Picturesque San Diego: Contrasting Views

I began this blog back in January with a look at the 1887 book Picturesque San Diego, which offered fascinating verbal and visual impressions of San Diego County in a bygone era. I said I’d be returning to it periodically for its facts, impressions, and sometimes its contradictions.

The book was written by Douglas Gunn, a former editor and publisher of The San Diego Union who was also a strong promoter of, and investor in, the development of San Diego. He hired a prominent Los Angeles-based photographer, Herve Friend, to work with him.

Friend’s photos vividly capture the rural nature of San Diego County in 1887. Here’s one example. The caption reads: “View near Entrance to Bear Valley.”

Picturesque San Diego Bear Valley

Gunn began his narrative about the valley by referring to the name of its post office, which is the name by which we know the community today, Valley Center.

“A very productive section, about 40 miles north of San Diego,” Gunn wrote. “Population about 1,000. Store, blacksmith shop, school-house, brick church. Productions: Fine stock, hogs, bacon and grain; some honey is also made.”

Gunn then went on to state “The rainfall in this valley is more than three times as great as on the coast, and a crop failure has never been known here.”

Well, maybe not up to 1887, but a little over a decade later a drought would ravage the community. One resident, Abel Davis, in a memoir written many years later, told of how he and his siblings were among those who “saw no future in Valley Center farming,” and “began to scatter to other parts of the world.” In Abel Davis’ case, that meant Los Angeles and then Orange County.

Gunn could get overly boosterish in some of his descriptions. Valley Center wasn’t the only area he claimed to be perpetually free from drought or bad weather. To be fair, his life was cut short before severe drought conditions came.

And, he got some things very right.

In a section of the book on agricultural production, Gunn wrote, “The leading products of the County in point of value are, at the present time, Wheat, Wool and Honey, in the order named. We say, at the present time, because Fruit and Vine growing is rapidly becoming the chief interest in this County, as nature designed it to be.”

Here’s a photo from the book of the home and orchard of one James Madison in Julian:

Picturesque San Diego Julian

“San Diego can compete with the world in the successful production of perfect Apples,” wrote Gunn. He went on to salute Madison and other apple growers in Julian and then said, “What has been said of Apples in the mountain section is equally true of the Pear, the Cherry and the Plum.”



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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

Rancho Bernardo Historical Society’s Speakers Series presents Dr. Ray Ashley of the Maritime Museum of San Diego on Wednesday, May 21 at 10 a.m. at the Rancho Bernardo Museum in the Bernardo Winery. Dr. Ashley will speak about the museum’s project to build a replica of the San Salvador, the galleon on which Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542. Free to the public. For further information visit .


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