Thursday, January 3, 2013

Around Town: Courier story delivers a local mystery

Around Town: Courier story delivers a local mystery

When we moved to La Cañada in 1976, our neighbor, Hazel Castevens, regaled us with historical anecdotes.

Hazel was a retired pharmacist. When we first met, she was a spry 80-year-old who liked to fix the neighbors a “Midwestern supper,” consisting of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, a salad, lemonade and coffee, with an ice cream dessert made from a secret recipe.

Hazel had moved from Glendale to La Cañada in 1943, with her husband, Joseph. They developed the land.

Hazel rented out her house and guest house. She lived on the property in her trailer. The trailer would have been an illegal mobile home, but for the four wheels and towing hitch. Hazel knew the rules. “It has wheels,” she'd tell us. No one from the city ever caught up with her

Hazel was interested in her surroundings. She met the old timers and listened to their stories. Thirty years later, she repeated to us what she had heard.

One fact, which we took as gospel, concerned the Wells Fargo Pony Express. According to Hazel, the Pony Express dropped off the mail at what is today the west end of the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA parking lot, right near the entrance to Rancho Canyada Road.

The old street was named Michigan Boulevard. It was slightly south of our current Foothill Boulevard.

For us, the idea that the Pony Express made a 100-yard dash to a stop near our house evoked childhood fantasies of wranglers, bandits and the Wild West. We had moved to La Cañada to get away from the city, but Hazel gave us our history.

Last week, we decided to research the subject at the Wells Fargo & Co. Museum in San Francisco. Wells Fargo has a similar museum in Downtown Los Angeles, at 333 S. Grand Ave., but it seemed appropriate begin our search at the site of the first Wells Fargo office, opened in 1852, on Montgomery Street.

We met with a nice historian who gave us gave us a map and references to several out-of-print-books. Suddenly, she told us that the Pony Express never came to La Cañada.

At first, I disagreed. The historian brought out the proof.

She told us that the Pony Express was started in 1860, to provide a “speedy” 10-day mail delivery between St. Joseph, Mo., and San Francisco. The route was called the Central Overland Route. Although there was a similar route through Texas to Southern California, called the Butterfield Route, the Pony Express did not deliver mail here.

The Pony Express was in existence for a mere 18 months. It carried 35,000 letters. By 1861, the telegraph system had replaced the Pony Express, but there were still stagecoach deliveries of people, packages and mail through the Wells Fargo route to Northern California.

We were perplexed. We had questions.

Why did Hazel, an old-timer who heard the story from another old timer, honestly believe that the Pony Express ran through the parking lot of the YMCA? If the mail did not come via Pony Express, how did the mail arrive in the foothills?

We asked the questions and found some clues.

The clue is a 1918 article by Robert G. Cleland, Ph.D, titled, “Transportation in California Before the Railroads With Especial Reference to Los Angeles.”

The answer is surprising.

AND THE ANSWER IS HERE:   Around Town: A legend delivered by word of mouth

To be continued...

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