wine, citrus and water–still following the trail of General Patton’s Southern California family

When I first opened the series of General Patton-related posts I didn’t foresee my interest broadening so extensively to include his family. Simple reason–I had NO idea his family was so instrumental in the development of early Southern California. They are among the most illustrious and fascinating of true California pioneers.

I suspect I’ll be reading about Patton’s grandfather, Benjamin Davis Wilson, well into the future. He was a successful entrepreneur with political and business interests connecting to many areas of local history.

The history in this valley is too rich and varied to cover in detail, but I’m finding a few areas particularly interesting and perhaps more adaptable to re-telling.

Mid-19th century California was all about the land.

Wilson’s first wife, Ramona Yorba, was the daughter of  very wealthy Don Bernardo Yorba. The marriage opened opportunity to great land wealth, and now allied with an important Southern California family, Wilson,  known as Don Benito, became a Californio–a group of Mexicans and Anglos who thought of themselves first as Californians and less as either Mexicans or Americans.

They settled on large land holdings in what is now the San Gabriel Valley.

I’ve previously mentioned a local naturally occurring body of water that once provided sustenance for the Gabrieleno-Tongva people and later the Spanish missionaries associated with the San Gabriel Mission.

The lower end of the lake was dammed to power a saw mill, wool works and tanner that pumped through a grist mill constructed in 1816.

B.D. Wilson purchased a large part of Rancho San Pasqual in 1854, including the lake, which he named after himself (Wilson Lake) using the water to irrigate his vineyards.

Wilson’s wife, Ramona, died in 1849 and he later married the widow, Margaret Hereford, building a lavish home surrounded by citrus trees and vineyards. It was at this home, Lake Vineyard, that six years following his death, Wilson’s younger daughter, Ruth, brought her new husband, George Smith Patton II. In 1885, his son and namesake was born.

The lovely Lake Vineyard once stood on the grounds of the current San Marino’s Lacy Park, where a beautiful War Memorial honoring San Marino servicemen and women who have lost their lives in combat is placed at the entrance. And there is one other famous honoree, General George Patton Jr., who as a youth, played on the very same grounds.

In learning more about this California pioneer family I’ve stumbled upon several new and fascinating stories. My father recalls when land near his grandmother’s home in nearby Sierra Madre was prime vineyard land.  Although I had some knowledge of grapes and winemaking at the San Gabriel Mission, I have only through studying the Wilson-Patton family begun to understand how closely linked this region is to winemaking in early  Southern California.

I have another story to tell that should please history buffs, wine enthusiasts and those who enjoy a good green thumb story!

I only learned yesterday about the San Gabriel Wine Company of the mid-1800’s. Here’s the deal! Once again I have to sort the usual land boundary confusion. There’s the San Gabriel Mission winery–in San Gabriel, and then the San Gabriel Wine Company appears to have been in the neighboring city of Alhambra. I wonder if I can find an old map!

I’ll leave you with a few photos today, but come back soon with a bit of winemaking history. I have a little reading to do.

It’s rose pruning time in Southern California. Shouldn’t they stop blooming first?

I’ve been enjoying frequent afternoon walks in one of my favorite local parks. Lacy Park (San Marino) is over thirty acres of space known for its extensive variety of trees, as well as a lovely rose garden. The park has two walking loops, with the outer loop well shaded by trees, and it’s an enjoyable place for exercise, if I don’t get too distracted by the squirrels and friendly people walking their dogs.

The center green of the park was once a lake, fed by springs and streams that flowed from the mountains. The Gabrielino-Tongva people relied on the area for water. Later when the Spanish Mission San Gabriel came to the area in the 1770s the lower end of the lake was dammed to provide power for a saw mill, wool works and tannery. Water was also pumped through a grist mill.

With my interest in local history I enjoy walking in this park and paying attention to the surroundings.

I did get a little distracted today. Although we’re barely into winter, I caught a little early spring fever. Today was cut back the roses day. In Southern California roses are best pruned between the first of January through February. Generally within one month of the pruning the roses will begin to put out new growth, and as soon as that happens, in my mind it’s spring!

