The Road to Boulevard

On the way back from a vacation driving trip to Arizona, as we took a little detour onto what’s now called Old Highway 80, we passed through Boulevard. And we wondered, how did this still very-rural looking place, which even today is referred to as a village, with a current population of roughly 315 residents, get to be named “Boulevard?”

Two definitive books on the origins of California place names attribute the name to the role played in the community’s development by the “boulevard” of Highway 80, linking the area with the Imperial Valley.

A check of the U. S. National Archives register of post offices shows the first Boulevard post office being designated in November 1909. The first postmaster was William H. Ruby. The Rubys were a ranching family in the area tracing back to the late 1880s. In 1913 William Ruby’s brother Don took over as postmaster, a position he would hold for almost 30 years.

You can find references to the Ruby family in newspaper accounts over the decades serving their community not just as postmasters but also election poll officials and volunteer firefighthers. Which lends credibility to the most direct story on Boulevard’s name.

In 1964, a reporter for the San Diego Union interviewed some longtime county residents about the origins of several place names. One of the places the reporter looked into was Boulevard. The person he spoke to was Vi Ruby, the widow of Don Ruby, who told him that when the U.S. Postal Department decided to create a post office in their village, they asked the Rubys if they had any suggestions.

Vi Ruby said that during that period race driver Barney Oldfield frequently came through the area on his way to racing events in San Diego and other southern California towns. Other race drivers would have been following that route as well. Which may explain why Vi’s sister-in-law, William Ruby’s wife Pearl, said, “People are making a boulevard out of it, so why don’t they call it Boulevard?”

“She entered the suggestion as a joke,” Vi Ruby told the Union, “but it was selected.”

In addition to the aforementioned U. S. National Archives register of post offices, sources for this post also included historic San Diego County newspapers and the books California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names by Erwin G. Gudde, and San Diego County Place Names A To Z by Leland Fetzer.

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“…a pretty watering place…”

City and county directories were predecessors of telephone directories. Financed by ad sales, these privately published volumes profiled individual communities and listed the names of prominent residents and businesses. Those directories that have survived are important tools for researchers. They also provide a sort of real-time narrative peek at everyday life in a place at a given time.  Here’s a verbal snapshot of Carlsbad from an 1893 San Diego County directory:

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Another Kind of Mobility

A century ago in San Diego County, mobility didn’t just mean people moving from one place to another. It often meant whole buildings moving from one place to another. Check out this ad from a 1914 San Diego City Directory:

An item in the San Diego Union of January 11, 1914 noted that “the latest evidence of things moving and times changing is had in the old Pauly residence at Eleventh and Broadway. The Owl House Moving Company is now preparing the underplaning for moving this old home from its present site to Eighteenth and G streets. The present site is to be cleared for the erection of a handsome new structure, which is to have storerooms below and offices above.”

The house was being moved “to meet the demands of more accomodations in the business district,” according to the article. “When the house now there was erected [in 1889], “San Diego was barely out of the village class….”

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A Job For The Times

Below is part of a listing for Lakeside in a 1901 San Diego County directory:

I chose it because of the occupations listed for each resident. Most of them are jobs you’d readily expect for the time and place, like rancher, well digger, beekeeper and schoolteacher. But please note the occupation at the very bottom: poundmaster.

A pound back then was an enclosure, often by stone fencing, to house stray livestock that had been found wandering about the local area. The poundmaster or poundkeeper was charged with oversight of such animals, trying to find their owners. If no one came to claim the animals, the poundmaster was empowered to sell them at auction.

This had to be a big responsibility in San Diego County in 1901. The economy was predominantly agricultural, and the livestock population–cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens–far outnumberd the humans.

Figures from the census and county surveys in 1887 showed 270,000 head of livestock compared to 30,000 people. Things hadn’t changed that much by 1901. An item in the San Diego Union on March 28 of that year began, “The farmers in the vicinity of El Cajon valley are feeling quite happy nowadays. The crops, trees and vines are all doing well, and there is plenty of pasturage for their livestock.”

This would be the predominant way of life in the county for at least another 40 years.

“A Sight Worth Seeing”

I came across this ad in a 1914 San Diego city directory and was fascinated. My mental image of log rafts had been confined to Huck and Jim lashing a few logs together. But four million feet of logs comprising a raft over 600 feet long?

