Alpine Historical

Brief History of Alpine

Old San Diego Photo Collection Source unknown.

by Carol Morrison

Alpine’s long history is a result of its several important topographical, biological and climatic advantages.  Alpine lies on a relatively flat plateau in the Cuyamaca Mountains.  This plateau was conductive to abundant springs and the mild climate encouraged a diverse plant and animal food source, making the Alpine area particularly attractive for settlement.  Archaeological evidence of the Kumeyaay villages can be found throughout Alpine.

The first documented Europeans to enter the Alpine area were a small group of Spanish soldiers who were returning to San Diego from Yuma in 1782.  The Mission influence peaked in the 1830’s.  In 1848, Ramon and Leandro Osuna owned over 13,000 acres, or the entire area of Alpine.  The Osuna brothers were unable to establish their claim and, as a result, 8,877 acres were sold to Don Jose Antonio Aguirre.  His family owned the property until 1862.

In 1854, a semi-weekly horseback mail route ran through Valle de las Viejas from San Diego to Yuma.  It is credited with being the first regular U. S. Mail Route in Southern California.  In 1857, the San Antonio & San Diego Mail Line was established, carrying both passengers and mail.

This “Jackass Mail Trail” ceased operations in 1860.  Travelers in wagons and stagecoaches continued on the route from San Diego to the backcountry or Arizona through Alpine.  The Stagecoach Stop in Valle de las Viejas was later relocated west up the hill to the south side of the dirt road in an area that would be referred to as “The Village.”  The first storekeeper and postmaster was Henry J. Whitney.  He later sold to Charlie Emery, son of Pine Valley pioneer Captain Williams Emery and his wife, decendants of the Spaulding sporting goods family.  After the store burnt down, a new owner built a larger store at the corner of Victoria Drive and Alpine Boulevard.  The store currently at that location was built in the 1930’s.

Another pioneer responsible for the founding of Alpine was George Washington Webb.  Mr. Webb built the Julian-to-Banner Toll Road, which was completed in 1871.  A year later, Mr. Webb and his family moved into his “Alpine Ranch”, in what is now called Harbison Canyon.  This location was near the new wagon road he was building through Valle de las Viejas and Guatay up to the gold fields of Julian.  This road connected San Diego with Julian through Alpine.  In 1885, the small community that had grown and prospered along this busy roadway took the Webb Ranch name for their new town–Alpine.

Because there was no school for his children to attend, Mr. Webb petitioned for the establishment of the Alpine School District.  Alpine’s first school was built next to the Webb’s ranch.  In 1876, Webb moved his family to the Sweetwater Valley.

In 1874, John Stewart Harbison was the premier apiarist and producer of honey in California.  Harbison settled in Alpine and became by far this county’s leading beekeeper.  He is credited with making San Diego County the leading honey-producing county in California and California the leading honey-producing state in the nation.

The variance in elevation in this area offers honeybees a wide choice of plants within easy bee range.  These include white sage, black sage, ceanothus, manzanita, columbine, collinsia, verbenia, wild rose, honeysuckle and wild buckwheat.

Harbison had 2,000 hives and employed twelve men.  Some seasons he shipped 70,000 pounds of select honey, much of it to eastern markets.  Harbison’s success inspired many others to try bee keeping.  With a comparatively small capital outlay a man could start with bees and soon build up a profitable business.  In that day, for a comparable investment, there was twice the money in bees as in sheep or cattle.

Captain Adam Beaty, who came to Alpine in 1869, was a beekeeper in Harbison Canyon until a wildfire destroyed his hives.  He then moved and homesteaded on Tavern Road.  He was a School Board Trustee.  His house was recently moved to the location next to the Nichols house and made a part of the Alpine Historical Society Museum.  It is open for visitors on the last weekend of each month from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

In 1875, in his home in Massachusetts, the young Edward Foss read about the huge and successful Harbison Apiary across the continent.  Edward and Caroline Foss, with two small sons, arrived in Alpine in 1876.  This was the beginning of a new life for the Foss family on their ranch, “Tule Springs”, which was located on the east corner of South Grade Road and Foss Road.  The Fosses had four more children after arriving in Alpine.  All but one of the six Foss children stayed in Alpine throughout their lives.  The Fosses started a school in their home for their children and others.  This first schol was moved to several one-room schoolhouses before it developed into the Alpine Union School District.  Because of their strict religious beliefs, the Fosses helped form the Alpine Community Church in 1894.  Mrs. Foss’ sister, Dr. Sophronia Nichols, came to Alpine in 1888 and established a practice as Alpine’s first doctor.  The last child of Mr. and Mrs. Foss died in 1964.  There were no grandchildren.  So passed one of our earliest pioneer families–88 years in Alpine because of the bees!

