Dr. John Roberts

Although Dr. John L. D. Roberts never lived in the Cambria area, he was very important to its history. It was he who first conceived the idea for a year-round scenic highway from Carmel to San Simeon.

Born in Osceola, New York on January 16, 1861, Roberts attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York and Union College in Schenectady and then earned a medical degree from the University of the City of New York. In 1887 he moved to California at the suggestion of his uncle, David Houghton, who owned a 160 acre ranch where Seaside and Sand City are currently located. Once he had established a practice, he sent for his fiancé, Edith Maltby, and they were married on October 25, 1887. Dr. Roberts eventually bought the ranch from his uncle for $5,000 and planned a town on the site which became the city of Seaside. He founded the Seaside post office in 1890 where he and his wife served as postmasters until 1932. In 1892 he was elected to the Monterey School Board where he served for 36 years and in 1908 he became a county supervisor, an office he held for 20 years including four years as chairman.

On April 21, 1894, the S. S. Los Angeles ran aground off Point Sur in spite of the fact that a lighthouse had been put into operation at the point five years earlier. The 493 ton steamship was heading north along the coast bound for Monterey when it struck a submerged rock due to a navigation error. Dr. Roberts drove his two-wheeled, horse drawn cart 30 miles to the scene in three and one half hours, a very fast time. Upon arrival, he spent three days and nights tending to the 100 or so survivors. This event and other trips through the Big Sur country led to his conviction that a road should be built from Monterey to San Simeon. In 1897, he walked from Monterey to San Luis Obispo in five days and mapped out the course of the future road, estimating the total cost of building it at $50,000.

Statue of Dr. Roberts in front of Seaside city hall

Statue of Dr. Roberts in front of Seaside city hall

When the county could provide only half that sum, Dr. Roberts managed to obtain the support of State Senator Elmer S. Rigdon of Cambria who spearheaded pressure for a state appropriation. Thanks to Rigdon, Dr. Roberts addressed a joint session of the state legislature in 1915, attempting to convince them to fund the road. His presentation included colored stereopticon pictures projected onto a bed sheet hung on the wall behind the Speaker’s desk. In 1917, at the height of World War I, the state legislature’s defense committee ruled that priority must be given to roads of urgent military importance. The group lobbying for the road in Sacramento dropped the word ‘scenic,’ and replaced it with the word ‘military’. When the Military Highway bill was passed, the Carmel-to-San Simeon highway was included as one of six roads necessary for defense. In the same year, the state legislature provided an appropriation for making engineering studies and surveys for the highway. In 1919, the voters of California ratified a Constitutional Amendment for the third highway bond issue of $40,000,000 of which $1,500,000 was appropriated for the construction of the Roosevelt Highway.

Senator Rigdon did not live to see the completion of the road from Carmel to San Simeon but Dr. Roberts did and he was present at the dedication of the Elmer Rigdon Memorial Drinking Fountain four miles north of Lucia when the road was opened on June 27, 1937.

Leave a Reply