Cambrian: Opinion

Tales from Town: Museum visitors tell tales of Cambrian in 187os, 1940s

Dick Quincy, last living survivor of the sinking of the Montebello.
Dick Quincy, last living survivor of the sinking of the Montebello. PHOTO BY CONSUELO MACEDO

Wonderful things happen when people care. Specifically, some wonderful things happened in Cambria in the early 2000s. “The little town that could” raised beaucoup bucks to purchase what is now the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve from the Pacific shore to Main Street, Greenspace acquired a large plot of land along Santa Rosa Creek which now features the Chinese Assembly Hall, and the Cambria Historical Society bought the former Guthrie-Bianchini House on Center Street to rebuild and reconstruct it as the current Historical Museum and Heirloom Gardens.

Friends of the Library organized their campaign to build the new facility midtown, and Friends of the Elephant Seals began the “sighting site” up the coast. Ron Fellows and John Bogacki of the Bureau of Land Management enlisted the whole community to join in efforts to restore the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

These are just a few, but very significant projects, which required much volunteer effort and partnering, since many of those same volunteers belong to, financially support, and have put in a lot of sweat energy into actual labor as well as fundraising. The Historical Society’s One Hundred Angels Fund has paid down the remaining mortgage to $47,000 since last October, and the library anticipates raising its last $100,000.

The public is invited to view the story of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse starting 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. It will be the featured exhibit at the museum for the next few months.

Lovingly assembled “with care” by Piedras Blancas Light Station Association board members Carole Adams and Abel Martinez (who are also members of CHS), the display will include many photos of the edifice and its staff over the years, and present-day volunteers on task. Members and prospective members of the historical society will meet and greet them at a special reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16.

Board President Jack Breglio notes that the museum and gardens have become a major destination to many out-of-town and out-of-state visitors, including special tour groups by the busload, as recorded in the guest registry. Robert Schwemmer, director of the NOAA Marine Sanctuary Program at the Maritime Museum in Santa Barbara, referred Richard Quincy and his son Tom to the museum display on their way back home to Danville after the 70th anniversary reunion of and presentation about the Montebello.

The senior Quincy is the last remaining survivor of the oil tanker, which was torpedoed and sunk in December 1941, off the coast of Cambria. Dick Quincy added first-hand information which will become part of the updated ongoing display about the saga.

After spotting the submarine while on lookout, he escaped within an hour on one of the lifeboats propelled with extra long oars and survived being shot at nine times. Quincy is proud to be a part of the “his story” of Cambria, which is being lovingly archived by volunteers at the museum.

“Her story” was recently related by Lois Atchison of Glen Ellen during a pleasant conversation in the sunshine at the San Simeon campground, after she visited the museum on two occasions with husband, daughter and grandsons. Lois cared enough to the point of passion to research her husband’s family, complete with photos, legal documents, news articles, the family genealogy and other historical research; and entrusted the Cambria Historical Society with a binder filled with voluminous information.

Lois’s husband, Edward (Ned) Atchison, is a direct-line descendent of Peter Aloysius Forrester, credited almost as a footnote with naming Cambria in 1870. Forrester lived with his wife Maria Josefa and their large family for 15 years on property at the corner of Bridge and Center Streets, adjacent to the present Greenspace Creekside Reserve.

In 1877 they moved to San Luis Obispo, where he continued to be active in civic duties.

Voluminous research was originally compiled by P.A. Forrester’s grandson Frank, in the hopes someone would carry on. That labor of love was continued by Lois Atchison, including “her story” about Peter Aloysius’ wife, Maria Josefa Pico, daughter of Jose de Jesus Pico. The latter was the brother of Pio Pico and the owner of the vast Rancho Piedra Blanca at San Simeon, which he later sold to Senator George Hearst.

So, these details and more are yet to be interwoven in the tapestry that is history, and the task is conveyed to our volunteers. Once the material has been digitized it will be available to the public, and featured on display. The tale deserves to be told.

The Cambria Historical Society Museum and Heirloom Gardens on Burton Drive at Center Street are open 1 to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted, and volunteers always welcome. Save the dates to participate in the organization’s major fundraising events during Harvest Festival, Oct. 12 to 14.

For more, call 927-2891 or go to Consuelo Macedo is a Cambria Historical Society board member.