Building a cannon carriage and adobe walls in Old Town.

Saturday, on my way to TwainFest, I walked a little around Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to see what I might see.

At the blacksmith shop, wood shop and nearby grounds, I observed some interesting activity!

First, I learned from Todd in the blacksmith shop that a new carriage for Old Town plaza’s historic cannon will soon be built! I blogged about this project back in April here. I detail a little about the cannon’s history in that blog post.

Todd showed me how he had removed some of the original iron fittings from the wooden carriage. All of the iron will be saved, then refitted to a brand new carriage once it’s built. Welds will be hidden to preserve the original appearance.

The carriage will be constructed in the wood shop, a small work room attached to the blacksmith shop.

Here are a few photos of the wood shop…

Then I noticed two people working in the dirt area outside the blacksmith shop, behind Seeley Stable. This is the new spot in the State Park where adobe wall-making is demonstrated.

I’ve been told the old adobe demonstration area, which I blogged about here, will be used in the future for a Kumeyaay interpretive display.

As I watched slimy fingers jam mud mortar between large sun-dried adobe blocks, I took a look at information concerning which structures in Old Town are original adobes, and which ones are reconstructed.

Six original adobe buildings shown are: Casa de Machado y Silvas, c. 1843; Casa de Machado y Stewart, c. 1830; Casa de Estudillo, c. 1827; Casa de Bandini/Cosmopolitan Hotel, c. 1829; Altamirano-Perdrorena House, c. 1869; and the oldest structure in San Diego, Casa de Carrillo (between Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and the Presidio), c. 1817.

Reconstructed adobe buildings are: Robinson-Rose Building, c. 1853; Casa de Wrightington, c. 1804; San Diego House, c. 1841; Casa de Rodriguez, c. 1830; Colorado House (Adobe Annex), c. 1854; Casa de Alvarado, c. 1830; and Alvarado Saloon, c. 1830.

Typical adobe wall construction involved a foundation and a layer of small stones and shards topped by adobe bricks, which are cemented with lime and sand or mud plaster.

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San Diego’s two historic Civil War cannons.

Two cannons dating from the American Civil War now make their home in San Diego. You can find them floating above the bay on the barge behind the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

According to plaques at the museum and this very detailed article from the The Journal of San Diego History, these two “Napoleon guns” (also called a 12-pounder Gun, Model 1857) were utilized by the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1886 they were brought to our city by the U.S. Army and placed at the San Diego Barracks. The old barracks was located near today’s Seaport Village. (You can see a photo of the historical plaque marking the old barracks site here.)

The two “bronze” or “gun metal” cannons are named Big John and El Justin. Each cannon without the carriage weighs over 1,200 pounds. At the barracks they were fired at sunrise and at sunset, and whenever visiting ships came into San Diego harbor.

In 1898, at the beginning of the Spanish-American War, the two Napoleon guns were moved to Fort Rosecrans where they defended the newly laid Ballast Point minefield, and they “were fired nightly, despite complaints that the noise frightened the horses…”

Afterward they were moved from place to place in San Diego, thrown aside as junk, then finally restored in the 1980’s. For much more information, read the detailed article here.

You can view historical black-and-white photographs of the two Napoleon guns in San Diego here!

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Old Town’s plaza cannon in for repairs!

If you’ve wondered what happened to the cannon that usually stands near the center of Old Town San Diego’s central grass plaza, I learned on Saturday that it’s in for repairs!

The old cannon’s wooden carriage is being restored at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s blacksmith shop.

Seven years ago I blogged about this particular cannon here. I had read at the time it was called El Capitan, and that it was one of two cannons still remaining from the Spanish Fort Guijarros that was built in 1797 at Ballast Point near the entrance to San Diego Bay.

The other cannon, cast in Manila in the 18th century, is called El Jupiter. That one is on display in the Serra Museum atop Presidio Hill. Find a photo of that cannon here.

As you can see, the two cannons do not appear identical. I was told by a friendly gentleman working in the blacksmith shop that this Old Town plaza cannon has a less certain history than its companion El Jupiter. He said there are indications it might have been made in England. We surmised it might have been taken by the Spanish during a conflict at sea. Its exact origin seems to be a mystery.

If you’d like to see this mysterious cannon and its carriage and ask your own questions, head over to the blacksmith shop on a weekend when they are likely to be open. And linger to watch the smiths hammering away at red hot iron!

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Pirate sneaks onto tall ship, begins cannon battle.

