Search Currents Currents Archives Contact Currents UC Santa Cruz Home Page
Currents Online

August 14, 2006

Construction projects uncovering pieces of the past

By Louise Donahue

Crews doing earthquake retrofitting at two historic UCSC buildings this summer are digging up a lot more than dirt.
Photo: Sally Morgan and pig trough

Planner Sally Morgan shows off an old pig trough, one of the items found near the Cook House. Pigs were raised in pens near the Cook House when the area was a ranch.

Photo: Louise Donahue

As they reinforce walls and realign sidewalks, they are also uncovering remnants of UCSC’s past, reminders of a time when the Cook House served hungry ranch hands and there wasn’t an undergraduate in sight.

Long before the area was a campus, it was the hub of a booming limekiln business—the largest of its kind on the West Coast—and later was leased for grazing and operated as Cowell Ranch.

Artifacts uncovered so far at the Cook House and Barn H, near the main campus entrance, include a large, intact pig trough, dishes believed to date to the 1860s, pieces of a cast-iron Cook House stove, boot soles, and an enameled “Mt. Diablo Cement Agency” sign in excellent condition.

UCSC senior environmental planner and archaeologist Sally Morgan, who is working on campus preservation efforts, said she thought some interesting items might be found, considering what a busy place the Cook House was in the old days.

“Sure enough, things started popping up,” she said, adding that workers have uncovered old trash piles about three feet deep in the Cook House area. A consultant has been called in to interpret some of the finds. In the world of historic preservation, one man’s trash is another’s treasure, offering valuable information on daily life from earlier times.

Interest in campus historic preservation has intensified at UCSC since the awarding of a $100,000 Getty heritage grant in 2004. Campus planning director John Barnes, who oversees campus preservation efforts, was instrumental in obtaining the grant and predicted it would help increase visibility of the historical structures. (See earlier Currents story)

An obvious change will occur soon, when Barn H, now brown, is painted white. A special white stain that looks like whitewash will be used to mimic the look of the barn during its ranch heyday. “The new paint will restore the exterior finish of that barn to its appearance during the period of historical significance when Henry Cowell lived here,” said Morgan. The decision came about as planners developed a plan for managing the historic district, she said.

Other efforts related to the Getty Grant are well under way.

Historic and archaeological resources have been inventoried and the area around the main campus entrance—known as the Cowell Ranch Historic District--has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The district includes the old ranch house, cook house, carriage house, granary, and what remains of the cooperage and limekilns. If the nomination is approved by the State Office of Historic Preservation, the National Park Service will consider listing it in the National Register of Historic Places.

Morgan said many factors are involved in placing buildings on the National Register, but it is useful to be able to answer “yes” to one key question: “Would a person coming back from that time still recognize it?

Email this story
Printer-friendly version
Return to Front Page