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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One Name Changed, One Endured

An item in The San Diego Union of March 16, 1892 entitled, “An Encouraging Report,” began, “A. Verlaque came in from his Santa Maria Valley ranch yesterday and says that farmers will make a good crop if not another drop of rain falls. That the grain is up nicely in the Santa Maria valley, is thick on the ground and presents a strong and healthy appearance, and the farmers generally are much encouraged over the prospect.”

Amos Verlaque was the son of a French immigrant father and an American mother. He’d come to San Diego County with his parents, Theophile and Elizabeth, and five siblings, in 1870. In the early 1880s Amos bought some land near a spring on the main wagon road to Julian. In 1883 he and other family members, while raising grain and sheep, also built a general store and post office which became the first commercial venture in a new town initially called Nuevo.

A few years later, in July of 1895, the Verlaques and their  town were highlighted for a new reason, in an item headlined: “Nuevo is Now Ramona,” The San Diego Union stated, “Word has been received that the post office department has acted favorably upon the petition of the citizens of this valley to change the name of the post office from Nuevo to Ramona….and the change will go into effect as soon as the new bond of J. A. Verlaque as postmaster has been approved by the department, and the blanks containing the new name arrive.”

J. A. Verlaque was Amos’ brother, Jefferson, generally known as Jeff.

The Verlaque name and the family’s role in Ramona’s history live on in the family home, restored in the 1980s by the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society and now part of the society’s Guy B. Woodward Museum.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and the books, Ramona and Round About by Charles R. Le Menager and Historic Buildings of the Ramona Area by Russell Bowen and Leona B. Ransom.

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Isidor Louis’ Cool Legacy

This started out as a story about ice cream. After learning that July is National Ice Cream Month, I thought I’d look for an ice cream-related story from San Diego history. I thought I had one when I found some ads from historical newspapers like the one below from the April 29, 1885 San Diego Union, courtesy of the GenealogyBank website:

You can find a lot of ads about the Maison Doree in San Diego papers of the period, including references to its ice cream being made “from pure cream.” Maison Doree was also a general restaurant as well as a store and a place that could be rented out for group events.

I sought more background on Isidor Louis and found him in the 1880 United States Census living in San Diego but with the occupation of shoemaker. I wasn’t sure if this was the same guy until I discovered that he was indeed the same person, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who’d come to San Diego in 1870, by way of San Francisco and Los Angeles and a return trip to Poland to marry in the interim. He had indeed been a maker of boots and shoes. He continued to do that but also had an eye for other opportunities. Seeing the need for ice in the warm summer months, he set himself up as an ice merchant, getting ice cut from Lake Tahoe in the winter and shipping it to an insulated warehouse in San Diego where he sold it to consumers seeking to cool their beer and liquor and preserve their food.

It was a natural step to open an “ice cream saloon” in 1880. In 2017, Joellyn Zollman, curator of the exhibit, “Celebrate San Diego: The History and Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community” at the San Diego History Center, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Louis was “the first to make ice cream in San Diego. He was the most popular man in town!”

In the late nineteenth century Louis also built an opera house, now demolished, and a bank building, the Louis Bank of Commerce which still stands today.

Isidor Louis died in Los Angeles in 1896, but he is commemorated today as a pioneering San Diego entrepreneur and philanthropist, with a very cool legacy, literally and figuratively.

Sources for this post included The Journal of San Diego History, historic San Diego newspapers, the U. S. National Archives, and the Jewish Museum of the American West.

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A Face and Story Behind A Street Name

Undated photo of William Kettner courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Kettner served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1913 to 1920, representing the Eleventh Congressional District, which at that time included San Diego City and County as well as a number of other southern California counties.

Originally from the Midwest, Kettner came to southern California in the 1880s, first settling in Visalia but moving to San Diego in 1907. He ran an insurance business and was also active in various civic organizations, including the San Diego Chamber of Commerce.

Historical accounts uniformly describe him as an affable and outgoing man with a strong sense of civic responsibility. He wanted to actively promote his community. He came into Congress at a time when local, state and national leaders were beginning to recognize San Diego harbor’s value, not just as a commercial seaport, but also a strategically important location for the U. S. Navy.

Kettner took a leading role in promoting San Diego as a headquarters for naval facilities. He served on house committees dealing with rivers and harbors and with naval appropriations. Among those friends cultivated by the affable congressman during his time in Washington was a young assistant navy secretary named Franklin Roosevelt. Kettner is credited with introducing the East Coast-raised Roosevelt to San Diego’s physical beauty and climate as well as its value as a naval port.

Kettner is credited with helping to bring most of the major naval facilities to San Diego, including the Naval Training Center, the Broadway Naval Supply Deport, and the North Island Naval Air Station, to name just a few.

Ill-health and some business reversals led Kettner to retire from Congress after the 1920 session but he remained a popular figure until his death in 1930. A city fireboat was named after him in 1919, and a few months after his retirement from Congress, the San Diego city council passed an ordinance declaring that “the name of Arctic Street, for its entire length in the city of San Diego, California, be, and the name is hereby changed to Kettner Boulevard.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History  the Library of Congress, and the archives of the San Diego City Clerk’s Office.

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A New Source for History Seekers

The photo below shows the first page of the first issue of Bernardo Brandings.

When that issue came out in February 1962, Bernardo Brandings was the first newspaper for the then-new community of Rancho Bernardo. It was so new that the first edition was printed in Encinitas. For that matter, there were no residents to read the paper yet in Rancho Bernardo.

Just a few months previously, developers Harry Summers and Fritz Hawn had signed an agreement with Lawrence and Donald Daley to turn 6,000 acres of ranchland into a planned urban community. The agreement they signed created a joint venture called Rancho Bernardo, Inc. which was the original publisher of Bernardo Brandings. That paper was distributed across California and the rest of the United States to draw people to come and settle in the new community.

So those first issues of the paper offer fascinating visual and narrative insights into Rancho Bernardo when it was just taking shape. And these insights are now available to the general public, thanks to the efforts of the Rancho Bernardo Historical Society.

The society’s museum had been collecting copies of the newspaper for years for the museum archives. More recently several volumes were digitized for museum visitors and researchers. This past week five years’ worth of those digitized copies were placed on the society’s website, making them accessible to the online public. Just go to the society’s website, https://rbhistory.org/ , click on the tab for “museum” and scroll down the page. Check it out!

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From Raisins to Grapes

Gustavus French Merriam came to San Diego County from Kansas in 1874. He acquired a homestead of 160 acres in what is today San Marcos. He christened his property Twin Oaks Ranch after two joined oak trees on the grounds.

Merriam at first intended to specialize in raisins, a popular crop in the area at the time. But he had trouble drying the grapes successfully and switched to wine and brandy production. That worked out a bit better.

“G. F. Merriam shipped a carload of grape brandy from Twin Oaks to Los Angeles,” reported the Poway Progress newspaper of January 13, 1894.

Two months later the same paper reported: “G. F. Merriam of San Marcos has made over 60,000 gallons of wine this season, and is now making grape brandy by the carload.”

That’s railroad carloads, just to put it in historical perspective.

Here’s an undated portrait of G. F. Merriam, courtesy of the San Marcos Historical Society:


The Major, as he preferred to be called, would leave his mark on county history in many ways.  You can find out more about him in my book, Valleys of Dreams, on sale on this blogsite.

In the meantime, Happy May Day to All!

Sources for this post included the archives of the San Marcos Historical Society and the San Diego History Center, along with historic county newspapers.

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