Days of the Vaqueros in Old Town San Diego!

Two vaqueros chat during an event in Old Town San Diego that reenacts aspects of Californio history.
Two vaqueros chat during an event in Old Town San Diego that reenacts fascinating Californio history.

I enjoyed the Trades That Shaped the West event in Old Town San Diego last Saturday so much, I decided to return today to experience another Stagecoach Days event: Days of the Vaqueros!

Days of the Vaqueros invited curious visitors to experience what life was like when San Diego was a part of Mexico. The emphasis was on the vaqueros–the first true cowboys. During the era of the Californios, wealthy ranch owners employed vaqueros to manage their stock.

For a couple of decades–from the early 1820s to the mid-1840s–cattle hides were the primary export of Alta California. Merchant ships from the East Coast (and other places about the Pacific Ocean) would trade the plentiful hides for finished goods that were in high demand in early, geographically isolated, sparsely populated towns like San Diego.

Someone reads Days of the Vaqueros sign on the Robinson Rose House in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Someone checks out Days of the Vaqueros activities. The banner hangs on the Robinson Rose House in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Taking place during Old Town's summer Stagecoach Days, today's event celebrated life in San Diego when the small town and surrounding area was part of Mexico.
Taking place during Old Town’s summer weekend Stagecoach Days, today’s event celebrated life in San Diego when the small town and Alta California were part of Mexico.
Ladies in period dresses at the Days of the Vaqueros event in Old Town San Diego.
Ladies pass by in period dresses. One of many cool sights at the Days of the Vaqueros event in Old Town San Diego.
Tables contained information about life during the era of huge Mexican land grant cattle ranches worked by vaqueros. Vaqueros, the first cowboys, were mostly indigenous people employed to manage cattle by the wealthy land owners.
Tables contained information about life during the era of huge Mexican land grant ranches worked by vaqueros. Vaqueros, the first true cowboys, were mostly indigenous people employed to manage cattle by the wealthy land owners.
A vaquero shows a visitor to Old Town how to properly handle a rope.
A vaquero shows a visitor to Old Town how to properly handle a rope.
The visitor successfully lassoes his cow--the rear end, that is--first try!
The visitor successfully lassoes his cow–the rear end, that is–first try!
A gentleman who used to work for Buck Knives makes unique knife handles with elk antlers. He has developed his own technique, which takes great skill and precision.
A gentleman who used to work for Buck Knives makes unique knife handles out of elk antlers. He has developed his own technique, which takes great skill and precision.
A hat maker shows how beaver felt material was steamed then pushed over a hat-form block.
A hat maker shows how beaver felt material was steamed then pushed over a hat-form block.
What's cooking on the campfire? Some tasty pozole, I was told!
What’s cooking on the campfire? Some tasty pozole, I was told!
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup or stew, made from hominy, meat and various vegetable seasonings.
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup or stew, made from hominy, meat and various vegetable seasonings.
Preparing eggs for the cascarón. Near the end of a fiesta Californios flirted by cracking eggs filled with scented water or confetti over the startled head of someone they liked.
Decorating eggshell cascarones. Near the end of a fiesta, Californios flirted by cracking eggs filled with scented water or confetti over the startled head of someone they liked.
A group called Los Californios played authentic early California music--tunes that were preserved over a century ago on wax cylinder sound recordings made by Charles Lummis.
A group called Los Californios played authentic early California music–tunes that were preserved over a century ago on wax cylinder sound recordings made by Charles Lummis.
A couple dances to the happy, gentle music.
A couple dances to the happy, gentle music.
Publications by a project called San Diego Friends of Old Time Music. Author Vykki Mende Gray is helping to preserve the musical history of California.
Publications by a nonprofit project called San Diego Friends of Old Time Music. Author Vykki Mende Gray is helping to preserve the musical history of California.
A display of braided ropes and cut rawhide, once commonly used by vaqueros as they worked on the large cattle ranches around San Diego.
A display of braided ropes and rawhide, once commonly used by vaqueros as they worked on the large cattle ranches around San Diego.
On this table I see more ropes, a canteen, iron brands and boot spurs.
On this table I see more ropes, a canteen, iron brands and boot spurs.
A gentleman who teaches students visiting Old Town about history holds up an illustration of bear-baiting, which early Californians found entertaining.
A gentleman who teaches school students visiting Old Town about history holds up an illustration of bear-baiting, which early Californians found entertaining.
These guys were making adobe bricks. I learned earth and water are mixed, and straw or manure are often added for strength and cohesion.
These guys were making adobe bricks. I learned earth and water are mixed, and straw or manure are often added for strength and cohesion.
These authentic adobe bricks take weeks or months to properly dry. When hard, they'll possibly be used in new construction or restored exhibits at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Authentic adobe bricks take weeks or months to properly dry. When hard, these bricks will possibly be used in new construction or to restore existing exhibits inside Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Traditional dancing in the courtyard of Casa de Estudillo of Los Camotes (which translates the sweet potatoes), a tune from Mexican and Spanish California.
Traditional dancing in the courtyard of Casa de Estudillo of Los Camotes (which translates the sweet potatoes), a tune from old Mexican and Spanish California.

