Aptos is an amazing place. It is today and it has an amazing past. Stop by the Aptos History Museum and you will be amazed. My wife Karen and I have been collecting photographs, artifacts and stories since 1985.
Karen and I started managing the Aptos Chamber of Commerce in Redwood Village in 1985. Bob Bailey had a real estate office in Redwood Village and one of his clients was moving away and gave Bob a great old photograph of the Aptos railroad station. Bob gave that photograph to us and we put it up on the wall in our office, thereby starting the chain of donations that would eventually become the Aptos History Museum. Everyone wanted to know where the train station was, and we had to say that it had been torn down in 1940. That sparked conversations and soon other people began to donate more historical pictures.
We went to a very entertaining presentation on Aptos history by Sandy Lydon, one of the leading experts on the history of Santa Cruz County, also known as “The History Dude”, who, at that time, was the history professor at Cabrillo College. Sandy is great at making history fun and interesting.
Then we met Carolyn Swift, another amazing historian, born in Santa Cruz County and a former writer for the Register-Pajaronian and other publications. Carolyn was also the curator of the Capitola Museum. She shared, and continues to share, an amazing collection of photographs and stories about Aptos. She has also helped correct some of the tall tales that showed up in some older newspaper articles. Some stories were embellished to make them more interesting, like gossip. That is why original research is the best way to pass on history stories.
I was invited to join the board of the Santa Cruz County Historical Trust from 1991 to 1994. During that time, I was able to collect lots of information and photographs from the Museum of Art and History. It was a great resource for our museum.
It was rumored that the old guest register from the Bay View hotel belonged to someone in the community and that Hawaiian King Kalakaua had stayed there. David Kalakaua did come to Aptos to see Claus Spreckels, the sugar millionaire, but he did not stay at the Bay View Hotel. It turned out that the guest register was actually from Clause Spreckels’ famous Aptos Hotel, (on Spreckels Drive), and that Karl Mertz, of the Mangels family owned it. After many years, Karl gifted that register to our museum collection along with many more incredible artifacts.
Next, we met Allen Collins who had meticulously researched and written the history of Rio Del Mar, initially in installments for the Rio Del Mar Improvement Association newsletter and later, in book form. This is our most accurate record of our history and is available at the Aptos History Museum. Allen invited relatives of the Arano and Castro families to meet each other at the Bay View Hotel in 1994 which resulted in the first photographs of Raphael and Soledad Castro and Joseph and Augustia Arano, the first families of Aptos. When Allen passed away, he left all his research material to the museum.
Our growing collection was displayed at the Chamber of Commerce office in Redwood Village until 1994. When we moved the Aptos Chamber to its current location on Old Dominion Court, across from the Seacliff Inn, the collection continued to expand and was displayed within the new Chamber office, but most of the collection remained in storage. We began to host third grade school field trips on local history and soon we were too popular for the size of our office.
In 2005, additional office space in the building became available, and Karen decided that the Aptos History Museum deserved to have its own larger facility and become a real museum. We appealed to the community, and an advisory committee was formed. The new space was repainted and made ready. Linda Yamane, a Native American Ohlone descendent taught us how to make a tule boat for the museum. Nels Westman suspended it from the museum ceiling and installed the museum lighting system. Dick Garwood created new display cases and his wife Heidi created our graphic materials. Our now sizable collection was retrieved from storage and dusted off, and a crew of volunteers worked for many months to set up and organize the new museum. The Aptos History Museum opened its expanded facility on May 24, 2006, and it has since garnered enthusiastic reviews and numerous citations of merit. Annually, it has hosted the Aptos public schools’ third grade classes for their “local history” field trips although they have been temporarily curtailed because of Covid.
The Museum Steering Committee plans history events, walks and tours to help us get the stories out to the membership and the public. Bob Wall takes seniors from Aegis and Dominican Oaks on bus tours of historic locations. The committee wanted to produce a pictorial history book, so Kevin Newhouse volunteered. The book is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, simply titled “Aptos”. Copies are available at the Museum. Our next endeavor is to provide displays for the new Aptos Library to be completed next year. This will be a huge undertaking and will require fundraising.
Because Aptos is not an incorporated city, the Aptos History Museum does not receive any funding by local governments. The Aptos History Museum has no paid staff. We are all volunteers. The museum has been created for, and by the community. Please consider joining as a member. For a small donation the museum is also available for group meetings. Every year, people continue to donate amazing artifacts and photos and provide new stories for our ever-growing collection. Please stop by and enjoy your museum. We are currently open Monday–Thursday from 11 am-4 pm. Aptos is an amazing place! And the rest is history.