The park grass is brown, many of the trees still bare, and there isn’t much flowering, but the landscapers were in full tilt preparing the beds for what’s to come. I found some lovely blooms that didn’t receive the message that it’s winter and time for them to get a short nap. Even a few stray Iris looked healthy and happy despite the fact that they have usually died back long before Christmas.

I’ll take a photo from time to time and share the park as it comes back to life. The rose garden should be beautiful in another two months, and the grass will turn green and better frame the small grove of palm trees.

There are so many trees in this lovely park, many originally donated by Henry Huntington. One caught my eye today because of its unusual name–Hackberry! What’s a hackberry?

Celtis australis deciduous Celtis australis

Celtis australis is also known as the European nettle tree, the Mediterranean hackberry, lote tree, or honey berry. The tree is bare right now, but I’ll be looking for signs of life. It should produce small, dark-purple berries that hang in clusters, attracting birds and other wildlife.

So the park is in transition and I’ll be enjoying the changes while I walk the outer loop. I’d probably get a lot more exercise if I didn’t stop every few minutes to read the plant and tree markers. When the grounds are more lush with spring and summer foliage the markers are more difficult to read.

Maybe next time I’ll show you the memorial to General George S. Patton, a native of San Marino. I can feel another history lesson coming on!

How are General George S. Patton, the San Gabriel Mission and an old grist mill connected? Come take a field trip with me and I’ll explain.

Mark Twain said, “One of the most admirable things about history is, that almost as a rule we get as much information out of what it does not say as we get out of what it does say.”  

As I continue to study early California history, I uncover more stories connected  to early mission life, and the more I discover, the more I realize I now have additional research questions.

I suppose this is why historians often choose a particular era or even one single historical event and then dedicate their work to becoming experts. I have no design on fashioning myself into an expert, but I’m definitely hooked and have multiple areas of early California history begging for my attention.

This week I was able to stay very local, within five miles of my home, and take my field trip to another historic landmark. El Molino Viejo, or The Old Mill, a former grist mill associated with the operation of the San Gabriel Mission.

The mission was founded on September 8, 1771, dedicated to farming and self-sufficiency. One of the remaining mission structures is less than ten miles from current mission property, the Old Mill, built by the Tongva-Gabrielino Mission Indian laborers around 1816, as designed by Franciscan Father Jose Maria de Zalvidea.

Between 1816-1823 the Old Mission gathered water from an adjacent canyon and the mill was responsible for grinding enough wheat and corn to feed the mission inhabitants.

Be sure to read the story on the plaque and see how General George Patton recovered the millstones.

A surprise to many who live locally, the water that left the grinding area then flowed to what is now the very popular Lacy Park. The padres used the water that accumulated into a bog  for wool-washing, and as a tannery and sawmill.

In 1846, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor or Alta California sold the property and it is there that new stories open into the settling of the Pasadena area. I am working on those bites of history and will look forward to sharing them with you as I do a bit more local touring.

I hope you’ll enjoy photos of the current mill site . The mill is the oldest commercial building in Southern California and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped and maintained by The San Marino Women’s Garden Club, “The Diggers,” with specific attention devoted to native plants. This late in the season there isn’t much in bright color, but I’ll be going again in the spring to note the changes. It is really quite lovely as it is with natural brush, many fruit trees, wild grasses and succulents.

The birds, bees, butterflies and small animals are very much at home!

Part of my personal study is to better understand complex stories and find a way to share them without overwhelming amounts of information. My exercise in studying the historical record is indeed at least scratching the surface of what is “said and unsaid.”

Indigenous “Californians” date back some 13,000-15,000 years. It’s impossible to study the life and activities of the mission without acknowledging that all mission success was realized at the expense of the native Gabrielino-Tongvan people. Their story is much more complex than I can develop in a single blogpost, but there are 6,000 Indians buried at Mission San Gabriel Arcangel.  There is a lot to learn.

And as I share, I don’t expect others to remember all the details, but I hope it excites you enough to think about what little historical field trips you might make to better know your own local history. Be careful, though. It’s addicting.