Foster: Quite Literally A Boom Town

Below is a timetable which ran regularly in San Diego County newspapers in the mid to late 1890s:

San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern schedule

It’s for the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railroad, one of a cluster of lines formed during an 1880s land boom in southern California. The road’s name indicates an ambitious goal of forging a rail link from San Diego to points east, specifically to join up with other railroads coming from the eastern United States.

It turns out that eastern San Diego County was as far east as the SD, C & E ever got, but that’s a whole other story. For now, please note the station listed at the end of the line. Foster is another lost town from San Diego County history.

Foster had its own railroad depot from 1889 to 1916, and its own post office from 1893 to 1916.

Here’s the listing for Foster in the 1897 Directory of San Diego City and County (it covered parts of two pages):

1897 directory page for Foster

There were a total of 40 people listed, with occupations ranging from ranchers and apiarists to a locomotive engineer, brakeman, quarryman and stonecutter.

The town was situated on a ranch owned by Joseph Foster, the only resident whose listing is in boldface and all caps. In addition to being a rancher and hotel owner, Foster also was co-proprietor of a stagecoach line. People disembarking from the train at Foster could ride the stage on to Ramona, Ballena (now part of Ramona), Warner Springs and Julian.

Farming, railroading and quarrying made Foster a busy place, and a noisy one too.

“Some heavy blasting is going on at Foster’s quarries these days,” noted an item in the June 30, 1894 Poway Progress. “One explosion in the evening shook things like unto an earthquake, and made windows rattle lively some seven miles away. It was thought at first the magazine had exploded.”

The quarries were a source of rock for construction. And they were almost the little town’s undoing in 1904.

“People at Foster, a quarrying town at the end of the S.D., C. & E railway, twenty-five miles northeast of this city, had a hard battle with brush fires early yesterday morning,” reported the San Diego Union of October 27, 1904.

The entire town’s population turned out en masse to fight the fires which came within two hundred feet of the railroad depot and hotel, wrote the Union.

In addition to fighting the flames, the townsfolk had to deal with dynamite stored in a house belonging to one of the quarries. The Union reported that “the citizens decided to move it and bury it in the bed” of the nearby San Diego River. “They took great risk in this removal, for there was more than a ton of the stuff.”

Their efforts, aided by a change in the wind, saved the town.

The great San Diego County flood of 1916 wiped out the railroad line to Foster, never to be rebuilt. The flood also sounded the death knell for the post office.

The Foster townsite is today at the foot of the San Vicente Dam and is considered part of Lakeside. The area is presumably much quieter now than in what might be called its noisier, and potentially explosive, heyday.

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Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Poway newspapers, the website of the Lakeside Historical Society, and the book, Ramona and Roundabout, by Charles R. LeMenager.

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