Gettin’ Over the Grade

The photo below, courtesy of the Poway Historical Society. is labeled, “Old Poway Grade Taken in 1911”:

Commuters sitting in traffic snaking over the Poway Grade today might have a hard time imagining it as a dirt road where traffic jams once consisted of livestock, but that was the case a century ago.

The Poway Historical Society’s archives include the written reminiscences of Andrew Kirkham, a member of one of Poway’s pioneering farming families. One of his journals describes how, as a 14-year-old in 1898, he joined his father and brother clearing the Poway Grade’s roadbed of loose rocks.

“Whenever a flock of sheep drove down the Poway grade, there would be a lot of rocks rolled down onto the road,” Kirkham wrote. “These flocks would be driven to the northern part of the country in the springtime and return in the fall.”

The flocks numbered anywhere from 500 to 1,000 sheep according to Kirkham. Similar numbers of horses, cattle and hogs were driven over the grade as well

Gettin’ over the grade is just one of many aspects of North County history I’ll be talking about in my lecture, “San Diego North County-A Look Back,” on Tuesday, June 6 at 12:30 p.m. at the University Community Library in San Diego. The program is co-sponsored by the San Diego Public Library and San Diego Oasis. Come join us!


You Might Say: A Tale of New Cities

Below is a  clipping of part of the front page of the San Diego Union issue of March 20, 1871.

I clipped this excerpt, which appeared at the top of column 1, as a snapshot of San Diego history. Please note the “Vol. 1” in the upper left. I included that detail because this issue was “Volume 1, Number One,” in other words, the Union’s very first issue as a daily paper. Up to then it had been only published weekly. Douglas Gunn, whose name appears on the paper’s masthead as a co-publisher-proprietor with S.W. Bushyhead, had in 1868 purchased a small interest in what was then the Weekly Union. In 1871 he assumed greater financial and editorial control and took the paper daily as of March 20.

Simultaneously with turning the paper into a daily, Gunn also moved the paper’s press from offices in what we today call Old Town San Diego to an emerging “New Town,”beginning to take shape closer to San Diego Bay.

The emergence of “New Town” is evident in the clip immediately below the paper’s masthead, displaying the “Business Card” of Alonzo Horton, who had purchased 900 acres in 1867 and begun developing it under various names including “Horton’s Extension” or “Horton’s Addition,” with the support of many in the then-small city (population less than 3,000), including Douglas Gunn and his newspaper.

The neighborhood’s name was still evolving, as evidenced a little over a week later, when the Union posted a legal notice in its April 1 issue from a state district court judge, then sitting in Los Angeles:

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, an August 2011 Union-Tribune article by historian Richard Crawford, and the 1887 book, Picturesque San Diego, With Historical and Descriptive Notes, by Douglas Gunn.

Come Hear the History Seeker

The photo at the top of this page shows Mule Hill, in the San Dieguito River Park. There’s a lot of history behind the hill and its name, which is one reason why I adopted it for the cover page of my blog. Mule Hill is also mentioned in two talks that I’ll be giving this month. On April 18th I’ll be speaking at the 4S Ranch Branch of the San Diego County Library. My topic will be: “What’s In a Name? A Lot of History.” There’s a story behind every place name, past and present, in San Diego County, and I’ll share some of those stories, from Mule Hill and Kettner Boulevard to a post office named Nellie, in my talk.

Then on Aptil 21st. I’ll be joining the folks at the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library where I’ll be  talking about “Picturesque San Diego: Images and Stories from the Past.” Picturesque San Diego is a book published in 1887 by Douglas Gunn, a former San Diego Union editor and former mayor of San Diego. The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of places throughout the county taken by one of the most prominent photographers of the day. My slideshow features many of those photos along with Gunn’s text describing a much more rural and much less populated county than the one we live in today.

The only thing I love more than visiting libraries is talking about history with other folks at libraries. Check out the county and city library websites for details on location and times and join us. If you can’t make it for these, I’ll be giving other talks in the months ahead. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my blog posts as well as my books!

Another Historical Snapshot

Earlier this month I gave a talk at the Continuing Education Center of Rancho Bernardo on “The Nation’s Library,” the Library of Congress. One of the great features available from that library is a collection of photos from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). One of the New Deal programs set up to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression, HABS put unemployed architects and draftsmen to work documenting historic buildings across the country.

In my lecture I pointed out how HABS helped to win  historic recognition for a privately-owned adobe house in Old Town, Casa de Machado, that eventually became part of Old Town State Historic Park.

Here, courtesy of the Library of Congress, is  another historic San Diego County property from the HABS collection, photographed in 1937, the Oak Grove Butterfield Station.

The Butterfield Overland Mail Line was a stagecoach line that carried mail and passengers between Memphis, Saint Louis and San Francisco from 1858 to 1861. Stations were maintained at roughly 30-days travel time apart along the route. This building, in Oak Grove about 13 miles northwest of Warner Hot Springs, is one of only three surviving station buildings. While it has been designated a National Historic Landmark, the adobe building is under private ownership, occupied by a store open during normal business hours.

Sources for this post included the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, and the book, Historic Stage Routes of San Diego County, by Ellen L. Sweet and Lynn Newell.

A Bridge Worth Crossing

It was a bridge for pedestrians, rather than vehicles, but it was still a crucial part of the city of San Diego’s infrastructure when it opened in 1911.

“Longest Suspended Foot Bridge on Coast is Opened to Travel,” was the headline on page 8 of The San Diego Union on November 21, 1911.

As demonstrated by the photo below,  which accompanied the Union article, it was a serious suspension bridge.

It needed to be, carrying 375 feet of wooden walkway across a 70 feet deep canyon along Spruce Street between Front and Brant Streets. Steel cables strung from its two towers were anchored in concrete piers at each end of what was then called Paloma Canyon. The bridge designer, San Diego City Engineer Edwin M. Capps, told the Union the bridge was “the longest of its kind west of the Rocky Mountains.” The bridge was built to facilitate pedestrian access to trolley lines connecting downtown and uptown San Diego. This meant, in the Union reporter’s words, that “residents in what was formerly considered an inaccessible neighborhood are now within easy walking distance of the carline and 102 lots previously isolated have sprung into desireability.”

Today, the canyon is called Sessions, and the formerly “inaccessible” community is now the bustling neighborhood of Bankers Hill. But the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge remains as a bridge worth crossing. Here’s a view taken just last week by my wife and I on a walking tour of Bankers Hill:

It’s worth a crossing today not so much as a vital transit link as much as a graceful visual link affording some beautful views from its walkway, as well as lessons in how to walk carefully across a wooden walkway suspended over a canyon.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the book, San Diego Architecture: From mansions to modern: a guide to the buildings, planning, people and spaces that shape the region, by Dirk Sutro.