Story and photos by Miriam Raftery
August 29, 2010 (Jamul) – “This is the most unusual ribbon-cutting I’ve ever done,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob declared, moments before driving a vintage 1907 REO car through a red ribbon at yesterday’s ceremony honoring the state’s declaration of Old Highway 94 as a historic highway. The event was held at Simpson’s “Garden Town” Nursery in Jamul—starting point for this weekend's motorist adventures.
To participate, just stop by the Nursery to pick up a map with a list of discounts and free items offered by merchants along the route, then present the flyer to shops and restaurants along the drive from Jamul to Boulevard today.
“This is not only a great tourist attraction for East County, but for people all over the world,” Jacob said, adding that she envisions a future that will include eco-tourism and a return to our region’s agricultural roots (thanks to a new boutique winery ordinance) as well as rediscovering East County’s historic western heritage.
At yesterday’s ceremony, Supervisor Jacob noted that just a few years ago, most visitors to San Diego didn’t know about the “jewels of our backcountry” including historic mountain and desert towns, Lake Morena, Camp Lockett (home of the
Buffalo soldiers), the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, the Stone Store Museum (site of a wild West shoot-out bigger than the famed O.K. Corral gunfight), and a resurgence in wineries.
A troupe of costumed area residents reenacted the famed Gaskill Brothers shootout with Mexican banditos, which ended with the later shot or hung outside the old Stone Store in Campo.
Getting into the spirit of the occasion, many East County residents turned out in historic garb ranging from ladies with parasols and 19th century attire to cowboys to a boy in a coon skin cap and young girls who looked like they’d stepped out of central casting for Little House on the Prairie.
Billy Crowley, an elected member of the Potrero Planning Group, played a gunslinger in the Gaskill Brothers’ reenactment. He said the troupe began reenacting the historic 1875 shootout at the Stone Store in Campo and has expanded through the years. “We’d like to do more,” he said.
Also present were Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and Senator Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), who coauthored the resolution creating the historic highway designation, along with Senator Dennis Holilngsworth, who was not present.
“It’s great to see so many people out here in the backcountry,” Ducheny told the crowd. “We will keep working to make the highway safe—in addition to being historic,” she pledged.
Mayor Elect Javier Cinco of Tecate called Highway 94 “the gateway of Mexico to your great state of California.” He pledged to work to make his area safe to activate tourism on both sides of the border. Tecate’s brewery, wineries and other sites serve as added potential attractions, located just the other side of the border two miles south of 94.
Gordon Hammers of Potrero, vice president of the Highway 94 Club, has been working for years to make the highway safer and win historic designation. “The people who will benefit the most will be operators of restaurants,” he told East County Magazine.
J.T. O’Connor, who owns a finishing and parts repair business in Live Oak Springs (now part of Boulevard), drove his classic car for the occasion. “I’ve been restoring it for years,” he said.
For motorists traveling Highway 94 today, several restaurants are offering special deals and discounts including the Barrett Junction Café, Café 94 in Potrero, Campo Diner, Angelo’s, Old Campo Mexican & Seafood Restaurant, Boulevard Liquor & Deli, Tecate Subs, Subway and 7-11. The Mountain Empire Historical Society is offering free lemonade and cookies, along with discounts on the new book “History of Highway 94,” at the Stone Store Museum in Campo.
Get 25 cent homemade ice cream at the motor Transport Museum, see barns filled with vintage cars at Simpson’s Nursery in Jamul, take free tours and get 50% off camping at Sacred Rocks Reserve in Boulevard, or ride a historic train departing at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. from the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo.
Originally inhabited by Kumeyaay Indians and later, Spanish settlers and ranchers, Highway 94 was once the primary route from San Diego to Yuma. It was home to the area’s first telegraph line as well as a stage coach line. Cattle drives from the backcountry to Old Town occurred, along with many historical events. “It’s still a thrill and very scenic all the way,” Larry Johnson, chair of the Historic Highway 94 steering committee , said.
The historic section of Highway starts at the steel bridge in Rancho San Diego and runs approximately 35 miles, ending in Boulevard. To get there from San Diego, take 94 east to theRancho San Diego community, where you'll make a hard right turn onto the historic section Highway 94, just before you enter the main business/shopping district of Rancho San Diego.
Learn more about Highway 94's colorful history at this site, provided by author Shirley Bowman Reider: http://www.hwy94.com/
For directions to Simpson’s “Garden Town” Nursery, which has barns with old car museum displays free, as well as gift shops and plants, see: http://www.simpsonsnursery.com/