Something that Will Last a Hundred Years

Charles Kelly (1862-1939), son of Matthew and Emily Kelly, recalls his involvement with the creation of some of the first roads in San Diego County. The following is a transcription.

In 1903, I had a Sunday-school class of boys in the Central Christian Church, averaging about 10 years of age. My business, then quite common, but now almost forgotten, was the Livery Stable Business,-located on the northeast corner of Third and F Streets, where I kept as many as one hundred horses, and suitable rigs to go with them from a one seated buggy to the Tally-Ho that seated twenty grown people.

To get better acquainted, and help the interest of my class, I offered to give them an all day trip somewhere, on which I would furnish a suitable carriage and go with them all day, taking our lunches and having the best kind of a time- riding, swimming or hiking.

The boys liked this so well we increased our trips from annually to semi-annually, instead of just one day we sometimes stayed and camped overnight. They hinted they could unmistakably stand even more. With my Sunday-School work, church work, anti-saloon work, and a Director of the Chamber of Commerce, also City Councilman, serving on committees, and my own business required a little time. (twelve hours a day would not be too much! What should I do?)

One day, we had gone up to the San Diego River to the Old Mission dam and had seen it and the aqueduct that brought the water down to irrigate the Mission lands. The boys learned these things had been built more than one hundred years ago. They asked, “What can we build that can last one hundred years?”

I was a member of the Committee on Streets and Roads, (there were no good roads then and I do not think there were over five miles of paving in our city) both of the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council. The street force was a little over a dozen men, something altogether inadequate for the hundreds of miles of street. The next time the class suggested a trip, I asked them would they work two hours for me, if I would give as many hours to them? They shouted with joy at the prospect. So I told them to come to my place of business next Saturday at 1 p.m. and to be sure to wear their old clothes, and that I wanted them to work. Further would they do any kind of work I told them to do? To which they all shouted – “Yes.”

A half hour before the appointed time the boys were on hand, but I was not there. They inquired of my men what I wanted them to do. The men knew nothing of my plans and told the boys there must be some mistake. As I had ordered a certain big carriage hitched up at 1 p.m. and I was going to drive it myself. When I came in at the appointed hour the boys came running toward me and asked if I had forgotten them. What was their work to be?

I ordered my men to bring the two boxes of grapes and oranges from the office and put them in the carriage, then the boys to climb in, too. We drove out to India Street to near the edge of town, about Elm Street. The boys had been trying every way they could to find out what I was going to have them do, when all at once I told one of them to jump down and throw that stone out of the road.

You ought to see the look on his face! The idea of him working on a public road. I asked, “Didn’t you say you would work anywhere or do whatever I asked you to do?” “Yes.” “Then this is what I want you to do.” He got down and threw it away and started back to the carriage, but I showed him another and told him to throw that and any others he might see, too. As we came to where the stones were more plentiful, I ordered others out, finally getting out myself to help, leaving the smallest boy to drive the carriage along behind us.

We were surely a dandy crew to throw stones, - a great deal better than the same number of men. We actually got lots of fun out of it, hitting all the good targets along the way. In an hour’s time we had done the allotted task. Throwing out all the loose stones to Tide Street.

A short time before we had finished, Mr. A.G. Spaulding, the millionaire sporting good’s dealer, but, better than one of Nature’s Noblemen, came past us in his carriage, with a fine team, driving out to his home on Point Loma. He stopped and said, “Hello, Kelly. What’s the meaning of this?” I told him I had a dandy crew and we were doing a little road work to make the roads better. He said, “God knows they need it bad enough.” And drove on.

Right here I wish to explain, I was furnishing all the livery work for the Point Loma Homestead and much of my other regular custom was over this same route. There were no street cars, or anything that could be called more than a trail out there then. Where Tide Street is now we serpentined through sand and mud. The high tides crossed it in three places, then the trail took a diagonal cut across through where the Naval Training Station now is, to Roseville School, then on in the same general direction, straight up the hill to the south side of the present canyon road.

As soon as our work was done we all got into our carriage and drove to the beach, eating our fruit as we drove along. Here we played until the evening, returning home all satisfied with our afternoon.

Next morning I was at the Point Loma Homestead on business. Mr. Spaulding saw me and came over to ask about what I was doing down on the road yesterday. We had quite a talk in which he evinced great interest in the state of our roads. Finally I said, “Mr. Spaulding you are a rich man. Will you furnish the necessary tools to work the road from San Diego to here if I will put a man and a team on the road to use them for a year?” He said, “Find out how much it will cost.” A few days later I told him they would cost $830.00. He said, “When will you begin work?” I told him as soon as I could get the tools. He handed me his check for the amount right there and that’s all the agreement we ever had about the work.