The Sophronia Nichols house is the main attraction of the  Alpine Historical Society Museum, located at Tavern Road and Huey Lane.  It is open the last weekend of each month from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Honey continued to be a money crop until the 1970’s.  Raisin and wine grapes were another money crop in the early days.  Wagons of grapes were transported to the trains in Lakeside.  Captain Brabazon established a winery with 320 acres of Zinfandel Grapes.  The winery existed until the 1960’s.

Other money crops included olives, peaches, apricots, plums, apples, walnuts, almonds, wheat, barley, corn, citrus, avocados, squash, melons, oat hay and, occasionally, pears.  Other income came from turkeys, sheep, hogs, cattle, chickens, eggs and dairies.

Most of the people who settled here from the 1870’s to the 1950’s were farmers and ranchers, at least on a part-time basis.  Land was cheap and plentiful and the benign climate beguiled them into believing that anything would grow here–that the farming possibilities were limitless in spite of the low rainfall and shortages of water for irrigation.  Why did they stay?  Because they loved the place, the mountains and the wide clear sky, the vast stretches of open land, rough and arid, the incomparable clean fresh air.  The hardships seemed small compared to the benefits.  For those whose wells went dry every summer, the connection of the community to public water was a great relief in 1962.

Climate is Alpine’s claim to distinction.  Looking for a health cure for their disabilities, many people migrated in the 1880’s to the city of San Diego, which was promoted as a health resort with its fair weather.  One such man was a wealthy ivory importer named Benjamin Arnold.  Finding no relief from his asthma in San Diego, doctors suggested he and his wife, Harriet, try Alpine.  Physicians had been sending patients with respiratory diseases to Alpine with excellent results.  In 1887, Benjamin and Harriet Arnold moved to Alpine and helped to transform a stagecoach stop with thirty-five families into a permanent town.  He improved the “terrible road” to the Lakeside trains and established a regular stagecoach service.  In 1890 he built a one-room school building that was used until 1953.  The same year he built Ye Alpine Tavern.  In 1893, he built The Parsonage, which is Kasitz Kastle Retirement Home today.  In 1899, he donated the land for the cemetery on Victoria Drive and built the Town Hall, which today is owned by the Alpine Woman’s Club.  After his death, his home became the Los Robles Hotel.

The slogan, “Best Climate in the U. S. A. by Government Report” was adopted by all.  This slogan was established during World War I when a government survey determined that the Alpine climate was very well suited for the convalescence of soldiers with respiratory diseases, sometimes due to the poison gasses used in the war.  Dr. Lischner converted the Los Robles Hotel to a modern sanatorium which offered ocmplete care for service men sent here from all over the country to recover.  After the sanatorium burned down, in 1923, Dr. Lischner’s associate, Dr. Barkema, built the Alpine Sanatorium and General Hospital on Tavern Road.  This facility closed in 1942.  In 1963, a new and modern convalescent center opened for business on the hill on Alpine Boulevard.

Resorts were the leading businesses in the area from the late 1890’s through the 1930’s and into the 1940’s.  Early in the 1920’s, a list of resorts included the following:  Los Terrenitos, Wildwood Glen, The Willows, Viejas Vista (Clark’s Cottages), The Oaks and Ye Alpine Tavern.

Public road maintenance did not extend in to the back country before 1900.  Residents were obliged to develop and keep up these roads on their own.  In 1900, the main road in town, Arnold Way, was realigned and became Highway 80 (Lee Highway) as part of the San Diego County improvement program.  The stage line converted to cars in 1915.  In the 1920’s, Alpine Boulevard was built as the new Highway 80, bringing more automobile traffic through town and increasing the demand for restaurants, hotels and motels and gas stations.

In 1969, Interstate 8 was carved through the hills north of Highway 80.  With its completion, Alpine was within a forty-five minute drive from San Diego.  Old Highway 80 was renamed Alpine Boulevard from Dunbar Lane to Willows Road.  Two major advancements–public access to water in 1962 and Interstate 8 in 1969–changed Alpine’s future.  The population increased from 5,000 in 1970 to 17,000 in 2006.  Although Alpine has grown from a stagecoach stop to a small town, it still retains its county lifestyle.  Alpine is a special place to everyone who lives here.

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