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Here’s the Cool San Diego Sights main page, where you can read the most current blog posts.  If you’re using a small mobile device, click those three parallel lines up at the top–that opens up my website’s sidebar, where you’ll see the most popular posts, a search box, and more!

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A look inside the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town.

A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego's historic Old Town.
A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego’s historic Old Town.

Yesterday I lingered for a few minutes at the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Two forges were operating. I watched as hammers swung, making sparks fly. It was fascinating to learn about blacksmithing and its vital role in San Diego’s history.

I chatted for a bit with one of the friendly gentlemen working in the Blacksmith Shop. These days the shop is used by highly skilled hobbyists to make all sorts of ornamental and useful metal items. They’ve made objects used for display elsewhere in the State Park. They make everything but horseshoes–and that’s because none of them know how to shoe a horse!

I learned that in 19th century San Diego there were several blacksmiths; this shop now in Old Town was probably located a bit to the east, on the outskirts of town (near today’s Presidio Hills Golf Course) because of the fire danger it presented to other buildings. No blacksmith shop back then would have been as large as the one visitors see today. A blacksmith would most likely do their work in the corner of a livery stable, using one modest forge.

Please read the photo captions to learn more!

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park's Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this brick furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Products that were fashioned include grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Products that were fashioned include iron grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
A shiny anvil.
A shiny anvil.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links themselves.
A look back at history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.
A photo of living history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire, metal and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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History comes alive at Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day.

Folks enjoy taking a ride in an old-fashioned covered wagon in Old Town San DIego during 2017 Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day.
Folks enjoy taking a ride in an old-fashioned covered wagon in Old Town San Diego during 2017 Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day.

I’ve got lots of colorful photos! The annual Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day was held today in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. I covered this event last year, but I love history and scenes from the Old West so much that I swung by again!

San Diego’s history is remarkably diverse, considering our city is relatively new, and that it is situated in what for a long time was a thinly populated, desert-like wilderness. Many peoples and cultures have converged to help shape our dynamic city, including the original Native American Kumeyaay, missionaries from Spain, Mexicans who have called San Diego home, immigrants from Asia, an influx of Italian and Portuguese fishermen, and among many others, the Mormons.

Please enjoy these photos and click the big sign that provides a little more background about the event and the historical importance of the Mormon Battalion in San Diego. More information can also be found on my previous blog post concerning the event last year. Check the related links below!

