by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The rise of the so-called Great Hiking Era of the 1890s through the 1930s really embraced all kinds of outdoor activities as Americans, with so many of them moving from rural to urban places and from outdoor to indoor work as well as a massively expanding middle class with more leisure time than before, flocked to the nation’s mountains. It was also a period with a major growth in the role of the federal government in the establishment of national parks, as well as with forest management.
Adding to the list of posts on this blog that have featured some of the many resort camps that sprung up in the Sierra Madre/San Gabriel Mountains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from the Arroyo Seco to Mt. Baldy, this one highlights a pamphlet, mailing card and a few photos of Cold Brook Camp, which was established on the north fork of the San Gabriel River in the canyon of that name not far south of Crystal Lake.
Robert Wesley Dawson (1851-1909) was an early figure of prominence in this area, having first visited what he called Sycamore Lake at the back (north end) of San Gabriel Canyon in 1876. He built a cabin on its shores, with the body of water renamed Crystal Lake later. Dawson, a native of Wisconsin who lived in Carthage, in the southwest corner of Missouri for much of his childhood and whose family moved to Azusa, just outside the mouth of the canyon, in 1875 at a time when Henry Dalton, owner of the Rancho Azusa, was still fighting to reclaim much of what he asserted was his land, but which was deemed public land by surveyor Henry Hancock.
Dawson then apparently acquired property further south at what was known as Sycamore Flat, where two creeks, now known as Soldier and Coldbrook come together to form the north fork of the San Gabriel, and leased it to Alfred A. Beaty (1870-1949). Beaty, who was from Waco, Texas, came to this area in the 1890s and took up gold mining in San Gabriel Canyon, an endeavor that dated back to at least the 1850s, with much of the effort focused then, as now, on the east form of the river.
It has been said that Beaty was a renowned bronco buster who appeared in wild west shows, while his older brother Dave was a stage driver, including for excursions into San Gabriel Canyon. By 1899, when the earliest reference could be found in a Los Angeles Times report from Azusa, Alfred Beaty was operating a rustic camp called the Squirrel Inn, not to be confused with a much better known enterprise of that name in the San Bernardino Mountains above the city of that name.
In a 9 June 1901 ad in the Times, Beaty offered lodging at $35 a month, $9 per week and $2 per day, with those staying three days given a fifty-cent reduction off the latter, while a stage ride was $2 one-way and $3.50 round trip and mules could be rented for $1 a day and burros for half that amount—freight was hauled at 1 1/4 cents per pound. Tents without floors went for $2 per week and $7 a month.
It was added that the Squirrel Inn was “an ideal camping ground among the pines” with the elevation said to be 4,000 feet and plenty of fishing (trout in particular) and hunting.” Guests could catch a stagecoach from the Santa Fe railroad depot at Azusa on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings with return trips on the evenings of the other days, excepting Sunday. Beaty had his local agents in Azusa as well as one in Los Angeles.
Beaty continued his operation for about four years with the last located reference being for the 1903 season (which ran from May through September). He then closed the resort, though he remained in the area for several more years. In 1910, he was a laborer for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and was enumerated in that year’s federal census in Kern County while working for that remarkable engineering feat that was completed in fall 1913. Around that time, Beaty and his family relocated to a ranch at Borrego Springs in northern San Diego County and he remained there and was long remembered after his death in 1949.
Dawson then decided to take the Squirrel Inn property (a waitress at the Inn, Nellie Hawkins, was remembered by the naming after her of Mt. Hawkins and South Mt. Hawkins, to the east and northeast) and open a new resort, which was dubbed Cold Brook Camp. An early example of a somewhat detailed description of a visit was from a church Sunday school outing in August 1906, as reported in the Highland Park Herald, a weekly for the neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles.
“One of the Boys” wrote that they took a streetcar out to Azusa and then “the journey . . . up the river was a very delightful one” with some thirty stream crossings as they “saw many beautiful sights as we tramped along.” A stop at Camp Rincon included a rest and a meal before the group settled in for the night. After leaving that resort, the group made its way up to Crystal Lake “taking a ten mile trap through lonely paths and rough trails, hardly wide enough for a horse to pass in.”
