Surveying land used to be a little more difficult
Way back in 1894, Porter Perrin Wheaton was hired by the County Surveyor to measure the roads of the county and to locate every house, farm, school, bridge, or other building for tax purposes.
Wheaton started on May 5, 1994, and, by December 29, he had measured 2,328 miles of roads and filled eleven notebooks with data from his work. After many delays, a survey was published on July 19, 1900.
His tool of measurement? A wheelbarrow! It initially was loaded with a bedroll, a loaf of bread, a canteen of water, a clinometer, a compass, and an odometer attached to the wheel of the wheelbarrow. At the time, San Diego County's population was 35,000, and San Diego County had been split in two a year earlier with the formation of Riverside County.
Wheaton, known now as the Wheelbarrow Man, was originally from Vermont and was hired by the County Surveyor, R. M. Vail, for $80 a month to do the job. His supplies for the job cost him $163.15. No record of whether he filed an expense report with the County or deducted the costs from his income tax.
Back then there were very few public roads, most being either stagecoach routes or private roads to ranchos. Horse-drawn trolleys carried people through downtown San Diego, the world-famous Hotel del Coronado was five years old, and fresh water came not from the Colorado River, but from Cuyamaca Lake via a wooden flue. New Town San Diego was still very new, and docks and piers lined the harbor south of the Gaslamp Quarter, then known as the Stingaree. Only a few streetlights existed in downtown San Diego.
Hazards away from the population centers included bears, mountain lions, bobcats, scorpions, snakes, bandits, desert heat, and mountain cold. A broken bone or sprain could easily result in death.
The 1900 map shows some communities that are still on maps today, albeit with different names: Nuevo is now Ramona, Bernardo is Rancho Bernardo, Flinn is now Flinn Springs. Dulzura, Potrero, Valley Centre, and Lakeside are listed, but Lone Palm, El Nido, Grigsby, Oneonta, and Escellier are gone.
Wheaton died in 1908 in Los Angeles from heat exposure while working in Death Valley. His 1900 survey of San Diego County was instrumental in the construction of roads, streets, and freeways that we enjoy today.
If you visit the historic gold-mining mountain town of Julian, there is a private plaque recognizing Porter Perrin Wheaton located on a pole in front of the Wilcox Building at 2112 Main St. While you're in Julian, pick up a Julian pie from the Julian Pie Company; best you'll ever eat!
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