California Historical Landmark No. 502: Oak Grove Stage Station

Oak Grove is located in the northern mountains of San Diego County, northeast of Mount Palomar, along the Temecula Creek. Oak Grove was the location of a stage station for the Butterfield Overland Mail route, which operated between 1858 and 1861, connecting California to the rest of the country for communication and transportation. The Butterfield route stretched almost 2,800 miles between San Francisco in the west, and St. Louis and Memphis in the east. A southern route through Fort Yuma and El Paso was chosen as it would remain snow free during the winter. Not only serving the mail service, the Butterfield Overland Mail route served as a main road between California and the East before the completion of the transcontinental railroads.

Today, Oak Grove Stage Station’s one story adobe building has been restored and can be visited as a museum site/shop, one of the handful of remaining stage stations left of a nationwide network, and possibly the only one maintained as a usable building.

California Historical Landmark No. 502

P1200916 by jawajames
P1200916, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.

Prior to the establishment of the Butterfield Overland, mail to the west coast had to travel by sea to Panama, be carried over the isthmus, and then travel by sea up to California. The US Post Office put a contract out to bid for service connecting St. Louis and San Francisco, and Butterfield’s route and company were selected to transport mail to and from California. The Butterfield Overland Mail started service in 1857, but began official contract service in September 1858, with the stagecoach service transporting passengers, freight, and letters in a trip that took about 22 days.

Originally there were 53 stations in California, where horse teams could be watered and exchanged for fresh horses, but later 6 more were added to fill in some of the larger gaps. California was divided into two administrative divisions, and Oak Grove was in the 2nd Division, connecting Los Angeles with Fort Yuma at the Colorado River. Traveling between Los Angeles and Fort Yuma used a route that was 282 miles long and took 72 hours to complete. Oak Grove was located 10 miles north of the Warner’s Ranch stage station, and 12 miles south of the Tejungo station. Oak Grove was a swing station where horses and mail were exchanged, but not a meal stop (Temecula served in that capacity.)

The Overland, now owned by Wells Fargo after Mr. Butterfield fell into debt, eventually lost its contract when it appeared that civil war was impending, as much of the route traveled through Southern states. A faster, more direct service for mail also began – the Pony Express, but both were replaced by the Central Overland California Route. The contract was canceled on March 2, 1861 with the end of service on June 30, 1861.

During the Civil War, the building was used as a hospital for nearby Camp Wright. After the war, the adobe changed hands several times, becoming a tavern, hotel, post office, and even adding gas pumps and being a grocery store. In the 1990s, the building was filled with antiques and served as a private museum

Plaque Text

P1200906 by jawajames
P1200906, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.
    OAK GROVE STAGE STATION
    Occupied in 1858 by Warren Hall, Division Superintendent, Butterfield Overland Mail which operated between San Francisco and the eastern termini, St. Louis and Memphis, from September 15, 1858 to March 2, 1861. The first mail stage from the East driven from Fort Yuma by Warren Hall and Jacob Bergman passed here October 6, 1858.

    STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 502

    Marker placed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the Historical Markers Committee
    Erected 1953

The text on the actual plaque is quite different than the description in the state listing, which reads:

    Oak Grove is one of the few remaining stations on the Butterfield Overland Mail route, which operated between San Francisco and two eastern terminals-St. Louis, Missiouri and Memphis, Tennessee-from September 15, 1858 to March 2, 1861. During the Civil War the station was used as a hospital for nearby Camp Wright.

The landmark was registered 12/16/1952, but the plaque appears remarkably in good condition for having been out for sixty years, so my guess is that the plaque had been replaced at one point in time, and additional information about the stage station and Warren Hall was added then. In addition to being a California Historical Landmark, it is also registered as a National Historic Landmark.

Location

P1200909 by jawajames
P1200909, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.

Oak Grove Stage Station is located in Oak Grove, along State Route 79, at about Postmile 49.4, on the west side of the highway, not far from the Riverside County line. The station is made of two buildings, including the historic adobe structure, and has several stagecoach and horse carts in front, drawn by tacky statues of horses and oxen. The station is fenced in with some second hand gate materials, the hours or days of operation of the stage station museum are not posted, though is presumably open on the weekends.

