The
History
of
Escondido


“It was Christmas Day in 1919 that I first saw San Dieguito stone tools,” stated Malcolm J. Rogers. “I was hunting Indian artifacts on a sandy-loam ridge about a mile and a half west of Escondido. Since I was well aware of the kind of tools left behind by historical Indians, and the people of the La Jollan culture before them, I knew immediately that these tools were of a still earlier people.” From this site in Escondido, Rogers, an archaeologist and former director of the San Diego Museum of Man, launched a lifetime study of documenting human inhabitants of San Diego County. He estimated that these ancient inhabitants came into this area 10,000 years ago.

In other studies, Rogers suggested that the contemporary division of Native American culture and territory was established one thousand years ago when the Shoshonean groups of the Great Basin migrated to southwest California and originated the San Luis Rey culture. The Luiseño Indians had long established villages and campsites along the Escondido Creek and in the north and north central portions of present-day Escondido. The Native American Kumeyaay were Yumans who migrated from the Colorado River area and occupied San Pasqual Valley and sites along water sources in the southern and western portions of Escondido, especially along the San Dieguito River. Both the Luiseño and Kumeyaay camps and villages derived an economic base from neighboring natural resources. Notable village or camp areas were located around riparian corridors such as Orange Glen, Kit Carson Park, Felicita Park, Indian Rock Springs and Moosa Canyon. Most of these sites have been destroyed by agricultural uses and development. Luiseño and Kumeyaay adapted to European agricultural methods and were considered competent farmers. After the establishment of Indian Reservations, many Indian farmers were forced off their land and onto reservations; others remained in the greater Escondido area and continued to farm.

The Luiseño place name for Escondido, “Mehel-om-pom-pavo,” did not remain into the Mexican or American period. The official naming of Escondido has been buried in folklore. The name has been connected to numerous myths set both in the Spanish colonization period as well as the Mexican rancho era. Before the city of Escondido was founded, the area was known by it rancho name, “Rancho Rincon del Diablo.” In 1843 Juan Bautista Alvarado was granted 12,653 acres of land, and Alvarado’s grown children occupied the rancho in two separate areas. Several adobe structures were built at the southeast end of the rancho near present-day Bear Valley Parkway and San Pasqual Valley Road. Another adobe and a planting of trees were located on section of land on the west side of the rancho known as San Geronimo.

On December 6, 1846 the course of history for Escondido took a dramatic turn when soldiers of the United States Army attacked Mexican forces of Alta California in the neighboring San Pasqual valley. A number of American soldiers died or were wounded. The events of the Battle of San Pasqual have been memorialized many times in Escondido in a pageant called, “Felicita.” From 1926 until 1931, the production’s story centered on the daughter of San Pasqual Indian chief, Panto and her love of a wounded American soldier. The folk play was revised in several times and as recently as Spring, 2002.

Within a few years of the Battle of San Pasqual, in 1850, California was annexed into the Union. Early in the American period, the ranch was sold to Oliver S. Witherby, a San Diego Judge. Witherby continued the cattle business and began mining gold on this property in 1860. The following year a small gold rush ensued, and the name “Escondido” appeared on legal records with the gold claim filing of “Escondido Mining Company.” Attempts at gold mining in that portion of the city continued into the 1920’s. No remains of these historic landmarks have been preserved.

Witherby sold the ranch to the Wolfskill brothers in 1868. Part owner and ranch manager, John Wolfskill, occupied the southeast part of the ranch and employed San Pasqual Indians. Cattle herds were reduced as the Wolfskills built a sheep ranch. Eventually, Wolfskill moved the ranch headquarters to the northwest end of the rancho near present-day Jesmond Dene Park. He referred to the location of his ranch as “el valle Escondido.” John Wolfskill remained on the Mexican rancho for sixteen years during which time it was known as “Wolfskill Plains.” The Wolfskills in due time planted grapes and orange groves and pursued other forms of agriculture.

