A hundred years ago much of Santa Cruz County belonged to Henry Cowell. He and his brother came to California from Massachusetts in 1849, drawn by the lure of gold. Like many before them, they soon found that the road to wealth lie not in the goldfields, but in merchant endeavors which supported the miners. They established a successful drayage business in the San Francisco Bay area. His wealth assured, Cowell moved his family to Santa Cruz in 1865. He diversified his business interests by acquiring lumber and limestone operations. By 1886 Cowell was reported to have the highest income in Santa Cruz County and owned 6,500 acres of prime land. This included over 1600 acres adjacent to Welch's Big Trees Resort.
Big Trees Resort was the most impressive grove of redwoods along an eight mile stretch of railroad connecting the town of Felton and the city of Santa Cruz. To meet the demands of tourists, Joseph Welch built a resort, complete with cabins, dining hall and dance pavilion. It's visitors included such dignitaries as presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt. An interesting sidelight is that in 1899 Andrew Hill took some pictures of redwood trees in Welch's Big Tress Resort. When Mr. Welch demanded that he surrender the photographic plates, Andrew Hill became incensed. This incident sparked the movement which culminated in the creation of Big Basin park.
Welch's grove was a prime asset to Santa Cruz County's growing tourist industry. When the Welch family gave indications that it wanted to sell the grove in the late 1920's the county became interested in its purchase. In 1930 William T. Jeter headed a movement to make the grove a county park. One of the big trees is named for him. The park became the Santa Cruz County Big Trees Park and for the next 23 years was enjoyed by thousands of visitors.
The county's property was nearly surrounded by acreage owned by the Cowell family. In 1953 Henry's son Samuel was the last remaining Cowell heir. Seeking a suitable monument to his pioneering father, he offered the state over 1600 acres of land as a gift with the stipulation that the county deed over its Big Trees park to the state also. In August of 1954 Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park became a Reality.