The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1990, Volume 36, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Ramona and Round About: A History of San Diego County’s Little Known Back Country.

By Charles R. LeMenager. Ramona, California: Eagle Peak Publishing Co., 1989. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. 252 pages. Softcover, $11.95; hardcover, $18.95. 

Reviewed by Karna Webster, M.A. history and author of books and articles about San Diego history.

Ramona, an unincorporated community, lies some thirty-six miles inland from San Diego. The town began in 1883, when Amos Verlaque built a store and post office alongside the wagon road leading to Julian. In 1886, Theophile Verlaque built the first house in the area, next to the store. In the beginning, the settlement was known as Nuevo (New Town). During the Southern California land boom of 1886, Milton Santee and a group of Los Angeles investors purchased 3,855 acres at Nuevo and incorporated as the Santa Maria Land and Water Company. The company subdivided the land and named their project “Ramona” for the heroine in Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel. The town grew slowly but remained rural in character until well into the 20th century. For a time it was known as “The Turkey Capital of the World.” By 1970, the population was about 5,000, but in the next twenty years it increased more than five hundred percent.

With the influx of so many newcomers in recent years, long time Ramona residents felt the need to preserve the history of their community. The Ransom family donated the original Verlaque house to the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society, and today it houses a fine museum and archives. Many people wanted a written history of the area so that at least part of the local heritage could be preserved in book form. Ramona and Round About fills this need. In gathering material for this book, Charles LeMenager made extensive use of early newspapers, oral histories, and the resources of the Ramona Historical Society. He verified much of his information through research in primary source records he found in public and private archives and libraries in San Diego and other cities. He did his homework and has made a valuable contribution to local history.

The first chapter discusses Ramona’s “roots” and mentions nearby 19th century settlements such as Witch Creek and Ballena. The author points out the origin of place names in the area around Ramona. An interesting chapter about Indians follows, and then one about Jose Joaquin Ortega and Capt. Edward Stokes, the first owners of the Santa Maria and Santa Ysabel valleys. The book then follows the history of Ramona chronologically and topically from 1850 up to the present time. Typical of many local histories, this one includes chapters on topics such as transportation, water, early schools, the post office, gems and minerals, and agri-business.

Although incomplete in some respects, Ramona and Round About is the most comprehensive history written so far about the Ramona area. The ninety-eight photographs and illustrations, although small, are interesting. The author has included an index and a bibliography. The book is a welcome addition to the many recent publications about San Diego County communities. This history is well written and will be enjoyed by Ramona residents and others interested in San Diego’s backcountry.


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