The First Wedding in the Valley
On a May morning in 1887, high up among the sagebrush and rocks on the upper slopes of the Crescenta Valley, two young people from Indiana pledged their lives to each other in the first marriage ceremony in La Crescenta. The groom was Fred Foster, a young man from Indiana who had taken a job as a teacher in Oakland. The bride was Anna Merrill, blue eyed and rosy cheeked, just 24 years old, whose family had moved here from Indiana two years previously. Anna and Fred had been high-school sweethearts who had renewed their romance in California.
The setting for the ceremony was a rough cabin that Fred and one of Anna’s brothers had built on 10 acres above today’s El Caminito Avenue. For the wedding the cabin was decorated to the hilt by all the valley residents using plant materials found in the valley. Boughs of evergreen cut from trees in the canyons were hung on the inside walls of the cabin. An archway for the bride and groom to stand beneath was woven from young branches, and roses and lilies inserted to decorate it. A bridal bouquet was made of flowers from Dr. Briggs’ garden. The cabin was set on a treeless rocky plain with no shade so a neighbor, “General” Shields, dug up a big sycamore tree from the canyon above, and dragged it down to the cabin. There he set it upright before the cabin’s door and decorated its branches with Toyon berries and geranium flowers.
The marriage license had been secured by the groom the day before by a long horse ride to Los Angeles and a buggy and two fine horses were rented from Pasadena by the bride’s brothers to transport Anna through the sagebrush to the wedding. The bride wore a white muslin dress with a then-fashionable Elizabethan collar. White slippers and lace gloves completed the outfit.
The ceremony was a joyous informal affair conducted by the bride’s uncle, professor and Reverend W.C. White, and witnessed by Dr. Briggs. All the valley’s residents attended, filling the cabin and overflowing into the yard beneath the shade of the impromptu sycamore tree. For a keepsake wedding portrait, a traveling photographer showed up in his wagon, painted on the side with “Horses, Cattle, Wedding Parties Taken.” Guests enjoyed wedding cake and homemade ice cream and lemonade. The honeymoon was spent in the rough cabin that night, after which Mr. and Mrs. Foster took the long journey back to Oakland for Fred’s teaching job at the prestigious Hopkins Academy.
The Fosters traveled the country with Fred’s teaching jobs, including a stint in the wilds of Washington State as a superintendent of a couple of Indian reservations. After grad school at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Fosters returned to Southern California. Fred was the principal of Garfield Elementary School in Pasadena, a school that no longer exists. After Fred died in the 1940s, Anna returned to the Crescenta Valley. She lived with her daughter Mary Foster on Sanborn Avenue, just a quarter mile down the hill from the cabin site where she had been married and spent her first night as a wife.
Anna had experienced an interesting and dynamic childhood as a tomboy among the genteel and literate Merrill family of Indianapolis before they moved to the Crescenta Valley. Anna’s reminisces of her childhood adventures were later recorded by children’s author Mabel Leigh Hunt in her 1937 book “Susan Beware,” a book still available. The heroine was renamed by the author but the book is dedicated to Anna Merrill Foster.
Anna spent her last days playing piano, an old rosewood Steinway. She died in 1951 at 88 years old, alert to the end. Among her possessions was a long tin box containing her old wedding dress and other accessories from her bridal outfit. In a small egg pail, carefully sealed, were the crumbling remains of a 64-year-old piece of wedding cake, saved all these years as a memento of the first wedding in the Valley.