Remembering Marston

                                                               George White Marston, circa 1908.

Some years back I wrote on this blog about George Marston. As the presidential campaign continues to heat up, I think it’s worth recalling Marston’s civic and political ideas and activities.

Marston was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of San Diego in 1913 and 1917. He is far better known as a successful department store owner and philanthropist. He was also a strong advocate of park development and city planning. He built the Serra Museum and Presidio Park at his own expense and then donated them to the city. In the early 1900s he put up his own funds to hire expert planners who crafted the first comprehensive plans for Balboa Park and for general urban development in San Diego.

He clearly had a lot more on his mind than just making money. One surprising aspect of his thinking turned up in a 1986 essay in The Journal of San Diego History written by Gregg R. Hennessey, entitled, “George White Marston and Conservative Reform in San Diego.”

The essay noted that Marston in his adult life was politically independent. “Raised a Republican, he never hesitated to swing back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, choosing the person or the party most likely to push for reform,” Hennessey wrote.

The article then quoted from a letter Marston wrote in 1932 in response to a contribution request from a local Republican party fundraiser for the November election campaign.

“I wonder how you got the idea that I was a Republican,” wrote Marston. “I did vote for Hoover four years ago and sent you a check for the campaign, but I also voted for Wilson and for Cleveland and very much prefer the political platform of the Democrats to that of the Republicans. However the Democrats are deteriorating badly these days and are controlled by the big financiers of the country as the Republican party is.”

Marston went on to write this: “In our little San Diego field you and I are both in the plutocratic, aristocratic and big financial privileged class! But there is this difference between us. I am willing to admit that we get too big a share of the good things of life and that we ought to be good enough democrats to let the people in general have a larger share…. “

Marston closed by saying, “Therefore, I am still a non-partisan, entertaining hopes that sometime a liberal, progressive party will be established in the United States. I am not a Socialist, but this year I am inclined to vote for Norman Thomas as a protest against both of the dominant parties. “

Norman Thomas was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party in the 1932 election.

Mary Gilman Marston, George Marston’s daughter and biographer, confirmed that her father did indeed vote for Norman Thomas in 1932, and that he voted for Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats thereafter, since, in her words, “The social aims of the New Deal were in accord with his political beliefs.”

In addition to The Journal of San Diego History, sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and William E. Smythe’s History of San Diego: 1542-1908.

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The “California Bank Note”

Cattle ranching was big business in San Diego County for a long time. But how many people know that for at least a century or so, cattle were raised not so much for their meat, but for their hides and their fat?

As California passed from Spanish to Mexican control in the early 1820s, “The chief economic activity consisted of exporting hides and tallow. Mexican independence in 1821 opened California ports to foreign trade and coincided with the expansion of the American shoe industry,” according to a 2009 book, 240 Years of Ranching, a comprehensive study on the county’s ranching history prepared for the state parks department.

By the late 1820s, notes the study, as many as 40,000 cattle hides were being shipped annually from San Diego to New England to be made into shoes and other leather goods. Tallow, the product of rendered cowfat, was shipped to South America where it was turned into candles and soap.

These products not only brought big money, they literally were money in those days in the relationship between county ranch owners who raised and sold the cattle and the sailing ship captains and merchants who bought them. As another historian of the period pointed out, “Contracts and promissory notes were usually made payable in cattle, hides, or tallow…even the smallest amount of merchandise—a few yards of cloth, a pound of sugar, a box of raisins, a handful of cigars—was purchased with the standard currency of the province, the ubiquitous cattle hide, known from Alaska to Peru as the ‘California bank note.’”

Sources for this post included the books 240 Years of Ranching, by Sue A. Wade, Stephen R. Van Wormer and Heather Thomson, History of San Diego:1542-1908, by William E Smythe, and The Cattle on A Thousand Hills, by Robert Glass Cleland.

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Septembers to Remember

Two Septembers figure in shaping the state and county we’re most familiar with today. Beginning in September 1849 delegates met in Monterey, California to create a constitution for a new state to be carved out of the territory won from the war between the U. S.A. and Mexico.

Over the following winter the first state legislature began meeting, and on February 2, 1850, they created the very first California County, San Diego. It’s worth remembering that with transportation of that time limited to foot, horsepower and boats, things like holding conventions and legislatures, not to mention surveying and marking off territorial boundaries, took a lot longer and might not be as precise. Which helps explain why the original San Diego County embraced what are today the counties of San Diego, Riverside, Imperial, San Bernardino and the eastern portion of Inyo County.

That would be the map of San Diego County on September 9, 1850, when California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state.

Sources for this post included San Diego: A Chronological and Documentary History, 1535-1976, compiled and edited by Robert Mayer, and San Diego County, California: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Advancement, by Samuel F. Black.

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Snapshot of A Ranching Family’s Roots

Below is a close-up of part of a page from the 1880 United States Census for the Julian area of San Diego County:

Sawday1880Census

It shows the entry for the family headed by Frederick Sawday. The data on the form tells us that he was 30 years old then. His wife Sarah, listed immediately below Frederick, was 29. They were both immigrants, born in England. Frederick’s occupation is listed as “grocer,” while Sarah’s is listed as “Keeping House.” But other historical accounts list them as both running a general store was well as keeping a flock of sheep.