I did a little digging and discovered that this was a regular part of traffic in San Diego harbor every summer from the early 1900s to the early 1940s. At the facilities of the Benson Lumber Company in Oregon, thousands of harvested tree logs were fastened together with tons of metal chains into literal floating islands an acre or more in length. Then they were towed by tugboats on down the coast to Benson’s docks in San Diego.

“Third Big Log Raft Arrives in Harbor” was the headline of an article on page 5 of the August 1, 1905 San Diego Union, reporting that the third such raft of the season “crawled into the harbor yesterday in tow of the powerful sea-going steel tug Dauntless, and came to anchor off the foot of Sixteenth street at 2 p. m.”

The raft, which took 17 days to complete the trip, was described as “practically the same dimensions as its predecessor” at 720 feet long, 50 feet wide, drawing “between 23 and 24 feet of water” and “containing approximately 4,500,000 feet of logs,” according to the article.

For further background, including some old postcard photos of these behemoths, here’s a link to a 2012 article on the website Offbeat Oregon :

http://www.offbeatoregon.com/1202c-benson-log-rafts-built-city-of-san-diego.html

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The Original Horsepower

I recently came across this ad in the 1905 edition of Dana Burks’ San Diego City/County Directory:

Fred Fanning was one of a number of livery stable operators in San Diego County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  By the time of this ad, automobiles were coming into American life, but horse-based transportation was still an essential element. The ad also offers some historical perspective on transportation terminology, then and now. Note, for example, how Mr. Fanning’s selling points include “Fine Rigs, Good Teams, Careful Drivers.” I’ve been fascinated to see how the term “driver” was used, in pre-automotive days, to describe someone who drove a team of horses.  While an individual might “ride” a single horse, he or she “drove” a team of horses.

That use of the term can be found in printed works from well back in the days of original horsepower. In an 1873 book offering travel tips on California for visitors and settlers, author Charles Nordhoff, commenting on the quality of roads in one particular area, refers to them as “roads over which you may drive at the rate of ten or twelve miles per hour and do no harm to your horses nor tire yourself.”

That tells you something about travel time in the days of original horsepower too!

Back to Mr. Fanning’s ad, you can also see the evolution of vehicle terminology in the phrase: “Hacks, Tally-Hos and Three-Seaters a Specialty.” I would venture to guess that if Fanning had an auto showroom today he would be offering vans, high performance sports cars and coupes.

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San Diego: “that paradise of invalids….”

“Santa Barbara and San Diego have become, within two years, favorite winter resorts for invalids from the colder eastern states. The climate of both places is remarkably equal and warm all winter…..”

That passage is from a book published in 1873 by Charles Nordhoff, a prominent journalist of the day. The book was entitled California: For Health, Pleasure and Residence, and the healthfulness of California’s climate was an important feature of Nordhoff’s pitch. A whole chapter of the book was called, “Southern California for Invalids,” and began with an anecdote about a personal friend from back east who had been near death from tuberculosis when he moved to southern California. On seeing his friend three months later, Nordhoff discovered “a changed man” who had driven sixty miles in a wagon to meet Nordhoff in Los Angeles and was able to “walk with me several miles in the evening we met….”

Nordhoff was picking up on a trend. In November 1874 the San Diego Union published a letter picked up from a Detroit paper that saluted San Diego County for its agriculture and mineral wealth, but also stated that “As a national sanitarium San Diego is unsurpassed. Hundreds of invalids coming here have been restored to health or greatly benefitted.”

A year later the Union quoted a Pennsylvania newspaper proclaiming San Diego “that paradise of invalids,” and also carried an excerpt from a San Bernardino paper noting that “those who have traveled to Europe and wintered in such famous resorts as Nice, Naples, etc., after having spent the winter here, declare our climate much more balmy and invigorating  than in the former places, and as a consequence instead of seeking Italy, Southern California is chosen for their winter home. We know of one family who have spent their winter months in San Diego for the past three years, and now we notice their arrival at the Horton House for the fourth season.”

Seeking better health, physically and mentally, as well as land and wealth, were key ingredients in attracting visitors and settlers to California in the mid to late nineteenth century. I’m researching this phenomenon for a talk I’ll be giving for San Diego Oasis in September, and it’s sure to be a continuing topic for future talks and blog posts to come.

In addition to the aforementioned Nordhoff book, sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and The Journal of San Diego History.

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