A smiling, innocent-looking pirate just walks along. People suspect nothing.
A smiling, innocent-looking pirate just walks along. People suspect nothing.

Did I actually see what I thought I saw?

Two tall ships were scheduled to have a mock cannon battle today on San Diego Bay. The reenactment was to be between the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s replica Revenue Cutter Californian (the official tall ship of the State of California) and the Lady Washington, a tall ship visiting from the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority.

What happened?

Pirates!

Two very rascally pirates!

Read the photo captions and tell me where I am wrong!

Visitors to the Maritime Museum of San Diego have boarded the tall ship Californian, to engage in a mock cannon battle with visiting tall ship Lady Washington.
Visitors to the Maritime Museum of San Diego have boarded the tall ship Californian, to engage in a mock cannon battle with visiting tall ship Lady Washington.

In case you want to learn a bit more about Californian's sails and rigging, click this photo. Unfortunately, pirates know all about this stuff.
In case you want to learn a bit more about Californian’s sails and rigging, click this photo. Unfortunately, pirates know all about this stuff.

Notorious Captain Swordfish, that pirate who makes Blackbeard look perfectly civilized, comes striding along. He must have an evil scheme in mind.
Notorious Captain Swordfish, that pirate who makes Blackbeard look perfectly civilized, comes striding along. He must have another evil scheme in mind.

Captain Swordfish makes a scene, distracting those who are boarding the Lady Washington. Nobody notices what that first innocent-looking pirate is up to.
Captain Swordfish makes a crazy scene, distracting those who are boarding the Lady Washington. Nobody notices what that first innocent-looking pirate is up to.

That first pirate has taken control of Californian! It's heading out into San Diego Bay while a museum employee's back is turned!
That first pirate has taken control of Californian! It’s heading out into San Diego Bay while a museum employee’s back is turned!

Turn around! Turn around! That rascal is stealing your ship!
Turn around! Turn around! That rascal is stealing your ship!

The Californian comes about and launches an attack on the Maritime Museum! The insolence! Deadly cannons thunder and echo throughout downtown San Diego!
The Californian comes about and launches an attack on the Maritime Museum! The insolence! Deadly cannons thunder and echo throughout downtown San Diego!

Oh, dear! Oh, dear!
Oh, dear! Oh, dear!

The Maritime Museum employee quickly loads one of the land battery cannons, and gets ready to fire! That pirate won't get away so easily!
The Maritime Museum employee quickly loads one of the land battery cannons, and gets ready to fire! That pirate won’t get away so easily!

An epic battle begins!
An epic battle begins!

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Cannon in San Diego’s Old Town plaza.

cannon in san diego's old town plaza

One of my favorite areas in San Diego is Old Town. There’s so much to see and enjoy wherever you turn. For lovers of history, it’s a treasure trove of discoveries.

Here’s a photo taken inside the central Plaza de las Armas, the heart of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This old Spanish cannon is called El Capitan. It was one of ten cannons that long ago protected Fort Guijarros near the entrance to San Diego Bay. The Spanish fort was built in 1797 on Ballast Point out of adobe.

El Capitan was likely fired during the Battle of San Diego in 1803, when the Spanish attacked the American brig Lelia Byrd which was smuggling otter skins. This cannon was likely fired again at the American smuggler ship Franklin in 1828, when the fort was under Mexican control. The only other surviving cannon from Fort Guijarros is called El Jupiter, and can be seen in the Serra Museum atop nearby Presidio Hill.

Old Town is all about history. The grassy plaza, containing the cannon, historical plaques, a high flagpole and picnic benches, is surrounded by old adobe buildings preserved and recreated from the early 1800’s. San Diego originated right here, at the base of a bluff where a Spanish military outpost stood. The outpost, called the Presidio, was built by Gaspar de Portola in 1769. That same year, Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded on Presidio Hill by the ambitious Spanish Franciscan friar, Father Junipero Serra. This made Old Town the site of the very first European settlement in California.

Around the Plaza de las Armas visitors can check out numerous interesting small museums, including the original one-room schoolhouse, an old blacksmith shop, San Diego’s very first newspaper office, an early courthouse, and a stable with a large collection of antique wagons and stagecoaches. Tourists can find gifts and souvenirs in a smattering of craft-filled shops. Families can dine at several colorful restaurants. Plus, there are many additional historical and commercial attractions along San Diego Avenue to the south of the plaza.

Can you guess another thing I like? Admission to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and all of its museums is free!

Girl walks past cannon in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Girl walks past a cannon named El Capitan in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.