I love history and I like to consider life with a nod to historical context, so I’m doing my version of a happy dance (mostly in my head) at the latest happenings in my town– the City of San Gabriel. We have very prominently been in the news for the last six weeks, and it would seem that all of a sudden I have a crowd of people enjoying what I’ve been appreciating since I was a child! Hang in there with me…I have to supply the background to my excitement!
There is a great deal of history connected to the City of San Gabriel, the City with a Mission, and the surrounding neighborhood, the Mission District, which includes the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, Historical Museum and many other cultural sites. Heavily influenced by mission architecture, the charm and importance of the District is designated by the National Parks Service as an interpretive center for the De Anza National Historic Trail that runs from the Mexican border to San Francisco.
I have a deep appreciation for the San Gabriel Mission, one of the 21 Spanish Missions scattered along California’s El Camino Real, or “The Royal Highway.” The Mission San Gabriel Arcangel was the fourth established Mission, founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra. The Spanish-Moorish style Mission is a large, particularly beautiful structure. Its bell tower and outside stairway is very different from the other Missions, and it is constructed from stone, brick and mortar instead of adobe. The Mission Cemetery is notable for the many pioneer families buried on the premises and it was from the San Gabriel Mission that 11 families left on September 4, 1781, to found El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles. Not medieval history, perhaps, but cool!
The high school I attended is also in the same district and I have felt a kinship with this great structure for most of my life, but I happen to know as a certainty that for many local residents the Mission has just “always been there” and it only gets fresh attention when we have an earthquake and it suffers a little damage–a California “shaker” brings out everyone’s concern.
Well, what do you know, but it is getting plenty of attention now! Ta-Da! We have our very own high-profile archaeological dig taking place within walking distance of our home and adjacent the Mission. A 2.2-mile construction project to lower a little more than a mile of Union Pacific railroad track into a below street level trench has been temporarily put on hold. Archaeologists were called in when remnants of early Mission life were uncovered.
Archaeologists have currently unearthed the remnants of a mill dating back to the 18th century as well as foundations and footholds of other buildings once associated with Mission property, including the remainder of an important and informative water route. Clay stones with animal paw prints, an 1816 gold piece depicting the likeness of Ferdinand of Italy, spiritual medallions, as well as animal bones are part of the 20,000 already retrieved, with the promise of more artifacts being sifted in the more than 300 containers of soil (daily!) providing clues into how people lived.
The dig is being monitored by representatives of the Gabrieleno Tongva Native American Tribe (a significant part of Mission history) to assure dignity and respectful handling of human remains–thus far, no human remains have been uncovered, but the dig is an ongoing and lively excavation.
Because the site is in a very high traffic area (they were lowering railroad track after all!) it is not at all convenient for the public to observe, even from a distance, however, educators have been given private tours of the site and school field trips have been carefully planned. A webcam (which works most of the time!) has been installed and I drive by every couple of days…my yoga class is across the street…and I’m excited just to know it’s there! I’m anticipating the final reports and the possibility of future museum exhibitions.
It’s not difficult to accept that our local economy is boosted by the combination of Disneyland, Pasadena Rose Bowl/Rose Parade revenues and the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, but I often wish Southern California historical sites were more of a tourist draw! This may be a good start to renewing interest in local history. I simply had to share my interest and enthusiasm. I frankly think it is VERY exciting!
I just can’t tell you how much this little journey has increased my historical knowledge and at the same time given a nice little boost to my sense of well-being! Should something incredible be unearthed, you’ll hear it from me!
- You: At a planned train trench, an archaeological treasure trove (labspaces.net)
- San Gabriel Mission archaeological excavation unearths 20K artifacts (puvungna.wordpress.com)
- Spanish coins from 1800s found in dig near San Gabriel Mission (latimesblogs.latimes.com)