Editor's note: "Tales from Town" columnist Consuelo Macedo is on assignment. In her absence, Tribune blogger David Middlecamp offers this revisit of an epistle that originally appeared in the Tribune.
The second edition of the weekly San Luis Obispo Tribune, published Aug. 16, 1869, contained a love letter for the second largest and growing town of the county. Can you guess which town?
“CAMBRIA — We have two towns in our flourishing county, each the antipodes of the other. One, San Luis Obispo, with its old mission building and church, and prevailing adobe style of architecture, reminds us of the past — slow but solid. Cambria, with its brand-new brightness and its rapid growth mark the advancement hither of American improvement.
“… Three years ago the name of Cambria was unknown to the county; not a house stood where now there can be collected together on any important occasion an assembly of one thousand souls; and only Nature’s sounds were heard, where now the air resounds with the whir of the steam saw, the heavy pounding of the blacksmith’s sledge, and the brisker tappings of the carpenter’s hammer
“We were agreeably surprised last July, to see the great change in the town of Cambria for good. It can boast today of one first-class country hotel, kept by a very courteous landlord, Mr. George W. Lingo, besides several restaurants of a less imposing appearance. The limited number of bar-rooms speaks well for the temperance of the neighborhood. Our friend, Mr. Jerry Johnson, however, strives to do his best to dispense liquid refreshments to the few thirsty souls that stand in great necessity of them.
“Dr. J.W. Frame, hangs out his shingle in Chamblin’s new block, and attends faithfully to the ailments of those who suffer, or think they do. We should judge, however, that fancied ailments are not very common in Cambria, its inhabitants being of robust physique and hearty temperament, and, not much addicted to flights of fancy. Of stores we counted three, crammed full of articles to supply the necessities of the surrounding country, embracing everything that the mind may fancy, from a needle to an anchor. We speak figuratively.
“Messrs George W. Lull and W. S. Whittaker, the latter being the attentive postmaster of this flourishing town, preside over the destinies of the store of Grant, Lull & Co., where choice Spanish or English, as the case may be, are dispensed to the numerous customers who crowd their establishment. Chamblin & Co. have taken the store formerly belonging to Long and Pollard and are very popular men in their neighborhood, being attentive to their patrons, courteous in their manners, and withal, good Democrats. …
“We found two public buildings in Cambria, which speak well for the enterprize of its citizens. The Masonic Hall, over the store of Grant, Lull & Co., is an edifice combining neatness with comfort, and is well adapted to the end designed. … Its deliberations are presided over by Mr. T. Sherman, W.M. of the lodge, a man who appears every way worthy of the honor conferred upon him by his associates and neighbors. The other building referred to is the Assembly-room, built by Mr. Taylor, for the purpose of giving the disciples of Terpsichore the chance to trip the light fantastic toe with full liberty, and to accommodate the political speakers who abound everywhere about the time elections are held.
“… We saw moreover, a nice new schoolhouse, on a pretty side hill, which made us look wistfully for the day when our town also would drop personalities and the pursuit of wealth and try to make common accord in the attainment of those ordinary evidences of civilization, without which no American community is deemed to be either prosperous, healthy or respectable.
“Did we see a church in Cambria? We forget if we did; and, furthermore, being sinners, we perhaps did not look very closely after it or went about seeking, but hoping not to find.
“And when we speak of the town itself, shall we fail to mention the men that made the town, the lumbermen — We hope not. In town, then we find the saw-mill of F. F. Letcher, an enterprising Virginian, who has in his composition a little of Yankee ingenuity and elasticity. His institution is constantly at work, sawing out material for the still further increase of Cambria and vicinity. Not far from town is another saw-mill, belonging to Mr. W. Leffingwell Jr., constantly exercising its teeth upon the tall pines of the vicinity. …
“We have only one fault to find with Cambria, and that is, its name. The history of its varied nomenclature is as follows. When first the place was founded it was called Rosaville, then Santa Rosa, and all along it has been called by some by the name of San Simeon. The present name of its post office is down on the post office list as San Simeon. Of course it is advisable that the name of the town and of its post office be the same. Rosaville and Santa Rosa, we understand were objectionable to the P.O. authorities, there being other post-offices of those names in the state. San Simeon was deemed improper because that is the name of the port, distant some miles from the town, also of a creek, lying between the two points. A public meeting was held of the citizens, at which it was determined to call the town ‘Cambria,’ and the P.O. authorities were memorialized to alter the name of the post-office in conformity. Why the selection of this name was made, we do not know, unless it were by the rule of contrary, Cambria being the ancient name of Wales, and there being no Welshman living in the vicinity. …
“Seriously, if the people of Cambria are satisfied with the name of their town, so are we. So for the present,
Postscript from Consuelo Macedo of the Cambria Historical Society:
Historians credit a noted Cambria resident and respected civil servant, Peter Aloysius Forrester, for actually giving Cambria its appelation.
Forrester lived with his wife and children for many years near Santa Rosa Creek where Bridge and Center streets meet. He was married to Maria Josefa Pico, daughter of Jose Dolores Pico, who owned the huge Rancho Piedra Blanca before he sold it to George Hearst. Maria Josefa was thereby a niece of Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexican rule (1845-46). The Forresters had 12 children.
It was during or right after the contentious town meeting on what to name the place that Forrester suggested “Cambria,” saying it resembled Cambria County, Pa., from whence the man of Irish descent had come. The townspeople agreed, and the federal government officially recognized the post office, which had been established at the corner of Bridge and Main streets on Oct. 2, 1867, according to local rancher/ historian Dawn Dunlap.
Direct line descendents of the Forresters, Ned and Lois Atchison and daughter Josefa, have gifted the Cambria Historical Society with an extensive collection of documents and photos for the archives, with plans for a display in 2013. Presently, their large photograph of the handsome man in his fraternal organization garb, complete with the sword the family still has in their possession, is hung prominently in the parlor of the Cambria Historical Museum.