by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As frequently noted on this blog, the Great Hiking Era ran from the 1890s to the 1930s and was so called because large numbers of Americans took to the great outdoors to enjoy hiking, fishing, hunting and camping in the nation’s mountains, including the local San Gabriels which rise majestically about the San Gabriel Valley.
Quite a few posts here have discussed some of the better known camps and resorts in the chain, but today’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is a real photo postcard of one that was only briefly in existence during the first decade of the 20th century: the Mountain View Resort.
It was a project of Hayes Potter, whose family was one of the earliest to settle in San Gabriel Canyon, and though he put a great deal of effort and money into the resort, it only lasted four summer seasons from 1905-1908 before bankruptcy forced its sale.
Still, this photo and another from the collection are of interest in documenting and interpreting the long and varied history of the many resort camps that dotted the San Gabriels, especially in the first three decades of the twentieth century and there is some additional interest in the Potter family history.
Charles Hayes Potter was born in 1877 on his family’s property in the canyon about fifteen miles north of Azusa. His father, William Green Potter, was born in Virginia in 1836, but little is known of him until he wound up mining in San Gabriel Canyon in the early 1860s when a little “gold rush” erupted along the San Gabriel River and, particularly, its east fork. It was said the massive “Noah’s Flood” of the winter of 1861-62 forced William to abandon his claim.
In 1864, William Potter married Ruth Durfee, who was born in 1847 in Pottwattamie County, Iowa. Her parents were converts to the Mormon Church and resided at Nauvoo, at where church founder Joseph Smith was killed not long before Ruth’s birth. By 1860, her family migrated to San Salvador, a community founded by New Mexicans, some of whom came with John Rowland, William Workman and others to Mexican California in the early 1840s.
Ruth’s uncle, James D. Durfee, died at Nauvoo around the time of Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, and two of his sons, George and James, Jr., migrated to greater Los Angeles. James, Jr. settled at El Monte and, in 1860, bought 125 acres of the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo north a short distance on “Temple Road” from Antonia Margarita Workman and her husband, F.P.F. Temple. With F.P.F. Temple, James Durfee was a founder of the La Puente School, renamed Temple School after Walter P. Temple donated money and a school bell in the early 1920s. Today “Temple Road” is Durfee Avenue.
Meanwhile, after living in San Bernardino as late as 1870 where William continued in mining, the Potters settled in San Gabriel Canyon, where he combined his mining efforts with farming on a ranch purchased in the late 1870s and located near where the three main forks of the San Gabriel River come together about where the large reservoir is today. There was enough flat land there that crops were grown and bees raised. Occasionally, the ranch was mentioned in newspaper accounts, including note of a fine home on the property and that William was a well-known canyon guide for adventurers including hunters who wanted to roam the back country of the San Gabriel range.
For example, a correspondent to the Los Angeles Times in late May 1888 reported on a trip to the area and stated “every one around Azusa knows the hospitable and accommodating William G. Potter, but few in Los Angeles know the pleasure of climbing the cañon with him for a guide.” Potter and his teenage son, Currier, had nine burros, including four packed for the journey and the rest to carry the party, at the ready for the excursion.
Three years later, the Times briefly noted that “William Potter’s place has fruit and bees. He has 125 stands. The place is six miles from Islip’s [Mount Islip at the back of the canyon is a popular place for hiking] and furnishes good accommodations for travelers at reasonable prices.”
In the late 1890s, plans were made for local power companies to utilize the waters of the San Gabriel River for hydroelectric power generation. One company from San Bernardino, in June 1897, looked to build a power house at the Potter ranch. A couple of months later, an electric company owned by William G. Kerckhoff, a prominent lumber, utility and real estate magnate in Los Angeles, announced plans for a power house across from the Potter place and a 5 billion gallon reservoir. It would be years before projects like this were actually consummated, but these early planning efforts showed how early the canyon was being eyed for water and power development.
William Potter died in 1903 and two years later, Hayes did what had been talked about years before and opened a portion of the family ranch as a resort called “Mountain View.” An early advertisement from the Times in June 1905 stated that there was “lots of trout; plenty of recreation” with lodging at $1.50 a day or $8 for the week. To maximize his reach, Hayes listed his new facility through the Peck Free Information Bureau of Los Angeles for tourism and recreation.
That same month, a lengthy article in the paper discussed a trip made by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors into the canyon to talk about improvements to the poor road that wended up from Azusa but had to make many river crossings. Naturally, the main problem was flooding from wet years, of which the previous winter was one. The first stop for the stage ride was at “Hayes Potter’s mountain resort” before the party ventured further inland.