Tending to livestock would come to be a predominant occupation for the family. Son George, three years old at the time of this census, got into sheep and then cattle ranching on a large scale. How large? A ranching history compiled for the state parks department in 2009 includes this quote from one of George’s nephews: “There is a story they used to tell about Uncle George that he could drive from the Riverside County line to the Mexican Border and never get off the land he either owned or leased.”

Sources: 1880 United States Census; and the book 240 Years of Ranching: Historical Research, Field Surveys, Oral Interviews, Significance Criteria, and Management Recommendations for Ranching Districts and Sites in the San Diego Region, by Sue A. Wade, Stephen R. Van Wormer, and Heather Thomson, 2009 California State Parks Department.

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A New Archive is Brewing

As a history seeker, I’m always looking out for archives in which San Diego County’s history is being preserved. I recently learned of a new research facility, Brewchive. Founded in 2017, this branch of the California State University at San Marcos Library is dedicated to preserving the history of craft brewing in San Diego.

San Diego County has been proclaimed the craft brewing capital of the United States, with over 125 licensed brewers to date. More than a third of the county’s breweries, among them Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss and Lost Abbey, are in North County, which made CSUSM a logical choice to document their history.

The library has been actively collecting and digitizing historical documents and special pieces. While the initial focus has been on what library officials call the “New Brew Wave circa 1987-present,” the ultimate goal will be to become “a comprehensive archive of San Diego brewing history,” according to a recent statement by Judith Downie, CSUSM Special Collections and History Librarian.

To find out more, visit https://archives.csusm.edu/brewchive/ .

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Carlsbad’s Agricultural History

There was a special section on Carlsbad in the January 1, 1916 edition of the San Diego Union. The focus of the section wasn’t about mineral springs or tourism, but about agriculture. Photos and text commented on how the community’s soil and climate were yielding abundant winter crops.

“Winter tomatoes, cucumber, chili peppers, rhubarb, pes and similar crops mature at ‘off-season’ dates in Carlsbad,” stated one article in the section. “Kitchen gardens in this vicinity have yielded fancy winter vegetables year after year. In fact Carlsbad will compare favorably with the best protected foothill sections—it is a veritable ‘winter garden.’”

The Union also noted an up-and-coming crop in the local fields, so new they had to refer to it by two names: “During the last five years the avocado (alligator pear) has held a commanding postion in the limelight with Southern California orchardists. Being of tropical origin, it is extremely sensible to extreme heat or cold. Carlbad has been pronounced the ideal spot to raise this fruit. S. Thompson, one of the first citrus men in the state to take up the avocado as a commercial proposition, is now setting out an orchard of eighteen acres. An adjoining tract, eight acres, is being used as a nursery, for avocado trees.”

In a few years Sam Thompson would help found the Carlsbad Avocado Growers Club. In October, 1923 the club sponsored the first Avocado Day, which became an annual event in the town until the eve of World War II. Avocados would be a major crop in Carlsbad until the late 1940s.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers, the 1994 book, Carlsbad: The Village by the Sea, by Charles Wesley Orton, and the 1982 book, Seekers of the Spring: A History of Carlsbad, by Marje Howard-Jones.

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The Elevator in the Barn, or “Ground Floor, Cows and Horses”

In a 1922 book on the history of San Diego City and County, historian Clarence Alan McGrew referred to Chula Vista as “one of the most attractive sections of San Diego County.” At that point in time the town had a population of around 2,000 people, and many of them were engaged in farming. McGrew referred to the city at that point as “the center of a great citrus-growing section, about 3,000 acres being devoted to that end and doing much to give the San Diego County high rank among the lemon producing districts of the United States.”

One of those lemon growers was William G. Brown, who had moved to Chula Vista in 1920 with his wife Emma and three young children. The family was well-traveled, having previously lived in Atlanta, New Orleans and the island of Cuba, where William Brown, a chemical engineer for the United Fruit Company, had served as a “General Superintendant of Sugar Manufacturing,” as his daughter Anita would note years later in an account for the Chula Vista Historical Society.

I mention them being well traveled as background for the anecdote of Anita’s which follows. Because the children, having experienced travel to a number of places while their father was on business, would have known something about city life as well as farm life. So here’s Anita’s anecdote, coming from a period when she would have been between about 8 and say, 15 or so, talking about play time with her slightly older and four-years-younger brothers:

“We had space all around us to play, but our favorite play area was the barn. There we could pretend we were on an elevator. We tied a thick stick to one end of a heavy rope. We sat on the stick and tossed the other end over a big beam in the hayloft. We took turns lowering each other down to the floor through the hay chute into the horse stall while calling out numbers of imaginary floors we passed going down. We enjoyed the activity until we grew too heavy for one another to handle, and we didn’t fit in the hay chute any more.”

An interesting snapshot of child’s play in one particular family in San Diego County in the early decades of the 20th century.

Sources for this post:

  1. McGrew, Clarence Alan, City of San Diego and San Diego County: Birthplace of California, Volume I, Chicago and New York, American Historical Society, 1922.
  2. Black, Samuel F., San Diego County, California: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Volume I, S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913.
  3. The Chula Vista Historical Society Presents: Family, Friends and Homes, Chula Vista, Chula Vista Historical Society, 1991.