History of San Diego, 1542-1908
INTRODUCTION: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego
THE CIVILIZATION of California, and of the whole Western Coast now belonging to the United States, began on the shores of San Diego Bay. What Plymouth is to New England and the region facing the Atlantic, San Diego is to the great empire which faces the Pacific.
This fact is not appreciated as it deserves to be by readers of history generally, nor by the people of California, nor even by the people of San Diego. Here by the Southwestern Gateway of the Republic should be one of the great shrines of historical America, where pilgrims should come by thousands to pay homage to the past, and where monuments should be erected by this generation, to be bequeathed to the keeping of generations yet to come.
Plymouth and San Diego! Each the scene of the first enduring settlement on its own side of the continent; each the offspring of religious zeal; each planted by those who, building better than they knew, became the pioneers of a movement which contributed immeasurably to the betterment of mankind; and each showing the way for millions to carve homes from the wilderness—the one by clearing the forest, the other by irrigating the desert!
Nor is this the whole of San Diego’s claim to everlasting distinction in human history. Not only was it the birthplace of civilization on the Pacific Coast of the United States, but it was also the scene of the first discovery of that coast by the Spanish explorers of the Sixteenth Century. Thus it happened that the first European footprint was indelibly impressed on the shores of San Diego Bay. Surely, there is no other spot so precious in the entire continental expanse from Plymouth Rock to Point Loma! This leads me to ask if there is any logical relation between the history of such a city and its future growth.
It is unquestionably true that mere priority of settlement, even when this priority is a matter of large historical consequence, does not guarantee the growth. nor even the permanence, of a community. Jamestown in Virginia, where English-speaking men first built their homes in America, long since perished from the earth, leaving barely enough ruins to mark the site. Even at Plymouth, where the community has enjoyed a vigorous and continuous existence since 1620, there was a population of less than ten thousand, according to the census of 1900. On the other hand, the metropolis of New England has grown up where John Winthrop colonized his English followers in 1630, and the metropolis of the nation has developed where the Dutch founded New Amsterdam in 1623.
There can be little question that priority of settlement and its resulting historical pre-eminence are assets of extraordinary value when joined to the possession of great natural advantages. There was no good reason why Plymouth should become a large city, for neither agriculture, commerce, nor manufactures belonged to it by natural right. Jamestown was destroyed in the so-called Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, and never afterwards rebuilt, because there were much better locations elsewhere. But Boston and New York enjoyed strategic locations and were thus able to reap the benefits of their early settlement and the fame which it brought them. It is to the latter class that San Diego belongs. Hence, its historical pre-eminence ought to count heavily as a factor in its future growth and ultimate greatness.
Western cities do not patiently await the slow accretions of time. They reckon in decades where the older cities of the East measure their growth by centuries. Their effort at advancement takes the form of fierce competition among themselves in seeking to attract the attention of the outside world as a means of reinforcing their capital and recruiting their citizenship. In California, this competition is more conspicuously in evidence than anywhere else in the United States. San Diego, alone, can challenge the attention of the world by saying:
Here came the Spanish discoverer to behold for the first time the Pacific Coast of what is now the United States. Here, too, is the Plymouth of the West, where the European first built his home and reared the Cross. Here was the first town, the first irrigation ditch, the first cultivated field, the first school, and the first of those historic missions which ushered in the Christian era in California. And here we are building a mighty city as an everlasting monument to the Pilgrim Fathers of the West.
If the publication of this work could be attended by a result above all others gratifying to me, it would fix the historical preeminence of San Diego as firmly and clearly in the public mind as the historical pre-eminence of Plymouth has been established for many generations by its faithful historians. And if it could produce a further result in line with this, it would inspire the people of San Diego to the preservation of all the precious landmarks of the early time and the creation of enduring memorials worthy of their history. With the rise of the city to a place of commanding influence in the new world of the Pacific, and the dawn of a new era in the development of the vast region which traces the beginnings of its history to this spot, the time has come when San Diego can no longer afford to be careless of its past, any more than it can afford to neglect its future. And it is quite undeniable that San Diego has been careless of its past. Not only so, but it has tamely acquiesced in similar carelessness on the part of those whose business it is to record the truth of history and to preserve the priceless evidences of civilized man’s earliest dominion on these shores.
Even the name of Cabrillo is but little known to American school children, still less to general readers. What is yet more strange, the name of this historic man is neglected by the compilers of encyclopedias and biographical dictionaries. You may consult standard works of reference without discovering the man who discovered California. Sir Francis Drake has been more fortunate and reaped a larger renown for a performance of less value, as historical values are usually reckoned. San Diego owes it to its own fame, as well as to Cabrillo’s, to celebrate the achievement of the pioneer navigator and to erect a splendid memorial in his honor. As Farragut stands guard in Madison Square, and as Colonel Shaw yet marches among his men in St. Gaudens’ noble monument fronting the Boston State House, so Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo should look upon the faces of passing generations of Californians in one of the public places of San Diego.
The Old Presidio Hill, overlooking Old Town, should be perpetually preserved and made the object of sacred and loving care, for upon that hill the first home and the first church were builded, and there the music of the mission bell first broke the silence.
The hand of decay, now lying so heavily upon the Mission establishment which dominated San Diego and its surroundings for seventy years, should be sharply arrested, for the complete obliteration of that eloquent ruin is unthinkable to men and women who have any reverence for the past.
The battle-field of San Pasqual should be marked in some appropriate way; and there are a score of other simple acts which should be performed by a people who stand between the past and the future and whose obligations extend to both.
Most important and beautiful of all, at some sightly point in the great park, a noble monument should be reared by Protestant hands to the memory of the Catholic Fathers.
Through these pages, I trust it is given me to speak not only to a present citizenship, but to a future citizenship who shall hereafter dwell upon the sunny slopes of San Diego and come into a great heritage of memories and achievement. And to the men and women of a later time, as to those of today, I would say: Guard well the City’s fame, and the fame of the men whose toils and sacrifices gave it birth.
Return to Books.
HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO
PART ONE: Period of Discovery and Mission Rule
- The Spanish Explorers
- Beginning of the Mission Epoch
- The Taming of the Indian
- The Day of Mission Greatness
- The End of Franciscan Rule
Priests of San Diego Mission
PART TWO: When Old Town Was San Diego
- Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
- Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
List of Ranchos in San Diego County
- Political Life in Mexican Days
- Early Homes, Visitors and Families
- Pleasant Memories of Social Life
- Prominent Spanish Families
- The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
List of Mission Indian Lands
- San Diego in the Mexican War
- Public Affairs After the War
- Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
- Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
- American Families of the Early Time
- The Journalism of Old San Diego
- Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego
PART THREE: The Horton Period
- The Founder of the Modern City
- Horton’s Own Story
- Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
- San Diego’s First Boom
- Some Aspects of Social Life
PART FOUR: Period of “The Great Boom”
PART FIVE: The Last Two Decades
- Local Annals, After the Boom
- Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
- Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
- The Disaster to the Bennington
- The Twentieth Century Days
- John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem
PART SIX: Institutions of Civic Life
- Churches and Religious Life
- Schools and Education
- Records of the Bench and Bar
- Growth of the Medical Profession
- The Public Library
- Story of the City Parks
- The Chamber of Commerce
- Banks and Banking
- Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
- Account of the Fire Department
PART SEVEN: Miscellaneous Topics
- History of the San Diego Climate
- San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
- Governmental Activities
- The Suburbs of San Diego