The Route to the Crescenta-Cañada Valley in 1880
In 1880, the Crescenta-Cañada Valley was beginning to attract settlers. The Lantermans and Williams had been selling lots for a few years in La Cañada. Dr. Benjamin Briggs was soon to buy the Crescenta Valley and open it up for development. So about this period we begin to find accounts of traveling the long road from Los Angeles by wagon or on horseback.
The roads were graded and easy to follow along the LA River up to the Three Mile House (which today would be close to where the 2 Freeway crosses San Fernando Road). As travelers turned north towards Glendale, the roads – trails really – became rutted and muddy. The rough trail basically followed Verdugo Road, sticking to high ground near the hills as much as possible. In the winter, the Verdugo Road through Glendale turned into sticky adobe mud, seemingly bottomless in some portions. At the entrance to Verdugo Canyon, travelers reached a halfway point known as The Camping Tree. The huge sycamore tree (located just south of Verdugo and Mountain Avenue) was completely covered in wild grape vines. This created a tent-like covered area where travelers would rest their horses in the cool shade and water them from the Verdugo Creek flowing next to the tree.
From here, the travelers would head up into the Verdugo Canyon where the trails turned from rutted and muddy to overgrown and choked with the verdant growth of the always green canyon. Sycamore trees lined the creek, and every tree and bush was covered in grape vines. In the fall, the canyon was besieged with thousands of quail that flew into the area to feed on the ripe wild grapes. The trail wound along the east side of the creek (today’s North Verdugo Road). Across the creek on the west side (where Cañada Boulevard is) were some 200 acres of truck gardens tended by Mexican and Chinese farmers who each day loaded wagons of vegetables for the long trip to the LA markets. Their shacks of adobe and reeds would have been visible from the trail. Nearing where the Oakmont Golf Course is today, the travelers would then parallel a long natural fence made of willow sticks woven together that had since taken root.
Reaching today’s Sparr Heights, the road forked (as it does today at La Crescenta and Verdugo Road). The left fork continued along the Verdugo Creek, shaded by oaks, eventually climbing the west side of the Crescenta Valley. Here the winding road passed today’s Verdugo Hills Golf Course and was called Horse Thief Trail recalling days when Vasquez and other bandits drove stolen horses from LA up into Big Tujunga Canyon via this road. This left fork took travelers to Monte Vista (today’s Sunland-Tujunga).
Taking the right fork took travelers away from the creek, north through the dry sagebrush that is today Montrose. The northbound road suddenly turned east (where Honolulu Avenue intersects today), passing a small wooded ravine where a spring bubbled up. Today that’s Indian Springs Shopping Center featuring Vons and CVS.
After drinking some water from the spring, the travelers would climb the very steep grade up to Rocky Pass (where the UA Theater is). Continuing on Verdugo Road took the travelers past the Lanterman family home Homewood (today’s Lanterman House). Water rights to Pickens Canyon had recently been purchased by the Lantermans and orchards and vineyards were beginning to take shape in patches where sagebrush had been cleared.
Reaching Michigan Avenue (today’s Foothill Boulevard) would have found a rough dirt trail. The trail wandered a bit, veering at any boulder or tree. Heading east on Michigan would take travelers to the Arroyo, where they would switchback down the steep banks, ford the stream if it wasn’t too deep, and climb the other side to continue to Pasadena. Heading west on Michigan would have the traveler climb the rocky pass (where the YMCA is), then drop onto the dryer, rocky flood plain known locally as Big Rocks. In just a couple of years. this section of sagebrush with its remote scattered ranches would be renamed La Crescenta.