The historical marker is located just north of the station, outside the fenced area, alongside the highway shoulder. 500 yards south of the station is the historical marker for Camp Wright.

Photos
Photos of the Oak Grove Stage Station and the landmark plaque can be found in my flickr album of California Historical Landmarks: Northeast San Diego County.

Resources

California Historical Landmark No. 626: Bancroft Ranch House

The springs of the area now known as Spring Valley have provided water for the region’s inhabitants for two thousand years. In the era of Spanish colonization, the Kumeyaay village of Meti was located at this spring, and later, Americans built a ranch house out of adobe at the site. The house and surrounding lands changed hands several times, eventually ending up under the ownership of Hubert Howe Bancroft, a wealthy businessman who wrote a history of California. Currently the adobe ranch house is a museum run by the Spring Valley Historical Society.

California Historical Landmark No. 626

The site was used as a campsite and inhabited for about two thousand years, eventually becoming the semi-permanent Kumeyaay village of Meti. In October 1775, Spanish missionaries baptized some members of the rancheria and the spring was named after San Jorge. It is believed that the inhabitants of Meti participated in the assault on Mission San Diego in November 1775, resulting in the death of Father Luis Jayme. Fearing reprisal by the Spanish, the village was mostly abandoned and forgotten. By the late 1830′s, the Kumeyaay had been removed from the site and the land was used for cattle and sheep grazing.

In 1863, Judge and former Assemblyman Augustus S. Ensworth filed a claim for the land, and built the two-room adobe house not far from the spring, the first house erected by a white man in east county. The structural wood for the 18′ x 32′ house was salvaged from the Clarissa Andrews, which had gone aground in San Diego Harbor in the 1850s. Never actually living at the house, Ensworth eventually sold the ranch in 1865 to Rufus King Porter to cover medical expenses after a fall left him with a mortal injury.

Porter, with his wife and daughter, moved into the ranch, naming the area Spring Valley, and ran it as a farm. The house was expanded and a cellar added. Porter, a newspaper correspondent, also named the nearby Mt. Helix (after the Latin name of some snails found in the area) and ran the local post office out of his dining room – named Helix since the Postal Service had disallowed two word names.

In 1885, Hubert Howe Bancroft purchased the property and adjacent lands, covering 500 acres. In retirement from his previous business ventures, including the writing of a giant 39-volume history of California and the West, Bancroft ran Helix Farms, adding barns, and the Rock House, and a large olla-shaped water tank on Cactus Hill. By the 1910s, Helix Farms was one of the largest olive producers in the area. After Bancroft died in 1918, his property was sold and subdivided. One story of this era involved two lovebirds from San Diego’s Chinese community escaping from a disapproving mob in the Chinese district of downtown, and hiding in the cellar of Bancroft’s home before eventually fleeing to Mexico to marry. Bancroft kept a lot of cattle on the site, as well as some greyhounds and even a pair of chimpanzees.

bancroft-ranch-house-2In 1940, the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce purchased the plot containing the adobe ranch house and turned it into a community meeting place, adding a wooden building on the north side, now known as the annex. The passageway between the annex and the adobe was also covered in. Also during this time, a poured concrete structure was built just east of the adobe and used as an armory by the local militia, and later was called a bomb shelter.

In 1958, the site was registered as a California Historical Landmark, and in 1963, the building was opened as a museum by the Spring Valley Historical Society, with the cellar filled and adobe reinforced. In the 1970s, the archaeology department at San Diego State University used the site as a training site for students, uncovering artifacts and remains from the pre-historic period.

Today, the Ranch House is run by the Spring Valley Historical Society, which has a display of material from the Bancroft period in one room, and a display of native American artifacts in another room. The annex is used as a meeting place and has a display of Spring Valley history, especially during the WWII era when the annex was built.
The spring and the Rock House are part of neighboring Bancroft County Park. The Rock House has been restored very recently and has some great interpretive information about the history of the site, including a comprehensive look at how the indigenous peoples used the site and how they fared under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule.

