135 Octobers Ago: The County Fair

Headline from lead article on page 2 of San Diego Union, October 31, 1885.

The San Diego County Fair took place in late October 1885. A county agricultural association had been established just a few years previously, and like many other county fairs, San Diego’s started primarily as a display of agricultural produce, though there were some references to exhibits of the products of local carriage builders and brick makers in the San Diego Union’s coverage of the 1885 fair. But agricultural production was still the heart of the county’s economy, as the Union’s publisher obviously noted. The papers October 31, 1885 issue filled four pages with articles directly or indirectly referencing the fair, and the paper of that time was only eight pages long!

While the county was predominantly a farming and ranching area it still had a relatively low population, which was reflected in the fact that all the county fair’s exhibits were housed in one building, the Armory Hall on Second Street (now Broadway), between D and E streets.

Ten tables filled the hall with displays of produce, according to the Union. A “magnificent display made by the Julian district” included “apples, pears, grapes, dried fruit and nuts.” The reporter also commented on “the fine exhibits of raisins by G. A. Cowles and B. P. McKoon of El Cajon,” adding that “Mr. Cowles is the largest raisin producer of the county.” Cowles would later be memorialized by Cowles Mountain.

While 1885 saw the fair in San Diego, the county fair would not have a permanent home for almost five decades, being staged at venues from National City to San Diego to Escondido, until finally settling in at the then-new Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History and the 1994 essay, “A Brief History of the Del Mar Fair,” by Del Mar Fairgrounds Archivist Jane Spivey.

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Historic San Diego Properties

The photo below was taken June 1, 1937:

The photo was taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. The survey started in December 1933 as one of the programs inaugurated during the New Deal to help relieve unemployment during the Great Depression. In this particular instance, Charles E. Peterson, an employee of the National Park Service, proposed to put unemployed architects  and draftsmen to work documenting historic buildings across the country.

When this photo was taken, the adobe house at 2745 San Diego Avenue in Old Town had been standing since at least the early 1830s, erected in what was then the Pueblo of San Diego in the then Mexican province of Alta California. It was built, according to the team’s research, by Jose Manuel Machado, a corporal stationed at the Mexican army’s presidio. He is said to have built the house as a wedding gift to his daughter Maria Antonia and her husband Jose Antonio Nicasio Silvas.

The survey described the house in detail, both its original adobe structure (“the natural soil served as floor in the first years of use…”) and briefly described additions that had been made over the years. The house was under Machado-Silvas family ownership for over a century but was in the hands of a real estate company when the survey was taken in 1937. But the survey’s work to preserve history succeeded in 1968 when the property became part of Old Town State Historic Park, where you can visit La Casa de Machado y Silvas.

The story of Casa de Machado is one of many historic San Diego County properties which history seekers can visit digitally by going to the Library of Congress website, https://www.loc.gov , clicking on “Digital Collections, then “Historic American Buildings Survey.”

Real Time-At Another Time

We now give you a short view of Chula Vista in real time. Real time as of 1922, that is:

“Chula Vista, just beyond National City on the county highway toward Tijuana, is one of the most attractive sections of San Diego County. Near enough in the days of modern rapid transit by train or automobile, or street car, to be called a suburb of the city of San Diego, it is much more than that: for, although many who work in the city have selected Chula Vista as a place of residence, it is the centre of a great citrus growing section, about 3,000 acres being devoted to that end and doing much to give San Diego County high rank among the lemon producing districts of the United States.”

From the 1922 book, City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew.

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Early Labor Day

In a few weeks we’ll be commemorating Labor Day, so here a little in advance is a reminder of the upcoming holiday. However, it’s also a reminder that, in a sense, every day is labor day. People are working every day to make a living and, in the process, making our world function. It’s also a reminder of the diversity of our workforce and our world down through history, as illustrated in a snapshot of one San Diego County farm 160 years ago.

Below is a portion of a page from the 1860 United States Census for Agua Caliente Township in San Diego County. It shows the names, occupations and birthplaces of one particular farm household in Agua Caliente when the census was taken in July of 1860;

At the head of the list of names are two men who are obviously the proprietors of the farm, Joseph Smith and Ephraim W. Morse. Each is 40 years old and each lists his occupation as “Farmer.”

