The Good Doctor

Sometimes in history there’s a backstory as interesting as the main story.

First, the main story, about a health problem in the fields of early 20th century San Diego County.

“The Harvest Bug That Has A Vicious Bite,” was the title of a short article in the San Diego Union October 19, 1919.

The bug, also called a mower’s mite, was very prevalent on farms at the time, mostly found in hay. “Men working about the barns, feeding stock, have been badly bitten,” the article read. “The insect burrows under the skin and makes an extremely itchy area surrounding the point of entrance.”

“For a time,” according to the article, “these mites were so bothersome that they would incapacitate a man. The itching made sleep impossible and the resulting scratching did not improve conditions.”

But a local doctor, who also happened to be a rancher, found a rough but effective cure.

“Dr. Nina Allen Gird of Bonsall, California, in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, tells how, having tried all the remedies spoken of in available books, to no relief, she used kerosene to remove some very greasy ointment which had been applied with no results. Immediate relief followed the application of the kerosene.”

The article went on to say that Dr. Gird found “if a person washed the parts affected with a cloth wet in kerosene as soon as the first itching was noticed, or before the mite had penetrated the flesh deeply, the insect was killed and no further trouble resulted.”

Nina Allen, a native of Ohio, had earned a medical degree from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) in 1910 and practiced medicine for a time in Cleveland. She came to Fallbrook in 1912 and set up a medical practice there.

Among Dr. Allen’s patients were two elderly Fallbrook pioneers in their late eighties, Henry and Martha Gird, whom she cared for until their deaths in 1913. In 1914 Dr. Allen married Henry and Martha’s son Will Gird.

After the marriage, Nina’s medical practice appears to have been limited to her own family. In the 1920 United States Census, on the line on which her name appears, the column for “Occupation” is marked, “None.”

But the 1919 article shows she obviously tried to continue her healing practice, both as a partner in her husband’s ranch, and, through her letter to the AMA, to the general public.

Over the years, as a clerk of the Bonsall school board and a Red Cross volunteer, she would continue to contribute to the health and welfare of her community, while raising a family and helping run a cattle and horse ranching operation.

After the death of her husband in 1946, Nina Allen Gird sold the ranch and moved to the city, but she stayed active in charitable and civic work. Over the decades until just a few years before her death at the age of 87 in 1972, she wrote numerous letters to the editor of the Union on subjects such as childhood nutrition, recreation and education.

Good work, Doctor.

Sources for this post included the archives of the Fallbrook Historical Society, interviews with Gird family members, and Ronald V. May, RPA.

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HAPPY AND HISTORIC HOLIDAYS TO ALL!

19 December 1896 page 4

Poway Progress, December 19, 1896, p. 4.

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The Orizaba-Part II

Last week I wrote about the role that one steamship, the Orizaba, played in the history of San Diego City and County, in terms of the number of residents, noted and ordinary, who first came here on the vessel over its 22-year history carrying people between San Diego and San Francisco.

She also contributed to the development of the local economy by delivering tons of cargo, as demonstrated by this item from the January 21, 1872 San Diego Union, datelined National City:

“J. S. Gordon brought with him on the Orizaba fifty tons of freight. The hay and grain which filled the warehouses of the firm he represents, and the large stock of goods with which their capacious store was literally packed, are fast disappearing, and indicate that another trip to San Francisco will soon be necessary.”

For eleven of the 22 years that the Orizaba made San Diego her home port, she was commanded by the same man, Henry J. Johnston, and he was as well known in San Diego as his ship. In 1878 Johnston was assigned command of a newer steamer, a command he unfortunately never took up as he died on December 28, 1878 after an accidental fall at this San Francisco home.

“The flags on all the buildings in town and on the vessels in the bay were half-masted yesterday,” reported the San Diego Union of January 1, 1879, “out of respect to the memory of the late Captain Henry J. Johnston-a token of the esteem in which he was held by our whole community.”

But that wasn’t the end of the influence of the Orizaba and her long-time skipper on San Diego.

When she came into San Diego the Orizaba docked at Culverwell’s Wharf, which jutted out into the bay from what is now the intersection of Pacific Highway and F Street. As the ship made her way toward the dock, Captain Johnson used a spot on a hill to the north as a navigational aid.

After one particular voyage, Johnston became curious about that geographic point and hired a coach and driver to take him up there. Entranced by what he saw, he bought 65 acres with the hope of constructing a home there on his retirement.

