by Jesse Arnold, Ginny Monteen and Jerry Praver
Cambria is a spot whose perfection is marred only by the mispronunciation of its name. Most locals believe it sounds a bit bizarre to say CAME-bria, as in came and went.
When the original settlers of Cambria decided to name their town, they submitted the name Santa Rosa to the Postmaster General because the town is on Santa Rosa Creek. Since Post Office regulations required that they submit second and third choices their second choice was Rosaville and their third choice was San Simeon. The official application for the post office is dated May 29, 1867 and the name of the town is shown as San Simeon. But, using a different pen, someone has crossed out San Simeon and written, “changed to Cambria”. There is no date indicated for the change.
Santa Rosa was rejected by the postal service because Sant Rosa in Sonoma County already had that name. Rosaville was also turned down because it was too much like Roseville, near Sacramento.
The U. S. Post Office officially approved the name Cambria on January 10, 1870. But, the name Roseville was used in advertisements in the San Luis Obispo Pioneer newspaper from January, 1868 through May, 1869. Also, there is an indenture between Julian Estrada and Domingo Pujol dated November 16, 1868 in which Pujol took the Rancho Santa Rosa but left Estrada a 1500 acre square. The county surveyor’s description of thjs square makes reference to the “…public road leading from Rosaville to San Luis Obispo…” This does not make Rosaville the official name of Cambria in 1868 but the majority of the residents were using Roasville at that time.
Sometimes our village was contemptuously referred to as “slabtown”, mainly by citizens of San Luis Obispo who feared that Cambria might provide some competition for the primary town in the county. “Slab” is the name given by lumber mills to the pieces of a log that are removed in order to cut a square beam. There were no buildings in Cambria made from slabs. The citizens of Cambria responded by calling San Luis Obispo “Mudville” because many of the houses there were made of adobe bricks.
So, the people had to settle for San Simeon, a third choice they never thought they would have to accept. The early settlers knew they didn’t want their town to be called San Simeon, but they couldn’t agree on another name. The name that was finally agreed upon, after a year of deliberation, was Cambria.
The first mention of the name Cambria seen in print by the authors was in the San Luis Obispo Pioneer newspaper on May 8, 1869. An advertisement for the Pacific Mills lumber company, F. F. Letcher proprietor, used the name “Cambria, San Simeon” in its ad. In the same issue, Dr. James W. Frame, M.D. also used the name Cambria in his advertisement.
Although there is apparently no documentation as to who suggested the name of Cambria, Geneva Hamilton in her book Where the Highway Ends, supports the story that mining engineer Peter A. Forrester came up with the idea. She explains that he had visited a small mining town named Cambria in his home state of Pennsylvania. She says, “It has been suggested that the pronunciation of the name of Cambria, as accepted and officially recorded by the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, be brought to the attention of the readers at this point. The soft a is used and pronounced as in man.”
Peter Forrester was listed in the 1860 census immediately adjacent to J. J. Pico which indicates that he lived with Pico and his family at that time and he acted as a tutor to Pico’s children. He later married Pico’s daughter, Josefa. It is said that a big meeting was held to decide on the name of the town. During a break from this meeting, Forrester casually mentioned to George Lingo, owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, that he had recently been home to Cambria in Pennsylvania. This prompted Lingo to reply that he had also recently visited his home in Missouri which has a town called New Cambria. So, one or both of them, most likely Forrester, suggested the name to the meeting and it was adopted.
Some say that the name may have been suggested by J.P. “Chino” Llewelynn (or Lewelling) who came to San Luis Obispo County before 1860 and opened the Arcade Saloon in 1868 but there is no credible evidence for this claim.
San Simeon Lodge No. 196 F & AM was granted a charter on December 12, 1869 when Cambria was officially called San Simeon. Even though it operated in Cambria for over 125 years it kept the name San Simeon Lodge No. 196 for all those years. The lodge is now located in Paso Robles and is named the Thaddeus Sherman Lodge No. 196 after the first master of the lodge.
The name Cambria goes back to the Roman invasion of Wales in the British Isles when the name was given to the country now called Wales. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language lists Cambria as a poetic word for Wales.
Regardless of who actually suggested the name Cambria, Geneva Hamilton points out that the settlers of Cambria were a well educated group of people, such as Forrester. So it’s not surprising that the pioneers adopted the dictionary pronunciation for their town: Cam’-bri-a. The Cambria Historical Society has also confirmed the pronunciation by interviewing descendants of pioneer families.
According to lifelong resident and local historian Wilfred Lyons (1912-2009), there never was any question about the way to say Cambria until the Cambria Pines Development Company came to town in 1928. When the company began subdividing Happy Hill, Park Hill and Lodge Hill, they advertised lots for sale on the radio in Los Angeles and the Central Valley during the 1930s . The problem? The radio announcers said CAME-bria instead of CAM-bria.
We can all make Cambria a ‘more congenial spot’ by honoring our pioneers, retaining their style, and saying Cambria as in Camelot.