Some readers might recognize the name of Ephraim Morse. He made a name for himself as a retail merchant, banker, and realtor in the city of San Diego. From the 1860s to the end of his life he served at various times as a judge and a city and county treasurer. He also helped promote the coming of railroads and an early water project, the San Diego Flume Company.

A 1906 obituary for Morse noted that the his farming venture with Smith “cultivated about a hundred acres of land and kept about 3,000 sheep and 100 head of cattle.”

How do you manage 3,100 head of livestock on a hundred-acre ranch? With a lot of help, as shown by the other nine names listed below Smith and Morse on that farm household.

First comes Daniel Hatfield, 35 years old, a native of New York State.

Then there’s Alexander McLaughlin, also 35 and originally from Ireland.

Following McLauglin comes another Irishman, 25-year-old Robert Caffel.

Hatfield, McLaughlin and Caffel list their occupations as “Monthly Labor.”

Next on the list is Anthony Dutch, 30 years old and a native of Germany. His occupation is “Shepherd.”

The remaining five farmhands are listed as monthly laborers. They are listed only by their first names, and for them, unlike their other housemates, the box indicating “color” has been checked.                It’s marked “Ind” for Indian. All are born in California:

Jose is 22 years old.

Diego is 21.

Soriaco is 20.

Geronimo is 40.

Pedro is 30.

I can show you similar census lists from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. Like a 1900 U.S. Census for the household of Henry Fenton listing some 18 people working at occupations from monthly laborers  to cowboys, teamsters and cooks, their places of origin ranging from Indiana to Mexico to China.

When you work for a living, every day is Labor Day.

Sources for this post included the aforementioned United States Censuses and the article, Indian Labor in San Diego County: 1850-1900, by Richard Carrico and Florence Shipek, from the website kumeyaay.com .

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Diversity At the Heart of SD

Hello history seekers. My apologies for getting behind in posts, but I’ve been dealing with “day job” demands with the added stress of these times when “day jobs” are on slipperier ground. At any rate, at this time when diversity and immigration continue to be points of argument among some, I present one prominent example of the values of both.

The ad below is from page 4 of The San Diego Union’s issue of March 16, 1881:

A check of the paper for most of the 1880s shows the same ad running pretty regularly. Ah Quin was born in 1848, the son of farmers in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. He learned to speak both Chinese and English in missionary schools in his homeland, but in 1868, at a time of political and economic turmoil in China, his parents sent him to the United States. He settled first in San Francisco, but over the next few years moved to Santa Barbara and even spent some time in Alaska, working at the usual entry-level jobs like cook and houseboy. But he also continued to pursue educational opportunities at mission schools while learning about merchandising from an uncle.

Ah Quin came to San Diego in 1878 and would spend the rest of his life there. His store was a prime spot for imported goods of all kinds, as indicated by the ad, as well as a communications center (“Intelligence Office” means a telegraph office).

While his business was in the heart of an emerging Chinatown, his customer base included the whole city. An item in the Union on Christmas Eve 1881, offering readers suggestions on places to shop for “candies, toys, dolls and all sorts of quaint and funny things” for “the little folks,” advised that “Mrs, Cohen, Messrs. Schiller, Schneider, Raffi, Wolfsheimer, Roberts, Beers and Ah Quinn have them in the greatest abundance.”

In addition to running a store, Quinn used his contacts in both the Chinese community and the general business community as a labor broker, recruiting Chinese railroad workers whose labor served to connect San Diego to the rest of the state and ultimately, the nation.

After the railroad was completed Quin also got involved in real estate, “often leasing his properties in places like Mission Valley and Bonita to fellow Chinese so they could grow vegetables to sell at market,” according to an article in the San Diego Downtown News in 2014. That article noted the opening of an exhibition at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum to mark the 100th anniversary of Quin’s death.

In a lecture at the opening ceremony, historian Murray Lee said “There is no other person in the early history of the Chinese in San Diego, California who is more deserving of being included among the founding fathers of the city, along with the likes of Alonzo Horton and George Marston, than Ah Quin.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the San Diego History Center and the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.