Captain Johnston never lived to carry out his dream. His widow, while remaining in San Francisco, continued to own the San Diego property until May, 1887, when she deeded it to her daughter, Sarah Johnston Miller.

Miller came to San Diego and with her husband built a Victorian house which she named Villa Orizaba. She also filed plans to develop the still-rural landscape around the house as a community designated Johnston Heights in honor of her father, for whom a street in the new tract was also named.

The good ship Orizaba, over 30 years old, had at that point been taken out of service and sold for scrap. Sarah Miller acquired some parts of the ship for the construction of her home.

Villa Orizaba, under different owners over the years and considerably remodeled and relocated, remains standing in its original neighborhood, on a street named Orizaba. The former Johnston Street is now called Sunset Boulevard, and the former Johnston Heights is now better known as Mission Hills.

Sources for this article included historic San Diego newspapers, Richard Pourade’s series of books on the history of San Diego, The Journal of San Diego History, and the website of Mission Hills Heritage.

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San Diego’s Mayflower

Orizaba

 

 

 

 

 

1874 Advertising poster for Pacific Mail Steamship Company service in southern California.

Credit UC Berkeley Bancroft Library.

 

 

 

 

 

Steamship arrivals to the port of San Diego were a common topic in the city’s newspapers in the late 19th century. I’ve also found that a number of historical personalities in San Diego history first arrived here and/or subsequently traveled on one particular steamship, the Orizaba.

My curiosity was triggered. As I started digging I discovered that a lot of people sailed to or from San Diego on the Orizaba, which plied the waters between San Diego and San Francisco, with some stops in between, from 1865 to 1887 for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.

Keep in mind that there were fewer than a thousand people living in the city of San Diego when the Orizaba first arrived here in December, 1865. The railroad wouldn’t arrive until 1885. So overland or over the sea were the only ways to transport people and freight to or from here.

In 1865 the Orizaba was a state-of-the-art workhorse of the sea, a wooden side-wheeled steamer of 1,244 tons, 246 feet long, 35 feet wide 15 feet high from her top deck down to her keel. She made the run to San Francisco in three days and, with layovers at each end, made port in San Diego every 12 days. That comes out to roughly 528 trips over 22 years.

Arrival notices in the newspaper showed that all kinds of people travelled on the Orizaba, and there’s an easy way for today’s reader to tell who travelled first class. For example, a March 27, 1872 listing of passengers arriving from San Francisco lists 58 people by name, including rancho owner Don Juan Forster and others with honorifics like “Prof.” or “Judge.” That list is immediately followed by the phrase: “and 37 others.”

In a 1959 article for The Journal of San Diego History, Jerry Macmullen, a veteran newspaper reporter and student of both San Diego and maritime history, wrote: “In a small way, Orizaba is to San Diego what Mayflower is to New England. ‘I came here from San Francisco on the Orizaba’ or ‘My folks came here on the Orizaba’ are familiar statements to anyone talking to old-timers.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and The Journal of San Diego History.

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“The Benefit of a City Education”

Readers of this blog may recall my entry on Foster, a town which existed for a few decades in a canyon which is now part of Lakeside. The town was named for its most prominent citizen, Joseph Foster, rancher, hotel owner, road builder and, in the early 20th century, a county supervisor for 23 years.

This episode touches on one little detail of Joseph Foster’s life which he shared with a lot of prominent citizens from what was then called the “back country.” That detail was to send your children to live in the city of San Diego when it was time for them to attend school.

If you peruse local newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th century, it was not at all unusual to see an entry like this one, which appeared in the “Poway” column of the Poway Progress issue for September 1, 1894:

“Joseph Foster has bought the property at 1658 Front Street, San Diego, as a temporary home for his children, whom he intends to give the benefit of a city education.”

The entry also noted that Mr. Foster’s mother-in-law, a Mrs. Swycaffer, “will take charge of the house and look after the welfare of the children. Her younger son James goes along also to attend the city schools.”

There were of course, schools out there in rural north county, often one or two-room structures where multiple grades were taught. So one could understand someone like Foster, who was in a position to do it, seeking what he thought was a better educational environment for his children.

And, as I said, this wasn’t by any means unusual, as witness this entry in the “Local Notes” column of the San Diego Evening Tribune for March 30, 1903:

“Ed Fletcher has sold Frank Salmons, the Pala merchant, a lot at the corner of 24th and D streets, where Mr. Salmons will build, it being his intention to bring his children here to be educated while he is conducting a store at the Indian reservation at Pala, having obtained a traders’ license from the government.”

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