Saturday, August 15, 2009

"One of the most charming grottos of the world"

Let's turn the clock back to 1876 and say you wanted to move from the cold snowy east to sunny southern California. Well, there was no California Aqueduct, no Colorado River water and no Pasadena Water and Power. You'd have to find water yourself before you could live here.

So it was in 1876 for William Cogswell when he purchased property in what is now east Pasadena and built the famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. When Cogswell bought his property, he also purchased rights to 1/2 of the water flowing over a water fall in Davis Canyon, just north of present day Pasadena Glen.

Since water was such a precious commodity in an arid area, it stands to reason people were fascinated with it. The capture and management of water -- purely local water -- made possible the groves and vines that flourished in the San Gabriel Valley.

So, in the 70's and 80's when people trekked to the Sierra Madre Villa, one of the objects of interest was the source of water that made this wonderful place possible. Cogswell enjoyed escorting guests on a short hike to the falls in Davis Canyon where water flowed from the mountainside into a refreshing pool. From there it was diverted into wood flumes and clay pipes which carried the water downhill to a reservoir behind the Villa hotel. From there, it was piped into each of the Villa's guest rooms (running water!) and sent downhill to water the Villa's citrus groves.

Los Angeles Herald editor, James Basset, visited the Sierra Madre Villa and took a walk with Cogswell up to the falls at Davis Canyon. Basset's account appears in Tourists Illustrated Guide to the Celebrated Summer and Winter Resorts of California, published in 1883.

Here is Basset's description along with present day photos:

"In company of Mr. Cogswell, we treated ourselves to a walk to the grotto which furnishes the water supply for the Sierra Madre Villa. It was distant about three-quarters of a mile. Part of the way, the water is conveyed in a flume and for the remainder of the distance in iron pipes.

We had to ascend some three hundred feet before we reached the brow of a hill from which one appeared to descend to the source of the water supply.

Of course, this appearance was deceptive.

Perseverance at last brought us to one of the most charming grottos of the world. In a crypt, hollowed out of solid rock by the rushing waters (doubtless the work of many years), a sharp turn to the right brought us to a cascade which plunged for a distance of fifteen or twenty feet over a shelving rock.

The crystal clear water, cool and refreshing, compensated one for the slightly trying walk."


Cafe Pasadena said...

Thanks for this posting. Good work!

altadenahiker said...

Nicely done!

Jason said...

Wow you walked to the falls? Is that still accessable now? Was there any indication there was activity in the 1800s?

Michael Coppess said...

Jason -- thanks for the interest. You can still follow the small stream up into the canyon and see the small falls and pool of water. I think the land is now owned by Kinneloa Water District and you need permission from them to enter. There are a couple of tunnels dug into the canyon walls that are interesting and may date back a ways. Also, if you look carefully, you can see clay piping on the hillside leading into the canyon. I don't know whether that is old or not.

Jason said...

Thanks for the info Michael - I had something I wanted to run by you - is there a way to reach you via email?