The public was welcome to swing by the annual Mormon Battalion Commemoration in Old Town. There were many historical reenactments and costumes to see.
The public was welcome to swing by the annual Mormon Battalion Commemoration in Old Town. There were many historical reenactments and costumes to see.
One tent concerned letters home, featuring historical journals, maps and genealogy.
One tent concerned letters home, featuring historical journals, maps and genealogy.
Today we commemorate the first arrival of the U.S. Army in San Diego on January 29, 1847. This detachment was called The Mormon Battalion, recruited from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Click image to enlarge the sign if you'd like to read it.)
Today we commemorate the first arrival of the U.S. Army in San Diego on January 29, 1847. This detachment was called The Mormon Battalion, recruited from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Click image to enlarge the sign if you’d like to read it.)
Lots of interesting historical activities were being enjoyed by a large, enthusiastic crowd.
Lots of interesting historical activities were being enjoyed by a large, enthusiastic crowd.
Map shows Mormon Battalion Routes 1846 - 1847. The soldiers, recruited by the U.S. Army to fight in the Mexican-American War, undertook the longest military march in United States history.
Map shows Mormon Battalion Routes 1846 – 1847. The soldiers, recruited by the U.S. Army to fight in the Mexican-American War, undertook the longest military march in United States history.  After arriving, they helped to build early San Diego.
People draw the star and bear symbols of the California Republic.
People draw the star and bear symbols of the California Republic.
I believe these folks were making biscuits, a staple of the Old West.
I believe these families were making biscuits, a staple of the Old West.
Guys in pioneer clothing just kick back in plastic chairs and watch some dancing and musical entertainment during the event.
Guys in pioneer clothing just kick back by plastic chairs and watch some dancing and musical entertainment during the event.
Some colorful, joyful Mexican folklorico dancing on stage in Old Town San Diego!
Some colorful, joyful Mexican folklorico dancing on stage in Old Town San Diego!
This guy with the huge saw was demonstrating another aspect of life in old San Diego.
This guy with the huge saw was demonstrating another aspect of life in old San Diego.
Visitors to Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day try their hand at sawing a thick log!
Visitors to Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day try their hand at sawing a thick log!
A bunch of steampunk enthusiasts were attending the historical event!
A bunch of steampunk enthusiasts were attending the historical event!
A fez and a golden arm. These guys should be in some sort of cool adventure movie!
A fez and a golden arm. These guys should be in some sort of cool adventure movie!  Perhaps they belong in a blimp!
Like last year, a tent showed people how bricks were once made in San Diego.
Like last year, a tent showed people how bricks were once made in San Diego.
These assembled bigwigs were judging a Dutch Oven Bake-off!
These assembled bigwigs were judging a Dutch Oven Bake-off!
Scouts and other youth learn how rope was once made, using twisted fibers from native Yucca cacti.
Scouts and other youth learn how rope was once made, using twisted fibers from native Yucca cacti.
Lots of folks were in one tent learning about and making frontier dolls.
Lots of folks, old and young, were in one tent learning about and making frontier dolls.
Some mountain men were camped at the Black Hawk Livery Stable, near the Old Town blacksmith shop.
Some mountain men were camped at the Black Hawk Livery Stable, near the Old Town blacksmith shop.
A sign tells about various Western trailblazers, including Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.
A sign tells about various Western trailblazers, including Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.
Five anvils!
Five anvils!
Shaping red hot iron in the old blacksmith shop.
Shaping red hot iron in the old blacksmith shop.
These guys are keeping the ancient art of blacksmithing alive in a high tech world.
These guys are keeping the ancient art of blacksmithing alive in a high tech world.
Running out onto the wide grassy area behind Seeley Stable. Like travelling back in time.
Running out onto the wide grassy area behind Seeley Stable. Like travelling back in time.
Some beautiful quilts on display during Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day in Old Town San Diego.
Some beautiful quilts on display during Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day in Old Town San Diego.
Kids were learning how acorns were mashed by the Kumeyaay and others in San Diego's early history.
Kids were learning how acorns were mashed by the Kumeyaay and others in San Diego’s early history.
Someone poses for a photo with an old rifle.
Someone poses for a photo with an old rifle.
History, culture and period costumes. I saw many smiles in Old Town.
History, culture, bonnets and period dress. I saw many smiles in Old Town.
People in nostalgic frontier garb and a modern t-shirt with a jolting urban message pose together for an unusual photo.
People in nostalgic frontier garb and a modern t-shirt with a jolting urban message pose together for an unusual photo.
Playing old frontier music.
Playing lively old frontier music.
Playing simple, old-fashioned games.
Kids playing simple, old-fashioned games.
Another unique and memorable scene from Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day in Old Town San Diego!
Another unique and memorable scene from Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day in Old Town San Diego!

This blog now features thousands of photos around San Diego! Are you curious? There’s lots of unique stuff to check out!

Here’s the Cool San Diego Sights main page, where you can read the most current blog posts.  If you’re using a small mobile device, click those three parallel lines up at the top–that opens up my website’s sidebar, where you’ll see the most popular posts, a search box, and more!

To enjoy future posts, you can also “like” Cool San Diego Sights on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

San Diego history at Old Town’s Wells Fargo museum.

Stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

I recently visited the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town. The exhibits inside concern early San Diego history. When our city was in its infancy, Wells Fargo ran a stagecoach line, and their Express Office was an essential part of local business life.

I took loads of photos in this very cool museum. Read the captions to learn much more!

