From Bonfire to “Grape Day”

“THOUSANDS CHEER WHILE BONDS BURN”

That was the headline in the San Diego Union of September 10, 1905. It was reporting on a gala event the day before in the city of Escondido. On that day, Admission Day statewide, some 3,000 people gathered to witness the burning of canceled bonds from the Escondido Irrigation District, freeing residents from a collective debt that had hung over the community.

It was a very big deal. The size of the crowd tells you something when you realize that the actual population of the city of Escondido was in the range of 800 to 1,000 at the time. It was a small, young city, incorporated less than two decades before. A $450,000 bond issue passed in 1890 built a dam and reservoir for a steadier water supply crucial for a budding agricultural economy. But economic hard times locally and nationally had undermined the community’s ability to pay the debt. Negotiations led to a compromise balance which was finally paid off in 1905. That made the burning of the cancelled bonds a cause for public rejoicing.

It was a party to which all southern California was invited. The Santa Fe railroad ran special trains from Los Angeles and San Diego. City bands from Escondido and San Diego were among the groups and individuals who provided musical entertainment. Mayor Sig Steiner joined other city officials in conducting the bond burning on the steps of the Lime Street School.

Here’s a photo of the event, courtesy of the Francis Beven Ryan historical collection in the Pioneer Room of the Escondido Public Library:

bond burning

Over the next couple of years, residents began gathering at the site every September 9 to picnic and commemorate what many called “Freedom Day.”

At the same time, one of the crops which began to flourish on Escondido’s irrigated soil was the muscat grape. A horticultural report on the sweetness of the local grapes inspired Sig Steiner, who’d stepped down as mayor in 1906 but remained an important business and civic leader. He proposed that every September, on or about the 9th, there should be a community celebration called “Grape Day.”

“The idea is capable of extended development,” Steiner told the San Diego Union in August, 1908, “and I have no doubt that ‘Grape Day,’ when once celebrated, will become an established annual event in the valley.”

The rest, as they say is history. And history repeats itself next Sunday, September 6, when Escondido once again celebrates its special day in Grape Day Park, which includes the site where the liberatory bond-burning was held. For details see “History Happenings” below.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Escondido newspapers, the Journal of San Diego History, and the website of the Escondido History Center.

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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

Grape Day, Escondido’s most historic event, takes place September 6. A 5K fun run starts at 7:30, followed by a parade down Grand Avenue, culminating in the festival in Grape Day Park from 9:30 to 4. Free event includes grape stomping, an entertainment stage, vendor booths, fun zone, free grapes courtesy of Jimbo’s Naturally, a wine and craft beer tasting pavilion and lots more. For more info visit http://www.escondidohistory.org/index.html .

Open house at the Vista Historical Museum, 1-3 on Sept 13. Learn about the history of the museum, the former Rancho Minerva, and a little Greek culture. Hosted by three Girl Scouts earning their Silver Award. This is a community event and anyone can join. $7 donation includes tour, snack, presentation and patch. For further info call 760-630-0444.

 

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Magical History Tour

Just returned from a 17-day motoring vacation that took us up along the Eastern Sierra, into a little of Nevada, then eastern Oregon, then through the Columbia River Gorge, then back over to Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada, past Lake Tahoe, and down the 5 to home.

Of course, as history seekers, my wife and I always want to check out historic sites wherever we go. And this trip turned out to be a sort of “Magical History Tour” (apologies to the Beatles) as we discovered some impressive sites.

We visited places like the Douglas County Historical Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, Nevada (three stories full of exhibits in a former school building), Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area in Oregon (where we toured a dredge the size of a river boat), and the Grant County Historical Museum in Canyon City, Oregon (with thousands of local history items on display).

History is history, and San Diego County shares many historical parallels with other western regions. So we’d like to share some photographic and narrative highlights of two historic sites we visited.

This is a photo of one of the exhibits at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (NHOTIC) in Baker City, Oregon.

oregon trail

You pass through a series of lifesize recreations illustrating pioneer travels and the settlement of Oregon. The exhibits also include recordings taken from the diaries of pioneers who came over the Oregon Trail. The NHOTIC, which is run by the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also offers living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, multi-media special events, and over four miles of interpretive trails. For further info, check out their website: http://www.blm.gov/or/oregontrail/ .

Baker City is also home to the Baker Heritage Museum. The area in and around Baker City was the scene of a gold rush in the late 1880s and 90s. By 1897 the Baker Gold District had 513 mines and Baker City, dubbed “Queen City of the Mines,” was the third largest city in Oregon and the fastest growing community in the Old West. It was a center not only for gold, but for the agriculture and timber industries as well.

