Historic Sand Rock Farm by John Hibble

Historic Sand Rock Farm by John Hibble

What is Sand Rock Farm and where is it located? I first learned of Sand Rock Farm in 1997 when the new owners, Susan Van Horn and Brian Denny showed my wife Karen and me the property at 6901 Freedom Blvd, which they wanted to turn into a bed and breakfast inn. It needed a lot of work. It had been a long-term rental property and was red-tagged following the 1989 earthquake. There was a large house, a winery ruin, and a large barn where Brian said musicians such as Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead members, and others, used to jam in the early 1960s. That may or may not be true, but it makes for a good story. William Francis, my endodontist said that he attended concerts in the barn around 1970. He said the Dooby Brothers gave house concerts all around this area at the time. So, what is the history behind this property?

The history of Aptos includes the stories of some people who are well known and some people who are not well known. In 1872, Claus Spreckels, the sugar millionaire, purchased 5,380 acres of the Aptos Rancho from Rafael Castro and others for $81,900. Twelve years later in 1884, Spreckels sold 1,000 acres, almost 20% of his property, to Dr. August Liliencrantz of Oakland. I am guessing, but I would bet that Spreckels recovered his entire investment to Castro through this sale. Aptos was no longer a two-day buggy ride from San Francisco; it had direct rail service from Alameda.

Although Dr. Liliencrantz was in Oakland’s high society, I have only read a paragraph or two about him before now. The 1,000 acres that we are talking about was all on the east side of Freedom Boulevard, (formerly called the Santa Cruz Watsonville Road). The property stretched from Seascape Boulevard east of San Andreas Road up to McDonald Road and included the land where Aptos High School is today.

Dr. August Liliencrantz was a physician and surgeon who moved his family to California from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1874 to settle in Oakland where he practiced medicine as a very prominent physician for fifty years. He was born in Sweden about 1848 and came to America in 1866.

Remember, California was only recently acquired from Mexico and became a state in 1850. Twenty-five years later, Doctor and Mrs. Eva Liliencrantz were trying to help provide medical care and hospital accommodations in their community. Oakland did not have a hospital and the Relief Home did not have any more room for patients.

Mrs. Eva Liliencrantz was a board member of the Ladies Relief Society who organized to finance the Oakland Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary. Dr Liliencrantz was very progressive and had traveled extensively in Europe to study homeopathy which is based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself using drugs, given in minute doses, which would produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the disease. Dr. Liliencrantz was considered a leader in this field. His progressivism got him in to hot water.

Dr. Liliencrantz also practiced standard allopathy which treats disease by the use of agents or drugs that produce effects different from those of the disease being treated, the kind of prescription drugs medical doctors prescribe today. Dr Liliencrantz supported the union of the two societies but when he applied for membership in the Alameda County Medical Association in 1882, he had to publicly renounce homeopathy in order to be accepted. He later delivered a paper which expressed that doctors should be free to choose.

In 1890, Oakland physicians formed a corporation to establish Oakland General Hospital. Dr. Liliencrantz was a trustee. He was also on the Board of Health and was instrumental in the dredging of Lake Merritt which was literally a sewer. In 1891 Dr Liliencrantz gave up his practice to specialize in surgery in San Francisco. He later resumed his practice in Oakland. Dr. Liliencrantz generously volunteered his time on committees and to help children and the poor. He wrote and delivered many papers on medical issues.

The Gentleman Farmer

Dr. Liliencrantz became a gentleman farmer, which means that Sand Rock Farm did not have to be profitable because his medical practice could sustain his lifestyle. The term gentleman farmer can also mean that his farm could support him so well that he could engage in other activities like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson whose farms, Mount Vernon and Monticello, allowed them to spend time shaping America’s future. It appears that Dr. Liliencrantz intended the farm to support itself handsomely.

Work on the farm began in the spring of 1886. Ten acres of olives and twenty-five acres of wine grapes were planted. A large number of pines were set out on the roughest and sandiest portions of the tract and a dairy of fifty cows was established. Construction of the ranch house and water supply began the following year with redwood milled on the property. By 1887 three thousand fruit trees and an additional seventy acres of grape cuttings were planted. About 1900, a large carriage barn was built.

Dr. and Eva Liliencrantz had three children. Their daughter Edith became an architect and was a contemporary of Julia Morgan. She graduated sixth in her class from Boston Polytechnic Institute in 1900. Edith was married at Sand Rock Farm in 1906 to Dr. Lewis Thorpe, descending the main stairs upon rose petals strewn by her young nephew Eric.

Their son Guy reportedly left for Boston to take a 4-year course in civil engineering; however, by 1901 he was a graduate of Bush Medical College in Chicago and had a medical practice with his father.

Their other son, Henry Tod Liliencrantz was educated at the University of California, but Sand Rock Farm led him to become a rancher. While on vacation at the Aptos ranch in the 1880s he met Vicente Castro, Rafael’s son. As a favor, Don Vicente and his sons came over to brand some of Dr Liliencrantz’s cattle and Henry Tod was hooked. He loved being around real cowboys. When Vicente Castro moved his family south to the Santa Maria area in 1900, Henry got permission to ride his horse to visit them. It was a six day ride each way and he covered about 425 miles. He loved every minute of it.

Soon Henry was at Sand Rock Farm full time raising cattle and standard bred horses for driving, work, and saddle. In addition, the farm was advertising Percheron draft horse breeding, thoroughbred Berkshire boars and pigs, grain, field peas, chickens, pumpkins by the ton, oat hay, and oak stove wood for sale.

In 1907, 130,000 gallons of cooperage, (wine barrels), were added to the winery. They had developed a steady demand in Europe for their wines. Their six-horse team pulling an enormous barrel wagon was a common sight in Watsonville because their wine was shipped from Watsonville Junction. The winery closed during World War I, because their winemaker, Heinrich Schutter, was a German national and was removed from the coastal area as an enemy alien. There once was a boarding house on the property for winery workers but it later burned.

In 1908, August and Eva gifted almost half of the farm, 454 acres, to their son, Henry Tod. The following year they gifted 84 acres to their son Guy.

Between 1910 and 1915 the main house was substantially enlarged in the Arts and Crafts style and by 1917 a guest house was constructed. The apple orchard was removed in 1927.

The Liliencrantz family lived on and farmed their country estate for over sixty years, selling the property for the first time in 1947 to Alvin and Florence Waugaman who used it as a ranch to raise beef cattle.

In 1999, Lynn Sheehan, a professional chef and Kris Sheehan, her mother and business partner purchased the property. They spent years restoring the property as a bed & breakfast inn and in 2001 Sand Rock Farm was included in the Santa Cruz County Historic Resource Inventory and is eligible for inclusion in the California State and National Historic Registers.  It was purchased by Jen and Derek Hagglof in November of 2014, and they bring new energy to the property.

It is now 10 acres of quiet gardens and woodland. The Craftsman era home is a stunning example of the style and workmanship from the turn of the century from the push button wall switches to the hand-printed wallpaper and antique furnishings. The original front door is curly redwood, with beveled glass and original brass hardware.  The acanthus leaf sconce in the hallway is one of the original light fixtures. The dining room table seats 18. The stained glass in the living room was carried from England. The Eastlake Style parlor mirror was an original furnishing of Claus Spreckels Aptos Hotel.

The walls of the original winery are also a feature of the property; the ivy-covered walls enclose a magical space open to the sky. The Historic heart redwood carriage barn is an excellent example of its type and one of the few remaining in the county.

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