What’s in a name? A hard working farm family named Nordahl.

If you ever happen to be driving over Highway 78 and see the Nordahl Road exit and Nordahl shopping center in San Marcos, know that it was named for the Nordahl family.

Andrew Nicholas Nordahl was born in Sweden in 1835 and went to sea at the age of 18, serving on sailing ships until he decided in 1870 to settle down on land in New York. But he wasn’t through wandering. After two years he headed for Nebraska, where he married another Swedish immigrant, Anna Maria Levin. Six children were born to them in the 21 years they homesteaded there.

In 1893 the Nordahls headed for California, settling in an area of San Diego County then known as Richland. When Andrew Nicholas Nordahl died in 1899, his oldest son, Andrew William, continued running the family farming operation. A 1913 county history book described Andrew’s operation as “general farming, specializing in raising grain,” and also “dairying on a small scale.”

Andrew also played a role in getting other farmers crops produced as well by operating a steam tractor and threshing rig. Threshing machines separated the grain from its cob or husk, cleaned the grain, then gathered or stacked it. The threshing machines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were powered by steam tractors, which were large and often too expensive for the average farmer. So owners of such tractors, in addition to using them on their own farms, rented out their services to other farmers. The archives of the San Marcos Historical Society include photos of the “Nordahl steam engine and threshing rig” at work on various area farms.

Sources for this post included the archives of the San Marcos Historical Society and the 1913 book, San Diego County, California: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress, and Achievement, by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company.

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San Diego in 1860: A Whale of an Economy

industrial-census-1860

The image above is from the 1860 United States Census for San Diego Township, what we would today call downtown San Diego.

In addition to the population tallies the general public is more familiar with, decennial censuses from early times also included separate schedules for agriculture and industry. These schedules are invaluable for researchers. They also provide snapshots of local life at a certain time and place.

This “Products of Industry” schedule, which covers the one-year period from June 1, 1859 to June 1, 1860, is only one page, and lists a total of 5 businesses. Keep in mind that the city’s total population in the 1860 census was, officially, 731 people. And this industrial schedule was measuring those businesses with annual sales of $500 or more. (Note: $500 in 1860 would be roughly $14,000 today.)

Still, we can be forgiven for thinking there might have been some business owners who chose not to respond to the census takers, especially if it might involve divulging information that would make one subject to paying more taxes. But this data is still worth looking at for what it does show about this small city’s economy at that time.

For example, this enumeration sheet reveals that the most lucrative business in the city of San Diego in 1860 was the sale of whale oil. Two businesses, Johnson & Company, and Tilton & Company, whose businesses are described in column 2 as “Whalemen,” produced 1,800 barrels of oil for the year, which they sold for $18,000. That amount (roughly half a million dollars today), is 62 percent of the value of all the products listed. That says something for the value of whale oil, which was an important lighting fuel for homes and businesses in those pre-electricity days.

The next highest total for a business, $7,500, was the year’s take for Kriss & Rose, butchers who sold $6,400 worth of beef, $700 worth of tallow, and $400 worth of hides to their customers. (Note: the “Rose” in that partnership was Louis Rose, from whom Rose Canyon got its name.)

Then came John Compton, harnessmaker, who sold $2,000 worth of items, followed by Van Alst & Brown, carriage makers and blacksmiths, at $1,750.

While harnessmaker Compton was self-employed, all of the other businessnesses employed wage workers, and the sheet gives their total pay for the year as well. But that’s a story for another time.

Sources for this post included the United States Census Bureau and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the book: Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur, by Donald H. Harrison.

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A Social Issue in 1904

In California in 1904 liquor licenses were issued at the county level based on the advice and consent of the voters in a particular district. In November of that year the license of the Nuevo Saloon in Ramona was up for renewal.

Just before the election, D. N. Dodson, the editor of the Ramona Sentinel newspaper, expressed this opinion: “With license, a man gets a drink and goes home satisfied. With prohibition, he gets a jug and gets drunk. There is many a dollar that has stopped in Ramona that would have gone on, but for our saloon. Kill it and the dollar will roll out of our reach. Save the boys by voting for a license.”

The “drys,” as prohibition advocates were known then, won the election by 14 votes. In the next edition after the election, Dodson wrote an editorial in which he proposed putting his newspaper up for sale, saying he wished to “retire to a chicken ranch. We like this town and many of its people. We expect to remain here, but we don’t want to wear out trying to build up a town on the dry plan. The only two enterprises that bring in a cent of transient or foreign money to Ramona, outside the hotel, is [sic] the saloon and the Sentinel, but a majority of 14 ‘Roundheads’ show that neither are appreciated. The tyranny of majorities ‘makes the countless thousands mourn.’”

Dodson subsequently calmed down about selling the paper, although he did resign as Ramona’s justice of the peace soon after the election. Eventually the Ramona voters changed their perspective as well.

Sources for this post included the book: Ramona and Round About, by Charles LeMenager and two 1904 San Diego Union articles.

