Cargo Shipping in Newport Beach

Although most don’t associate the affluent Newport Beach of current times with cargo shipping, this area used to be a key freight stop on the Newport Railroad and Newport pier.  The pier, and later the railway, were built by the McFadden brothers after they discovered that they could garner a significant profit by selling lumber to buyers in this local area.  (Read more about our local area by browsing my “Local History” section in my blog.) Here’s more about it from Jeff Delaney’s book Newport Beach:

In 1868, James and Robert McFadden of San Francisco purchased 5,800 acres of the former Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.  Five years later, the brothers shipped a consignment of fence lumber into Newport Bay, intended for their own use.  Instead, they sold the lumber at a significant profit to settlers moving west.  Sensing an opportunity, they sent another shipment, soon followed by a third.  Before they knew it, the McFaddens were in the lumber business.  The brothers purchased the dock and small warehouse in Newport’s upper bay, which came to be known as McFadden’s Landing.

Shipping, Newport Beach, c. 1892. In 1887, the McFaddens contracted Major Marner to construct the Newport pier. It was completed the following year.

By 1876, three sailing schooners, as well as the McFadden’s own steamer Newport, were placed on a regular San Francisco-Newport schedule, carrying lumber south from the Bay Area and returning north with a shipment of Orange County’s bountiful agricultural produce.

But the harbor entrance remained treacherous, and numberous accidents occurred.  Upon the death of their good friend, Tom Rule, the McFaddens finally decided an ocean pier was necessary.  Construction began in 1887 and was completed the following year.  The first ship to moor at the new pier was the Eureka, and as she tied up at midnight, she blew a blast on her whistle to signal the event.  Over the course of the next year, 72 vessels unloaded their cargoes over the new pier’s deck.

The McFaddens intended to build a railroad to Santa Ana concurrently with the pier construction, but as a result of delays, the first train over the new railroad didn’t run until January 12, 1892.

Newport Beach Wharf, c. 1897. The chief freight items on the Newport Railroad were incoming lumber and outgoing barley from the Santa Ana Valley and the San Joaquin ranch of James Irvine II. In one year, as many as 550 cargoes were discharged in whole or part by over 100 workers at the Newport pier.

By 1899, the high cost of pier maintenance and repair placed the McFaddens in a receptive mood for an offer on their property.  James McFadden never would have knowlingly sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad but was tricked into doing so by Col. W.H. Holabrid, who is believed to have been acting as an agent for the SP.

The SP, wishing to promote the wholesale business in the harbors of Los Angeles, likely purchased the Newport pier and railway with the intention of killing the industry they supported.  As a final blow, the Southern Pacific raised wharfage rates on lumber at Newport to a prohibitive figure, forceing vessels to take their cargo elsewhere.

The last commercial shipment to unload at Newport was from Australia in January 1907.  Four years later, the SP had the outer 144 feet of the pier removed to save on the cost of upkeep.  Newport’s days as a commercial interest were over, but her future as a pleasure harbor had begun.

Depot and Wharf at Newport Beach, c. 1909.

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