Plaque Text:

    BANCROFT RANCH HOUSE
    Adobe built about 1850 by A. S. Ensworth. Home of Capt. Rufus K. Porter and family. Curved timbers brought from the "Clarissa Andrews," famed coaling hulk formerly of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft later owned this estate and here wrote a part of his monumental History of California.

    STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 656

    Marker placed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the Historical Markers Committee
    Erected 1958

Now the plaque has a typo as well as some historical inaccuracies. First off, the Plaque is designated No. 656, but according to state records, this landmark is No. 626. Oops! (The real No. 656 is the Bella Union Hotel site in Los Angeles County). Next, the plaque mentions that the house was built about 1850. 1863 was when Ensworth first made a claim to the property, bring sheep to graze, and later to fulfill the claim by improving it, he built the house before selling it in 1865. Finally, Bancroft may not have written a part of his history of California here as he began publishing his history of California before purchasing the ranch house and moving in. This goes to show that even historical landmark plaques don’t always get the whole story right.

Location:

The Bancroft Ranch House Museum is located at the east end of Memory Lane, just off of Bancroft Drive in Spring Valley. The address is
9050 Memory Lane, Spring Valley, CA 91977
(619) 469-1480
The Museum is open Friday – Sunday 1pm to 4pm or by appointment.

The landmark plaque is found on a marker next to the flagpole in the roundabout at the end of Memory Lane, and is street accessible.

bancroft-ranch-house-rockhouse

The Rock House and the spring are located in Bancroft County Park:
3554 James Circle, Spring Valley, CA 91977

While the county park abuts the ranch house property, there is no direct access from one property to another – visiting both sites involves a short drive around the corner to enter the county park.

Photos:

Visit my set of pictures of Bancroft Ranch House Museum, as well as the Rock House and Spring site on flickr.

The Spring Valley Historical Society has a great section of photos from the Helix Farms time period.
Resources:

Gov’t shutdown cancels Cabrillo Centennial events

CabrilloCentennialWith the federal government shutdown closing all National Park Service units, the 100th anniversary weekend at Cabrillo National Monument has been canceled. While there was a whole slate of events planned for the weekend closest to the actual centennial, including a “Lights Up the Night” fundraising gala, the celebration of a century of San Diego’s only National Park Service unit will have to wait.

With the Cabrillo National Monument website shutdown, the private Cabrillo National Monument Foundation website has the info on when the Lights Up the Night fundraiser will be moved (trying for March 2014), and has info for those who already purchased tickets.

No word yet on when other centennial events will be held. Cabrillo National Monument was established on October 14, 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson, reserving a half-acre of land at Fort Rosecrans for the site of a statue honoring Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

California Historical Landmark: No. 69 Fort Guijarros Site

fort-guijarros-watercolorContinuing the history of the Ballast Point area. After Cabrillo’s landing in 1542, there wasn’t a lot of European activity in San Diego until the founding of Mission San Diego and the Presidio in 1769. Two centuries of minimal contact, such as Vizcaino’s visit in 1602, when he named the bay after San Diego, wiping out Cabrillo’s designation of San Miguel. But once a permanent settlement was established in San Diego, the Spanish realized that not only did they need a military presence in general, they also needed to defend the bay and their ships from foreign ambitions.

California Historical Landmark No. 69
Despite the ban on foreign trading ships visiting Spanish ports, except at Monterey, George Vancouver visited San Diego Bay in 1793 and noted the lack of defenses at San Diego Bay.

With plans drawn in 1795 by Alberto de Cordoba, the Spanish built Fort Guijarros at the entrance of San Diego Bay, on the base of the spit of land later known as Ballast Point, which was also where Cabrillo had made his first landfall 250 learns earlier. Besides defending the entrance to the bay, it also was located near Old La Playa, the main harborfront for the San Diego settlement, and could offer it some protection.

Completed in November 1796 and named “San Joaquin”, the fort was later named “Guijarros” for the cobblestones found nearby, which also later led to the name of Ballast Point after the Americans moved in. Historical records indicated that the sloping walls of the coastal defenses were twenty feet thick, and the fort had about ten cannons.

