Isaac Davis seized the opportunity to replace the lime shipped from the eastern states with limestone they would quarry and process in kilns locally. They found that Santa Cruz had almost unlimited deposits of high-quality limestone, plentiful wood to fuel the kilns, and proximity to San Francisco. By the 1860s, brick replaced lumber as the building material of choice and by 1865 annual production of lime reached 78,580 barrels. In 1865, Henry Cowell bought half ownership of the lime works at Santa Cruz from Albion Jordan. In 1888, Cowell purchased the remaining half from Davis. He bought ships, established a cement trade with Belgium and bought large landholdings, ranches, and limestone deposits in 23 California counties. Cowell diversified his business holdings with ventures in cattle, logging, and property.

When Henry Cowell died in 1903, he owned 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) of land which was passed on to his youngest son Harry Cowell who continued operating the lime business until 1946. When Harry died in 1955, the estate went to the S.H. Cowell Foundation that distributed funds to the Cowell Ranch, Cowell Beach, and a large addition to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Part of the ranch property was sold to the University of California for the creation of the new Santa Cruz campus in 1965. Several of the original ranch buildings were renovated into university offices. The university’s Women’s Center is hosted at the Cardiff House, formerly the residence of ranch manager George H. Cardiff. Read more here and here. Explore more of Cowell Beach here:

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