by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As has been noted in several posts on this blog, there were many resorts and camps in the San Gabriel Mountains during the Great Hiking Era spanning from the 1890s to the 1930s. Among the earliest was Follows’ Camp, situated along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and operated for over thirty years by Ralph Morton Follows (1866-1925.) Tonight’s featured objects from the museum’s collection are a group of great early real photo postcards, including a couple by the well-known mountain shutterbug Ernest B. Gray, of the resort and dating to the first years of the 20th century.
Follows was born in Bradford, a city in Yorkshire, England, just west of Leeds to Benjamin T. Follows, a boot and shoe dealer, and Elizabeth Morton. He remained with his family in that area until tuberculosis set in and Follows, as so many who had that malady, made the long trip to California in 1891. He was in San Francisco with a brother when a police office told them about Los Angeles and, specifically, San Gabriel Canyon and advised that they make the trip south. It was also reported later that he was all of 90 pounds and was carried nto the mountans by his sibling as he sought a cure.
While many online accounts state the Follows started his camp in 1896, ads from several years later clearly state that he opened a resort, however informal, about the time that he arrived, though nothing was found in a search of local newspapers until the latter part of the decade. It was in late 1897 that Follows married Sarah Jane “Jennie” Heaton, whose father William Tecumseh “Billy” Heaton was an experienced miner with a claim at Peachtree, now known as Heaton, Flat on the north side of the East Fork of the San Gabriel.
By 1902, the couple were regularly advertising the camp, with one from the Los Angeles Times that May noting that it was “established for ten years” and “is on the main road to ‘Old Baldy’ and all the mining camps on the river,” while it also “lies in the very center of the best trout fishing of the whole river.” In fact, Follows was long known as an authority on fishing along the San Gabriel and was late financially invested in stocking the watercourse.
The facility also offered “good, comfortable rooms on floored tents” at a rate of $1.25 a day, while saddle horses and pack mules were available at any time. A stage left the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway station at Azusa at 9:30 each morning and returned to town eight hours later with a one-way fare of $1. Follows’ four-animal team stage that plied the route to his camp was also widely known.
While Follows’ Camp appears to have done well financially, there were occasional problems. As early as 1895, its proprietor found it in his economic interests to sell whisky to gold miners, which led one owner, Henry C. Roberts, who’d been mining in the canyon since at least the early Sixties and who was a partner in the San Gabriel Mining Company, filed a complaint with the county district attorney that Follows was “engaged in the pleasing occupation of selling liquor without a license.” A short article in the 4 January 1896 issue of the Los Angeles Times concluded that “Capt. Roberts does not care about having liquor dealt out too lavishly to the men.”
This was not, however, an isolated incident, as a decade later, the Los Angeles Express, in its 9 September 1905, reported that Follows was arrested by an Azusa constable on order of a deputy district attorney acting on a complaint by an agent of that office sent “to investigate complaints concerning the illicit selling of liquor at the camp” and who purchased some from an employee.
While the paper noted that “Follows is a man of considerable means and has an excelletn reputation,” it added that, with his arrest, “there possibly may be found a hint as to why Follows’ famous fishing camp up among the San Gabriel hills has long been one of the most popular.” It went on to say that those looking for a catch “have returned later without a fish, but declaring that they had an enjoyable trip and were well satisfied.”
A statement from the owner and published in the Times on that day claimed that the agent arrived at the camp “and complained that he could not obtain a drink. An employe [sic] of the camp offered to secure him some liquor, and without asking my permission, went to a flask I had in the house for my personal use” and sold the agent what he requested. Still, it was reported that Follows was going to plead guilty and, presumably, he paid a fine for his criminal behavior.
In 1902, there was another run-in with government, this time over a somewhat common problem involving the settling on federal forest reserve property. The Times of 4 September noted that the federal district attorney in Los Angeles filed a complaint against Follows. In it, the government “claims that it is the rightful owner of certain land which Follows willfully took possession of in 1894.” It sought return of the property and damages of $750, likely to cover legal fees.
Then, there was a horrible accident involving the well-known Follows Camp stage, as reported in the Times of 23 August 1906. Apparently, the experienced driver ferrying passengers back to Azusa to catch the train heading back to Los Angeles was racing to get to the station as another train approached and turned his animals on to a wagon road that ran parallel to the track. The creatures, however, likely frightened by the noise, turned abruptly on to the track “while the passengers screamed with terror” just as the collision ensued.
A dramatic drawing depicted the disaster, which sent passengers flying upon impact. Lillian Rhoden of Pasadena, who was thought to have fainted, was found to have died of a broken neck, while Mrs. J.S. Hunt, the wife of a Santa Monica physician, suffered terrible internal injuries and died shortly afterward. Rhoden’s daughter was the only other casualty, sustaining cuts and bruises, but these were not considered serious.
Despie these setbacks and tragedies, the camp continued to operate successfully with a July 1907 ad in the Times referring to Follows as the “oldest and favorite resort” in the canyon and “A Little Kingdom in the Mountains.” The piece continued,
You can come to Follows Camp without fear of disappointment. It is not a “private family” which accepts a few guests to partly pay living expenses, but a unique and attractive institution more popular every year, with guests from every part of the country, and famous for its hospitality and “good times.”
