“A Garden of Small Farms and Dairies”


“Overlooking Mission Valley,” or “View of Mission Valley” were common selling points found in realty ads in San Diego papers from the 1880s to the 1950s. “Good bottom land” was a similar selling point, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“This valley is situated three miles from the business center of San Diego,” begins a description in An Illustrated History of San Diego, published in 1890. “It is traversed by the San Diego river, and it may be reached either by way of Old Town, which lies at the mouth of the valley, or by the road up to the mesa and new grade, which enters some two miles farther up.”

The old mission that had given the valley its name was at that point a neglected ruin near its eastern border. But the valley itself was lush with natural life. “This valley was well chosen by the Franciscan Fathers, “ stated the book, “for it contains some of the most productive land in present San Diego County. On the higher benches grow fruits, vegetables and cereals, while the lower, more sandy portions are well adapted for the cultivation of alfalfa and other grasses. Good water, which may be found even during the dry season, at three to ten feet depth, abundantly underlies the whole surface.”

The valley remained predominantly rural and agricultural through the first half of the 20th century. Here’s a photograph from the 1922 book, City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, by Clarence McGrew:


 Mission Valley

This was the valley that Arthur Ribble called “a garden of small farms and dairies” in his 1990 book, Yesterday in San Diego. Ribbel was a columnist for San Diego newspapers from the 1930s to the 1970s with a lifelong love for San Diego and for Western history. His book, published shortly before his death, included a chapter called “Bygone Mission Valley,” in which he recalls “a tranquil and beautiful checkerboard of well-manicured truck farms” producing crops ranging from alfalfa, corn, cabbage and beans to hogs and dairy products. “Many oldsters recall hunting rabbits, quail and dove on the floor of the valley,” wrote Ribbel.

The building of motels on the western end of the valley in the early 1950s was a portent of change that accelerated in the middle of the decade with the erection of a new minor league baseball stadium and, in 1958, city approval for the construction of a new shopping center by the May Company. The transformation from Mission Valley to Fashion Valley had begun in earnest.


Women’s Suffrage-San Diego County Led the Way

“The ushers in the First Methodist church could not find seats enough last night to accommodate all who went there to hear Susan B. Anthony and Rev. Anna Shaw speak on woman suffrage.”

So began an article in the June 20, 1895 San Diego Union on a lecture by Anthony and Shaw, then president and vice president respectively of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. The two, pioneers of the women’s movement, had come at the invitation of suffragist leaders in California. At that point in time only Wyoming and Colorado had extended the right to vote to women.

Anthony was 75 then, but the Union reporter found “her 75 years seemed to prove but slight if any hindrance to her efforts in expressing her views on the question of suffrage for women, a vocation in which she has been engaged for half a century.”

Susan B Anthony  

Undated photo of Susan B. Anthony, pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. 

The evening’s program began with an invocation by the Rev. Amanda Deyo, who was followed by Flora M. Kimball, meeting chair and president of the San Diego Woman’s Suffrage Society, who introduced the speakers.

Deyo and Kimball were part of a group building support for women’s rights throughout San Diego  County.

The account of a meeting of the San Diego group, chaired by Kimball, in the May 16, 1896 Union noted that “Rev. Amanda Deyo and Mrs. Judge Sloan (sic) gave interesting accounts of their tour through the county establishing suffrage societies,” reporting establishment of 13 societies “with a total membership of 191.”

San Diego city and other community papers of the day carried reports of activities by suffrage clubs in Poway, Lakeside, Jamul and El Cajon, among other communities.

Club meetings were social events, presenting food and entertainment as well as civic lectures, as this account about the Poway club from the September 19, 1896 Poway Progress shows: “There was amusement for young and old, songs, readings and recitations comic and serious, embracing an essay by Judge Chapin on the women voting question, an article read by Mrs. W.C. Hilleary extolling woman in her self sacrificing labors in times of distress, and a capital performance by C. C.  Watson in his exhibition of a “living sphinx” from the desert of Arizona…”

That same issue of the paper editorialized that “If every county in the state is as strong for woman suffrage as San Diego,” a proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot for November of that year “is sure to be adopted by a large plurality—a big majority, in fact.”