On March 1, 1886 Richard Thomas and his four brothers, along with several other investors, created a land boom for the development of Escondido. These investors, already experienced in Southern California land boom promotions, organized a land survey of the old rancho. They wanted Escondido to be more than an ordinary frontier town. Free land was donated for churches, a 100-room hotel was constructed and a branch of the University of Southern California was established. Banks were opened, a weekly paper was published and Escondido was linked by railroad to the rest of the country. The little boomtown of the Escondido Land and Town Company was incorporated as the City of Escondido on October 8, 1888.

Supplies such as brick and lumber were needed to build the town; so was labor. Chinese workers were brought to Escondido to make bricks and to build schools, churches and other buildings. When construction was completed, the Chinese workers found employment in restaurants, laundries and small farming. The flood of 1916 devoured their community located in downtown Escondido along the creek. Flooding continued to be a problem, and in 1970, out of concern for future flooding of downtown, the Escondido Creek was directed into a concrete channel.

Land promoters sold Escondido’s climate as ideal for crop growing and varied agriculture. The City’s fate, however, was dependent on the availability of water. In 1889 the Escondido Irrigation District was formed. Later, another water district was created to guarantee a stable water supply for the city. Water was collected miles away through a system of canals, ditches and flumes through the Rincon and La Jolla Indian Reservations. This action had long-range effects on the relationship between Escondido’s water rights and those of the Native American reservations; many years of litigation ensued.

The growth of Escondido’s agriculture depended on the construction of the Bear Valley Dam (Lake Wohlford), and the expansion of a water system was completed in 1895. In time the formation of the Escondido Mutual Water Company stabilized the availability of water to most ranches, farms and homes that functioned without wells. The Escondido Mutual Water Company designed a great water plan. With water, the grape industry expanded.

So proud was the agricultural community, that on September 9, 1908 “Grape Day” was established and celebrated with a parade, a custom associated with Escondido for many years to come. Grapes remained an important industry until the prohibition era of the 1920’s. The Grape Day festivities continued until 1947 when numerous grape fields were turned into citrus. Years later, Grape Day was revived and is now hosted annually by the Escondido Historical Society at their headquarters in Grape Day Park.

The land promotion and publicity about Escondido’s climate proved successful. Farmers, tradesmen and merchants moved from colder climates to farm in the idyllic setting promoted world wide on the Thomas Show Ranch. Early 20th century censuses reflect an influx of farmers from numerous places, but especially from the Eastern through the Midwestern United States and Europe. The influx of an immigrant population was so steady that one descendant of a pioneer family, Paul Hatch, recalled that when his father asked him to pick up mail, the postmaster “asked if I spoke English, and I said, ‘No! I speak American!’”

Escondido’s agricultural community of ranches, groves and packing houses required a diversity of labor sources. Larger farms and ranches relied on hired men in addition to family members. New sources of men and women laborers were needed to meet the expanded levels of agriculture that produced trainloads of grapes, citrus, raisins, poultry, livestock, grains, fruits and nuts for export.

Persons of many ethnic backgrounds - Chinese, Native American, Jamaican, Filipino, Mexican, Mexican-American - worked for a limited time in the growing and packing areas. In 1906 rancher Albert Beven employed as many as fifty Japanese in the citrus groves of his Eureka Ranch. His daughter, local historian Frances Beven Ryan, described the east end of town as having a “Little Tokyo” for over a decade. Migration of Escondido’s Japanese is uncertain. During World War II, however, Frances Beven traveled to Manzanar and taught Japanese children while they were detained at the internment camp. The Times-Advocate reported a fruit picker strike in the spring of 1927 when 120 Filipino workers threatened to quit work over a pay dispute. The Escondido Lemon Association and Escondido Orange Association continued to hire Filipino labor, however, and during World War II, numerous Mexican Nationals as well as Jamaicans were employed in agriculture when many local men and women were drafted into the war effort.

A labor camp located on Quince and Valley parkway could house nearly two hundred workers. Many Latino families remember the camp as the place of origin of their Escondido past. Max Atilano, foreman for the Fruit Growers Association and best remembered as an entertainer, penned music for a corrido about life at the camp. In the 1970’s the citrus industry declined as Escondido grew and land was converted into other uses. Today, the remaining agribusiness and other food related labor markets continue to attract recent Mexican immigrants to Escondido.

