Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/25/19

from Sylvia Trotter Anderson

26 Jun 1937 MPH – Mrs. Helena Smith, Early Settler of Big Sur Country, Recalls Olden Days

Opening of the new Carmel-San Simeon highway is focusing attention on the magnificent Big Sur country and those interesting people who are pioneer settlers of that region.  One of the oldest residents of the Sur country alive today is Mrs. Helena Smith, 77 years old.  Mrs. Smith, who lives at Westmere, is the widow of the later Richard M. Smith, who was with the first wagons that crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains after the Donner Party.

It was nearly 50 years ago that Mrs. Smith first visited in the country with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. John Edward Boland.  The Bolands, who lived at Little River, are the parents of Mrs. Thomas Doud and Mrs. Edward Doud, present residents of Monterey.

In 1888 the Smiths bought the Dexter ranch and a few years later purchased the adjoin Jones Ranch, property that is still in the family and now known as Westmere.

“It was the horse and buggy days,” Mrs. Smith recalled, as she spoke of her first trip down the Coast.  “We left Monterey at ten o’clock in the morning and reached Little River with a span of horses and a spring wagon about 5 hours later.  The roads were barely passable; some grades were so steep we walked to lighten the load on the wagon.”

As years progressed, Bixby’s Landing was built and from there the tan bark of Mill Creek was shipped.  Later Notley’s Landing, purchased from the Smiths, came into existence and from there lumber and tan bark were shipped points East.

The mail stage started its first delivery with Charles Kessler as driver.  That was about 1891 or 1892 when the first mail contract was given to Keller, who was later killed on duty when his horses went over the cliff.  Even today, mail is being delivered just three times a week, although it is reported that a daily delivery will start with the opening of the new roads.

Like many other Sur residents, the Smiths had Dr. John L. D. Roberts of Monterey as the family physician.  Doctor Roberts who dreamed the new coast road many years ago, and his son, Houghton Roberts, will take prominent parts in the road opening ceremony tomorrow.

Hobart L. Pierson, present resident of Oakland, was one of the first people to drive an automobile on the old coast road in 1906, Mrs. Smith remembers. “Charles Culp of Pacific Grove and Shelley Pickles of Oak Grove were among his fearless passengers who rode on the running board as an early safety measure.”

“The first road improvements were sturdy wooden bridges that defied the elements for many years” Mrs. Smith said.  “These were followed by the steel constructed bridge that was soon destroyed by the ocean spray and breezes.  Today, with our fine concrete bridges, cars can pass Little River in three quarters of an hour.”

“Our first school was located one mile from the ocean on Mill Creek,” Mrs. Smith recalled.  “It was called the Palo Colorado School.”  Miss Grace Fitch was the teacher and was justly proud of her nine pupils.  The largest school attendance recorded was round 30 pupils when Mrs. Florence M. Houge was the teacher.  Mrs. Houge owns and lives on the Bixby Ranch, where she conducts a school today.

“No better proof of the progress of time has come to my attention, “Mrs. Smith said, “then when my grandson, Lieutenant John S. Chennault, who is with the US Air Crops at Selfridge, Michigan, flew down from the Oakland airport to Westmere in 40 minutes.”