Remembering October 2007

October 22, 2007 was the morning many of us in North County woke up to a realtime nightmare. A police loudspeaker blaring orders to evacuate. An infernal red glow in the hills above our homes, or, worse, flames at our backyard fences.

October 21 marks the tenth anniversary of the most destructive fires in San Diego County history.

On October 21, 2007, a fire broke out in the Witch Creek area east of Ramona. By four o’clock the following morning, the Witch Creek Fire had reached the San Diego City limits, where, merging with the Guejito fire which had broken out in the San Pasqual Valley on October 22, it tore a path of destruction across the county.

Rancho Bernardo, my neighborhood, was in the middle of that path

My household was fortunate. When the evacuation ended, we had a home to return to. 365 of our RB neighbors did not.

The Rancho Bernardo Historical Society will mark the tenth anniversary of the firestorm with an exhibit at the Rancho Bernardo History Museum starting October 20. 

The exhibit will include a display of newspaper front pages from that fateful week, along with photographs from the museum archives taken by officials and residents on the scene as the fires raged. There will also be photos and documents from earlier fires in the Rancho Bernardo-Poway area in the 1960s and 1980s, as a reminder of the ever-present danger of fire in our region.

In addition, the exhibit will include quilts made in memory of the fire by Rancho Bernardo residents who lost their homes during that horrible week.

The exhibit will run for about three weeks in the museum, located in the Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, San Diego 92128. I urge all my readers to attend, and to remember. As the blazes going on right now to the north remind us, the danger of fire is part of our history and our daily lives.

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PO Site Reports – Another Source for History Seekers

Back in August I related a story about the Bernardo General Store, which served the farming village of Bernardo, which was located about a mile south of today’s Westfield North County mall.

The store also contained the town’s post office. The town had been emptied out by the early 1920s and all traces of its buildings were gone a few years after that.

The founding of a post office, as well as its relocation or closing, marked an important point in the history of a community. An important source for my research on local history has been the website of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Readers may remember my references to “Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1837-1950,” which is a NARA site available to subscribers of certain genealogical websites.

I recently discovered another NARA site which has been made available by NARA directly to the general public, “P. O. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950,” https://www.archives.gov/research/post-offices/locations-1837-1950.html .

In 1837 the U. S. Postal Service (today known as the Post Office Department) appointed its first official Topographer of the Post Office to create maps of post offices and postal delivery routes. (Prior to that they’d relied on maps done by private commercial firms or individuals.)

The records on this website are chiefly forms sent out by the topographer to postmasters across the country to determine the exact locations of their post offices in relation to neighboring post offices, transportation routes and facilities.

Below is a report filled out in December 1887 and submitted to the topographer by E. L. Schellenberg, postmaster of Bernardo:

 

Among other things, it tells us that the post office was located 250 yards north of the Bernardo River (actually the San Dieguito River), that the nearest neighboring post offices were Escondido, five miles north, and Poway, 7 miles south, and that the Bernardo office was 20 miles east of the “Stewart Station of the Cal. Southern Railroad.”

History seekers can find similar information about post offices all over the county as well as across the state and in other states and territories. A lot of history available here! Check it out!

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Snapshot of San Diego 1874

Here’s a figurative snapshot of San Diego, 143 years ago.

It’s from a book, published in 1874, entitled: Descriptive, Historical, Commercial, Agricultural and Important Information Relative to the City of San Diego, California, Illustrated with 22 Photographic Views, Containing also A Business Directory of the City.

Yes, that’s the title. Books in those days boasted titles that could be a chapter in themselves. Almost wore out the italics key on that one.

At any rate, the book was published in 1874 by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce as a way to promote the city and the county. It was printed by the offices of a relatively new paper called The San Diego Daily Union, which had transitioned from a weekly to a daily only a few years before.

The book has all kinds of interesting info about the region at that time. Of course it was a promotional document, but it also employed a lot of factual information, like statistics on weather, the local economy, and a business directory drawn from official sources of the day. And even the boosterism offers an instructive picture of San Diego and its movers and shakers in the day.

The population of the city at that point was “about three thousand….who have sought this locality for its health-giving climate and the near prospect of a large commercial town. The population of the county may be safely set down at nine thousand.”

“Adjacent to the city, and adjoining its lands on the south, is the pleasant little town of National City. It is a portion of the Rancho de la Nacion, which has a frontage of six miles on the bay. The population is not numerous, but it is steadily increasing. Here are an excellent wharf, stores, post-office, public school, fine residences, and a large number of vegetable and fruit gardens and nurseries….All the travel via Fort Yuma from Arizona and New Mexico passes through National City.”

“It is confidently predicted that in a few years hence one great city will extend for miles along the bay, including what is now National City and San Diego.”

The book is in the public domain, accessible on Google Books, https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Descriptive_Historical_Commercial_Agricultural_and?id=AXpNAAAAYAAJ&hl=en . We can thank Judy Russell, a lawyer and genealogical blogger, for revealing its existence on her fine blog, The Legal Genealogist, http://www.legalgenealogist.com/ .

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Happy Labor Day!

