The Transient Life of the Old Patchen Post Office

The following information is from John V. Young’s Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains and enriched by information from Los Gatos historian Bill Wulf.

The perambulating post office for the Summit region for more than half a century was Patchen (or Patchin), which had at least half a dozen locations up and down Summit Road from 1872 until 1925. The story of its name is one of the more amusing semi-legends of the area.

Because it was first situated on the Fowler ranch at the junction of Mountain Charley Road and Old Santa Cruz Highway, local residents assumed the new post office would be called Fowler’s Station or Fowler’s Summit, according to custom. But the postal inspector assigned the duty of formally establishing and naming the post office did not like that selection. Perhaps there was already a post office named Fowler’s elsewhere in the state.

As the story goes, the inspector stepped out of the stagecoach in front of Fowler’s place and encountered an old man sitting on the doorstep busily sewing.

“What are you doin’?” asked the inspector, seeking to establish friendly relations with the natives.

“Patchin’,” replied the old man.

The post office name appears on the government record as having been established at Patchen (not Patchin) on March 28, 1872. Local history is a little confusing on this point, since the house in which Fowler handled the mail was not built until 1876.

Local residents for years insisted the spelling was wrong, as well as the name origin. They claimed the post office was named after the famous racehorse with the improbable handle of “George M. Patchen.” The authoritative volume California Place Names, published in 1925, gives the name as Patchin, but states it was named for the racehorse. Many a heated argument arose over the point at meetings of the Santa Cruz Mountain Social and Improvement Club, successor to the once-flourishing Floral Society.

One longtime resident, Charles W. C. Murdock of Alma—stepson of Louis Hebard—remembers his mother telling of how the place was named. According to her, great discussion arose over the name. When the postal inspector arrived, it was still up in the air.

To settle the argument, Mrs. Hebard suggested asking the first man who came up he road to provide a name. The man was well-known local William “Billy” Brown.

“Why,” said Bill, “call it Patchen,” referring to the racehorse.

Murdock also recalls that the mail, previous to the establishment of the post office, was deposited in the hollow tree nearby, and customers sorted it on their own.

Meanwhile, the post office called Patchen did not stay put but went bounding around the landscape, following each new postmaster to his home. The place after Fowler’s was the home of D. C. Feely, who gained brief fame in death by bequeathing his $40,000 fortune to the Socialist Party. His place was about half a mile north of Fowler’s on the present Harry Ryan ranch.

Next stop was half a mile south of Fowler’s station, where Joshua White presided over a ranch known as the White & Gibson place. From there the P.O. went to a popular summer resort known as Edgemont, run by Mr. and Mrs. L. N. Scott, in 1882. The resort was still in operation in 1934. The post office, however, was discontinued in 1925.

In addition to its postal duties, Patchen was headquarters for the Patchen Social Club, which later became the Santa Cruz Mountain Improvement Club.

The building remained in use until the early 1940s, when it was torn down and the lumber hauled to Laurel for another building, according to Historic Spots in California.

This column is from the Los Gatos Weekly-Times archives. © Metro Publishing, Inc.

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