The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1993, Volume 39, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

National City: Kimball’s Dream.

By By Leslie Trook. National City, CA: National City Chamber of Commerce & The City of National City. Illustrations. Index. 100 pages. $20.00. 

Reviewed by Harris Monroe, editor, Los Angeles Times, (retired).

In 1868, Frank Kimball, a New Hampshire man with a dream, bought Rancho Nacional in San Diego County’s South Bay for $30,000, built a house and, in effect, opened for business. A year later, Kimball, his brothers and brother-in-law, and a few neighbors were living in 12 new homes. The ranch included a nursery at Paradise Valley and land that was to produce superior farm products. Lumber arrived from San Francisco to the dock at what was now widely called National City.

A dream fulfilled? Not quite.

In 1871, Kimball wrote in his diary: “The railroad is the weapon with which to fight for a position as a powerful trade city.”

But National City never did become the “gateway to the Orient” that he envisioned, as he worked to make his city the western end of the trans-continental railway. Time and again, his hopes were thwarted by the railroad barons of the Southern Pacific.

In 1886, Kimball settled for something considerably less ambitious — the National City & Otay Railroad. It carried prospective land buyers to the far reaches of the National Ranch.

The city celebrated boom times but in the long run its agricultural excellence dwindled as farmers sold their land to real estate developers, not the least of which were the Kimballs.

By 1887, when the ranch was finally incorporated as a city by the San Diego County supervisors, it claimed 1500 residents, had a port the equal of San Diego’s, and the Sweetwater Dam was near completion, with its guarantee of water.

The history of National City rings with the name Kimball. Frank’s brother Warren’s wife, Flora, a notable Suffragette, brought Susan B. Anthony to town to speak. She was also the first woman master of a Grange in the United States.

Historian Leslie Trook, an English teacher at Sweetwater Union High School, has utilized prime written materials available in the Thelma Hollingsworth Local History Room of the National City Public Library, enhanced by photographs and the graphic design, layout and cover art of artist Ed Pieter, to bring to life the vital elements of National City’s first century. It will be read with appreciation by National City residents and many others in San Diego County.