A Chinese American in 1884

Floods, Fall Brook And Fallbrook

A resident of Fallbrook complains to the San Diego Union that the press is incorrect when it reports that Fallbrook was washed away in the recent storm. That sounds like a modern complaint about today's weather reporting, but this correspondent's letter was written in March of 1884! He goes on to explain that the only part of Fallbrook which was lost were six houses and their orchards and vineyards, all located in Temecula Canyon. "Further," he said, "Fall Brook is not a town, but is a voting precinct and a post office." (Both were located near today's Live Oak Park. He might have added that Fall Brook was also a school district and a railroad station.)

The California Southern Railroad had been making regular runs from San Diego to Colton (near Riverside) for only a year and a half when the February, 1884 storm hit. On the second day of February, the train was delayed when rain softened the canyon walls and brought boulders crashing down on the rails located along the Santa Margarita River. On the following day, February 3, the train was unable to get through, and a few days later, the Western Union wires were down. On February 12, the morning train to Colton was able to make it through the canyon to Temecula, but the evening train from Colton to San Diego was delayed by a rock slide. Disaster had been averted because young Charlie Howell hurried up the tracks from his family homestead near Willow Glen and somehow managed to stop the train.

Earlier rains had done no damage, for Ah Quin, a resident of San Diego's small Chinese community, and a labor contractor for the California Southern Railroad, had made the trip to Colton in January, carrying the payroll and bringing supplies to his men. Quin, born in Kwangtung and educated in a missionary school, kept a daily journal of his activities. The entry for January 22 noted that he had stopped for lunch at the Fallbrook Depot. On February 13, he was on the train again, this time to find more men to repair the railroad bed and tracks. After a day as court interpreter in Riverside, he took the Southern Pacific Los Angeles. On the 20th, Quin was saddened to hear that the railroad was destroyed and no one.knew the fate of San Diego. He was able to return home only by taking the steamer down the coast.

The San Diego Union printed reports of the damage as it received details from residents. Every bridge on the Santa Margarita River was gone, and the hotel and blacksmith shop in Temecula had been badly damaged. The train was marooned near the Santa Margarita ranch house, and Jake Bergman, the mail carrier, had to swim the river and return to Temecula on foot by way of Fall Brook District. De Luz Creek overflowed its banks and carried away Judson's house. Fruit trees, beehives, farm animals,telegraph poles, windmills, and irrigation flumes were all seen floating down the river. The government rain gauge kept by F.E. Fox, north of Reche's Grove, recorded 11.3" for the storm and 21" for the season. In May there was more damage from another heavy storm.

While Ah Quin scoured the state for workers to help repair the California Southern, people in Fall Brook made do without the railroad, and life went on. Supplies were brought in from Oceanside and San Diego in large horse-drawn wagons, and farmers' produce, including honey, wheat and oranges, was sent to city markets the same way. On the mesa above the railroad canyon, J.H. Bush prospered in his location along the old road from Santa Margarita to San Bernardino. Earlier, he had built a two story brick structure to house his blacksmith and ironworking business (the building still stands on West Beech Street). Now he also became agent for Milburn wagons and buggies. The address on his business receipts already read "Fallbrook", and he planned to subdivide. (The town which we know today did not become a reality for another year.)

Fall Brook School (where today's Reche Club Community Building is located), opened for a four month term with fifteen students. At Reche's Hotel, F.M. Hicks died of consumption, and a daughter was born to Mrs. James Wright. May Day was celebrated with a croquet party at Reche's Grove. People from all parts of Fall Brook District took advantage of E.J. Johnson's invitation to visit his newly opened ostrich farm on the creek leading to the San Luis Rey River.

Down by Fallbrook Railroad Station, postmaster Hebberd at the Howe Post Office, registered 62 letters for the quarter ending June 30th. Nearby, Tracy's store advertised the largest stock of goods since he opened the previous year. While at his depot location, W.E. Robinson's real estate ad in the San Diego Union had listed 4000 Fallbrook acres for sale (at $20 to $45 per acre). After the flood, and his appointment as Notary Public of the District, he too opened an office on the hill, not far from Bush's building.

By August, 500 men were working on repairs to the railroad. There were Indian men and some French, but the majority were Chinese. Ah Quin found recruiting difficult because the railroad paid laborers only $1 per day, while farmers in Central California were paying $1.25 to $1.50 per day to harvest their crops. By September, the repair crews had reached De Luz Station, and in October, with crops harvested in the north, Quin was able to recruit 340 more workers.

In December, 1884, the California Southern railroad was again functioning, except for a small section in Temecula Canyon, and San Diego celebrated as the first through passengers from the East arrived. The passengers were from Maine, and they were the parents and aunt and uncle of E.J. Johnson, proprietor of the Fallbrook ostrich farm. Johnson, with a rig and team, had met his family at Temecula Station, and took them by the old road through the pass at Vallecitos (Rainbow). From there he followed the route of the old road south of Red Mountain to reach the railroad grade (now De Luz Road) and Fallbrook Depot.

Sources: San Diego Union, 1884; San Luis Rey Star, August 4, 1883; Journal of San Diego History 25(Fall 1979):324-337.


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Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 25 December 1998.