Where The Highway Ends – Another View

by Taylor Coffman

Geneva Hamilton’s Where the Highway Ends was first produced in Cambria in 1974, a local effort by the short-lived Williams Printing Company. The book had no explanatory subtitle. It was simply called Where the Highway Ends. However, the front panel of the white dust jacket contained these further words, displayed above an illustration by the Cambria artist Tom Rawlings: “An interesting and colorful history of the Ranchos that include San Simeon, Cambria and Harmony.”

That was more like it, provided the jacket stayed close by. But jackets have a way of disappearing, and without those words the plain red binding of the Hamilton book gave no clue as to what the highway was or where its ending might be.

Nonetheless, the left flap of the jacket offered four paragraphs. “Beginning with the Portola Expedition in 1769,” said the first one, “to the arrival of American settlers following the California Gold Rush, and to the coming of the state highway, a lot of colorful history has unfolded in the Cambria area.

“Lumbering, whaling, fishing, dairy farming, mining and some smuggling, too, were the ingredients of the early colorful days when Cambria and the surrounding ranchos played an important part in the economic and political growth of San Luis Obispo County and the State of California.

“Here, too,” the paragraphs continued, “is the history of three land grants, one of which—the Piedra Blanca Rancho—is now famous as the home of ‘Hearst Castle,’ visited by thousands of people each year.

“The familiar names of Don Jose [de Jesus] Pico, Captain John Wilson, the Pacheco family, the Castros, Estradas and Senator Rigdon appear, as well as many others.”

The right flap offered these words:

“The author of Where the Highway Ends, Mrs. Geneva Hamilton of Cambria, is a journalist, photographer and scientist who has been a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines in both America and abroad for more than twenty-five years. She has spent five years in careful research of available records and sources of material for this volume.”

That was it. The rest of the jacket was left plain white, telling nothing more about the book or its author.

Soon a local-history publisher—Padre Productions in San Luis Obispo—offered Where the Highway Ends in paperback, technically a second edition, though it wasn’t called that. “Since Geneva Hamilton first published this book in 1974,” said the back panel of the Padre edition, “copies have been eagerly sought by Central Coast residents and visitors.” Further on: “The first hardcover edition of Where the Highway Ends sold out almost immediately.”

It did indeed, and that first edition was never reissued by the Williams Company, which printed and bound the book in a commercial office space in downtown Cambria, a space that’s been the Redwood Café for several years now, just off Main Street in the Redwood Center.

Padre Productions edition of "Where the Highway Ends"

It was the Padre Productions version—the unstated second edition of the Hamilton book—that coined a subtitle: Cambria, San Simeon and the Ranchos, as in “Nearby Ranchos” or “Surrounding Ranchos” or some fuller wording to that effect. The book was thus given a new, lasting identity, the incomplete phrase Cambria, San Simeon and the Ranchos still appearing today in many Internet listings and other citations.

Having used the back panel of the second edition for promotional copy, Padre Productions had to put the following on the title page (thus creating another subtitle in essence): “The colorful history of Spanish explorers, Indians, Whaling, Life on the Ranchos, Chinese, Quicksilver mines, Fires, Floods, Swiss dairies, Hearst ranches, and Early California pioneers.” Normally, publishers make room on the back panel or the front panel—or on both—for descriptions like that, not on the title page. But Where the Highway Ends: Cambria, San Simeon and the Ranchos was a humble product through and through, not a “trade” publication” or a product of New York. As such, the Padre Productions second edition was authentically local, unpretentiously so.

The book was indispensable too, in both its original cloth and its later paper binding—that is, in its Williams and Padre first and second editions—and it remains essential to this day. Never mind that the Contents page appears on the verso (the backside) of the title page in those first two editions, often the sure sign of a small-town production. The rest of the front matter aligns itself more traditionally, allowing Chapter 1 to begin where it should, on a recto (righthand) page.

A newer paperbound edition of Where the Highway Ends—an unstated third edition—appeared in 1999, published by the Central Coast Press of San Luis Obispo. The Padre Productions subtitle of Cambria, San Simeon and the Ranchos was expanded; it now became A History of Cambria, San Simeon and the Ranchos. A more conventional layout by Central Coast Press put the new subtitle on the title page and on the front cover; Padre’s crowded, additional wording (“The colorful history of Spanish explorers . . .”) was deleted altogether. Instead, Central Coast favored the back cover, replacing all the Padre wording there with new copy that began with “Geneva Hamilton’s classic,” which twenty-five years after the book’s debut in 1974 it had surely become.

