Mr. Allison’s Springs

Like many another San Diegan, Robert Allison came to San Diego County from the midwest, and he came for the climate. Born in Ohio in 1814, he came west in 1868 seeking a milder climate for his then failing health.

The climate appeared to do him good. With his wife and four children he was soon running a major sheep and cattle ranch. He’d bought 4,200 acres in the foothills of eastern San Diego County on the western boundary of the old El Cajon Rancho. It was considered an out-of-the-way place, even in the then very rural county. But the tract included some natural springs, the only water source for miles around. The area came to be called “Allison Springs.”

An item in a Tucson, Arizona newspaper, picked up in the April 1, 1875 San Diego Union, noted that “Fifteen hundred sheep arrived here from San Diego County on Wednesday, having been three months on the way. They were in the charge of Mr. Allison….”

The 1880 United States Census shows the Allison household consisting of father Robert, 66, his wife Tempe, 65, and two sons, Joseph, 28, and Juan, 23. Under “occupation,” Robert and his older son Joseph are listed as “Stock Raiser,” while younger son Juan is listed as “Butcher.” Wife Tempe is “Keeping House,” which undoubtedly understated what she contributed to the ranch.

Short local news items over the next few years tell of Robert and his sons doing things like “milking cows and making cheese.” But his name also began appearing in legal notices or real estate transactions, showing Allison’s involvement in land sales and the promotion of railroads in the county.

Allison would live to see the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railroad build a line into his little community before his death in March 1891. He in fact was an investor in and director of the railroad. He may have also played a role as well in the evolution of his community’s name, since references from the late 1880s and 1890s no longer identify it as “Allison Springs,” but rather “La Mesa Springs,” “La Mesa Colony,” or just “La Mesa.” The rest, as you might say, is history.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History, the 1880 United States Census and the website of the La Mesa Historical Society, https://lamesahistory.com/ .

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Of Eagles, Omens and Real Estate

The Sunday edition of the San Diego Union for October 8, 1871 included among the items in its “National City” column, a story that began this way:

“On Wednesday afternoon, people in the immediate vicinity of the flag staff in front of Kimball Brothers’ land office were surprised by the appearance of a huge eagle which lighted on top of the staff.”

A little background here. The Kimball brothers—Frank, Levi and Warren—had in 1868 purchased the Mexican-era land grant Rancho de la Nacion, some 26,000 acres spreading south of Old Town San Diego and fronting the bay. They subdivided it and began offering lots for sale in the community they renamed “National City.”

Along with seeking land buyers, they also quickly began trying to interest railroad companies in extending a line to their town and connecting it to the developing transcontinental route. They offered thousands of acres to various railroad entrepreneurs in exchange for the building of a station and other facilities.

At the time of the article in question, no deal had been officially announced, but the idea of a transcontinental terminal in the San Diego area was very much in the news. So there’s the context for this tale of the eagle’s landing on a real estate office flagpole.

The eagle hung around for a while, long enough, stated the Union reporter, that “the believers in signs and wonders predicted that the appearance of this strange visitor was the herald of good times coming, and would now allow the bold bird to be brought down…”

The article went on to state, “The [railroad] terminus being the most important matter under consideration, it was supposed that this prophetic bird had come among us for the purpose of pointing out the coveted spot. This belief was confirmed by its taking wing and going in a straight line to the railroad lands, which it sailed around a few minutes, but returned to the flag pole again, as if dissatisfied with the reconnaissance, where it remained all night.”

At daylight the next morning, the eagle had disappeared, “leaving the superstitious and the skeptical to discuss the object of the eagle’s visit.”

A decade and a half later National City would get a station as the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, along with repair yards. But a few years after that the railroad owners changed their plans and moved the facility to the Los Angeles area.

Maybe that bird was right.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the books San Diego County Place Names A To Z by Leland Fetzer and City of San Diego and San Diego County:Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew.

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Landmark Pioneers

Pala Campanile 1901 452

Photo from magazine Land of Sunshine, December 1901.

I did a post a while back about the magazine Land of Sunshine, a monthly published from the mid-1890s through the early 1920s. It offers some excellent articles and great photography on the people, places and culture of southern California at the time, especially during the editorship of Charles Fletcher Lummis, from 1893 to 1909.

