Camp Cajon monument will rise again as historians focus on rebuilding
By Mark Landis |
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2018 at 12:45 pm | UPDATED: May 7, 2018 at 1:17 pm
On July 4, 1919, a crowd of people gathered in a wooded glen in the Cajon Pass to celebrate the grand opening of Camp Cajon, California’s finest new rest stop and picnic grounds.
The jubilant crowd cheered when a huge American flag was lifted to unveil a large stone monument that marked the entrance to the camp.
Today, a group of local historical societies and history fans have joined forces to rebuild the landmark monument that stood at the entrance to Camp Cajon. The dedication for the reconstructed monument is planned for July 4, 2019, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the camp’s opening.
The original spire-shaped monument was built with local river rock, and inscribed with large hand-laid stone lettering that spelled out “Camp Cajon.” The monument stood approximately 8 feet tall, and featured several brass plaques engraved with patriotic poems. A 40-foot flagpole sprouted from the center of the monument.
Camp Cajon was built on National Old Trails Road, the United States’ first “Ocean to Ocean Highway,” opened in 1912 to serve the newly motorized American population. National Old Trails Road became U.S. Route 66 in 1926, and Camp Cajon became famous as “the gateway into Southern California.”
The present-day site of Camp Cajon is located on Wagon Train Road, just east of the 15 Freeway, and south of Highway 138, in the Cajon Pass.
Camp Cajon was the brainchild of William Bristol, a well-known local orange grower, author, and poet. In 1917, Bristol attended the dedication of the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument, that was built to honor the early settlers who blazed the trails through the Cajon Pass, and into Southern California. It was at this dedication that Bristol began to formulate his dream of building a comfortable picnic area where travelers could stop and rest in the Cajon Pass.
The Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument was a large concrete spire, built along National Old Trails Road, just south of the future Camp Cajon site. It was moved to its present location at the south end of Wagon Train Road (just east of the CHP truck scales on I-15) when the road was realigned. The Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument is designated as State Historical Landmark No. 576, and is open to the public.
From the collection of Mark LandisThe proposed location for the rebuilt Camp Cajon monument is next to the existing Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument that was built in 1917. The site is at the end of Wagon Train Road.
William Bristol believed the Camp Cajon location would be an ideal spot for motorists to stop and recuperate from their difficult trip across the Mojave Desert. Bristol returned to the shady refuge in the Cajon Pass in May 1919, and set up a temporary camp. He intended to take a brief vacation from his orange orchard, and build some permanent public picnic tables. His plans for a simple picnic area turned into a well-equipped rest stop that became known as Camp Cajon.
Praise for the emerging Camp Cajon project spread across the country, and local cities and businesses were anxious to help make the camp the preferred gateway into California. Bristol came up with an idea to have sponsors supply items such as stoves, barbeque pits, and tables. Each sponsor paid $50 to have a cast iron tablet (each was hand made by Bristol) with a promotional inscription of their choice placed on their donation.
Most of the facilities were constructed from local river rock and concrete, and fitted with heavy cast iron fixtures. The structures were designed to be large and sturdy enough to withstand the ravages of time and weather.
Organizations like the Santa Fe Railroad, the Elks Club, and the Mission Inn in Riverside, built unique outpost structures at Camp Cajon. According to Cajon Pass historian John Hockaday; “Bristol directed the building of the stone structures, and personally did the inlaid rockwork for some of the signs.”
The facilities at Camp Cajon included a large stone building that housed a post office with postmaster’s quarters, a small store, and rooms for public use. A gas station, café, and cabins-for-rent were among some of the privately-owned facilities that sprouted up along the highway near Camp Cajon.
Camp Cajon grew in popularity as a rest stop for motorists, and it was a favorite picnic area for residents of San Bernardino County. The site became a nationally-known landmark, and a source of pride.
Tragically, Camp Cajon was decimated by the great flood of 1938. The beautiful handmade stone structures were buried or damaged and the camp was abandoned.
Route 66 was realigned, and Camp Cajon, the gateway to Southern California was nearly forgotten. Interstate 15 completely bypassed old Route 66 in 1970, and the site of Camp Cajon now exists as an empty field on Wagon Train Road.
From the collection of Mark LandisBirds-eye view of Camp Cajon circa 1922, showing the main features of the camp, and location of the present-day McDonald’s.
Reconstructing the iconic Camp Cajon monument will help preserve the history of Camp Cajon, and highlight the decades of travel through the region on Route 66.
The new Camp Cajon monument project leaders agreed that the best location for the new stone spire would be at the site of the existing Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument. This site has level, buildable space off the road, ample space for parking, and it is close to the original site of Camp Cajon.
Plans for the monument’s design and a proposal for the project have been submitted for approval. The new monument will closely follow the original design, and will include plaques with the original inscriptions, and a flagpole. The project’s timeline was designed to complete the stone spire in time for a dedication ceremony on July 4, 2019.
For more information on the presentation, go to the historical society’s website at sbhistoricalsociety.com/.
Donations for the project are being excepted through the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society. Checks can be made out to “Camp Cajon Monument” and mailed to:
San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society, PO Box 875, San Bernardino, Ca. 92402
For updates on the Camp Cajon Monument project, visit the Camp Cajon Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Camp-Cajon-2109291012638939/
Mark Landis is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Historyinca@yahoo.com.