The fort was involved in two skirmishes:

In March 1803, the Spanish defenders traded fire with the American brig Lelia Byrd, which was attempting to escape the harbor with a load of contraband sea otter pelts. This event, in which the Lelia Byrd escaped, was dubbed “The Battle of San Diego Bay”.

In 1828, with the fort now under Mexican control, shots were exchanged with another American ship, the Franklin, after being caught in illegal trade.

Under Mexican rule, the fort deteriorated, and was abandoned by 1838. By the 1840s, the Ballast Point area became settled by whalers. When US naval forces arrived in 1848, they took the abandoned cannon from the fort to siege against Old Town San Diego. Later, the site became part of the US Army’s Fort Rosecrans, and remains in US military control today.

The site of Fort Guijarros was registered as a California Historical Landmark on Dec. 6, 1932.

Plaque Text:

P1210215 by jawajames
P1210215, a photo by jawajames on Flickr.
    FORT GUIJARROS SITE
    An outpost of Spain's far-flung empire at its greatest extent, this fort was completed before 1800 from plans drawn by Alberto de Cordoba in 1795. Its major action came under Corporal Jose Velasquez on March 22, 1803, in the "Battle of San Diego Bay" with the American brig, Lelia Byrd, which was smuggling sea otter pelts.

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 69

    Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Navy, Casa de Espana, San Diego Cannonneers, San Diego Archaeological Society, and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, March 22, 1981.

Note: the State listing for this landmark calls it “Site of Fort Guijarros” while the plaque itself says “Fort Guijarros Site.”

Location:
Ballast-Point-landmarksThe plaque is located in a small grassy area with parking along the south edge of Ballast Point, at the south end of Fort Rosecrans Blvd, forming a semi-circle with three other California Historical Landmark markers. The Fort Guijarros marker is the third of the four markers, as you face them from the north. Located within Navy Base Point Loma, public access to the landmark may be limited. The Ballast Point area is open to the public during the annual Cabrillo Festival, which is held at the recreation area marked Smuggler’s Cove on the map.

The actual location of the fort site is the spot immediately west of the landmark semi-circle, which is currently an access road and a building.

Also at the landmark plaque site is a small monument across the parking lot from the California Historical Landmarks. This monument commemorates the visit of the Spanish naval training ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano in 1983 and is left in honor of their Spanish comrades who served at the fort from 1797 to 1821.

Photos:
View my album of the Fort Guijarros marker and other Ballast Point landmarks, as well as my album of the 2013 Cabrillo Festival.

Resources:

California Historical Landmark No. 56: Cabrillo Landing

This past weekend was the annual San Diego Cabrillo Festival, which celebrates the first landing of a European in Alta California, by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. Held at Ballast Point, where Cabrillo originally landed, the festival brings together different cultures of San Diego: Portuguese, Spanish, Mexican, and Native American. Since Ballast Point is currently the southern portion of Naval Base Point Loma, it is also one of the few times that the public is allowed to visit the site, which is home to four California Historical Landmark plaques, all relating to the history of Ballast Point and the surrounding area.

Here’s a video I made from the Cabrillo Festival, with the re-enactment of Cabrillo’s historic landing, as well as a performance by the Portuguese Philharmonic Band of San Diego, and some local place name information from Running Grunion.

California Historical Landmark No. 56

João Rodrigues Cabrilho was a Portuguese explorer who journeyed along the west coast of North America for Spain. Commanding three ships, he set out from Navidad, New Spain (Jalisco, Mexico) in June 1542 and headed northward. On September 28, 1542, he entered San Diego Bay, and landed at the area now known as Ballast Point, and named the bay for San Mateo. He continued northward, discovering Santa Catalina Island, San Pedro, Santa Monica, and went as far north to name Point Reyes (but missed San Francisco Bay). On the return trip, he was injured during a native attack on Catalina, and died in January 1543, and his expedition continued their return to Navidad. Records of the voyage were mostly lost until the seventeenth century.

