Building of Highway One

February 21st, 2011

Lester Gibson, a state highway engineer, led a pack train through the Big Sur area in 1918 to make the first survey for the location of the Coast Highway. Actual construction of the road began in 1921 when a contract was awarded to the firm of Blake and Heaney to build the portion of Highway One between Piedras Blancas Light Station and Salmon Creek. They completed the project in December of 1924. Read the rest of this entry »

Lighthouse Keepers

February 19th, 2011

Initially, Piedras Blancas Light Station employed a head keeper (also called a principal keeper or simply a keeper) as well as a first and second assistant. Following the installation of the fog signal in 1906, a third assistant joined the complement. Read the rest of this entry »

Where The Highway Ends – Another View

February 14th, 2011

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Other Highway One Bridges

February 3rd, 2011

During the construction of Highway One 32 bridges were built between Carmel and San Simeon, all designed and constructed under the direction of F. W. Panhorst, Bridge Engineer for the State of California. The first bridge to be completed was a small timber structure across Salmon Creek about 19 miles north of San Simeon which was opened in 1928. Read the rest of this entry »

Exotic Trees of Cambria

January 31st, 2011

When you think of trees in Cambria, what comes to mind? Cambria pines? Sure, we have lots of them around. But, what are those other trees you see when you walk around East Village? Well, let’s take a little tour and see. Read the rest of this entry »

Pioneers of San Luis Obispo County & Environs

January 30th, 2011

This tome, compiled by Annie L. Morrison and John H. Haydon, was originally entitled History of San Luis Obispo County and Environs and was published by the Historic Record Company of Los Angeles in 1917. It consisted of a 182 page History of San Luis Obispo County written by Morrison, a short, 22 page History of Santa Maria Valley by Haydon and several hundred brief biographies of important people who were living or had lived in San Luis Obispo County. Read the rest of this entry »

Winfield Scott Whitaker

January 30th, 2011

Winfield Scott Whitaker, son of John M. Whitaker, was born in Indiana on February 18, 1832. His father, who was born on February 11, 1801, was a member of the Legislature of Iowa for twenty years off and on, and had the honor of selecting the State University lands. He married Mrs. Jane Phillips, a native of Ohio, and daughter of William Phillips. They had six children, five sons and one daughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Land Grant Terminology

December 24th, 2010

Act of Possession – A ceremony performed after approval of a Mexican land grant in which the new owner and Mexican government officials participated. It occurred on the actual grant property in front of witnesses following the survey by the local alcalde. A brief description of the Acts of Possession for the Rancho Piedra Blanca can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »

Rancho San Simeon

December 24th, 2010

In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and, in 1834, Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified under the governorship of Jose Figueroa. The Mexican government then began transferring the mission lands to private individuals through the Mexican Land Grant system. Jose Ramon Estrada applied to governor Juan Alvarado for a grant of the Rancho San Simeon and his application was approved on December 1, 1842. Read the rest of this entry »

Rancho Piedra Blanca

December 14th, 2010

On January 18, 1840, the Mexican governor of Alta California, Juan B. Alvarado, granted about 49,000 acres of the Rancho Piedra Blanca to Don Jose de Jesus Pico. The Rancho Piedra Blanca was described in the original grant to Pico as “…bounded by the arroya named ‘del Pinalito’ by that known by the name of ‘San Carpogaro’ by the sea and by the big mountain…” The arroyo del “Pinal” or “Padre Juan” lies about a mile south of the south fork of Pico Creek. The alcalde, Jose Mariano Bonilla, caused juridical measurement of the tract to be made on September 25, 1842. Read the rest of this entry »

