Great New Book on County Park History

Like many of you, I’ve enjoyed hiking and camping in San Diego County’s parks. But I also enjoy them as a history seeker. There’s a lot of history to be found in the county park system, which covers 55,000 acres and more than 100 parks and preserves.

I’ve been enjoying a great new book on this history which I highly recommend: San Diego County Parks: Over 100 Years. Authors Ellen Sweet and Jennifer Grahlman are local researchers and historians who work at the San Diego County Parks History Center, part of the San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Drawing on the archives at the County Parks History Center as well as other historical archives across the county, Sweet and Grahlman have created a book that reveals newly discovered history, corrects some popular misconceptions, and offers new insights. Their passion for researching history and sharing it with others shows, and we the public are the better for it.

There are great stories about Mexican-era ranchos, an overland stage station, remnants of an early gristmill, Victorian mansions, traces of flume systems, and Depression-era construction projects among other subjects. And you’ll meet the people behind these stories, like Kate Sessions, Elisha Babcock, Felicita la Chappa, Alonza Horton and William Heise, to name just a few. And it’s loaded with historic photographs.

San Diego County Parks: Over 100 Years is available on Amazon. It’s also on sale at a number of County Parks facilities. A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to County Parks to promote ongoing park preservation efforts.

Here’s a link to the County’s website with more info, including how to order copies: .



Remembering October 2007

October 22, 2007 was the morning many of us in North County woke up to a realtime nightmare. A police loudspeaker blaring orders to evacuate. An infernal red glow in the hills above our homes, or, worse, flames at our backyard fences.

October 21 marks the tenth anniversary of the most destructive fires in San Diego County history.

On October 21, 2007, a fire broke out in the Witch Creek area east of Ramona. By four o’clock the following morning, the Witch Creek Fire had reached the San Diego City limits, where, merging with the Guejito fire which had broken out in the San Pasqual Valley on October 22, it tore a path of destruction across the county.

Rancho Bernardo, my neighborhood, was in the middle of that path

My household was fortunate. When the evacuation ended, we had a home to return to. 365 of our RB neighbors did not.

The Rancho Bernardo Historical Society will mark the tenth anniversary of the firestorm with an exhibit at the Rancho Bernardo History Museum starting October 20. 

The exhibit will include a display of newspaper front pages from that fateful week, along with photographs from the museum archives taken by officials and residents on the scene as the fires raged. There will also be photos and documents from earlier fires in the Rancho Bernardo-Poway area in the 1960s and 1980s, as a reminder of the ever-present danger of fire in our region.

In addition, the exhibit will include quilts made in memory of the fire by Rancho Bernardo residents who lost their homes during that horrible week.

The exhibit will run for about three weeks in the museum, located in the Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, San Diego 92128. I urge all my readers to attend, and to remember. As the blazes going on right now to the north remind us, the danger of fire is part of our history and our daily lives.

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PO Site Reports – Another Source for History Seekers

Back in August I related a story about the Bernardo General Store, which served the farming village of Bernardo, which was located about a mile south of today’s Westfield North County mall.

The store also contained the town’s post office. The town had been emptied out by the early 1920s and all traces of its buildings were gone a few years after that.

The founding of a post office, as well as its relocation or closing, marked an important point in the history of a community. An important source for my research on local history has been the website of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Readers may remember my references to “Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1837-1950,” which is a NARA site available to subscribers of certain genealogical websites.

I recently discovered another NARA site which has been made available by NARA directly to the general public, “P. O. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950,” .

In 1837 the U. S. Postal Service (today known as the Post Office Department) appointed its first official Topographer of the Post Office to create maps of post offices and postal delivery routes. (Prior to that they’d relied on maps done by private commercial firms or individuals.)

The records on this website are chiefly forms sent out by the topographer to postmasters across the country to determine the exact locations of their post offices in relation to neighboring post offices, transportation routes and facilities.

Below is a report filled out in December 1887 and submitted to the topographer by E. L. Schellenberg, postmaster of Bernardo:


Among other things, it tells us that the post office was located 250 yards north of the Bernardo River (actually the San Dieguito River), that the nearest neighboring post offices were Escondido, five miles north, and Poway, 7 miles south, and that the Bernardo office was 20 miles east of the “Stewart Station of the Cal. Southern Railroad.”

History seekers can find similar information about post offices all over the county as well as across the state and in other states and territories. A lot of history available here! Check it out!

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