In 1913, President Wilson designated a half-acres of Fort Rosecrans to be Cabrillo National Monument for the construction of a statue to honor Cabrillo, though the statue was not installed until 1939. The site of Cabrillo’s first landfall was designated as a California Historical Landmark on December 6, 1932 as Cabrillo Landing Site.
Over time, the National Monument was expanded to cover much of the southern tip of Point Loma, but Ballast Point, which had been home to successive military installations, remained in military hands, and is currently part of Naval Base Point Loma.

Plaque Text:

    CABRILLO LANDING
    Seeking the mythical Strait of Anián (the Northwest Passage) for Spain, on September 28, 1542, Iberian navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo brought his three ships to Ballast Point, the first European landing on the coast of Alta California.

    California Registered Historical Landmark No. 56

    First registered December 6, 1932. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Navy and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, September 26, 1992.

Location:
Ballast-Point-landmarksThe plaque is located in a small grassy area with parking along the south edge of Ballast Point, at the south end of Fort Rosecrans Blvd, forming a semi-circle with three other California Historical Landmark markers. The Cabrillo Landing marker is the eastmost of the four markers. Located within Navy Base Point Loma, public access to the landmark may be limited. The Ballast Point area is open to the public during the annual Cabrillo Festival, which is held at the recreation area marked Smuggler’s Cove on the map.

Photos:
View my album of the Cabrillo Landing marker and other Ballast Point landmarks, as well as my album of the 2013 Cabrillo Festival.

Resources:

Visiting landmarks in the northeastern mountains of San Diego

Warner Ranch HouseLast week, I went out on a photo safari to visit a handful of California Historical Landmarks in the northern half of San Diego’s mountainous back country. With my friend Sandy, we visited seven CHLs, as well as a few other sites, some of which were sought after for photos by Wiki Loves Monuments.

Here’s where we visited:

  • No. 533: San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park – Outside Escondido is the battlefield where Californios fought against American troops during the Mexican War.
  • San Diego Archaeological Center, where they both curate different archaeological artifacts and also help display them to educate the public.
  • 3 National Register of Historical Landmark buildings in the Ramona area: Mt. Woodson Castle, Ramona Town Hall, and the Verlaque House (now a museum)
  • Santa Ysabel General Store – now restored as a store, and operated by SOHO.
  • No. 412: Julian: After visiting the plaque in front of the Julian Town Hall, we found lunch and pie nearby!
  • No. 369: Site of the Chapel at Santa Ysabel: We visited the new chapel at Santa Ysabel, along with the site of the first chapel, their one-room museum, and their cemetery.
  • No. 311: Warner’s Ranch, south of Warner Springs. The ranch house has been recently renovated by SOHO for visiting, while the barn is still needing restoration.
  • No. 482: Camp Wright, in Oak Grove. Camp Wright was a Union camp set up to protect the stagecoach route (and thus communications between California and the rest of the country) during the Civil War.
  • No. 502: Oak Grove Stage Station.  One of the few remaining stations of the Butterfield Overland Mail route. Only 500 feet north of the Camp Wright site.
  • No. 243: Asistencia San Antonio de Pala. This mission stills serves the native peoples of the Pala reservation. Interestingly enough, the plaque is located several blocks away from the church, back on the main highway.

I’ll get some pictures posted soon!

Cabrillo National Monument to celebrate 100th anniversary in October

Cabrillo statue, Cabrillo National MonumentCabrillo National Monument celebrates its centennial as a National Park Service unit with a three-day extravaganza October 12-14, 2013. I’m so bummed that I will be out of town and won’t be able to make it to this big event, including a gala event on the evening of the 13th, and a big public party on the 14th for the actual anniversary. Get more information at CabrilloCentennial.org.

The Cabrillo National Monument Foundation (www.cnmf.org) is hosting much of the festivities, and also has some cool centennial souvenirs available.

While the original intent of the National Monument was to provide space for a statue of the Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo, the National Monument also houses the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which can be toured – though the top of the lighthouse tower is only open two days a year: August 25 (National Park Service anniversary) and November 15 (the lighthouse’s anniversary). There’s also great tidepooling and hiking to be found on the site, and of course, great views of both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay.

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