California's wealth had been noticed by the United States. By 1842, U.S. Navy ships were regularly cruising offshore, and by 1845 Americans were openly expounding the idea of a United States that stretched "from sea to shining sea." Mexican California came to an end within two years. After a series of battles, including Kearny's battle at San Pasqual, the United States laid claim to the territory. By 1850, California was a state.
Americans settling in California after 1848 brought their own ideas about land ownership. According to American tradition, they could settle on public land, build a farm, and then, after making some improvements, buy the land for a modest price. The Mexicans viewed them as squatters.
During the American period, the land in and around Mission Trails Regional Park came under a variety of new uses, as well as new owners. Ranching, farming, mining, recreation, and military activities were initiated, but much of the land remained undeveloped.
Ranching and Farming
In 1885, the former mission lands were opened up for settlement and a number of ranches and farms were purchased in the area. One of the most notable tracts was Rancho Fanita, owned by the Scripps family; dairy farming was represented by the Edgemoor Dairy. Beans were regularly planted for years between Cowles Mountain and Lake Murray.
Mining in Mission Gorge
Beginning in 1873, granite mines appeared in Mission Gorge. Light gray in color, the granodioritic rock extracted from these mines was used to construct roads, buildings, jetties, and dams. Blocks of granite from the Gorge were used in the construction of a breakwater in San Diego Bay and are still in place today. The family of Robert Waterman, Governor of California from 1887 to 1891, built the San Diego and Cuyamaca Eastern Railroad, which allowed the granite to be shipped economically from the mines.
Modern mining industries, which provide sand, gravel, and decomposed granite products, evolved out of the early granite mining business. Many firms extracted sand and gravel on lands now part of Mission Trails Regional Park, including J.B. Stringfellow, the Kenneth Golden Company, H.G. Fenton, and the V.R. Dennis Company. In addition, the Morse Construction Company operated a dynamite magazine on park premises in the 1960s. Kumeyaay Lake and other nearby ponds are the by-products of these mining operations, created by the removal of rock materials in the late 1940s.
As San Diego grew, the need for a reliable water source became as critical to the City Fathers as it once had been to the Mission padres. In 1920, the San Diego River was the only river flowing through the city, so the choice for the source was limited. But where along the river to site a dam and just who owned the rights to the water was destined to be fought over throughout the decade and into the next. Two powerful San Diegans, Colonel Ed Fletcher, owner of the Cuyamaca Water Company which held title to a mile and a half of the San Diego River, and wealthy magnate John D. Spreckels, each championed different sides of the debate. Fletcher wanted to sell his water interests to the City for $1,400,000 and argued that the best place for a new dam was below the old Mission Dam, on land he owned. Spreckels, represented by the City Attorney, was outraged, claiming that the City already held all of the river's water rights as established under Spanish law, which subsequently passed to Mexico and then to the United States. This view was later upheld by the County Superior Court and again in the Supreme Court. With regard to a dam site, Fletcher's opponents argued for an upriver location, at El Capitan, on El Cajon Mountain.
In 1924, in a special election citizens voted down a bond measure to construct the dam in Mission Gorge, but later that year approved a bond issue to construct the dam at El Capitan by a three-to-one margin. It was ten years before El Capitan Dam was finally built. In 1930, a second bond measure was put before the voters, who were asked to fund the construction of a dam one-half mile below the old Mission Dam - it too failed, and this time by an even greater margin than the first.
If a dam had been built anywhere in Mission Gorge the 1920s or 30s, large portions of the land that became Mission Trails Regional Park would have disappeared beneath its waters. By the mid-1950s the area had become far too developed and populated to seriously consider a dam project, and by the 1960s it had become impossible.
As San Diego grew, the back country along the San Diego River provided an outlet from stress and an opportunity to get away from city life. As late as the mid-1920s, enough unfenced land remained to allow unhindered treks all the way from the Cuyamaca foothills westward to the coast. Hunters, hikers, and naturalists alike shared this "wilderness" area so close to home. Climbing Cowles Mountain for the view from the top was a favorite local pastime, and for 40 years, from 1931 to 1971, San Diego State College freshman classes repainted the "S" (which stood for San Diego State) on the southwest side of the mountain.
The military presence in Mission Trails Regional Park dates back to 1917, when U.S. Army personnel based at Camp Kearny a few miles to the west, used Fortuna Mountain as an artillery target as part of World War I training exercises. This practice was repeated when the area was reactivated as a military base in 1934, this time as Camp Elliott, a U.S. Marine Corps training center. Ordnance was fired at the mountain for the next ten years, when the land was turned over to the U.S. Navy. The Navy used the lands around Fortuna Mountain for infantry, tank and artillery training during World War II and the Korean War.
In 1960, about one-third of Camp Elliot's lands were declared excess holdings and were transferred to the General Services Administration. Between 1960 and 1963, some of this property was given to the City of San Diego, San Diego State University, and the San Diego Unified School District. Ultimately much of this land became part of Mission Trails Regional Park.
Unexploded ordnance was an unfortunate legacy of the military period. Hikers sometimes discovered unexploded materials along the trails, especially after rainy periods, and it became clear the ordnance posed a serious public safety hazard. In 1993, an intensive sweep of the area was conducted and literally tons of unexploded materials were removed.
encompasses nearly 5,800 acres of both natural and
developed recreational acres Its rugged hills, valleys
and open areas represent a San Diego prior to the
landing of Cabrillo in San Diego Bay in 1542. read more
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