The restored Colorado House in Old Town San Diego is home to a fascinating Wells Fargo museum.
The restored Colorado House in Old Town San Diego is home to a fascinating Wells Fargo museum.
The two-story, wood frame hotel called the Colorado House was built in Old Town San Diego in 1851 by Cave Couts.
The two-story, wood frame hotel called the Colorado House was built in Old Town San Diego in 1851 by Cave Couts. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1872.
The Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego is open daily from 10-5. Admission is free!
The Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego is open daily from 10-5. Admission is free!
Tourists in Old Town check out a red Wells Fargo stagecoach, which transported mail, gold, goods and passengers in the Old West.
Tourists in Old Town check out an iconic red Wells Fargo stagecoach, which transported mail, gold, goods and passengers in the Old West.
Old photo on video screen shows the Wells, Fargo and Co's Express Office in downtown San Diego, in 1911.
Old photo on video screen shows the Wells, Fargo and Co’s Express Office in downtown San Diego, in 1911.
Historical artifacts in a glass display case include books, bottles and a photo of Cave J. Couts.
Historical artifacts in a glass display case include books, bottles and a photo of Cave J. Couts.
In the spring of 1851 Cave Johnson Couts opened the Colorado House as San Diego's first two-story hotel. It had an elegant billiard table and fine food.
In the spring of 1851 Cave Johnson Couts opened the Colorado House as San Diego’s first two-story hotel. It had an elegant billiard table and fine food.
Old photograph shows bar in Colorado House.
Old photograph shows bar and patrons in Colorado House.
Antique telegraph key once used to send messages and money across the continent.
Antique telegraph key once used to send messages and money across the continent.
Colorful mural high on one wall shows a small town in the Old West. I believe I recognize many buildings in Old Town.
Colorful mural high on one wall shows a small town by a blue bay. I believe I recognize many buildings in Old Town.
Article from the Omaha Herald published in 1877 provides Hints for Plains Travelers. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling!
Article from the Omaha Herald published in 1877 provides Hints for Plains Travelers. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling!
Old plaque in the museum: Silas St. John carried the first eastbound overland mail out of San Diego, from Carrizo Creek to Fort Yuma, November 16, 1857. On September 9, 1858, in a lone-handed defense of the Butterfield-Wells Fargo Overland Stage station at Dragoon, Arizona, St. John was horribly wounded and lost his left arm. He recovered to continue in Wells Fargo service. Of his stuff the West was made.
Old plaque in the museum: Silas St. John carried the first eastbound overland mail out of San Diego, from Carrizo Creek to Fort Yuma, November 16, 1857. On September 9, 1858, in a lone-handed defense of the Butterfield-Wells Fargo Overland Stage station at Dragoon, Arizona, St. John was horribly wounded and lost his left arm. He recovered to continue in Wells Fargo service. Of his stuff the West was made.
To be a stage driver--the Whip--was to be a member of a highly skilled profession. They handled 4 to 6 horses in all kinds of weather on all kinds of roads, outwitted highwaymen, and calmed passengers.
To be a stage driver–the Whip–was to be a member of a highly skilled profession. They handled 4 to 6 horses in all kinds of weather on all kinds of roads, outwitted highwaymen, and calmed passengers.
Passengers on board the Overland Mail Company stages were allowed 40 pounds of baggage.
Passengers on board the Overland Mail Company stages were allowed 40 pounds of baggage.
Advertisement shows Ladies' and Gentlemen's traveling trunks and valises, also packing trunks of every description.
Advertisement shows Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s traveling trunks and valises, also packing trunks of every description.
Map shows the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Wells Fargo's experience in Western transportation led it to finance and eventually run the Butterfield stage line's operations in the west.
Map shows the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Wells Fargo’s experience in Western transportation led it to finance and eventually run the Butterfield stage line’s operations in the west. (Click image to enlarge.)
On February 23, 1875, the stage coming from the Julian mines was robbed, and the San Diego agent took action. He immediately notified the sheriff, posted a reward, and reported the robbery and his actions to the central office.
On February 23, 1875, the stage coming from the Julian mines was robbed, and the San Diego agent took action. He immediately notified the sheriff, posted a reward, and reported the robbery and his actions to the central office.
Cool display inside the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego shows how stagecoaches and their cargo was protected from bandits.
Cool display inside the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego shows how stagecoaches and their cargo were protected from bandits.
The most infamous stage robber was Black Bart. He left bits of poetry and called himself the
The most infamous stage robber was Black Bart. He left bits of poetry and called himself the “Po8” to distance himself from the common thief. He robbed 28 stagecoaches from 1875 to 1883. Once identified, authorities learned he was actually Charles E. Boles, a “respectable” mine owner!
A museum recreation of the Vallecito Stage Station, a stop on the Overland Mail Company's southern route, 1858-1861. Thick adobe walls provided relief from desert heat.
A museum recreation of the Vallecito Stage Station, a stop on the Overland Mail Company’s southern route, 1858-1861. Thick adobe walls provided relief from desert heat.
Table in the stage station used for rest, serving food and games of cards.
Table in the stage station used for rest, serving food and games of cards to pass the time.
Gold was discovered at Julian in San Diego's mountains, triggering a small rush into the area.
Gold was discovered at Julian in San Diego’s mountains, triggering a small rush into the area.
Miners from placer diggings on the Colorado River and hard-rock mines at Julian brought their gold dust and bars to the Wells, Fargo and Co. agency in Old Town San Diego.
Miners from placer diggings on the Colorado River and hard-rock mines at Julian brought their gold dust and bars to the Wells, Fargo and Co. agency in Old Town San Diego.
The Julian Stage Line carried miners and other passengers to this gold mining town in east San Diego County.
The Julian Stage Line carried miners and other passengers to this gold mining town in east San Diego County.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated July 1917.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated July 1917.
Wells Fargo published a monthly magazine calls the Wells Fargo Messenger between September 1912 and June 1918. Edward Hopper, an illustrator, went on to become a famous painter.
Wells Fargo published a monthly magazine calls the Wells Fargo Messenger between September 1912 and June 1918. Edward Hopper, an illustrator, went on to become a famous American realist painter.
On her travels she uses Wells Fargo Checks.
On her travels she uses Wells Fargo Checks.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated April 1918.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated April 1918.
Antique desk used by a Wells Fargo agent.
Antique desk used by a Wells Fargo agent.
During a typical day, a Wells Fargo agent saw many types of business, reflecting the Company's varied and essential services.
During a typical day, a Wells Fargo agent saw many types of business, reflecting the Company’s varied and essential services.
Nooks in this desk hold dip pens, receipts, letters and accounting ledgers.
Nooks in this desk hold dip pens, receipts, letters and accounting ledgers.
Wells Fargo agents were known for their respectability, ability, and trustworthiness. The first Old Town agent was J.F. Damon, co-editor of the San Diego Herald.
Wells Fargo agents were known for their respectability, ability, and trustworthiness. The first Old Town agent was J.F. Damon, co-editor of the San Diego Herald.
Agent William A. Biglow works in his express office which included an agent's cabinet and iron safe.
Wells Fargo agent William A. Biglow works in his express office which included an agent’s cabinet and iron safe.
A large old letterpress sits atop a cast iron safe. The safe, made by Herring, Hall, Marvin and Co. in 1885, is filled with concrete and weighs over a ton.
A large old letterpress sits atop a cast iron safe. The safe, made by Herring, Hall, Marvin and Co. in 1885, is filled with concrete and weighs over a ton.
Some art on the face of the safe door.
Some pastoral art on the face of the safe door.
The copy machine of the 19th Century. Pressure from this heavy cast-iron letterpress transferred brown ink to tissue paper.
The copy machine of the 19th Century. Pressure from this heavy cast-iron letterpress transferred brown ink to tissue paper.
A collection of old letters, certificates and small packages exhibited at the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.
A collection of old letters, certificates and small packages exhibited at the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.
If you ever visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, check out the interesting Wells Fargo History Museum in the Colorado House!
If you ever visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, check out the interesting Wells Fargo History Museum in the Colorado House!