It was decided, partially because of a large number of mosquitos, not to camp at the lake, but to return back “down the trail three miles to Cold Brook camp, where we camped for the night.” Unfortunately, the account said nothing about Cold Brook specifically, only noting that the group went on to further adventures in the area before the trip ended.
A 2 August 1907 ad in the Times described Cold Brook as one in which “our tents are pitched under pines and oaks, beside a mountain stream of wonderful water clear as crystal and cold as ice.” The tents, moreover, were new, with floor and decent bedding, so “a few nights’ rest here, breathing the pure mountain air with the music of the brook in your ears will make a new man [not a woman, as well?] out of you.”
Not only this, but “our table is a real delight to the hungry” and the cook “is the real thing,” having worked for a prominent club in the Golden State. Hunting and fishing were also promoted and the use of saddle animals for mountain rides was mentioned, as well. Nearby were Mt. Islip, Pine Flats and Crystal Lake and Dawson listed the rates at $2.25 per day and $12.50 weekly, while “well-equipped housekeeping tents” were offered from $6.50 a week and up.
A May 1908 ad in the paper called Cold Brook “An Earthly Paradise” where there were “first-class accommodations,” a pair of “ice-cold trout streams” meeting at the “exquisitely wooded camp,” as well as “no tormenting mosquitoes.” Notably, however, Dawson warned that “people affected with tuberculosis diseases will not be entertained at any price,” which obviously makes one wonder what led to that statement being included.
The 18 July 1908 edition of the Covina Argus provided an in-depth account of Cold Brook by N.D. Mussey, who wrote that a trip to the resort over the Independence Day holiday (the Fourth being a Saturday that year) with his party taking single-horse “rigs” for the journey up San Gabriel Canyon. They left a 9 a.m. with the understanding that they would turn around and go back if the roads were not to their liking and “found the river bed, but the river had gone a glimmering, or somewhere else, so on we pushed” until water was found.
By 1 p.m. the party had lunch and “we decided to go to Cold Brook,” which was the goal, though there wasn’t certainty when they left and they passed Camp Rincon “with its hotel, dancing pavilion and other buildings, nestled under the shade of the trees,” though they did not stop having eight miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain to go. “From there on,” Mussey wrote, “although the ascent was steep, we found good roads, better even than some of the roads within a radius of five miles of Covina.”
At 5 p.m., the group reached Cold Brook and asked for Dawson, who, it was pointed out, “is evidently not a stranger to many people in and about Covina, as he owns a fine orange grove” in that area, but found that he was returning to the camp via a stage. The party, however, was helped by others “and we soon were very nicely located.” After looking around, the correspondent pronounced the resort “one of the most beautiful spots I ever saw” and noted:
Nestled under the fir and alder trees is the hotel, with two streams, forming the north fork of the San Gabriel River, coming down on either side and meeting in front of the hotel, the tents located, not with any particular set system, but wherever there is a cosy [sic] spot, with rustic bridges to meet them; the mountains towering upon three sides, the rippling waters as they go singing down over the rocks; surely it is a spot full of grandeur and a feast for the lover of the beauties of nature.
As advertised, “the pestive mosquito, with his melodious song to sing you into disquietude and unrest, is not there” as “he is an unknown quantity.” The following morning, well rested, Mussey “took a little trip up the canyon to the left [west] of the hotel and after a five minutes’ walk came to the falls” and found a couple camped there as well as Diamond Rock “standing on one point in the middle of the stream and estimated to weigh over 5,000 tons.”
In the very early afternoon, the writer explored the canyon to the east of the camp and was “feasting on the beauties and grandeur of nature” through “various views of interest,” but, at 1:15 it was time to make the journey down the canyon and, not much over four hours later, Mussey concluded, his party “were enjoying a dish of ice cream at Azusa, tired and dusty, but feeling well repaid for the effort we had made.”
Another correspondent, this one unnamed, to the Argus, in its 26 June 1909 edition, discussed a visit to Cold Brook and observed that “no person who has ever entered the canyon and has not been up the north fork can possibly know anything of the wonderful beauty that is encountered at every turn of this trail.” At the resort, Cold Brook Creek came down a steep grade of 20% per mile “surging against giant boulders, wrestling with the tortuous riverbed, at all times running beneath a canopy of alders, beech, bay and oak trees.” It was added that the trail often followed the river “through canyons bored out of the solid rock,” while, at other points, the route was 1,000 feet above the San Gabriel course.
