This morning, the Times had an article called The Saga Of The Bells Comes Full Circle. It detailed how yesterday, a replica of the 85 pound bells that mark El Camino Real – the old Spanish road – was put up on Los Angeles Street. The replica was placed by the California Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Native Daughters of the Golden West, to mark the 100th anniversary of the first bell. The first bell marking the road is, of course, at the heart of Los Angeles, in Olvera Street, where it was erected on August 15th, 1906.
You’ve all seen these bells (pictured at right). They mark El Camino Real, the Royal Road, which originally linked the California missions. Although the route started in Mexico when it was created in the late 1700s, today, it is marked by signs and these bells along the 600 miles from Mission San Diego de Alcal√° in San Diego and Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. Caltrans currently runs the project, and has a nifty page with archive photos on it.
I was fascinated by these bells, and by the road, the first time I saw them, shortly after I moved here. I was exploring the 101 and points north of L.A., and realized, I was tracing the exact same route that the Spanish had taken, on foot, two hundred and change years before. I love that. I love examining roads and how they shape history. And it’s also a reminder of just how much presence the Spanish had in California – enough to have an infrastructure that could maintain a road.
I’m preparing for some serious history nerd time this weekend, as I’ll be down in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday. The boyfriend and I are spending the weekend in the OC for Bats Day festivities anyways, and I wanted to counterbalance the tourist attractions with some history and education on the area. And since the San Juan Capistrano mission was the seventh in the state, I’m sure the road connected it with the rest of the missions in California at the time. Now, reading about the history of the commemoration of El Camino Real, just makes me more excited to go check out one of the missions – and villages – that the road went through.