My man did the work for a year, as agreed, and my boys helped. Mr. E. W. Scripps had been making automobile trails, radiating from Miramar in all directions, for a year or two. Mr. G. W. Marston had been trying to make roads in our city park. Mr. Spaulding had improved the roads around the homestead, all of which had been noted by the Chamber of Commerce and others.

One night after the work of the day was over, I was sitting in my office, when Rufus Choate, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, came in, and said there would soon be a city election and he thought it would be a good thing to ask for a bond issue to build all our new roads out to the city limits and to Point Loma and La Jolla our main tourist trips. I agreed with him. Then he said, “ I want you to be chairman and get Messrs. Scripps, Spaulding, Marston, and Clayton (the last to represent the Spreckel’s interest) as your committee, to recommend what should be spent on various roads.” I said that was a grand committee, with whom I would gladly do my best but not as chairman as any one of these men was far my superior. Then he said, “Scripps will work in the northern part of the city; Spaulding toward Point Loma; Marston in the park; and we hope Clayton towards the southeast; but I doubt if they will work in other sections, but you are interested in having good roads in all of these places. Now will you try to get them together to serve on this committee and recommend what should be done?” After his statement, I realized he grasped the situation, and I agreed to attempt the work.

Next morning, I called Mr. Spaulding and laid the matter before him and asked if he would serve on this committee. Mr. Spaulding’s tone indicated he felt like the boys, when I asked them to throw rocks out of the road; it was something he should not be asked to do – something beneath his level. However, he said that if any one of the others would serve he would. Then I called Mr. Scripps, stating what I wanted. He was quite surprised that he should even be asked to do this. After making several objections, he said if any one of the others would do it he would. Then I told him Mr. Spaulding had been called and what his answer was. “All right if Mr. Spaulding will serve I will.” This assured me of enough for a good working committee, for I was certain that Mr. Marston would serve; I never knew him to shirk a public duty. When I called him a few minutes later, he said he would cheerfully do all he could to assist.

Then I called Clayton. He was way too big for the job. I really had to labor with him and tell him all the others had agreed to serve, before I could do anything with him. If my recollection serves me correctly, he only attended one meeting, when he agreed to supervise some of the southeastern roads, but actually fell down on that. Mr. Spaulding and Mr. Scripps had to do that too.

I called my committee to meet, the first day they could attend, at the Chamber of Commerce rooms, upstairs in the building at the southeast corner of 6th and D (now Broadway) and after stating the object of the meeting, I sat still and observed, what four millionaires would do, or recommend the city to do. While listening to a lot of desultory conversation, I began to realize their ideas of our city and her ability to do things did not amount to much. They thought $25,000 would be about right to recommend for the bond issue and then asked me if that agreed with my ideas. I threw a thunderbolt into them when I said that amount would not make a scratch in the roads we wanted to build, $100,000 would not do the work that ought to be done.

They intimated I was wild and the council would never pass it. Then they said they would raise the amount to $50,000. I suggested we compromise on $75,000 as there was over forty miles of road way to improve, and less would not be worth starting out with, and I asked, in their judgment, would the people vote that much if the council accepted our recommendation? They unanimously said yes; the people would vote the bonds, if I could get the council to put it on the ballot, I might report the amount at $75,000.

The council passed it and it was carried at the bond election, with the provision that this money be expended as directed by the road committee of the Chamber of Commerce.

We ran across many snags, legal, financial, rights of way, but worst of all were the grading contractors that had fed at the public crib. The committee hired men and teams that suited them, under the direction of George Cook, as engineer, supervised this work so well that we got $100,000 worth of roads for the money.

Our attorney, Mr. Doolittle, a fine man as well as a good lawyer, told us sometimes our proceedings were not legal; for we cut as much of the red tape as we could, or we never could have accomplished half as much; but we persevered until the job was done. I have often thought some of our committee contributed towards this work with their own funds, as well as giving their time.

The results of this bond issue were so great that the Chamber of Commerce proposed to have this committee submit an estimate of what it would cost, under their supervision, to continue our main roads to our County lines. This estimate was prepared with the recommendation the County vote a bond issue for $1,250,000, which was carried by a large majority.

Mr. Spaulding used to say, “Build roads till they make you poor, for they will eventually make you rich.”

I have always felt our city and county and our state too, owe these wealthy men a great deal for giving their time and prestige and other considerations, free, to start our great road system. But instead, misunderstanding, misinterpretation of motives, jealousy, envy, and that hydra-headed monster Politics [sic], drove everyone from their well earned and well deserved place and put someone else in, that would serve the political Boss making our roads cost much more under these influences. I believe my friend Mr. Spaulding gave the most and was hit the hardest. Los Angeles and San Joaquin Counties followed in the wake of San Diego County, but they had no volunteers to start their work, nor has any other county, to my knowledge.

Our road system is still progressing and quite rapidly, but at terrific cost.

Thus California’s great road system, now world famous, was started by volunteers. I believe that class of boys started something that will last more than a hundred years.


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