Category: Historic Collections
January 19, 2011
This image presents is a lovely pastoral scene at Rancho Santa Anita probably in the late 1880s or early 1890s. A man on a hay rake is gathering freshly cut hay, probably mown a day or two earlier and allowed to dry to feed the Ranch's animals.
Closer examination reveals a number of other interesting aspects to this image.
The man in the picture is African American. We know from photographs and newspaper stories from the time when this photograph was taken, that the owner of Rancho Santa Anita ,Elias J. Baldwin, needed laborers and recruited African American workers in North Carolina offering to pay their train fare to the San Gabriel Valley as part of the recruitment. The man in the photograph is the descendant of slaves and may in fact have been born into slavery in the South prior to the Civil War.
Employees at the ranch went on to become the founders of the African American community in the San Gabriel Valley and some of their descendants still live in the area today.
This type of hay rake is a type known as a Sulky Hay Rake because it is a light two wheeled cart known as a Sulky which would be drawn by one horse or mule. It is also noteworthy that these animals were introduced to North America by Europeans as well as the grasses that are being mown to feed these introduced domesticated animals. These grasses and the horses prospered and proliferated changing the landscape and the culture of Native Americans who quickly learned to ride.
We can go further, the buildings on the right are undoubtedly built of wood imported from the Pacific Northwest and brought to the location by horse drawn wagon and train. It appears that the buildings were designed by Albert Austin Bennett, who also designed the Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco for Mr. Baldwin as well as the Coach Barn and Queen Anne Cottage still present on the Arboretum grounds.
In the center middle ground of the image we can also see young trees which are probably Eucalyptus trees brought from Australia. In all likelihood Eucalyptus globulus,which were introduced for timber and stove wood since they were fast growing and wood was scarce in Southern California and local sources were quickly exhausted. Some specimens of these trees survive today on the Arboretum's grounds. Practices of plant tending and controlled burning by Native Americans in the area had shaped the landscape of Southern California into one of oak woodland and meadows which encouraged game and edible plants. Irrigation was applied to soils that had built up over millions of years with remarkable agricultural results. The underground aquifer and Baldwin Lake, fed by artesian springs from the Raymond Hill fault as well as local streams provided the water.
After the Second World War, agriculture gave way to housing developments paving over some of the best agricultural land in the country as part of the urbanization of Los Angeles County. The water table sunk drying the springs feeding Baldwin Lake.
In this photograph we can see the story of a region, the African diaspora, the introduction of new exotic species of plants and animals to Southern California and the displacement of Native Americans as well as the drastic changes caused by the influx of Euro-Americans with their accompanying agricultural practices, technology and culture. A process which continues to impact Southern California today with results and consequences that remain to be seen. The Arboretum property survives as rare open space and a remnant of what was once widespread.
Mitchell Hearns Bishop
Curator, Historic Collections
November 15, 2010
News from the Library
The Arboretum’s collection of historic photographs includes two boxes of glass lantern slides which include several early images of the Rose Parade as well as scenes in Pasadena and other parts of the San Gabriel Valley.
Lantern slides were invented in 1849, only ten years after the invention of photography. They are positive photographic images on glass usually four by five inches in size. They were projected onto a screen using an early version of a slide projector. They made it possible to project large images that were viewable by sizeable audiences. Like the Meeker lantern slides they were often hand colored and when shown they were sometimes accompanied by live music, sound effects and dramatic readings. They were essentially a precursor to motion pictures. Information in detail can be found on the Magic Lantern Society’s web site.
Unfortunately we know very little about Meeker however some of the slides are inscribed “L.E. Meeker” and in some cases “M.D.” is added. A photograph of a pencil portrait includes a note indicating that Meeker was a physician.
Census records suggest that they may have belonged to a Dr. Lewis Edgar Meeker M.D. (1851-1918) of Brooklyn New York. As a young man, Meeker lived in Arcata, California where his son Lewis Edgar Meeker Jr. was born in 1881. Dr. Meeker was apparently a keen photographer and a President of the Eastern District Savings Bank. A note on page 210 of the journal Photographic Times and American Photographer in the 1887 issue under news from the Brooklyn Institute (now the Brooklyn Museum of Art) describes a lantern slide show presented by Meeker of old houses in Brooklyn. Meeker’s death was announced in the June 8, 1918 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cause of death is not given but it is possible that the Class of 1872, Detroit Medical College graduate may have been a victim of the great 1918 Influenza Pandemic like so many others but this is simply guesswork at the moment.
At present, we can’t be certain that the images were taken by Meeker or even if this is the correct L. E. Meeker. However, it seems likely and more research will undoubtedly reveal more about this collection of images. Perhaps someone reading this posting will be able to supply the solution to this mystery? We're hoping to get assistance in making high quality digital scans of the images to facilitate access and study of the images.
The first Tournament of Roses was held in 1890 to showcase the mild winter weather in Pasadena. Carriages bedecked with flowers probably made a powerful impression on the visiting snow birds as did images of the event which made their way east. Perhaps doctor Meeker retained fond memories of his visit as did many others who visited early in the 20th century.
Mitchell Hearns Bishop
Curator, Historic Landscape and Collections
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