The Historic Heart of the Borrego Valley
Transcribed from a paper by Phil Brigandi
The first homesteaders began to arrive in the Borrego Valley around 1910. The valley was isolated, hemmed in by rugged mountains on three sides. Going to town for supplies meant at least a five-day round-trip to Brawley, or the long climb up Grapevine Canyon and on to Ramona. But slowly, a little community began to develop. In the mid-1920s, a road was opened up through Sentenac Canyon, and the Ensign family put down the first deep well in the valley, attracting more settlers to the area.
1928 was a banner year for the Borrego Valley. The first public school opened in the valley; a local voting precinct was established; the first chamber of commerce, the Borego Boosters Club, was formed; San Diego County assigned a deputy sheriff to the area; and on March 1, 1928 the Borego Post Office was created. ("borego"--with just one "r"--was how the old timers always spelled the name.)
The first postmaster was Eslie Wynn, an Azusa jeweler who had taken up a homestead in the southeastern part of the valley around 1918. The original Borego post office was located in his home. Wynn's place was close to where the old roads past Borrego and Barrel Springs met the road over the hills from the Narrows that connected with the new Sentenac Canyon route (which later became Hwy. 78). With the post office there, Wynn's homestead became a natural meeting place for the residents of the valley. This was the start of Old Borego.
Wynn was quick to take advantage of the increased traffic. Before the year was out, he installed a gas pump in front of his home, and opened the first gas station in the valley. In the spring of 1929, Wynn had a new building built opposite his home, and moved the post office across the way. That September, he opened the valley's first store in the new building. His clerk was homesteader Herbert LaNiece. The county also established a branch library in the store building, and Mrs. LaNiece agreed to serve as librarian. Later, around 1935, a separate little library building was built north of the store.
The mail for Borego came down from Julian two days a week, and local residents could pick up their letters at Wynn's post office. Henry Nelson was the first to drive the mail, and also carried passengers and freight. Milo Porter, who homesteaded near the mouth of Henderson Canyon in 1927, hauled the mail from October, 1928 to June, 1930. "he got $60 a month," his widow, Lelah (now 94) recalls, "and furnished his own transportation and his own gasoline." Fred Robinson had the contract next, but gave it up in February of 1932 to become road foreman for the new Borego Township.
Eslie Wynn continued to expand his commercial enterprises. In 1933 he built a garage north of the store building. His mechanic, it seems, was James Thomson, a recent arrival from Los Angeles. In 1932, Wynn concluded that hauling the mail paid more than serving as postmaster, and since the government wouldn't allow him to hold both jobs, he resigned as postmaster on March 1st and started making the twice a week run to Julian. James Thomson became Borego's new postmaster, but after his wife's death in 1934, he decided to leave the valley, resigning as postmaster on July 31, 1934. His replacement was Glenn DuVall, who had proved up a homestead near Clark Dry Lake in 1929.
Eslie Wynn drove the mail until January, 1935, when he died of a heart attack after a heated argument with a pair of prospectors who had rented some burros from him and never paid him. Milo Porter took over the mail contract again, and held it until July, 1938, when he left the valley for Julian. Glenn DuVall continued both as postmaster and storekeeper, and was soon joined by his younger brother, Edward. They promised customers "a good line of staple groceries" and fresh vegetables every Saturday.
When Glenn DuVall got married in the summer of '36, he left the valley, and Eddie DuVall took over the store and the postmastership. Eddie DuVall got married about that same time. His wife, Alta, first came to the valley on a Sierra Club field trip. She taught school in Los Angeles for most of the rest of the decade.
What little other commercial development there was in the valley then was mostly centered around Old Borego. In 1930 Frank Osborne built a little store and trailer camp on his homestead south of DuVall's, near what is now the northwest corner of Yaqui Pass and Borrego Springs roads. Hes also sold gasoline at times. Osborne remained in the valley until around 1936. The Yaqui Pass Road was built in 1934-35 to connect with the new state highway through the Narrows. It was paved by the military during World War II-- the first paved road in the valley. Across form Osborne's, Noel Crickmer opened the valley's first hotel, the Desert Lodge, in 1939. Greatly expanded, it survives today as La Casa del Zorro. Crickmer's original adobe is now a part of the lobby.
The Borego Post Office survived until July 31, 1940, when it was discontinued due to lack of business. The population in the valley had dropped by more than two-thirds during the Depression; by 1943, it had sunk so low that the Borego School had to close for a year. Mail for the few remaining residents came on a star route from Julian, with Al Mathes doing the driving.
Eddie DuVall kept the store going, though. His son, Denny, recalls how his father would take his '35 Ford and haul a trailer out to San Diego to load up with merchandise for the store. "He'd come back, and the rear bumper would be about six inches off the ground!" he says. During this time, Eddie also served as Deputy Sheriff for the valley. Besides the store, he had several small rental cottages nearby, and in 1948 he even expanded the place, building an addition between the store and the garage.
After World War II, things began to pick up again in the valley. Electricity arrived in 1945, and in 1947, the new community of Borrego Springs went on the market, shifting the center of valley affairs northwest to Christmas Circle. In 1949, Borrego Springs got its own post office, and the new (and Proper) spelling became official. Eddie DuvVall always aggressively resisted the new spelling of Borrego, and kept his "Borego" Store open until the late 1950s. Even on into the 1960s, he kept a supply of auto parts on hand, and still did a little business now and then. Eddie DuVall finally died in 1973.
Old Borego has passed into other hands, but fortunately many of the historic buildings there have been preserved by the current owners. The stone portion of Eslie Wynn's original home and post office is the oldest surviving building in the valley, and DuVall's Borego Store was a local landmark for decades. Although it is no longer the center of the community, Old Borego remains the historic heart of the Borrego Valley -- a reminder of the pioneer heritage that forms the foundation for modern Borrego Springs.
Originally published by the
BORREGO SPRINGS CIVIC FOUNDATION
History Preservation Day
November 12, 2000
Phil Brigandi has been researching and writing local history since 1975. A native of Orange, California, he has written several books on the history of his hometown. He has worked as a historical consultant for the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and has been active with the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association for many years. Mr. Brigandi currently lives in Hemet, California, where he serves as Pageant Historian for the Ramona Pageant. www.socalhistoryland.mysite.com
also see: A Place Called Borego - Homesteader Days in the Borrego Valley
and The Way We Were
and Harry Oliver in Borego
photos courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society
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