Elder House / Shipley / Fallbrook Country Day School

When Vicki Barnes asked me for information about the Elder House property which she could use to help her students at the Fallbrook Country Day School get a feel for its history, I first had to write the history. Only then would I know the materials we had in our research collection which could be copied and shared, and which of our museum exhibits had pertinent information. In the process of doing that, I could identify items from which information and conclusions could be drawn just by looking and comparing, and also things which would provide a tactile experience with the past. I began looking and writing. I knew we had information, but I never expected to find as much as I did.

That small of piece of land, composed of three separate lots located between Pico and Main and adjacent to Elder Street, evolved from and is involved in so many Fallbrook events and families that it is like a microcosm of the town. It has been the site of Fallbrook's first doctor's office and the home of the newspaper. The train passed twice daily over a portion of it. And Fallbrook Creek flows across it, so it can be used to tell the story of the land and the ecological changes which have occurred since the time of the First People.

Luiseño Period

I began with the ground itself. Since Fallbrook's territory was within the boundaries of the Native American Indian group who today call themselves Luiseño, the land can be used to gain some feel for what their lives were like. From earliest times Luiseño families would have used the creek's boulders as milling stones to prepare for cooking the seeds which they had harvested from native plants. To see what the creek flowing beside the Country Day School's building might have looked like in the earliest days, one need only trace the channel back through town to Convertible Lane. Here, where the creek emerges from the culvert under Mission Road and flows toward town, the channel is reverting to its original oak tree cover. (Looking at the area of the upper reaches of the creek helps also in the understanding of why Fallbrook Creek floods when the rains are heavy.)

Spanish Period

After the Spanish arrived in California, and Luiseño people built the San Luis Rey Mission and began to acquire its new knowledge, they did not abandon their native ways nor their responsible use of the land. With their main village a mile downstream, those families affiliated with the Mission would have continued using the creek for activities involved in food preparation. A whole generation would pass before the cattle introduced by the Mission's agricultural system and its foreign crops (and weeds), would have increased enough to begin to change the natural environment.

Mexican Period

After winning independence from Spain, in 1821, the Mexican government encouraged Luiseño families from the San Luis Rey affiliated villages, to take land in the new town of Las Flores under the leadership of Pablo Apis. The new government in Mexico City also established the legal process whereby eligible Mexican soldiers and their families could obtain grants of former Mission land not claimed by the Luiseño. The Pico family applied for the Santa Margarita ranch land, which included the site of the future town of Fallbrook. Fewer Native families used the creek now, because many had moved to Las Flores. Cattle, often still managed by Luiseño cowboys, increased alarmingly, and many were slaughtered for hides to sell to American sea merchants who traded along the California coast.

Resources in the museum: map of villages, milling stone and water jar from Fallbrook area, pictures of San Luis Rey and Las Flores, writings of a Luiseño student in Rome, flags of Spain and Mexico, pictures of Pico family (including Governor Pio Pico), US-Mexico battle (San Pasqual), treaty signing (General Andres Pico).

American Period

Owned by the United States

The US invasion and war with Mexico brought more turmoil, with troops from both sides passing through nearby areas. The treaty ending the war ushered in great change for the land and its people. The US promise to protect existing rights led Congress to establish a Land Commission to investigate all claims. After twenty years of research into Mexican property ownership, Congress confirmed the Pico family's title to the Santa Margarita Ranch. Certain portions of it were disallowed, however, and the fence line noted on early government surveys was moved west, making a new strip of land available for settlers to obtain under the Homestead Law (the process which enabled land to pass from government ownership into private hands).

Privately Owned

F.W.Bartlett purchased Hayward's homestead (the NE quarter of Section 24, Township 9 South, Range 4 West) and filed for it in his own name, paying $1.25 per acre in order to gain title in six months. He joined with adjacent homesteaders (North, Bush, Abbot, and Mathews) and they applied for a town under the State Townsite law. In 1885, the County surveyor subdivided a portion of Bartlett's homestead into town lots. After it was filed, he could sell lots in the new townsite of West Fallbrook. His surveyed lots extended from Elder to Kalmia, and were laid out on both sides of Pico and Main. Most were 50' by 100', but one large block remained undivided. Bounded by Elder, Main, Alvarado, and today's Mission Road it included the property of the future FCDS.

