(This piece was written about our winter travels,
this one continues to look at our travels to San Diego, California.)
I find it interesting that when you travel to another place faraway from where you call home, some interesting connections with your home may pop up along the way. San Diego, California seems far removed from having any ties to Wisconsin or especially the Kickapoo Valley, but looks can be deceiving. If you start digging into a place’s history, remarkable connections can be unearthed.
Alonzo Horton is known historically as “The Father of San Diego”. In downtown San Diego, the Horton Plaza mall is named after the real estate developer who began the process of turning the little mission town into a booming city. Horton had come to San Diego shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War to make his fortune in real estate development. He bought the area near San Diego Bay where the harbor was located. Over a twenty-year period Horton sold over 200 city blocks of land in what became known as New Town. With its location near the busy harbor, New Town businesses thrived and Horton became a very rich man. He once said, during the height of the San Diego real estate boom, “I’m getting tired of handling so much money”.
Horton’s connection to Wisconsin is that before coming to California, he had made a fortune in real estate development in the Badger State. Horton had moved west from Connecticut, where he was born, to purchase a large tract of land in eastern Wisconsin. Horton’s land purchase coincided with Wisconsin becoming a state in 1848 and within a few years, he had developed a thriving town southwest of Green Bay. The town, Hortonville, bore his name. In 1851, Horton sold the last of his land interests in Wisconsin and headed to California during the great Gold Rush of that time. He became a successful businessman in San Francisco before heading south to San Diego in 1867.
Oscar Millard was known as the “Father of Ontario”, the small village located in the northern part of the Kickapoo Valley. Millard came from the eastern United States after Wisconsin became a state and purchased lands for lumbering. He ran a general store along the Kickapoo River and named the settlement that grew up around his store, Ontario, after his birthplace in the state of New York. Eventually, Millard sold off his store and land interests (after compiling great profits at both ventures) and moved to the American West. For a time he was located in San Diego, where he operated a general store at the same time when Horton was developing New Town near the city’s harbor. While he was in San Diego, Millard had a grandson move to the city to work as a telegraph operator for the railroad.
William and Henry Minor operated a lumberyard business in La Farge in the 1890s. The Minor brothers also had a lumber mill located in the Town of Clinton, north of Bloomingdale and at the bottom of Perkins Hill. As was the case with these lumbering operations, a little village grew up around the mill that was called Minortown. The lumberyard was started in order to sell that lumber from the Minortown mill in the booming village of La Farge. By 1899, the Minor brothers had sold their La Farge operation and headed north to start lumbering there. They bought 4,000 acres in Forest County from the railroad and started a lumber camp at a place called Carter. Soon after the mill at Minortown was disassembled and moved to Carter and many of the men who worked for the Minor brother’s lumbering in Vernon County went north to work there. The lumber mill at Carter was very successful for the Minor brothers.
Eventually, the Minor brothers moved to the state of Oregon, where they built another large lumbering operation. They built a huge store that filled an entire block in Eugene, Oregon. The Minor brother’s store became the retail center of Eugene. When they decided to retire from the retail operation, the Minor brothers donated the huge store to the University of Oregon. The proceeds from the sale of the store were used to create a perpetual chair professorship at the University of Oregon in the School of Forestry.
In returning to the story of the connection to San Diego, Alonzo Horton found that there was not sufficient lumber available in southern California for the rapid expansion of his New Town development. In order to get more lumber on hand to build the stores and houses in San Diego, Horton arranged for lumber to be brought down from Oregon. An efficient highway or railroad system had not been developed at the time of Horton’s need for more lumber. So, the lumber was assembled into rafts and floating booms in Oregon, then pulled down the Pacific coast by tugboats to San Diego. The idea of the floating rafts and lumber booms is eerily similar to the early days of lumbering in the Kickapoo Valley.
We know that the lumbermen of the Kickapoo Valley took the “The Fatal Oak” lumbering folksong north with them. That song, taken from a poem written to memorialize the loss of three lads from La Farge killed in a lumber rafting accident, was sung in Carter and other lumber camps Up North and across the country. Perhaps the Minor brothers, who originally worked in that early lumbering time in the Kickapoo Valley, when the rough sawn lumber was bundled into rafts and assembled into booms and floated down the river to Midwestern markets, took that knowledge to Oregon with them. There it could have been used to enable their Oregon lumber to get to San Diego. Perhaps, Oscar Millard, one of the early proponents of the Kickapoo River lumber rafts, built his store in San Diego using lumber delivered with that same transportation method.
Historic connections – San Diego and the Kickapoo Valley – may tie people and places together forever.