The Original Horsepower

I recently came across this ad in the 1905 edition of Dana Burks’ San Diego City/County Directory:

Fred Fanning was one of a number of livery stable operators in San Diego County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  By the time of this ad, automobiles were coming into American life, but horse-based transportation was still an essential element. The ad also offers some historical perspective on transportation terminology, then and now. Note, for example, how Mr. Fanning’s selling points include “Fine Rigs, Good Teams, Careful Drivers.” I’ve been fascinated to see how the term “driver” was used, in pre-automotive days, to describe someone who drove a team of horses.  While an individual might “ride” a single horse, he or she “drove” a team of horses.

That use of the term can be found in printed works from well back in the days of original horsepower. In an 1873 book offering travel tips on California for visitors and settlers, author Charles Nordhoff, commenting on the quality of roads in one particular area, refers to them as “roads over which you may drive at the rate of ten or twelve miles per hour and do no harm to your horses nor tire yourself.”

That tells you something about travel time in the days of original horsepower too!

Back to Mr. Fanning’s ad, you can also see the evolution of vehicle terminology in the phrase: “Hacks, Tally-Hos and Three-Seaters a Specialty.” I would venture to guess that if Fanning had an auto showroom today he would be offering vans, high performance sports cars and coupes.

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San Diego: “that paradise of invalids….”

“Santa Barbara and San Diego have become, within two years, favorite winter resorts for invalids from the colder eastern states. The climate of both places is remarkably equal and warm all winter…..”

That passage is from a book published in 1873 by Charles Nordhoff, a prominent journalist of the day. The book was entitled California: For Health, Pleasure and Residence, and the healthfulness of California’s climate was an important feature of Nordhoff’s pitch. A whole chapter of the book was called, “Southern California for Invalids,” and began with an anecdote about a personal friend from back east who had been near death from tuberculosis when he moved to southern California. On seeing his friend three months later, Nordhoff discovered “a changed man” who had driven sixty miles in a wagon to meet Nordhoff in Los Angeles and was able to “walk with me several miles in the evening we met….”

Nordhoff was picking up on a trend. In November 1874 the San Diego Union published a letter picked up from a Detroit paper that saluted San Diego County for its agriculture and mineral wealth, but also stated that “As a national sanitarium San Diego is unsurpassed. Hundreds of invalids coming here have been restored to health or greatly benefitted.”

A year later the Union quoted a Pennsylvania newspaper proclaiming San Diego “that paradise of invalids,” and also carried an excerpt from a San Bernardino paper noting that “those who have traveled to Europe and wintered in such famous resorts as Nice, Naples, etc., after having spent the winter here, declare our climate much more balmy and invigorating  than in the former places, and as a consequence instead of seeking Italy, Southern California is chosen for their winter home. We know of one family who have spent their winter months in San Diego for the past three years, and now we notice their arrival at the Horton House for the fourth season.”

Seeking better health, physically and mentally, as well as land and wealth, were key ingredients in attracting visitors and settlers to California in the mid to late nineteenth century. I’m researching this phenomenon for a talk I’ll be giving for San Diego Oasis in September, and it’s sure to be a continuing topic for future talks and blog posts to come.

In addition to the aforementioned Nordhoff book, sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and The Journal of San Diego History.

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One Name Changed, One Endured

An item in The San Diego Union of March 16, 1892 entitled, “An Encouraging Report,” began, “A. Verlaque came in from his Santa Maria Valley ranch yesterday and says that farmers will make a good crop if not another drop of rain falls. That the grain is up nicely in the Santa Maria valley, is thick on the ground and presents a strong and healthy appearance, and the farmers generally are much encouraged over the prospect.”

Amos Verlaque was the son of a French immigrant father and an American mother. He’d come to San Diego County with his parents, Theophile and Elizabeth, and five siblings, in 1870. In the early 1880s Amos bought some land near a spring on the main wagon road to Julian. In 1883 he and other family members, while raising grain and sheep, also built a general store and post office which became the first commercial venture in a new town initially called Nuevo.

A few years later, in July of 1895, the Verlaques and their  town were highlighted for a new reason, in an item headlined: “Nuevo is Now Ramona,” The San Diego Union stated, “Word has been received that the post office department has acted favorably upon the petition of the citizens of this valley to change the name of the post office from Nuevo to Ramona….and the change will go into effect as soon as the new bond of J. A. Verlaque as postmaster has been approved by the department, and the blanks containing the new name arrive.”

J. A. Verlaque was Amos’ brother, Jefferson, generally known as Jeff.

The Verlaque name and the family’s role in Ramona’s history live on in the family home, restored in the 1980s by the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society and now part of the society’s Guy B. Woodward Museum.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and the books, Ramona and Round About by Charles R. Le Menager and Historic Buildings of the Ramona Area by Russell Bowen and Leona B. Ransom.

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