Agriculture helped Escondido residents survive financially through the depression of the late 20’s and early 1930’s. The same was true for World War II. Egg production, dairy and many other food products sustained local and regional communities in addition to providing food to the military base at Camp Kearney. Early in the 20th century, avocado groves would compete with citrus groves for available farmland. The avocado industry evolved from a single tree planted in 1892 to an organized and promoted effort of expansion in the 1920’s. Already experienced in the avocado industry, rancher C.C. Henry developed his own variety of avocado, named “Henry Select”, for commercial production. Eventually, the family-owned business expanded throughout Southern California. As with other agriculture in the County, the industry had years of ups and downs as pest, weather, market competition and land development affected its survival. In 2001 Gil Henry of the Henry Avocado Packing Corporation described the avocado industry in the greater Escondido area as an expanding business. Henry Avocado, Cal-Flavor, and Giumarra produce of San Pasqual Valley are three large avocado packers in this area.

While many city dwellers enjoyed visiting groves, ranches and farms, tourism was not a growth industry in Escondido. The town was a place for day trips or a place to stop while en route to somewhere else. Once the Mount Palomar Observatory was completed in 1935, however, overnight guests increased. The Escondido Chamber of Commerce promoted the city as the gateway to Palomar.

In addition, hunting, fishing at the surrounding lakes, and mountain wilderness were slated as tourist attractions. Tourism to Palomar Mountain was not matched and surpassed until the opening of the Wild Animal Park on May 10, 1972. Businesses along San Diego Boulevard (Escondido Avenue) provided motel and gas station services for visitors. Later during Work War II and as a post-war highway construction program attracted many more visitors to eat, sleep and stay, services were constructed along Highway 395 (Centre City Parkway). Many buildings from this era are still seen along both streets.

As Escondido grew so did City management. In 1938 a WPA adobe building was constructed to house a new City Hall on Palomar Medical Center hill. It would be fifty years before City government would out grow this site City boundaries also grew. Every few years after 1950 many neighborhoods were annexed into the city limits. Escondido shoppers were treated to one of California’s first indoor shopping malls when, in 1964, the Escondido Mall was built near Rose and East Valley Parkway. In the 1980’s land was set aside in the Kit Carson Park area for construction of the largest shopping mall in San Diego county. In 1985 North County Fair (Westfield Shoppingtown - North County) opened for business.

Traffic and circulation in Escondido changed dramatically when the construction of Interstate 15 by-passed the center of town. When the final phase of freeway construction ended in 1980, Escondido attracted urban dwellers. In addition to the rural landscapes they sought, they found ease of freeway access, a Center for the Arts, a spacious Civic Center and all the benefits of city living including California's largest public hospital district, Palomar Pomerado Health. By the year 2000, housing developments, shopping centers and light industry had replaced most agribusiness. Fortunately, however, some rural acreage remains, and the City of Escondido continues to plan for city growth while enhancing the beauty and comfort of the city’s historic and rural landscapes.



©2002 The Pioneer Room. All Rights Reserved.
All photographs are Copyright © The Pioneer Room.
Please contact The Pioneer Room Archivist for more information:
(760) 839-4315.

All material compiled from holdings of the Escondido Public Library Pioneer Room:

Escondido Then and Now Nick and Shirley Buskirk
Escondido A Pictorial History Bill Fark
Escondido Through Time - Teacher’s Resource Material Susan J. Floyd
Journal of San Diego History San Diego Historical Society
Hidden Valley Heritage Alan B. McGrew
Newspaper Clipping Files - Pioneer Room
Frances Beven Ryan, Manuscript Collection.
History of Agriculture. . . for the La Jolla, Pala, Pauma, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indians of So. Ca. Florence C. Shipek
William Wolfskill 1798-1866 Iris Higbie Wilson
Memories of Escondido J. Paul Hatch. An Oral History from the Escondido Historical Society Collection

Graphic Sources:

Francis B. Ryan Collection
Scott Hilliard Postcard Collection
Shades of California
Bill Rutledge Collection
Escondido Police Department Collection
Pioneer Room Postcard Collection

Graphic Production: Michelle Morgan

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