Category: Historic Collections
June 15, 2011
The Frogs of Baldwin Lake
Early traveler’s accounts of visits to Rancho Santa Anita provide an interesting perspective on the property. Some are quite perfunctory, others romantic nonsense and a few are oddly laden with data whose accuracy is impossible to assess.
However, one account by Mrs. Frank Leslie published in 1877 makes a remark that is quite striking. “Returning we stopped at the little lake, literally in front of Mr. Baldwin’s door, and we were rowed out on his pretty little boat upon its moonlit waters. The shores were lined with little coves in which herons and cranes were rustling about, and a chorus of frogs came in like a hailstorm of castanets.”
Overall Mrs. Leslie’s account strikes one as accurate and the comments of an intelligent woman of the period, unusually so in fact. The scene described would be much the same today but without the boat and perhaps most strikingly, the frogs. What happened to the frogs of Baldwin Lake? A few bullfrogs make a home in the lily pools of the Tropical Forest and are occasionally heard in the evenings. Bullfrogs originally did not occur in the far West so these are probably recent introductions. Presumably like so many other aquatic animals at the Arboretum they were left to make a new life here by their former owners smuggled in by purse backpack or some other container.
When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published the world was startled by the idea of a world in which birdsong was no longer a part of life in Spring and galvanized the conservation movement. However, we now are apparently living in a world in which the sound of frogs is increasingly absent except in more remote areas.
Apparently the cause is the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis known as Bd. The Amphibian Ark website discusses the fungus in some detail. While we have no certain knowledge that this is the cause for the absence or frogs in Baldwin Lake, the fungus has decimated amphibian populations world wide.
What, if anything, can be done to restore amphibians to Baldwin Lake remains to be seen. Perhaps, resistant animals will survive and repopulate our remaining wetlands. It is more likely that amphibians will continue to decline. Surviving individuals are infected with the fungus but somehow manage to survive in spite of the infection.
January 18, 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
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