The writer then noted that “Dawson’s Cold Brook camp lies in a natural delta at the river’s edge in a grove of white-trunked alders.” Adding that the best fishing in the canyon was found there, the correspondent continued that “Mr. Dawson has built a fine hotel with [a] large and airy diningroom [sic], and has scattered the tents through the alders and oaks.” In one case, “a set of three tents nestles beneath one giant oak” while “at the rear of this camp . . . the signs of the great cloudburst of 1891 may be seen in a great mass of tumbled rock and debris.”
The writer returned to the accommodations by observing that “Dawson’s tents are a triumph in the matter of comfort, designed in the best possible way to make for the best convenience of the camper.” One of these was a Hearst newspapers syndicate cartoonist and a painter, James Swinnerton (1875-1974), who was known for his American West landscapes as well as his newspaper cartoons for children. Swinnerton had tuberculosis earlier in life (not the ad above), but recovered when Hearst sent him to Arizona, which is where his landscape painting matured. The Argus correspondent noted that the artist’s tent “overhangs the rushing water, and he alternates fishing with his work with the pencil and with painting the scenery.”
The season ended in the fall, but Dawson, who was 58 years old, suffered a heart attack at Cold Brook on 4 December 1909 and, being so isolated from medical attention, died before a doctor could arrive. His body was conveyed down the canyon “through a blinding snow storm” and services held in Azusa with burial at Oakwood Cemetery. The Argus called him “one of the best-known men of the San Gabriel Valley” and added that he was both a stockholder of the cemetery before selling his interest to W.Q. Custer of Covina and of the newspaper, though “his successful life work, however, has been in making Cold Brook Camp, the most beautiful mountain resort in the San Gabriel canyon.”
Notably, when the city of Azusa decided to enter a float in the Tournament of Roses parade for New Year’s Day 1910, the theme was “a camping scene in the San Gabriel Cañon, with its miner’s tent shaded by a forest tree and a camp-fire with its singing kettle.” Moreover, the Times of 29 December 1909 reported that “several young men are taking a three days’ trip to Cold Brook Camp, twenty miles up the cañon, to get the greenery.”
Dawson’s widow and brothers continued the management of the camp for the 1910 season and then she and four men formed the Cold Brook Camp Company. The firm clearly expanded advertising efforts well beyond previous endeavors, including large articles that were ads and featuring detailed descriptions and photographs.
In the 6 June 1911 edition of the Pomona Review, for example, it was reported that “the hotel will be entirely remodeled and will be enlarged to make accommodations for 350 guests,” while new tents and furnishing were to be added, as were a dancing pavilion, a tennis court, and new trails and walkways. The company also hired a garage in Azusa so patrons could park their vehicles there and then take the stage up the canyon to the resort. It was also reported that the United States Postal Service approved a summer-only post office at Cold Brook.
The 6 July 1912 issue of the paper reported that “many improvements have been made in the past year,” including 40 new tent sites with tongue-and-groove flooring, while a pair of boats for the exclusive use of guests were available at Crystal Lake and the store was featured for having a wide variety of goods “at practically valley prices.” New stagecoaches were plying improved roads, as well, so it was assured that “anyone desiring to spend a vacation in the mountains can ill afford to make their arrangements without securing complete information about this beautiful Camp.”
A masquerade was held at Cold Brook and the 11 August edition of the Times noted that the camp hall was decorated with ferns and tiger lilies with 200 partygoers dressed as “Indian maids, cowboys, Japanese maids, Mother Goose characters, fairies, fern maids, gypsies, military men and ladies, Spanish damsels, individuals from the Turkish harem” and many more. At a moonlight dance, “fern-covered lights were uncovered and a great face of the man-in-the-moon appeared in the canvass [sic] of the open-air pavilion.” When the house lights were turned out, everyone removed their masks to end the festivities.
It appears, however, that, with the conclusion of that 1912 season, the Cold Brook Camp Company ended operations, though the resort continued on and today the site is a United States Forest Service campground. The Museum’s holdings have quite a few photos of the camp, so we’ll look to continue the story into and through the 1920s in a future post.