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How Far “Back” Was the “Back Country?”

“A Magnificent Exhibit From the Back Country” was the title of an article in The San Diego Union on October 6, 1892. The article was about an exhibit of produce mounted in the offices of the San Diego County Chamber of Commerce.

Described as “the best ever seen in the city,” the exhibit included hundreds of pounds and multiple varieties of fruits, vegetables, grain and flowers from all parts of the county, with the names and locations of the various growers who contributed to the exhibit.

There were individual pieces of produce notable for their size. W. C. Kimball of National City contributed three oranges, but as described in the article, they were whoppers: “total weight 72 ounces, the largest weighing 26 ounces and measuring 15 inches in circumference…”

T. W. Graham, of San Diego city, brought “two Hubbard squashes, 106 and 99 pounds.”

Then there were larger displays of bounty, like “400 pounds of grapes of different varieties” displayed by D. S. Sheldon of Dehesa, or the multiple boxes of apples of multiple varieties supplied by folks like D. B. Rockwood of San Pasqual, Maurice Reidy of Escondido and James Bonsall of, guess where? Bonsall!

Corn, barley, almonds, wheat, all manner of nature’s bounty was listed. What also stands out now are the names of the “back country” communities supplying this bounty. Some of them will be familiar to today’s readers, like Bonsall, Dehesa, and Julian. Others no longer exist, like Nellie, a name readers of this blog may recall from an earlier post.

Others might not strike today’s readers as being all that far back in the “back country.” Apples grapes and oranges came from Poway and Escondido, for example. Flowers and oranges were displayed from Nestor and Chollas Valley, two communities which are today neighborhoods within the San Diego city limits.

The Union article concluded that the three-day exhibit “was crowded….by admiring visitors to whom San Diego county’s ‘back country’ was a revelation.”

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“King of the Beekeepers”

Some readers may recall a past post about the steamer “Orizaba” which brought many new residents to San Diego from points north in the late 19th century. One of the more interesting passengers on that steamer in November 1869 was John Harbison, who came with his business partner R. G. Clark. It was notable because among the possessions these two gentlemen brought with them were 110 colonies of honeybees.

Harbison already had a national reputation as an apiarist. He’d patented what came to be called the “Harbison Hive Box” in 1859 and authored a groundbreaking textbook on the subject in 1861. He had flourishing hives and honey businesses in his home state of Pennsylvania and in northern California when he turned his attention to San Diego.

He met with the same success here. Within a couple of years he was shipping honey from his San Diego County operation across the country. He was selling colonies and hive boxes to other apiarists as well, encouraging a burgeoning industry in the county and the state.

“In 1874 beekeeping became a major industry in the county,” according to a 1969 article in The Journal of San Diego History. “ Two sawmills were kept busy a good part of the year turning out beehives, frames, section boxes and shipping cases. Honey production for that year was nearly one-half million pounds.”

Harbison had surely earned his nickname, “King of the Beekeepers.”

Honey production isn’t as dominant in these parts today as it was then. Still, San Diego County today ranks third among all other counties in the nation in honey production, according to the county farm bureau’s website. So John Harbison’s name and contributions live on in today’s local apiarists and in the Harbison hive box design many of them use. His name lives on as well in the place near the Sweetwater River that was home to his local hives, Harbison Canyon.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the article, “John S. Harbison: Pioneer San Diego Beekeeper,” by Lee H. Watkins, which appeared in The Journal of San Diego History in its Fall 1969 issue, and the 1888 book, The City and County of San Diego Illustrated and Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Pioneers.

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Election Aftermath-1892

The presidential election of 1892 fell on November 8, just like this year’s. On November 10, 1892, The San Diego Union reported that James Weaver, presidential candidate of the People’s Party (also known as the Populist Party) had carried at least three county communities: Fallbrook, Bear Valley (today’s Valley Center), and San Marcos. The Populist ticket came in second in Poway, losing to Republican incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, but beating Democrat Grover Cleveland.

Cleveland was the ultimate winner nationwide, garnering 5.5 million votes nationally to Harrison’s 5.1 million. Weaver drew a bit over a million votes nationwide. But while the Populists were the losers in that election, it’s worth noting some of the planks in their 1892 platform, which included, among other things, a graduated income tax, the direct election of United States Senators, and election reforms to insure “a free and fair ballot in all elections…”

This would not be the last time that a so-called “third party” would pioneer reforms that would ultimately become law.

The Populists then were also known for fighting for the voting rights and civil rights of black farmers in the former Confederacy, literally riding to their defense in some cases against attempts by the KKK to suppress the black vote.

Within the first decades of the twentieth century, however, the People’s Party would be torn by racism and wind up supporting efforts to suppress the people it had fought to defend and embrace. That would ultimately lead to the party’s collapse and disappearance. Its followers would be absorbed into the Republican or Democratic parties, whom the People’s Party had originally challenged for their dominance.

That wouldn’t be the last time that would happen either.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the book, The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, by Alexander Keyssar.

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