The paper was right about support in San Diego County, where Amendment 6 passed, 4,129 to 2,717. Unfortunately, it lost statewide. But the movement would carry on and win in both San Diego County and all of California with the passage of Amendment No. 4 in 1911, and ultimately triumph nationwide with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in 1919.

Merle – “An Enchanted City By The Sea”

Merle clippingPoway Progress, March 5, 1894, p. 1.

 A listing of short news items in the October 15, 1888 San Diego Union included this announcement: “’Merle’ is the name of the new post office just established at the home of E.B. Scott, two and a half miles from Encinitas.”

Sources indicate the name “Merle” belonged to a young son of Mr. Scott. The History Seeker’s research uncovered census records showing that E. B. Scott did indeed have a son named Merle.

“An Enchanted City by the Sea—Rain and Verdure,” was the headline of a glowing column appearing in the San Diego Union’s Christmas Day, 1888 edition.

“From Merle, the enchanted town by the sea, it looks favorable for plenty of rain this winter,” began the report by a correspondent identified only by the initials, “N. A. E.”

Barley, oats and grain were “growing with great rapidity, and in some places the grass and grain are over fifteen inches high,” the report said.

A family named Burns was preparing to move into the town within the week, stated the article. “This will increase Merle’s population by four, making nearly sixty inhabitants within three-quarters of a mile of Merle post office, and over fifteen houses.”

The town had a school “and over fifteen pupils, with Miss Baker as teacher,” wrote “N. A. E.”

But the article ended with a complaint: “It is the general opinion here that the railroad company does not deal justly with Merle. Encinitas, Escondido and other towns have had favors that have been denied to us.”

A few months later, the Union’s edition for March 13, 1889 carried another article datelined Merle by the same writer. Interestingly, he mentioned among other new improvements, that “N. A. Eaton has erected a good hotel, which is nearly finished…”

The writer of the article again signed it only with his initials, which just happened to be the same as those of the new hotel owner!

That same article again cited “the discrimination of the railroad company,” claiming that if the company “will give us one-fourth the accommodation they do other stations with half the merit we possess we will show them a large and prosperous seaside resort and business town in a few years.”

The listing for Merle in the Directory of San Diego City and County:1897 stated that the Southern California Railroad had a “flag station” there, meaning it wasn’t a regular stop. That may have been the source of Mr. Eaton’s and other residents’ complaints.

The directory also noted that “The nearest telegraph and express office is at Encinitas, a distance of two miles south.”

By 1897 Nathan Eaton had become Merle’s postmaster. He would hold that position for a few years into the early 1900s.

An August 1905 item in the Union referred to Eaton as “the most extensive advertiser in the county.” But his PR skills apparently weren’t enough to promote Merle.

The Merle school closed in 1903. Merle ceased to be listed as a separate community in county directories after 1909, the same year that the Merle post office closed.

Merle’s identity was essentially absorbed into that of nearby Leucadia.

“The Tourmaline King”

J. Goodman Braye must have been an interesting man.

It took some digging to uncover his varied life.

We know that Jethro Goodman Braye was born about 1869 in Virginia, the son of a black couple. Given the time period, it’s likely that Braye’s parents had grown up in slavery.

By the 1890s Braye was living in New York City. A May 1894 newspaper account of a collision between two horse carriages mentioned Braye as a coachmen for a family named Tannenbaum, and credited him with helping a policeman subdue runaway horses.

Braye’s employer, J. Lippman Tannenbaum, was a gemologist for Tiffany and Co. He took Braye under his wing, by some accounts financing his education. Some sources say Braye attended Howard University, others Cornell. Most say he was trained in geology.

During the late 1890s, Braye’s name turns up as a member of a theater troupe performing plays in the south and midwest.

Braye’s acting and geology training came together in San Diego around 1900.

In the late 1890s, the discovery of rare gem deposits in the Mesa Grande area had triggered a “gem rush” that reverberated nationally and internationally.

Tiffany dispatched  J. L. Tannenbaum to San Diego to check out two gem mines, the Himalaya and the San Diego, set up by a prospector named Lewis in the Mesa Grande area.

Tannenbaum brought J. G. Braye with him. According to Dr. Peter Bancroft’s 1984 book, Gem and Crystal Treasures, Braye rode a buckboard to Mesa Grande “posing as a tubercular in need of a mountain cabin for his health.” In this manner Braye was able to acquire a cabin near the Himalaya mine. Before long Tannenbaum had taken over the mine itself, challenging Lewis’ original claim. Eventually Tannenbaum got clear title to the mine for a $40,000 payment.