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The people and legacy of Old Town San Diego.

Visitor to the second floor of the McCoy House Museum learns about some notable early residents of Old Town San Diego.
Visitor to the second floor of the McCoy House Museum learns about some notable early residents of Old Town San Diego.

Should you visit the McCoy House Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, be sure to venture up the stairs to the second floor. There you’ll discover several fascinating exhibits. In addition to old photographs of notable early residents of San Diego, you’ll find an explanation of Old Town’s gradual decline as competing New Town (the site of modern downtown San Diego) grew and became the center of government and commerce. You will also learn about Old Town’s continuing legacy, including the events that led to the creation of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park in 1968.

If you’d like to read the displays, click the images to enlarge them.

(You might recall that I recently blogged about the many interpretive displays on the first floor of the McCoy House Museum. They provide a great deal of detailed information about Old Town’s early history.)

From a window on the museum’s second floor one can also look down upon the scraggly native plant garden just northwest of the McCoy House. A map near the window shows the location of Sycamore, Toyon, Oak, Cottonwood, Elderberry and Willow trees. Other native plants include Yerba Mansa, Datura, Aster, Poppy, Deerweed, Sumac, Lemonadeberry, Manzanita, Monkeyflower, different Sages, Deergrass, Prickly Pear and Yucca. Many of these plants were used by the Native American Kumeyaay in their daily lives long before explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered San Diego Bay in 1542.

