03 April 2016

How Telegraph Canyon Got Its Name

The last post talked briefly about and included photographs of what appears to be the remains of telegraph poles and wires which run in a northeasterly direction through Chino Hills State Park, including a few examples running across the South Ridge Trail on the Yorba Linda side and then others that are on the north side of Telegraph Canyon climbing up to the North Ridge Trail paralleling Soquel Canyon and Chino Hills.

Speculation in that post was that the lines were installed in the late 1880s to connect the new towns of Chino and Carlton, the latter being on the Olinda Ranch where Yorba Linda and Brea meet today, near the intersections of Imperial Highway and Valencia Avenue.  This was related to the fact that Richard Gird, proprietor of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and creator of the town of Chino, planned, with the founders of Carlton, to build a railroad linking the two towns and extending beyond to the Pacific Ocean by running the line through Soquel Canyon.

On this day, 3 April 1935, the Santa Ana Register ran a feature on the story by Marah Adams behind how Telegraph Canyon got its name.  It started by observing that it was on 3 April 1861 that the Pony Express began service from St. Louis to Sacramento and that the technological innovation that doomed the mail service by horseback was the creation of the telegraph.

This is the text of a Santa Ana Register article, dated 3 April 1935, by Marah Adams on the history of Telegraph Canyon.
The article also noted that the first telegraph line to reach greater Los Angeles came down from San Francisco in fall 1860.  This was followed by a line built from Los Angeles to San Diego--the piece didn't give a date, but it was in 1870.

The information given was misleading, though, as it seemed to indicate that the lines crossing Telegraph Canyon were built in 1870 and the opening paragraph claimed that "the first telegrams sent in Southern California went humming along the wires of this road."  It also stated that the messages transmitted along the line "mystified the Indians who watched for visible messages and who regarded the armed poles as crosses to ward off evil spirits."

These statements are also not factual.  The telegraph line followed the flat valley floor from Los Angeles through what became, in 1889, Orange County, and then followed the coast down to San Diego.  In addition, the reference to native Indians is problematic because their numbers were not severely depleted by 1870, but there were almost certainly no native villages or habitation in the vicinity at that time.

Besides, the article then went on to conclude that "while a part of the San Diego and Los Angeles system, the line through Telegraph canyon connected La Habra to San Bernardino, it is said."  The italics are added, because the use of the words "it is said" is a sure indication that the author didn't find any proof of the statement's accuracy, but only got it from hearsay.

La Habra wasn't founded until 1896, yet the piece had this to say:
Andrew J. Friend, who has lived in Telegraph canyon for the past 40 years, remembers well when the line ran near his little home nestled under the shadow of the hills which seem to meet and end in a summit at the end of the deep valley.  He still has under his control 3000 acres of grazing land, where hundreds of cattle roam on property which was once owned by Richard Gird, an early settler of southern California whose heldings [holdings] are said by Friend to have extended from Orange county beyond Corona.
If Friend settled in the canyon in the mid-1890s and the telegraph line was already there, it couldn't have been built to link San Bernardino with a La Habra that didn't exist yet.  Instead, it is more likely that the line went to the new town of Carlton, laid out in the late 1880s land boom, and then went to Chino, where it certainly could have been extended to San Bernardino.

The Register article included this great photo of Andrew J. Friend, a rancher who lived in Telegraph Canyon and first began running cattle there in the mid-1890s, standing by the rough wood gate to his ranch.  Friend's family still grazes livestock in the Chino Hills.
The other factual problem dealt with Gird, who came to southern California in 1881, hardly making him an "early settler," but, more relevant, his landholdings on the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino did not go beyond Corona, though they did touch the future Orange County border in regions that include Telegraph Canyon and today's Chino Hills State Park.

What is interesting, though, is the article carried a photo of Friend standing behind the rough wooden gate to his property on Telegraph Canyon Road.  Somewhere along the trail within the state park is that exact location.

In addition, cattle is still being grazed in the area by the widow of Friend's late grandson, William, who died a few years ago, meaning that the Friend family has been maintaining its ranching presence in the Chino Hills for at least 120 years!

Another interesting little tidbit in the Register piece is the mention of the fact that Orange County fire authorities had just received permission from Friend to build an access road up to one of the summits, perhaps San Juan Hill or another one along the South Ridge Trail, as a route for fire-fighting vehicles during wildfires.

As interesting as the 1935 Register article is, its accuracy about how Telegraph Canyon got its name is questionable.  Maybe someday more definitive information will be found.

1 comment:

Bob said...

We also have a Telegraph Canyon down in Chula Vista, San Diego County. Today a road is named after that. There is history about it in the South County Historical Society.