“The labor of the world is the foundation of the world. If you don’t stand for your rights today your rights tomorrow will be fewer still. The human stomach cannot fight a bank vault. The stomach will get empty, but the bank vault holds its own. Keep on pulling and working together and labor will be rewarded. Place men in your legislative halls who have the nerve and the brain to stand up for the rights of labor. Then money will not mould nine-tenths of the legislation of this country as it does now. I want you to feel that my soul is with you if my mouth does not do you much good.”

Excerpt from a talk given by J. L. Dryden to an open meeting of the San Diego Carpenters Union No. 182 on May 2, 1890 at a hall downtown. Reported in the San Diego Union, May 3, 1890.

Dryden was a lawyer active in civic affairs in San Diego County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among other things, he was one of the original trustees for the San Diego Normal School, which would eventually become San Diego State University. Dryden was also a candidate for the state senate and assembly for the county Populist party during the 1890s.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Poway newspapers and the book, City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew, published in 1922.

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Bernardo-98 Years Ago This Month

Above is a photo of the Bernardo General Store, courtesy of the Escondido History Center. The photo is undated. But a close examination of the photo reveals an ad for “Owl Cigars” just below the floor boards near the entrance. That ad dates it as sometime after 1887, that being the year those cigars (ancestor of “White Owl Cigars”) first went on sale.  The photo also wouldn’t have been taken any later than around September 1919, for reasons explained below.

The store served the town of Bernardo, a farming village located about a mile south of today’s Westfield North County mall. A short article appeared 98 years ago this month, on August 27, 1919, in Escondido’s Daily Times Advocate newspaper, noting that the general store “is located for the present at two places. Half of it at the old stand and half at the new which is over at the south end of the new bridge. The new building is going up rapidly and will be ready for use when the new bridge is thrown open on Grape Day.”

The “new bridge” referred to a concrete bridge being erected to cross the San Dieguito River a quarter of a mile downstream from the heart of the town of Bernardo. That bridge, dedicated as part of Escondido’s Grape Day festivities on September 4, 1919, would have a fateful effect on the town of Bernardo, which I sometimes describe as “the lost ancestor of Rancho Bernardo.”

You can find out more on this story in my book, The Lost Town of Bernardo, available for sale on this website.

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A Life on the Land-His Own and That of Others

Gregorio Omish is not on most lists of movers and shakers in San Diego County history. He was born in 1879 on the Rincon Reservation and grew up there, an Indian of Luiseño roots.

In the 1900 United States Census, he was living and working as a farm laborer on the ranch of Gustavus Merriam in what is today the Twin Oaks Valley section of San Marco. Gustavus Merriam is known to readers of this blog and others as the first European settler of that area and the man who gave Twin Oaks Valley its name. The nearby Merriam Mountains are also named in this honor.

Merriam prospered as a grower of grapes for wine and brandy and as a beekeeper. But part of the source of his prosperity was his farmhands. In addition to his wife and son, those farmhands also included two Native Americans, one of whom was Gregorio Omish.

In later censuses one can find Gregorio working on his family’s farm on the Rincon Reservation. But he moved around in his work, and in that respect was an example of the pattern followed by many Native Americans in those years.

“In the fifty years between 1850 and 1900 Indian people practiced agriculture when it was feasible but often found the economic rewards minimal,” according to a 1996 essay on Indian labor in San Diego County by archaeologists Richard Carrico and Florence Shipek.  “This is not to say that they did not attempt farming or stock raising but rather that wages paid for labor on other’s farms and ranches often exceeded the economic return of working reservation land.”

Carrico and Shipek cited Omish as an example of that trend, citing sources like the census, newspapers of the day, accounts of other settlers, and personal journals Omish kept. They noted, for example, that “from 1893 to 1910 [Omish] raised wheat and barley for sale, raised and sold livestock, picked grapes, cut and sold wood, hunted and sold quails, and worked as a laborer.”

“Ever the opportunist,” Carrico and Shipek wrote, like most Luiseños, Omish worked at these various tasks as the season or market dictated.”

Gregorio Omish managed to live out his life working the land, dying at the age of 70 in 1949. His obituary in The San Diego Union of May 21, datelined Rincon, was short, but included a sentence more fitting than the reporter may have realized: “He was a farmer and had resided here all his life.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and the essay, “Indian Labor in San Diego County, 1850-1900,” published on the website, www.kumeyaay.com .

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“Normal School”

A hundred years ago, teachers colleges were called “normal schools.” You had to get approval from the state and as of the early 1890s, San Diego County did not yet have such a school.

“The movement to secure a State Normal School for San Diego was undertaken in 1894,” according to William E. Smythe’s A History of San Diego: 1542-1908. That movement was “due primarily to the great expense and inconvenience experienced by San Diego families in sending their children to the State Normal School at Los Angeles and other institutions throughout Southern California. This expense was estimated at $2,750 per month, and it was obvious that such conditions could not continue indefinitely.”

The first San Diego Normal School opened in May 1899 in a stately building in University Heights. Below is a photo from Smythe’s  book:


Growing enrollment would eventually result in movement to a new campus in Mission Valley in 1931, along with a new name, San Diego State Teachers College. We know it today as San Diego State University.

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