Pio Pico settled in San Diego in 1819 after the death of his father, a soldier assigned to the Presidio. Merchant and rancher, he later lived in Los Angeles and became the last governor of Mexican Alta California.
Pio Pico settled in San Diego in 1819 after the death of his father, a soldier assigned to the Presidio. Merchant and rancher, he later lived in Los Angeles and became the last governor of Mexican Alta California.
In 1865, Mary Chase Walker became Old Town's first school teacher. She taught at the one room Mason Street schoolhouse and described early San Diego as a desolate place. She went on to join the suffragette movement.
In 1865, Mary Chase Walker became Old Town’s first school teacher. She taught at the one room Mason Street schoolhouse and described early San Diego as a desolate place. She went on to join the suffragette movement.
Agoston Haraszthy, born in Hungary, led a fascinating life. As an American pioneer, businessman and wine expert, he became San Diego's first town marshal and the first county sheriff.
Agoston Haraszthy, born in Hungary, led a fascinating life. As an American pioneer, businessman and wine expert, he became San Diego’s first town marshal and the first county sheriff.
Fire devastated Old Town in 1872. At the time only one water pump existed, and it was broken. Firefighters watched helplessly. The fire and many other factors helped to bring about the rise of competing New Town.
Fire devastated Old Town in 1872. At the time only one water pump existed, and it was broken. Firefighters watched helplessly. The fire and many other factors helped to bring about the rise of competing New Town.
Various fascinating historical exhibits can be explored on the second floor of the McCoy House Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Various fascinating historical exhibits can be explored on the second floor of the McCoy House Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
In the early 20th century, neglected, ruined buildings in Old Town were fixed up and converted into tourist attractions. Entrepreneur John D. Spreckels extended his streetcar line to Old Town.
In the early 20th century, neglected, ruined buildings in Old Town were fixed up and converted into tourist attractions. Entrepreneur John D. Spreckels extended his streetcar line to Old Town.
Artifacts found under the rebuilt McCoy House date from the 1830's to 1850's. They include fragments of daily life from that era
Artifacts found under the rebuilt McCoy House date from the 1830’s to 1850’s. They include fragments of daily life from that era
Archaelogists analyze each find, record every detail. These objects probably came from the time when Eugenia Silvas owned this site. Descendents still live in San Diego and are involved in Old Town's a
Archaeologists analyze each find, record every detail. These objects probably came from the time when Eugenia Silvas owned this site. Family descendants still live in San Diego and are involved in Old Town’s activities.
Archaeologist's tools on display in the McCoy House Museum.
Archaeologist’s tools on display in the McCoy House Museum.
Once again, Old Town became a tourist destination in the 1930's when San Diego Avenue became connected to the new Coast Highway.
Once again, Old Town became a tourist destination in the 1930’s when San Diego Avenue became connected to the new Coast Highway.
Old Town languished during World War II. After the war, some suggested setting aside Old Town as a historic community. In 1968, Old Town became a state historic park.
Old Town languished during World War II. After the war, some suggested setting aside Old Town as a historic community. In 1968, Old Town San Diego became a state historic park.
Photographs in the McCoy House Museum recall Old Town San Diego's colorful past.
Photographs in the McCoy House Museum recall Old Town San Diego’s colorful past.

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San Diego history in Old Town’s McCoy House.

The McCoy House Museum, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy.
The McCoy House Museum, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy.

While there are many small museums and historical attractions that visitors can enjoy in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the McCoy House Museum is the best place to see an extensive series of interpretive displays that describe the complete history of early San Diego.

The McCoy House, standing on the north end of Old Town, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy and his family. James McCoy, who lived from 1821 to 1895, like many early San Diego residents was an ambitious man, working diverse jobs, filling many roles. At the age of 21 he sailed from Ireland to America seeking opportunity. He became a soldier, then a stagehand, then San Diego county assessor, then county sheriff in 1861. He acquired substantial real estate holdings and finally won election to the state senate in 1871.

The interpretive displays in the McCoy House Museum provide a good look back at San Diego’s formative years. They detail the life of the Native American Kumeyaay who’ve lived in the region for thousands of years, the first Spanish explorers, the establishment of the Spanish mission, the Mexican period and the subsequent American period.

If you’d like to read the displays, click my photographs to enlarge them.

This blog post covers the first floor of the museum. I’ll cover the second floor exhibits in a later post. After heading up some stairs, one can find information about the more prominent residents of Old Town, plus the town’s later history as it competed with New Town, which eventually rose to become downtown San Diego as we know it today.

Anyone who is a history buff must visit the McCoy House Museum. You’ll be transported back in time and see how life was exciting, difficult, and altogether different many, many years ago in San Diego.