Tannenbaum made Braye his manager. Braye was interviewed extensively in a September 21, 1901 San Diego Evening Tribune article.

“We have a government mineral claim of 120 acres and are working it for all it is worth,” Braye told a Tribune reporter. He said he kept 25 to 30 miners steadily employed.

Braye continued as mine manager for almost 15 years, gaining a national reputation and a nickname. On a visit by Braye to Los Angeles in September 1905, the Los Angeles Herald proclaimed: “There are steel kings, diamond kings, flour kings and even bean kings, but there is only one tourmaline king, and he is a negro, J. Goodman Braye, Jr…..”

A 1909 article in a Cleveland newspaper called him “probably the richest black man in the world.”

Around 1915 Braye left mining and embarked on a civic project: a plan for an industrial school for blacks in southern California based on Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. He visited cities all over the region in a fundraising campaign. A 1915 Evening Tribune article stated “A number of prominent men of San Diego, Imperial Valley and Los Angeles have interested themselves in the project…..according to Braye.” But the plan generated controversy and didn’t come to fruition.

Braye was living in the Los Angeles area by 1920. Voter registers from then and up to the mid-1920s list occupations from real estate to “moving pictures.”

When he died in Santa Monica in 1927 at the age of 57, his obituary noted both his mining and acting careers, and also described him as the author of two plays, “The Tourmaline King” and “The Black Millionaire.”

What’s In A Name? A Lot of History

There’s a lot of history in San Diego County place and street names. Here are some examples.

If you’re driving around the industrial area of Poway, you’re liable to cross Stowe Road. You might also encounter Kirkham Court, Kirkham Road and Kirkham Way. These roads wind above and around Beeler and Sycamore Canyons. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries these canyons held a little community called Stowe.

Stowe had its own post office from 1889 to 1905 and its own school from 1890 to 1903.

The 1897 Directory of San Diego City and County lists 71 separate towns, with brief descriptions of each and the names of selected residents. Some of the town names are recognizable to us today, such as Chula Vista and Escondido. Others are communities that no longer exist, and haven’t for decades, like Almond, Bostonia, and Stowe. I refer to these places as “the lost towns of San Diego County.”

The 1897 listing for Stowe had this brief description: “Stowe is a farming section, about 23 miles from San Diego and six miles from Poway, on the road from Poway to El Cajon valley.”

That description was followed by the names of 14 residents and their occupations. Eleven of them were men, all farmers. Three were women: two schoolteachers and one postmistress.

Among the farmers was B. F. Kirkham.

Benjamin Franklin Kirkham came to California from Colorado in 1891 with his wife Fredericka and four sons, 10-year-old Frank, 7-year-old twins Isaac and Andrew, and 4-year-old Fred.

Benjamin’s son Andrew grew up to be a hard working farmer, but he was also an amateur historian and writer as well. When he died in November 1964 at the age of 80, an obituary in the Poway News stated that he “kept notebooks crammed with data and humorous anecdotes about Valley goings-on.”

A few years before his death Andrew summarized the information in his notebooks and put it into manuscripts which are now in the archives of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society’s museum. These manuscripts provide a wealth of detail about the Kirkham family and their lives in Stowe and the broader community of Poway into which Stowe was eventually absorbed.

Here’s an undated photo of Andrew Kirkham at work, courtesy of the Poway Historical Museum archives. Andy is on the left:

Andy Kirkham and team

Stowe will be one of the subjects of the next book in my series on the lost towns of San Diego County. If you’d like to order a copy of the first book in the series, The Lost Town of Bernardo, click on https://sandiegohistoryseeker.com/my-books/ .

Resources for this post included the archives of the Poway Historical Museum, historic San Diego newspapers, and the books Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon, by Carol Billhardt Crafts and San Diego County Place Names A to Z, by Leland Fetzer.

Upcoming History Events

The Congress of History of San Diego and Imperial Counties presents their annual two-day conference: “A Half Century of Local History: Past, Present, and Future,” March 7 & 8 at the Marina Village Conference Center (near Sea World). For details visit www.congressofhistory.org/ .