Inside the book, Central Coast’s third edition improved upon the original typesetting of the Williams and Padre editions. And yet it did so at the expense of the pagination. What originally appeared on page 1 now appeared on page 8, and so on variously, right through the index. This means that future writers and historians who cite the Hamilton book will, ideally, need to state which edition they’re working from: the Williams, the Padre, or the Central Coast edition.

The Central Coast edition—again, the third edition—also offered an appendix of ten pages headed “Addenda.” This new section comprised a “Glossary of Early Cambria and San Simeon Area Residents and Business Establishments,” derived from Geneva Hamilton’s notes. With its pages densely set in small type, the appendix is a raw yet welcome addition to what from 1999 until now has been the preferred version of Where the Highway Ends.

In all three versions of the book, its contents are arranged as Part I “Cambria,” Part II “After the Dons,” and Part III “Early History.” This last part comprises eight chapters, or roughly half the book, and it applies to the entire North Coast, not just to Cambria or San Simeon. Here is told the story of the Portola expedition of 1769; of the early coastal trade; of the three Mexican ranchos in the greater area (Piedra Blanca, San Simeon, and Santa Rosa); of the whaling station at San Simeon; of San Simeon itself, apart from whaling; and of the lighthouse on Point Piedras Blancas. The five chapters of Part II, “After the Dons,” contain as much early history page for page as Part III does, but Mrs. Hamilton chose to set them apart.

The first sentence of her Introduction is a key one on this point: “This history is an outgrowth of a series of newspaper articles I contributed to various county editions for several years.” She further explained that these articles were “now combined and enlarged upon by popular demand.”

She went on to say, “These chapters are devoted, not only to the area known as Cambria, but to all areas and elements which contributed to the formation and support of the town.” She also indicated that books like Myron Angel’s History of San Luis Obispo County, California (Oakland, 1883) had “touched but briefly upon the north coastal area” of the region and that much of their information was derived from “personal interviews among local inhabitants without verification of facts.” Obviously, a book like Geneva Hamilton’s was called for, a book in which, decades later from the vantage point of 1974, she could “compare information received through her own interviews with recorded data whenever possible.” She made an equally key point when she said, “Cooperation of old residents of the area made this book possible; invaluable leads to authentic information came from them, as well as the bits of human interest which personalizes a work of this kind.”

Besides devoting considerable space to acknowledgments, Mrs. Hamilton weighed in on a frequently debated matter: the proper or at least preferred pronunciation of Cambria. She said, “The soft a [in the first syllable] is used and pronounced as in man.”

In the foregoing sentence, the original Williams book of 1974 and then the Padre Productions paperback set the word “man” in unslanted roman type; for its part, the Central Coast third edition set both “a” and “man” in single quotation marks. Such minor discrepancies occur in Where the Highway Ends, just as they do in nearly every book, no matter the number of reprints or editions. Mistakes of a substantive nature are another matter. For example, in signing off in her Introduction, Mrs. Hamilton takes issue with the North Coast place name San Carpoforo. “Uninformed map makers have,” she says, “without research, endeavored to standardize names and have corrupted El Karpophorus to San Carpoforo, then, still later, to San Carpojo, neither of which has any connection to either a Saint or Spanish.” True, San Carpojo is a bastard name and can be dismissed. But San Carpoforo, although not Spanish (it’s Italian), can be traced back to Como, Italy, among other places in that country; also, San Carpoforo can be found in such in-depth reference works as The Book of Saints: A Dictionary of Persons Canonized and Beatified by the Catholic Church (New York, 1966).

In this situation and numerous others in Where the Highway Ends, Mrs. Hamilton’s work can be questioned and, when fitting, corrected. All the same, the book remains an invaluable resource that has endured for nearly forty years now and will easily stand for forty more, indeed longer. To Geneva Hamilton, who died in 2009 at a ripe old age, we all owe a doffing of our caps and a grateful salute.

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