John Wilson

December 14th, 2010

John Downes Wilson, better known as Captain John Wilson, was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1798. By the time he was 30 he was master of the Thomas Nowlan, a ship trading in hides and tallow on the California coast. From 1828 to 1843 he was captain of several ships in this trade including the Ayacucho, a ship described in some detail by Richard Henry Dana in his book Two Years Before the Mast. After his sailing days he became a land holder and cattle rancher, ultimately becoming one of the biggest land holders in California. Although he was born a protestant, he converted to Catholicism in order to conform to Mexican law which restricted land ownership to Catholics. To this end he was sometimes known as Juan Wilson or even Juan Huilsons. Read the rest of this entry »


December 10th, 2010

Captain Lorin Vincent Thorndyke was the head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station for twenty-seven years from August 19, 1879 until August 22, 1906. Though not the first head keeper, he certainly had the longest tenure in that position.  “The Captain”, as everyone called him, was born in West Camden, Maine on January 28, 1839. Before coming to Piedras Blancas, he was in the Merchant Marine for many years and claimed to have been around the world five times. He also served at several lighthouses along the California coast including Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Yerba Buena in San Francisco Bay, and, lastly, Point Hueneme, prior to being assigned to Point Piedras Blancas at the age of forty. Read the rest of this entry »

Highway One Modern History

November 23rd, 2010

For many years after its opening in 1937 highway one between Cambria and Carmel was mainly a seasonal road because it was frequently closed for extended periods of time during the rainy winter months. During World War II traffic along the road was reduced to a trickle due to rationing of both gasoline and rubber and the frequent “blackouts” required as a precaution against enemy aerial attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Bucket of Blood

November 22nd, 2010

The property at the northwest corner of Bridge and Center Streets has a long and colorful history. The existing structure is the second building to be built on the site. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue House

November 14th, 2010

The building located at 2261 Center Street between the Cambria Historical Museum and the “Bucket of Blood Saloon” building is known by locals as “The Blue House”. In the past it has also been called ”The Mushroom House” or “The Maggetti House”. This house has a rather interesting history. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bianchini Family

November 14th, 2010

On April 22, 1916, Sarah E. Guthrie sold her house, now the home of the Cambria Historical Museum, to Eugenio Bianchini for the token amount of $10. The deal was witnessed and notarized by W. M. Lyons, father of Wilfred Lyons. Read the rest of this entry »

Thomas Evans

November 13th, 2010

Tom Evans was the son of William J. Evans  and was born in Aberystwyth in Cardiganshire, Wales (United Kingdom) in 1832. He had come to America with his family ten years later and lived in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Beal- Nitt Witt Ridge

November 7th, 2010

Arthur Harold Beal, also known as Captain Nitt Witt or Der Tinkerpaw, built what is perhaps the oddest structure in Cambria which has no shortage of odd structures. In 1928, Art was working as a garbage collector in Cambria and he began collecting what others would call junk – pieces of driftwood, discarded car parts, wood pieces, pots, beer cans, abalone shells, hub caps, toilet seats and other treasures. His property, now located at 881 Hillcrest Drive, was, at that time, located in a remote section of forest. So, using pick and shovel and (it is rumored) occasionally dynamite, he began to level portions of the site and to build a series of one-room shacks from the materials he collected.  Eventually, his “castle” on Nitt Witt Ridge included many rooms and covered 250 vertical feet of cliffs. Read the rest of this entry »


October 22nd, 2010

By any measure, the most important mineral in the history of the Cambria area is mercury, also called quicksilver because of its silvery color and the fact that it occurs in a liquid state at room temperature. Read the rest of this entry »

Phil Dike

September 23rd, 2010

Phil Dike, an eminent California artist, was born in Redlands, California on April 6, 1906. After completing high school there, he received a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles where he studied with E. Tolles Chamberlin and Clarence Hinkle from 1924 to 1928. It was here that he first worked in water colors becoming a member of the California Water Color Society in 1927. During 1928 and 1929, Dike studied with George Bridgman, Frank Vincent DuMond and George Luks in New York, returning to teach at Chouinard from 1929 to1934 except for a brief tour of Europe during 1931. It was during this period that Dike became one of the first artists to develop what became known as the California Style of watercolor painting. Read the rest of this entry »