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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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A Camping Trip to La Cañada, July 1882

Local history author and researcher Jo Anne Sadler found a wonderful newspaper article from 1882 describing a family’s month-long camping adventure in the wilds of today’s La Cañada. Mysteriously the author (from Pasadena) never gave his name in the article, only his initials: W.O.F. Who knows, maybe he wasn’t camping by choice!

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mr. F described the landscape in very objective geographic terms that sound unfamiliar to us now, although they are all true today. He described the area as a long and narrow slope between the Sierra Madre Mountains (San Gabriels) on the north, and a lower broken range on the south (Verdugo and San Rafael mountains). That lower range is pierced in the middle by an opening (Verdugo Canyon), through which passed a good road (Verdugo Road). That road, through a pleasant Spanish farming community (Verdugo Woodlands), took a traveler all the way to Los Angeles.

Returning to the slope, Mr. F tells us that it was about two miles wide, and 10 or 15 miles long. It extended from the Arroyo Seco on the east, and rose steadily to “The Summit” at the west end (Lowell and Foothill). A “poor road” traverses the slope (Foothill Boulevard). Mr. F mentioned that every canyon of the surrounding mountains has a little water, and that in two or three the water is plentiful.

Mr. F seemed not to be able to determine the name of our valley, stating that the local residents call it by several names, including the “Lanterman Neighborhood,” and “Canyada Ranch,” but that “The Slope” is the name he heard most often. He said about 15 to 20 families lived here. Most notable were the Lantermans at “Homeward Hall” (Homewood, near today’s Lanterman House Museum) and Delia Dunks at her “Verdugo Heights” boarding house (near the top of the straight section of Angeles Crest Highway). He mentioned a newly arrived “Mr. Briggs” (Dr. Benjamin Briggs), who had just purchased “Pickens’ place” (Briggs Terrace, at the top of Briggs Avenue), and was making more land purchases with an eye to growing raisins. (The Briggs family’s fortune had come from fruit growing, including raisins. Around this time Dr. Briggs bought the entire western half of “The Slope” and founded and named La Crescenta, making his money in land sales rather than fruit.)

While exploring the valley Mr. F described a pleasant buggy trip, driving up into the mountains on the “Turnpike.” (In 1871 Mormon engineers built a freight road through La Cañada and into the San Gabriels, roughly following the route of modern Angeles Crest Highway. It was built almost as far as today’s Clear Creek Information Center before the project was abandoned. It’s still barely visible in some spots.)

Just above “Gould’s place” (top of Gould Avenue) he turned off onto “Brunk’s Grade” a switchback road descending 500 feet into the shady Arroyo Seco, stopping at Brunk’s cabin. (“Old Man Brunk,” the first white man living in the Arroyo Seco, had many years earlier left San Francisco “for that town’s own good.”) Traveling two miles down the canyon and crossing the stream 16 times, he climbed out of the riverbed (by JPL) and looped back to his campsite.

Mr. F is particularly struck by our weather, which by July standards was fairly moderate. He talked about watching the morning fog creep up Verdugo Canyon and the Arroyo, sometimes even curving around the San Rafaels and Verdugos, leaving them looking like islands, but stated that the fog never reached his camping site on the slope. Even the hottest days were not as hot as lower altitudes, and the nights were cool but not cold. He had never experienced such a perfect month of weather.

He noted that the residents “ought to take more interest in setting out shade trees” (the upper portion of the valley was fairly treeless then), but that overall “the residents are an intelligent and courteous class of people.”

Mr. F predicted that if they “maintain unity, enterprise, and local pride” that the “Canyada Slope” will become a delightful refuge for many from Los Angeles and the surrounding county. And so it has!

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