Sign lists important dates concerning the McCoy House. Today it's a museum containing exhibits that depict the fascinating history of Old Town San Diego.
Sign lists important dates concerning the McCoy House. Today it’s a museum containing exhibits that explain the fascinating history of Old Town San Diego.
Just inside the front door, this might have resembled the parlor of the original McCoy House, occupied by an upper middle class family in San Diego's Old Town.
Just inside the front door, this might have resembled the parlor of the original McCoy House, occupied by an upper middle class family in San Diego’s Old Town.
Framed photo on one wall from the San Diego Historical Society shows the original McCoy House.
Framed photo on one wall from the San Diego Historical Society shows the original McCoy House.
Interpretive exhibits inside the McCoy House Museum begin with the Spanish period of San Diego, from 1769 to 1821.
Interpretive exhibits inside the McCoy House Museum begin with the Spanish period of San Diego, from 1769 to 1821.
Quotes from the journeys of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sebastian Vizcaino and Gaspar de Portola.
Quotes from the journeys of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sebastian Vizcaino and Gaspar de Portola.
A string of missions was created by Spain in California to secure its claim to new territory. The first mission, in San Diego, was on Presidio Hill near the native Kumeyaay village of Cosoy.
A string of missions was created by Spain in California to secure its claim to new territory. The first mission, in San Diego, was originally established on Presidio Hill near the native Kumeyaay village of Cosoy.
An artistic representation of life among the Kumeyaay people. They often visited the nearby coast to hunt and gather food.
An artistic representation of life among the Kumeyaay people. They often visited the nearby coast to hunt and gather food.
For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived along the coast and interior valleys of what is now San Diego County. They moved with the seasons to take advantage of available resources.
For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived along the coast and interior valleys of what is now San Diego County. They moved with the seasons to take advantage of available resources.
The Kumeyaay built dome-shaped houses from oak, willow or sycamore branches. The simple structures were called ee-wahs.
The Kumeyaay built dome-shaped houses from oak, willow or sycamore branches. The simple structures were called ee-wahs.
The Kumeyaay saw the physical and spiritual world as one and the same.
The Kumeyaay saw the physical and spiritual world as one and the same.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum shows artifacts associated with the Kumeyaay, including a bark skirt, arrows, rabbit stick, child's sandals, gourd rattle and war club.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum shows artifacts associated with the Kumeyaay, including a bark skirt, arrows, rabbit stick, child’s sandals, gourd rattle and war club.
The Kumeyaay revolted against the Spanish missionaries in 1775, a year after the San Diego mission was relocated inland very close to a large Kumeyaay village.
The Kumeyaay revolted against the Spanish missionaries in 1775, a year after the San Diego mission was relocated inland very close to a large Kumeyaay village.
Once baptized, converted Kumeyaay followed a strict life. Mission bells signaled the day's activities, including the singing of hymns, Mass, meals and work assignments.
Once baptized, converted Kumeyaay followed a strict life. Mission bells signaled the day’s activities, including the singing of hymns, Mass, meals and work assignments.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 after a decade of bloodshed. Changes included a decline in support for the presidio and freedom from Spain's trade regulations.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 after a decade of bloodshed. Changes included a decline in support for the presidio and freedom from Spain’s trade regulations.
After the breakup of the Spanish missions, the era of the great ranchos began. Californios were often racially mixed descendants of soldier-settler families.
After the breakup of the Spanish missions, the era of the great ranchos began. Californios were often racially mixed descendants of soldier-settler families.
Vaqueros were the original cowboys. They worked on the extensive ranches and handled the large herds of stock.
Vaqueros were the original cowboys. They worked on the extensive ranches and handled the large herds of stock.
A fanciful picture of life on a rancho, with vaqueros at work and children at play.
A fanciful picture of life on a rancho, with vaqueros at work and children at play.
The Californios loved to celebrate feast days, weddings and religious festivals.
The Californios loved to celebrate feast days, weddings and religious festivals.
Cattle by the thousands roamed San Diego's hills. Their dried hides were used in trade and were sometimes referred to as California banknotes.
Cattle by the thousands roamed San Diego’s hills. Their dried hides were used in trade and were sometimes referred to as California banknotes.
Illustration of loading cow hides onto a carreta. Hides were gathered by ships along the coast to be transported around Cape Horn to the eastern United States.
Illustration of loading cow hides onto a carreta. Hides were gathered by ships along the coast to be transported around Cape Horn to the eastern United States.
Exhibit inside the McCoy House Museum recreates the small shop of a Boston trader. The brig Pilgrim of Two Years Before the Mast brought people aboard to buy wares and finished goods that weren't available in San Diego.
Exhibit inside the McCoy House Museum recreates the small shop of a Boston trader. The brig Pilgrim of Two Years Before the Mast brought people aboard to buy wares and finished goods that weren’t available in San Diego.
Illustrations of cow hides being cured. This activity took place at La Playa, a point on San Diego Bay near Ballast Point in Point Loma.
Illustrations of cow hides being cured. This activity took place at La Playa, a point on San Diego Bay near Ballast Point in Point Loma.
Diagram of the brig Pilgrim, made famous in Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s classic Two Years Before the Mast. Dana collected cattle hides up and down the California coast.
Diagram of the brig Pilgrim, made famous in Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s classic Two Years Before the Mast. As an ordinary seaman, Dana collected cattle hides up and down the California coast.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum details local history during the Mexican–American War from 1846 to 1848.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum details local history during the Mexican–American War from 1846 to 1848.
During the war, U.S. occupation of San Diego divided the loyalty of the Californios. The two sides fought briefly at the Battle of San Pasqual.
During the war, U.S. occupation of San Diego divided the loyalty of the Californios. The two sides fought briefly at the Battle of San Pasqual.
Around the time of the Gold Rush, San Diego saw an influx of emigrants from all over, including New England, the American South, Mexico, South America, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany.
Around the time of the Gold Rush, San Diego saw an influx of emigrants from all over, including New England, the American South, Mexico, South America, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany.
Old Town tales include the construction of the first jail in 1850. The walls were so poorly made, the first prisoner, Roy Bean, easily dug himself out, then celebrated at a nearby saloon!
Old Town tales include the construction of the first jail in 1850. The walls were so poorly made, the first prisoner, Roy Bean, easily dug himself out, then celebrated at a nearby saloon!
Grog shops became popular gathering places. They were a social hub of San Diego life, providing customers with news and provisions.
Grog shops became popular gathering places. They were a social hub of San Diego life, providing customers with news and provisions.
A recreated Old Town grog shop can be found inside the McCoy House Museum.
A recreated Old Town grog shop can be found inside the McCoy House Museum.
After the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Diego became more developed. A courthouse and newspaper were established. Transportation included clipper ships, stage lines and steamships.
After the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Diego became more developed. A courthouse and newspaper were established. Transportation included clipper ships, stage lines and steamships.
Poster advertises a new clipper ship route. A very quick trip may be relied upon!
Poster advertises a new clipper ship route. A very quick trip may be relied upon!
Between 1865 and 1872, Old Town San Diego continued to grow. The first public school opened, and the town welcomed its first theatrical company in the Whaley house.
Between 1865 and 1872, Old Town San Diego continued to grow. The first public school opened, and the town welcomed its first theatrical company in the Whaley house.
The first overland coach to San Diego began service in 1854. Additional stage lines came into existence, allowing for the delivery of mail, express packages and passengers.
The first overland coach to San Diego began service in 1854. Additional stage lines came into existence, allowing for the delivery of mail, express packages and passengers.
Visitors to the McCoy House Museum can step into a replica stage stop and see what life was like in Old Town during San Diego's early history.
Visitors to the McCoy House Museum can step into a replica stage stop and see what life was like in Old Town during San Diego’s rugged early history.