For the second season in 1906, Potter announced in his ads that there was a concrete plunge, or pool, measuring 55×155 feet. In late July, the Times reported that
while the people in the valey below are suffering discomfort from the summer’s heat, the people at this mountain resort are enjoying life in the shade, swinging in the hammocks, resting on the couches, and occasionally taking a dip in the plunges supplied from the river. While the fishing is not as good as usual, still there have been many fine catches made.
There was also a large deer hunting party that left Mountain View a week prior and was expected to return within a few days. In August, a masquerade ball “was largely attended by the campers at this highly pleasing mountain retreat” with prizes handed out for best costumes. Ads mentioned that “no intoxicating liquor [was] sold at the camp,” reflective of the growing temperance movement in the region and broadly that culminated in 1919 with the establishment of national Prohibition, of which the Homestead is now commemorating the centennial.
The third season opened in late May 1907 and publicity was ramped up with longer advertisements that claimed that Mountain View was “the largest and best situated camp in the San Gabriel Canyon” It not only had the sole plunge in the canyon, but offered plenty of locally grown and raised food, an “abundance of shade,” no fog, horses and burros to rent, and a store on site.
There was also mention of “beautiful walks along the sparkling streams of mountains water;” side trips into the wildlands; hunting and fishing; games; music and dancing; and boat riding and swimming. Furnished tents were also provided with housekeeping included, in addition to spaces for visitors bringing their own camping equipment and gear.
After working with the Travel and Hotel Bureau in Los Angeles for the past two years, Potter aligned with another, the California Tourist Bureau, and the fourth season for 1908 included greater exertions to expand visitation and use at Mountain View. For example, a special three-day excursion, costing $7.50 per person, was created with “transportation, entertainment, saddle animals and fishing tackle at Camp included.”
For Independence Day, there was a $5 program for a two-day outing on Saturday and Sunday with all expenses covered for transportation, food and the overnight stay at the resort. An added attraction was an oration from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Wilbur, who was a noted local speaker. It was reported by the Times that the jurist’s appearance “attracted many persons from the neighboring camps.”
In August 1908, the Los Angeles Herald reported that “a large number of people are enjoying the comforts of the camp and more are coming every day” so that “everybody seems to be jolly and congenial.” Tennis and croquet were added to the range of activities and a lecture from a business college professor and a dance for some 100 persons were also mentioned.
Yet, despite the cheerful and positive news, the season closed and so did the resort. In October, a quartet of creditors from Azusa filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition at the federal district court. The document stated that not only was Potter insolvent but he “has left the State for the purpose of evading payment of his debts.”
In March 1909, Mountain View was sold for $8,500 to one of Potter’s neighbors and competitors, Ralph Follows, whose Follows Camp was on the south side of the East Fork just a short distance east of the Potter property. The Covina Argus reported in June 1909 that Follows immediately began work on Mountain View and “has fitted it up to run in conjunction with his original camp further up the stream. There was even a plan to open a Follows post office at Mountain View.
Use of Mountain View as an adjunct of Follows Camp, which is now owned by the City of Industry, looks to have continued for at least several years, though mention of it ceased after 1913, when more talk was made in the press about a power plant being built near the property. In later years, the former resort became Camp Oak Grove, which was for troubled boys and has more recently been used as a fire camp run in collaboration between the county fire department and the state corrections department.
Hayes Potter did, indeed, leave California and spent the rest of his life in Globe, Arizona, a mining town east of Phoenix. Nothing could be found of his years there or of the last thirty-plus years of his life. In 1941, Potter died as the result of an accidential asphyxiation of carbon monoxide at his home. Listed on his death certificate as a carpenter and stone mason, Potter was 65 years old.
The two real photo postcards of Mountain View Resort featured here were taken by Ernest B. Gray, a prolific documentarian of the San Gabriel Mountains and other mountain regions in greater Los Angeles and southern California. One is an excellent panorama of the property, including some structures as well as cultivated farm plots, with the river appearing to be at the top left of the photo. The title mentions that the view was taken from the “Glendora Trail,” which probably was a hiking route from the canyon eastward along the ridge of the mountains to the nearby city.
The other image shows a row of white canvas tents on primitive plank platforms among a grove of trees that appear to be planted and may be some of the fruit trees that were part of the property before it opened as a resort. At the end of the row along a dirt path is a cart or wagon, perhaps for transporting supplies, equipment and so forth for those using the tents.
These photographs are among many Gray photograph and other views the Homestead’s collection has that help visually document the great deal of recreational activity that took place in the San Gabriel Mountains through the 1920s. So, look for more in future posts in the “At Our Leisure” series.