Resources in the museum: Help children look at 1880's County map showing the system of dividing the territory into Ranges and Townships so that land could be bought and sold. Also, Section maps by U.S. surveyors in order to locate the School property and compare the map with what exists today. Fox's map of Fallbrook District showing the locations of West Fallbrook and Fall Brook, and the one with all the homestead names on it. Look at Homestead papers and examine the names of witnesses and why applicants changed a No. 1 Homestead application to a No. 2 Preemption application and discuss the significance of the change. Look at the diseño of the Santa Margarita Grant, and discuss conditions which brought about different systems of mapping.

Building was rapid. Within a few months, a hotel, store and church had been constructed, and a newspaper was being published. The new store, on the Alvarado/Main corner was the only building on the large block, and when it was completed, the owner hosted a strawberry festival which two hundred people attended. In December, store owner D.R.Stevenson was named postmaster, so now the first Post Office in West Fallbrook was also in the big block.

Resources in the museum: Subdivision map #162. Survey for F.W.Bartlett. San Diego Union, 24Feb1885, 11April1885, 16Apr1885, 7June1885, 27Aug1885. Fallbrook Review, 20Aug1885. W.N.Frickstad, A Century of California Post Offices.

Two years later, the large block became the Hotel Block. All of San Diego County, West Fallbrook included, was experiencing an economic boom. Every community took steps to attract new settlers. The Fallbrook Hotel Co. was incorporated by J.A.Pruett (ten shares), J.W.Cheatham (12 shares) and W.M.Scott (12 shares), stock was sold, and a resort hotel was constructed. It was called the Francis E. Willard, after the famous prohibition leader (the townspeople had a strong Women's Christian Temperance Union). In our photo collection is an 1887 view of West Fallbrook taken from the hill where the Post Office is today. It shows (reading it from left to right), the first little schoolhouse and the Methodist Episcopal church at the far left. Then, just above a line of trees marking Hill Avenue (today's Mission Road) the hotel can be seen under construction. (Torn down in 1958, the hotel was located behind the Art and Cultural Center.)

Resources in the museum: San Diego Union, 15July 1887, 10August 1887, 21 August1887, 14December 1887. 1887 Fallbrook photo.

In our collection of Sanborn Fire Maps, which were made periodically to determine insurance rates, are two from the 1890's which provide more details about the Hotel Block. The maps give the population of West Fallbrook as three hundred, and describe the water facilities as non-existent (no steam nor hand engines; only hose carts available in case of fire). The structures outlined on the big Hotel Block include the Frances E. Willard Hotel with its three story cone shaped tower, the store and post office, and a small structure next to it labeled BANK. In the southeast corner of the Hotel Block, facing Main, is a small structure labeled DRUGS. This was the first building on the Country Day School land.

Resources in the museum: Sanborn-Perris Map Co. Limited, New York (Reproduced by Precise Maps of Old Western Towns, Vlad Shkurkin, Publisher, San Pablo CA 94806).

To determine who used it, I looked at issues of the Fallbrook Review (1885, 1889, 1890). In the ads, Pruett & Parker, Physicians and Surgeons, had an office in the drug store located on the corner of Main and Elder Streets. Pruett is also listed as an officer of the Fallbrook Banking Company. In 1894, the Fallbrook Observer ad for the Fallbrook Bank carries the name I. Pruett (Dr. Pruett's wife, Ida Dunn Pruett). However, the ad for Fallbrook Trading Company still gives J.A.Pruett, President. The Maie Ellis Pictorial History of Fallbrook tells us that Dr. Pruett died in 1893 and gives additional Pruett information and pictures of the family.

Resources in the museum: Fallbrook Review, 8March1889, 6Sept1889, 22Nov1889, 3Jan1890, 16March1894. Maie Ellis Scrapbook Pictorial History of Fallbrook, California, 1880-1920.

The Hotel Block was finally subdivided in 1896, as shown on a copy of Subdivision #824 from The County Recorder's office. On it, Fig Street splits the old Block, reducing the lot containing the hotel to a little more than one quarter its former size. Alleys split the remainder of the lots which line Main. Pico and Hill (now Mission). Now the three lots which comprise the Fallbrook Country Day School are clearly visible. Weaver's name is on the lot with the creek running across it. Tracy's name is on the lot on which the FCDS's building is presently located. And Pruett's name is on the corner lot where the drug store and doctors' office were located in the early 1890's.

Resources in the museum: Subdivision # 824.

Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 2 January 1999.