The museum is in a former natatorium building saved from demolition by the local historical society. The building is stocked with all kinds of exhibits related to the local history, including two stagecoaches and a threshing machine, as well as all manner of clothing and household items, all donated by the descendants of pioneer families.

Here’s a photo of the threshing machine:

thresher

 

And here’s a view of the main exhibit floor from the museum’s upstairs balcony:

Baker museum inside view

We found the story of the building’s rescue and transformation and the strong participation by the local community to be especially inspiring when we found out that the total population of Baker City and County is 16,000. An important lesson here for San Diego County.

Here’s the Baker Heritage Museum website: http://www.bakerheritagemuseum.com/ .

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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

“Merton and Stowe: Lost Towns of the Poway Valley,” is the subject of a talk by yours truly, aka Vincent Rossi, the San Diego History Seeker, Wednesday, August 27,11 am-Noon, at the North County Inland Center. The center is at Temple Adat Shalom, 15905 Pomerado Road, Poway. For further details call 858-674-1123.

Grape Day, Escondido’s most historic event, takes place Saturday, September 6. A 5K fun run starts at 7:30, followed by a parade down Grand Avenue, culminating in the festival in Grape Day Park from 9:30 to 4. Free event includes grape stomping, an entertainment stage, vendor booths, fun zone, free grapes courtesy of Jimbo’s Naturally, a wine and craft beer tasting pavilion and lots more. For more info visit http://www.escondidohistory.org/index.html .

Open house at the Vista Historical Museum, 1-3 on Saturday, Sept 13. Learn about the history of the museum, the former Rancho Minerva, and a little Greek culture. Hosted by three Girl Scouts earning their Silver Award. This is a community event and anyone can join. $7 donation includes tour, snack, presentation and patch. For further info call 760-630-0444.

 

 

The Townsend Club

For a number of months in the year 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, “Townsend Club Activities” was a regular column in Vista’s weekly newspaper, The Vista Press.

“The Townsend chicken dinner at the Community church on Monday evening was an outstanding success, both financially and in the number attending,” began the column for October 10, 1935. “The committee in charge had to order the doors closed at 7:30, as people continued to stream in.”

The columns describe dinners and musical events among club members, but the social movement was also dedicated to a public policy goal. The official name for the movement was Townsend Old Age Pension Clubs.

It began in 1933 with a Long Beach physician, Francis Townsend, then in his early sixties, who was moved by his observations of elderly people living in poverty after a lifetime of work. He proposed a plan for a guaranteed federal pension of $200.00 per month to every person over the age of 60. He proposed the system not only to keep older people out of poverty but as a means of creating more job opportunities for unemployed younger workers.

That idea clearly resonated with many of the Vista Press’s readers, its publisher, and leaders of the local and regional agricultural community. An example can be found on the paper’s front page on January 3, 1935. At the top of the page, along with two articles on an upcoming election of directors for the Vista Irrigation District, was another article headlined “The Future of American Democracy.”

The article reprinted the text of an address given not long before at Whittier College by C.C. Teague, then president of the California Fruit Growers Exchange.

Teague wrote that in his opinion, “a democracy…cannot stand the strain of long-continued unemployment of a large percentage of the people and must find some way where this condition can be avoided if it is to live.” He then called for a “compulsory” retirement system to pension off older workers and create employment for younger ones.

The “Townsend Club Activities” column described activities jointly sponsored by clubs in Vista, San Marcos, and Oceanside. They, along with clubs from San Diego city and elsewhere, sent delegates to a Los Angeles rally of 10,000 in late September 1935 and a national convention in Chicago in late October which included a nationally broadcast radio address by Dr. Townsend.

The Social Security Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in August, 1935, in obvious response to the growth of the Townsend Clubs and similar campaigns.

Sources for this post included the websites of the Vista Historical Society and the Social Welfare History Project.

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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

The San Marcos Historical Society offers tours of the historic Cox and Bidwell houses Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 and 3 p.m. or by appointment. For further info visit http://www.smhistory.org/historic-home-tours .

 

Dancing At The Water’s Edge

Lake Hodges Station

The Lake Hodges Station, circa 1920s. Courtesy Pioneer Room, Escondido Public Library.

“Dancing!

Wednesday, Saturday Nights!

To the twinkle of the gleaming Lake—at the water’s edge.”

So proclaimed the headline of a huge ad on page 1 of the San Diego Union on Thursday, June 5, 1924, inviting people to enjoy the newly remodeled Lake Hodges Station.

Long before there was an I-15, or even a Rancho Bernardo, the unincorporated rural area of Bernardo was connected with Escondido by Inland Mission Road. That road (renamed Highway 395 in 1934) crossed Lake Hodges on a bridge erected in 1919. A small general store erected on the Bernardo side of the bridge in 1919 was expanded in the mid-1920s into a restaurant and dance hall. It also became a fishing resort, with a boat dock, cabins and other facilities.