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Threads of the Past: Living history in Old Town.

These beautiful quilts are on public display at Threads of the Past, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
These beautiful quilts are on public display at Threads of the Past, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

I recently visited Threads of the Past, a living history exhibition in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Not only did I see a number of beautiful quilts, but I learned about spinning and weaving. I was even able to watch a skilled artisan work an old-fashioned loom!

Here are some fascinating photos that I took inside Threads of the Past. I know very little about weaving and needlework, so I’m afraid I can’t provide much commentary. I do know that I really enjoyed looking at all the colors and patterns. I also learned a bit about San Diego’s past from the friendly members of Old Town’s Historic Quilt Guild and Fiber Arts Guilds. They’re keeping history alive! With great skill, they have produced beautiful textile artwork that visitors to Old Town can appreciate with their own eyes!

Threads of the Past is located near San Diego’s first courthouse.  You can find it among the many other museums and historical attractions in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

Should you visit San Diego's Old Town, look for this sign outside the Threads of the Past living history activity center.
Should you visit San Diego’s Old Town, look for this sign outside the Threads of the Past living history activity center.
Shelves full of colorful fabric woven with geometric patterns.
Shelves full of colorful fabric woven with geometric patterns.
Two quilts on one wall greet visitors as they enter Threads of the Past. On the left is a modern version of the 1850s Juana Machado Quilt.
Two quilts on one wall greet visitors as they enter Threads of the Past. On the left is a modern version of the 1850s Juana Machado Quilt.
According to family lore, this applique quilt was made by Juana Machado in the 1850s. Juana was born in 1814 to a soldier of the San Diego Presidio and his wife.
According to family lore, this applique quilt was made by Juana Machado in the 1850s. Juana was born in 1814 to a soldier of the San Diego Presidio and his wife.
Threads of the Past contains several small looms and a variety of educational displays.
Threads of the Past contains several small looms and a variety of educational displays.
Some colorful fabric circles arranged on a table.
Some colorful fabric circles arranged on a table.
As you can see, this Inkle Loom is quite narrow. It's used to make woven bands for belts and straps.
As you can see, this Inkle Loom is quite narrow. It’s used to make woven bands for belts and straps.
A wood Colonial Loom on display in Threads of the Past.
A rather simple wood Colonial Loom on display in Threads of the Past.
One display explains shearing sheep for wool, then carding, combing, and spinning wool.
One display explains shearing sheep for wool, then carding, combing, and spinning wool.
Several hand carders. Carding is gently spreading washed and dried wool in preparation for future processing, like spinning.
Several hand carders. Carding is gently spreading washed and dried wool in preparation for future processing, like spinning.
All sorts of very colorful threads!
All sorts of very colorful threads!
A demonstration of an old-fashioned hand loom at Threads of the Past, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
A living demonstration of an old-fashioned hand loom at Threads of the Past, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

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