‚ÄčA Short History of San Diego Country Estates

San Diego County, California
By: Charles R. LeMenager

The planned community of San Diego Country Estates was envisioned by Raymond A. Watt, national award winning builder, when in 1970 he purchased 3,250 acres of land located in San Vicente Valley, six miles southeast of the town of Ramona, California. At the time, the valley was home to three families and Ramona had a population of 5,000.
 
The setting for this new community is rich in history. It is a part of the original Mexican land grant of three leagues; "Canada de San Vicente y Mesa del Padre Barona" granted to Juan Lopez by Governor Pio Pico in 1846, Its boundaries covered 13,316 acres which also contain the present day Barona Band of Mission Indians' Reservation.
 EARLIEST INHABITANTSThe valley's earliest inhabitants were Yuman Indians, migrating two thousand years ago from the deserts in the east to forage for acorns. Exploring the many oak groves along the San Vicente Creek that runs through our community, we see considerable evidence of those early native occupants. They were known as Ipai, distinguished by their language. After the Spanish Missions were established in the late 18th century these peoples were called Dieguenos, taking their name from the Mission San Diego Alcala, under which they were mainly influenced.
 
Work done more that 90 years ago by amateur archaeologist and owner of the land, John Mykrantz, and in more recent years by anthropologists Dr. James Moriarty III and Brain Smith of the University of San Diego uncovered evidence of two major villages believed to be continuously occupied for nearly 1,800 years. One is in the area of the current southwest corner of the intersection of San Vicente and Barona Mesa Roads, next to the golf course. The other is a few hundred yards southwest of the intersection of San Vicente and Wildcat Canyon Roads.
 
It is believed the area now occupied by SDCE supported about 100 to 150 Indians. They were primarily gatherers and hunters, gathering acorns and wild grains and hunting small animals. Women and children gathered the acorns, their main food staple. They would establish stations where the native oaks flourished in the creek plain, storing them, cracking, grinding and leaching them in bed-rock mortars to remove the poisonous and bitter tannic acid. Acorn flour was later mixed with water and fat and baked into small cakes. One such gathering and grinding station can still be seen adjacent to San Vicente Road in the golf course in front of number 13 tee. It is a large granite shelf with thirteen grinding holes.

The Constant and Beautiful Valley

Father Mariner of the San Diego Mission was responsible for naming the valley in honor of Saint Vincent. He is known to have explored much of what is now San Diego County to find a suitable place for an auxiliary mission during the 1790's. Upon viewing it, he called it "un valle siempre hermosa" - the constant and beautiful valley. We know that Father Josef Barona, who served in the same mission from 1798 to 1810, supervised grazing mission cattle there. The area was one of the most productive parts of the mission's domain.
 
In 1850, California became a U.S. state and Mexican grantee, Juan Lopez found it difficult to keep the land and deal with the new laws and taxes that came with statehood. He sold the San Vicente Rancho to Domingo Yorba, a more affluent and well-connected Californio. Yorba sold the Rancho in 1868 after having run cattle there for 18 years. The new buyer was the first in a line of many anglo land speculators and land seekers that fueled the growth of San Diego County during the boom years of the late 1800's.
 
San Vicente settlers included such prominent people as Augustus Barnett, one of the largest producers of sage honey in the County who, with wife Martha, donated the town hall and first library to Ramona in 1893. Other early farmers in the valley included the Dukes family, after whom the James Dukes Elementary School was named. The other elementary school in SDCE has been named for the Barnett family. The valley was farmed mainly with barley and other dry farm crops. Farmers had to rely on wells and unpredictable rainy seasons and they saw many crop failures brought on by periodic droughts. The climate is described as semi-desert with an average annual rainfall of 18 inches.

Water Resources

In 1922, John Mycrantz, a successful Los Angeles attorney bought most of all the San Vicente valley with the idea of converting it to irrigated farmland. He had a prominent hydraulic engineer design an elaborate system to exploit the San Vicente Creek watershed which runs the entire length of the valley. He spent a small fortune building the system. To harness the tributaries and main stream he built a series of dams. The main dam, the ruins of which can still be seen next to San Vicente Road as one drives into the Valley. Each main rivulet entering the valley floor was dammed twice. First with a check dam and next a small holding dam. The main dam became the subject of contention with the City of San Diego which claimed water rights, going back to Mexican Pueblo laws covering flows within the San Diego River basin. The city claimed the San Vicente Creek flows were subject to that law. Courts upheld the City and found Mykrantz in violation and ordered him to reduce the size of his main dam. Shortly afterward, the big flood of 1926 washed out all of Mykrantz's dams, making the issue moot.

After Watt's development plan was approved, the 3,250 acre SDCE covenant area was annexed into the Ramona Municipal Water District in 1972. Conditions of the County of San Diego's approval of the planned community also required that a public district assume jurisdiction for the sanitation needs of the new community. In 1973, the San Vicente Sanitation District was formed with RMWD exercising its latent power to assume ownership and control of the District. Watt built and deeded to the District, all improvements for that system which included collection and treatment facilities for a state-of-the-art water reclamation plant to handle the community's demands.
 
The above are excerpts from the writer's book "OFF THE MAIN ROAD, Revisited", a history of San Vicente and Barona, Eagle Peak Publishing Company, copyright 1983 and 2011.  LeMenager has been associated with the planned community of SDCE since its inception. He was part of the team that master planned and developed it. Since then, as a homeowner, he's served often as a volunteer with the property owners' association SDCEA.