History of the River

Some fascinating history of our San Lorenzo River:

8,000 B.C.E: Indigenous community use the river for fishing, hunt game, and gather plants along the shore. A seasonal village is located at the rivermouth, near today’s Beach Flats.

1769: The Portola Expedition travels here. In a diary entry dated October 17, 1769, Fr. Crespi writes that the group named the watershed, the San Lorenzo.

1791: Padres at Mission Santa Cruz designate an area near the river to build a chapel. After a flood in 1792, they relocate to Mission Hill. The people of Mission Santa Cruz introduce new crops and agriculture to the area around the river. Residents of Villa de Branciforte live near the banks of the river.

1860s: Santa Cruz Chinatown houses immigrants who came for the Gold Rush and stayed to build the railroad. It’s located on Front Street near the river. About 100 men live there.

1895-1927: The community enjoys the festivities of the Venetian Water Carnival.  People sit on the banks of the river to watch nightly fireworks and concerts as well as boats adorned with flowers and lights.

1955: On December 23, the community endures the “Christmas Flood.” It holds the record for the highest flooding in Santa Cruz County history. The water level reaches 20.8 feet above sea level. The ’55 flood wipes out what is left of downtown Santa Cruz Chinatown.

1995: The Coastal Watershed Council (CWC) forms to address the declining health of watersheds in the Monterey Bay region. In 2014 CWC forms the San Lorenzo River Alliance. This county-wide group focuses on revitalizing the San Lorenzo River and transforming it into a safe and welcoming community destination.