The location is by far the most scenic and delightful, overlooking a big trout stream, with giant mountains all around, with countless walks and side trips, including “Old Baldy,” “Iron Forks,” [and] “The Narrows.” Shady nooks and hammocks [are] everywhere.
With horses, tennis, croquet, showers and tubs, and “chief of all, a table renowned throughout Southern California for its good eating and excellent cooking,” the camp had “plenty of everything, [including the] purest spring water, [and] not even ice is overlooked.”
In May 1908, a novelty that was a portent of the future was reported on in the Los Angeles Herald as an automobile party wended its way into the canyon, and its forty-three fordings of the river and all sorts of adventures, and ended their excursion at Follows. The Northern two-cylinder made the journey, said to have been only the third auto trip to the camp with the others being later in the year when the water was lower, and those it passed in the canyon purportedly “set the party as crazy, foolhardy and reckless.”
At times, a couple of the passengers disembarked to clear a path for the vehicle as it negotiated banks and obstructions and there was one fording that was nearly the vehicle’s “Waterloo” as it was stranded in deep water until the car could be dragged out with a block and tackle. After camping overnight along the river, the party continued on with the horseless carriage having to be pulled by rope over rocks. Even after the last bad ford was crossed, the group was summoned to help fight a forest fire started by hunters and that took three hours away from the journey.
When the motoring expedition got to a camp, they began to celebrate, thinking they’d reached their destination, but it turned out they’d reached the Mountain View Resort, on land owned by the Potter family since the 1880s but with the facility opened a few years prior. In fact, Mountain View only lasted a short time and then the resort was acquired by Follows and run as an adjunct of sorts to his camp for several years.
So, the group countinued on for just a mile-and-a-half more and, on arrival at Follows’, “a rousing reception was given the tired party, who were cheered by the sight of Old Glory flying over the summer pavilion , where the guests and all hands of the camp had gathered to see the car come in.”
After a couple days at the camp, which included a visit to a mine where it was said that Follows “takes good gold at his leisure moments in the winter,” the group headed back to Azusa, but with the owner of the camp among the passengers, with he proving a valuable help in the fording and dealing with obstacles. It was noted that four other automobiles failed in their attempts to make the same trip, while it was felt wiser to make the journey later in the year.
The following year, however, another tribulation was experienced as Jennie Heaton Follows obtained a divorce in September 1909. Ralph, who was also an Azusa city trustee, abruptly resigned his office, sending word to officials by a wireless message dated just “At Sea.” A short note in the Times of 20 October simply concluded, “it is understood that Mr. Follows is not expected back in Azusa.” It turned out that he spent six months in Australia and New Zealand, but he did return and he and Jennie remarried and continued to operate their resort.
The Pomona Review of 5 July 1913 had a lengthy feature on Follows’ Camp and it began with the observation that:
No mountain resoert adjacent to Los Angeles is more popular than is “Follows Camp.” Tucked away in the San Gabriel canyon where the mountain streams run cool, surrounded by the pines and the picturesque Sierras it is an ideal place for a rest whether you are going to stay a week or a month. . .
There are substantial tents and bungalows where everything is kept scrupulously spic and span . . . Real food, the “fillin'” kind that always leaves that satisfied feeling just under the belt is provided and there is plenty of it.
Fishing, hunting, hiking and other forms of recreation at the facility and nearby were also touted, while rates were said to be “within the means of every man seeking a pleasant vacation” thanks to “the genial proprietor.”
In 1918, the Arcadia Tribune reprinted a news item from the Azusa Pomotropic reporting that Follows purchased a truck with the body of a stage so that he could ferry guests to and from his camp partially by motor vehicle and partly through his old animal-drawn stage. By the early Twenties, Ralph and Jennie were residing full-time in Azusa with on-site managers at the camp, while Ralph also arranged bookings for other camps in the canyon, such as Bonita, Coldbrook and Rincon.
By mid-decade, road improvements were such that the rough ride experienced in 1908 was a distant memory and automobiles could navigate much of the canyon for day trips. This began to affect the business of Follows’ Camp, but, before Ralph could see the decline take place, he was killed in a car accident at the end of 1925.
He was driving a new vehicle on a road between Redlands and Beaumont when he took a curve at a speed of up to 70 miles per hour and the car rolled, pinning Follows under the demolished vehicle. While people were on scene quickly to free him from the wreckage, Follows died just after an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. He was 59 years old and the longtime resort owner was interred at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendale.
Jennie Heaton Follows continued operating the camp, which declined in popularity into the Great Depression and suffered damage, as did its contemporaries, in the floods of spring 1938. A Heaton relative, Sedley Peck, purchased the camp seven years later and his widow continued to own it until the mid-1970s, when it was sold to Joe Davison. He ran the camp for nearly three decades until his death in 2002 and there were a few owners until the City of Industry acquired the property, heavily damaged in floods in 2005, in 2011 and still owns the site today.