Lummis was a prolific researcher, writer and photographer of the southwestern United States. He was also an activist. Among issues he spoke and wrote about were the rights of Native Americans and the need for historic preservation.

In 1895 he was among the founders of the Landmarks Club, its proclaimed purpose “to conserve the missions and other historic landmarks of southern California.” Such volunteer efforts marked the beginning of the historic preservation movement in California.

A story in the magazine’s December 1901 issue describes a visit by Lummis and other club members the previous month to Pala “to arrange for the immediate repair of the Old Mission Chapel.”

The project, Lummis wrote, had been initiated by a grant from Phoebe Hearst, at that time a well-known philanthropist and advocate of women’s rights as well as the mother of William Randolph Hearst.

But Lummis added that the project was “now as generously facilitated by the patriotism of the people of Pala.”

“The old chapel was found in much better condition for salvage than had been feared,” wrote Lummis. “The earthquake of two years ago—which was particularly severe at this point—ruined the roof and cracked the characteristic belfry, which stands apart. But thanks to repairs to the roof made five or six years ago by the unassisted people, the adobe walls of the chapel are in excellent preservation.”

Still, a lot of work needed to be done to restore the building to its original condition, and Lummis spoke glowingly of the support extended by the local residents.

“In the evening, after the committee had made its measures and specifications for the necessary repairs, there was a little gathering [at the nearby general store].”

About 15 heads of families attended, Lummis stated, reflecting the local population of Native Americans and descendants of Mexican families from the mission days, and the newer Anglo arrivals since 1848.

“After a brief statement of the situation, the Paleños were asked if they would help. ‘I will give 10 days work,’ said John A. Giddens, the first to respond. ‘Another ten,’ said Luis Carillo. And so it went. There was not a man present who did not promise assistance.”

“The entire trip was heart-warming;” wrote Lummis, “and the liberal spirit of this little settlement…surpasses all records in the Club’s history.”

Source for this post was the magazine Land of Sunshine. It is in the public domain and has been scanned and digitized on the archives.com website. Go to https://archive.org/ and search for Land of Sunshine.

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“…a fact of life for a country doctor.”

One thing you find looking at the history of San Diego County is that some of those most well-remembered people are the doctors. In the days when the county consisted of small, isolated rural villages and towns, the local doctor had a real impact, treating the sick and injured and bringing new generations into the world.

One such was Dr. Sophronia Nichols, the first woman doctor in the town of Alpine. A native of Massachusetts, she was a schoolteacher and mother of two children who decided, in her late thirties, to study medicine. She received her medical degree in 1874 from Boston University, the only woman in her class, according to a profile compiled by the Alpine Historical Society.

First practicing medicine in Pennsylvania, where male chauvinism limited her ability to get patients, she was encouraged by two brothers living in California to head west, where more doctors were needed. She received her California medical license in June, 1876, becoming only “the 26th licensed doctor in the state,” according to the historical society account.

She had practices in northern California, Riverside, Otay and the city of San Diego before settling in Alpine, where she had a sister and extended family, in 1894.

In another remembrance on the historical society’s website from the late local resident and journalist Blanch McCall, the doctor was described as “a strong, husky woman, who kept her hair cut very short in a mannish style and let nothing stop her when called upon to attend a sick person.”

Dr. Nichols delivered her first baby in Alpine on January 6, 1897, at the home of the Walkers, a couple who owned a local resort. The doctor drove her horse and buggy through rainy darkness over a rutted, muddy road eight miles to the Walker house.

After delivering the baby, Nichols stayed for three days to make sure mother and daughter were okay. This, the Walkers later recounted, was typical of the doctor.

“She answered calls from miles around,” stated the historical society’s profile, “driving her horse and buggy over any kind of road, any time of the day or night. Sometimes she was paid for her services, but many times she was not. She was said to have accepted this as a fact of life for a country doctor.”

Find out more about Dr. Nichols and other Alpine pioneers at the Alpine Historical Society’s website: http://www.alpinehistory.org/index.html .

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