31 May 2012

La Vida Mineral Springs History: James Williams, Manager in the 1910s

As new information comes in, the early history of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort in the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon is becoming gradually clearer. 

When this blog started a few years back, the information then located was that the complex was started by William Newton Miller and a son-in-law in 1924, as found on an Orange County history timeline.  Since then, however, some poking and digging has revealed that there is an earlier date for the resort, as well as some notable later history.

Part of this was brought forward by a commenter to an early La Vida post from this blog.  Nick Williams passed along family information that his grandfather, James Williams, operated the La Vida resort about 1915.  This was a date a decade sooner than what had been stated, but one that could be corrorborated by a recently-located advertisement in the student magazine of the George Junior Republic, now Boys Republic in Chino Hills.  In the February 1915 issue, the institution's print shop placed an ad listing, among its several customers, the "La Vida Springs."  So, here was the earliest established date for the existence of the resort, almost a full decade prior to the 1924 one from the timeline.  Incidentally, a search of the 1910 census, which specifically identified an "Olinda precinct" within the Fullerton township, did not located any reference to a hot springs.

Recently, Mr. Williams conveyed further information that ties his family to La Vida at that 1915 time period.  His grandather, James Williams, a native of Sturges, Missouri, northeast of Kansas City, lived in Nettleton, Arkansas, not far from Memphis, where he married his wife, Bessie Mae Johnson, and the couple had their first child there.  James was working as a maker of staves for wooden barrels, but, in 1902, the family migrated west to Los Angeles County, where James' father, George, had come and bought some land in Long Beach (see the photo below of George, James and other Williams silbings.) 

This photo shows James Williams (top row, second from right), who was the manager of La Vida Mineral Springs from about 1915 until his death in 1919, with his father next to him, and some of his siblings at his father's Long Beach property, 1915. Click on the photo to see in enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of Nick Williams, grandson of James Williams
James Williams settled with his family in Clearwater, now the city of Paramount, and took on work as a clerk in a grocery store.  In the 1910 census, he was listed as a "grocery merchant" and he and his wife had five children.  A local directory four years later listed James as general manager of the Clearwater Commercial Company and the postmaster at the community's post office.  Mr. Williams noted that his grandfather was hit on the head from something that fell from the store rafters and was subject to severe seizures.

This might explain why he went out to Carbon Canyon to run the newly-opened "La Vida Springs" resort, as it might have been less of a stressful environment for him.  Importantly, Edward F. Gaines, who had been a farmer at Clearwater and certainly would have been a customer of Williams' store, bought a ranch in Carbon Canyon, located in and around what is now the Olinda Village subdivision and probably including the La Vida property.  While Gaines' occupation was running cattle, it seems very likely that he opened the first version, called "La Vida Springs," of the resort and enticed Williams to be the manager.

Across Carbon Canyon Road, which was just about to be graded all the way through from Olinda to Chino, from the resort was a small white frame house, placed in a rectangular pocket on the hillside perched fifteen feet above the thoroughfare.  Mr. Williams had long heard about the house, but only recently was able to find photographs, courtesy of Chris Jepsen of the Orange County Archives.  To see these images and a couple of later views of La Vida after the Williams family left, please see here.  One is a fairly close view of the front of the house taken from a little to the west from the resort parking area.  The other is a broader view looking west with the resort on the right and a portion of the house visible to the left.  The other views showing the picnic area and some cabins are probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

These images matched one Mr. Williams already had that showed one of his aunts at the rear of the house, only a portion of which could be seen in the photo (see below.)  As his father Nicholas and aunt Frieda told him years ago, the house "was on the east side of the canyon across from the bath house.  The only road up Carbon Canyon was to take a wagon up the creek bed."

This photo shows Frieda Williams, daughter of La Vida Mineral Springs manager James Williams, near the back of white wood-frame residence the family lived in across Carbon Canyon Road from the resort, ca. 1915.  Click on the photo to see it in a separate window in an enlarged view.  Courtesy of Nick Williams.
Another interesting recollection came from a cousin, Irene Williams McNabb, who came out from Missouri to visit the family in 1915 and remembered that: "When we were there in 1915, your grandparents lived a little health resort up in the canyon.  James Monroe [Williams] was managing this health resort.  It was a very primitive hot bath.  You walked down into these cubicles . . . cement places . . . and they let the water cool awhile before you went in, it was that hot.  Your Aunt Frieda and I were practically the same age, and the only girls, and we just roamed those hills there."  Naturally, the five Williams children attended Olinda's "little green schoolhouse," located on what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

Unfortunately, the tenure of the Williams family at La Vida and Carbon Canyon was only about four years or so, as James Williams suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and tumor and died at age 49 in 1919.  By the 1920 census, his widow and children had relocated to Huntington Beach, and, by that time, Allen Abbott, most recently farming at Buena Park, was listed as the manager of "La Vida Springs."  Further solidifying that idea that it was Edward Gaines who first opened the resort at La Vida, research revealed that Abbott's mother was Gaines' sister.

In late 1924, a "La Vida Mineral Springs Company" received its incorporation designation from the State of California and this was almost certainly William Newton Miller's enterprise.  Whether he leased the land from Gaines or acquired the property himself would be revealed through research into county land records.

In any case, the history of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort can definitively traced back almost a decade earlier than was thought a few years ago.  Hopefully, continued research and contributions like those by Mr. Williams will help unearth more of that early history of Carbon Canyon's most significant landmark.

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