Happy New Year to All!

Taking a little time off. Back next week.

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The Short Life of Forster City

The San Diego Union of May 22, 1879 included a short item titled, “The Forster Colony.”

“A new road is suggested from Forster City to Temecula,” the story began, “in order to assure cheaper freight rates. The wharf at Forster City is to be constructed at once. The bean crops in that settlement are looking very well, and considering the comparatively short time since the settlers arrived on the ground they have accomplished wonders. They are full of confidence in the future.”

Just two months earlier, in March, 1879, a petition, signed by 24 residents, had been filed with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to form a Forster City Voting Precinct.

By early 1880, according to an essay published in the Summer 2000 Quarterly of the Fallbrook Historical Society, “Forster City appeared on the official Judicial Township, Precinct and Road District Map of San Diego County.”

Forster City was located on the northwest edge of Rancho Santa Margarita along the San Onofre River.

The colony was the brainchild of Don Juan Forster, a transplanted Englishmen who married into the Pico family of Mexican era California and became the owner of several ranchos in San Diego County, of which Santa Margarita was the largest.

Within a couple of years of its founding Forster City had a post office, blacksmith shop and lumber yard. But Don Juan was a land-rich and cash-poor wheeler-dealer. An indication of that might be found in a notice of a sheriff’s sale that appeared in the Union of January 17, 1880, ordering the sale of Rancho Santa Margarita under a decree of foreclosure by the Hibernia Savings and Loan Society against Forster and two other defendants.

Foster managed somehow to hold on to Santa Margarita until his death in February 1882, but his heirs soon had to sell it. The end of Forster family ownership also marked the end of Forster City, which disappeared from county records and maps within a few years.

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Professionalizing the “Fire Laddies”

Never heard the phrase “fire laddie” until I saw a reference in some historic newspapers. Apparently it was a common term throughout the United States to describe firefighters in the nineteenth century.

“The Fire Laddies” was the headline of an article in the San Diego Union on Wednesday, June 5, 1889 about a meeting of the city’s fire commission set for that evening.

“Some important business will come before the commission,” read the article’s first paragraph, “such as the adoption of rules and regulations by which the department will be governed, the selection of a Chief Engineer [today called Fire Chief] and two assistants, and a full quota of men to make up the department.”

Much of the rest of the article focused on candidates for Chief and some assistant positions. But near the end one of the commissioners, J. K. Hamilton, gave a revealing quote on the state of the fire department at that time.

“The new rules and regulations,” Hamilton told the Union, “have been so arranged that they can cover either a paid or a volunteer department. Mr. Rockfellow [another commissioner] and myself are in favor of having at least a partially paid force of firemen.”

The city’s population had swelled from 3,000 in 1880 to 30,000 in 1887. An amendment to the city charter in 1889 set up the fire commission and began the transformation of what had been a volunteer operation into a paid profession.

According to a department history on the city’s website, “The department started with forty-one men, eleven horses, two steam fire engines, one hose wagon, two hose carts, one hook and ladder, and four thousand feet of hose.”

The first Chief Engineer appointed under the reorganization was A. B. Cairnes, who’d been a New York City firefighter before coming to San Diego just three years previously.

That first pay structure ranged from $100 a month for the Chief to $75 per month for engine and hose carriage drivers, and $10 for rank-and-file firemen.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the city of San Diego’s website and the book, An Illustrated History of Southern California, published in 1890 by the Lewis Publishing Company.

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Doubletree-As In Wagons

I’m forever surprised to find how many contemporary words and phrases have historical origins. Sometimes they can be almost presciently coincidental(see my post back in April on the word “ramada.”) Sometimes they are the stuff of mythology (google “raining cats and dogs”).

Here’s another one, found in my perusal of historic San Diego newspapers.

A short item entitled “A Chapter of Mishaps” appeared in the San Diego Union on Tuesday, February 26, 1884.

“On Sunday last the Mussel Beds were visited by a large number of people from this city, several of whom were so unfortunate as to meet with accident to their buggies and teams.”

“Mussel Beds” is today Ocean Beach, but that’s a whole other name-origin story. For today’s purposes, it should be noted that the same problem caused two of the three accidents described by the article.

“Harry Schiller and Melville Klauber were the first to meet with a mishap,” stated the Union. “As they were driving along the beach with a couple of young ladies and a lively team, the double-tree of their carriage was broken, and they were left for a time hors du combat [French for out-of-the fight, or to put it in more practical terms, holding the reins with no horses at the other end]. This break was repaired, however, without much trouble.”

Two more riders had a little more of the same trouble. While returning to the city from the beach, “Lucien Blochman and Nathan Meyer attempted to jump their team across a ditch which had been washed out in the road a short distance this side of Old Town.”

While the horse team made the jump, reported the Union, “the double-tree of the carriage snapped, freeing the animals from the vehicle…” The horses trotted away, apparently leaving Blochman and Meyer “and their lady companions” behind. The stranded riders were “taken in the carriages of some friends, and arrived in town all right.”

What the Union’s reporter didn’t bother to explain, because back then he didn’t have to, was that a double-tree was essentially a crossbar on a wagon or carriage to which another crossbar was attached to allow the harnessing of two animals abreast.

What connection this has to the name of the contemporary hotel chain appears to be purely coincidental. All I can say for sure is that the hotel chain offers nice complimentary cookies.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego Count newspapers, Webster’s Dictionary and the book San Diego Place Names A to Z by Leland Fetzer.

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