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

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One response to “California Historical Landmark No. 502: Oak Grove Stage Station”

  1. Ben Markham says :

    Beautiful…too bad it’s closed to the public.

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