A five-piece jazz band from San Diego, “Jordan’s Harmony Boys,” provided the music for the dance pavilion’s grand opening on Saturday, June 7, 1924.

An account of the festivities the following Monday in the Escondido Daily Times-Advocate reported that dancing got underway at 9 p.m. “At midnight came a serpentine and confetti battle and the dances then continued until three o’clock,” reported the paper, adding that Manager L. A. Hinshaw was “greatly pleased with the big success of his opening night.”

The “Harmony Boys” were among a number of featured bands over the years at the Station, also called the Lake Hodges Pavilion. The resort would be a popular gathering spot through at least the late 1940s.

The Bernardo Winery was a neighbor to the Pavilion. In an interview shortly before his death in 2008, then-winery owner Ross Rizzo, Sr. recalled fisherman coming down from San Diego with their families and staying at the resort’s cabins. They would catch fish and “pan fry them right out there” on the lakeshore, Rizzo said. “The kids would pitch lines in the lake. The more people came the more kids there were, getting acquainted. It was good old family fun.”

The site of the pavilion was covered over when Highway 395 was realigned in 1952. That spot now lies underneath the entrance ramp for I-15 off Pomerado Road.

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You can get weekly updates of San Diego History Seeker automatically in your email by clicking on the “Follow” button in the lower right corner of the blog page. You’ll then get an email asking you to confirm. Once you confirm you’ll be an active follower.

History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

Vista Historical Society presents their Summer Barbecue at the Vista Historical Museum Saturday, August 16, 4-7 p.m. Good food, live music and free silhouettes by Sweet Silhouette. Tickets $30 per person, $50 per couple, $10 for kids 12 and under. For more info call 760-630-0444.

The San Marcos Historical Society offers tours of the historic Cox and Bidwell houses Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 and 3 p.m. or by appointment. For further info visit http://www.smhistory.org/historic-home-tours .

 

 

Another Election Cycle

Poway Progress 1894 Populist Party

 

“Populist Convention” was the headline of an article in the Poway Progress of July 21, 1894. It reported on the San Diego County Convention of the Populist Party held a few days previously in Oceanside.

The San Diego Union reported on the convention as well, albeit in a little less detail than the Poway paper. Perusal of the two papers during that period shows the Progress to be a bit more evenhanded in its reportage on the Populists, compared to the staunchly Republican Union.

But the overall coverage shows that the Populists’ organizational gatherings and campaigns were getting roughly the same attention as the Republicans and Democrats. Clearly the Populist, or People’s Party, had a number of followers in San Diego County at that time.

The party nominated candidates for the state senate, two state assembly districts and two supervisorial districts, as well as for countywide offices like sheriff, treasurer, and district attorney. The party’s nominee for county school superintendant was a woman, Stella Murdock. This was at a time when women didn’t yet have the vote in California.

Among the resolutions passed by the convention was one “endorsing and approving the A.R.U. strike…” This was a strike by members of the American Railway Union against the Pullman Car Company in Illinois. Another pledged the “nominees of the party for county offices to work at least eight hours per day if elected, and to make an earnest effort to run their respective offices on the salaries allowed by law.”

The Populist Party was founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1892. Among the planks of the party’s national platform were demands for a graduated income tax, government ownership of the railroads, telegraph and telephone systems, women’s suffrage and constitutional amendments limiting the President and Vice-President to one term and for the direct election of U. S. Senators.

Between 1892 and 1900, 40 members of the Populist Party were elected to the United States House of Representatives, two from northern California districts. The same period saw six Populists elected to the U. S. Senate and seven to state governorships, in some cases elected on a fusion ticket with Democrats or Republicans.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Poway newspapers, the Library of Congress website and the book, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, by Theresa Amato.

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You can get weekly updates of San Diego History Seeker automatically in your email by clicking on the “Follow” button in the lower right corner of the blog page. You’ll then get an email asking you to confirm. Once you confirm you’ll be an active follower.

History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

The Escondido History Center and the City of Escondido Recreation Department present summer Movies in the Park at Grape Day Park on Saturdays. Next up: Despicable Me 2, August 9. For further info, visit http://www.escondidohistory.org/movies_2014_flyer.pdf .

Vista Historical Society presents their Summer Barbecue at the Vista Historical Museum Saturday, August 16, 4-7 p.m. Good food, live music and free silhouettes by Sweet Silhouette. Tickets $30 per person, $50 per couple, $10 for kids 12 and under. For more info call 760-630-0444.

The San Marcos Historical Society offers tours of the historic Cox and Bidwell houses Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 and 3 p.m. or by appointment. For further info visit http://www.smhistory.org/historic-home-tours .