How much do you know about the history of Carmel Valley? Carmel Valley’s founding is closely tied to that of nearby Carmel and Monterey, and yet, it has developed its own historical significance in the area.
Just after the turn of the 17th Century, while on an expedition, Carmelite Friars named a stream El Rio de Carmelo in honor of their Patroness. At the time, populating the area were several districts of the Esselen Tribe, extending from Carmel Valley into the Santa Lucia Mountains. They hunted, fished, and gathered nuts and berries for sustenance. When the Spaniards arrived, they introduced these indigenous people to crop farming and cattle. Fortunately, cattle were to save the missions that were built, the Presidio, and the area’s population as crop farming initially failed. A key turning point in the history of Carmel Valley occurred when Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan educator from Spain, arrived in Monterey. Father Serra had spent time in Mexico in the 1750s and 1760s before relocating to the Carmel Valley area in 1769.
- In 1771, Father Serra moved his Mission from Monterey to the banks of the Carmel River. Over the next few years, in addition to ensuring land cultivation and crop growing could be re-established, he was interested in having a reliable vegetable garden to supply ships, should any stop there. He was aware that proper irrigation would be needed and that work began in 1777.
- In the early 1780s, irrigation was successful, crops were stored, and a lagoon was added. Near the end of the 18th Century, Presidio commanders began to make land grants for their retired soldiers, even though such grants were not approved by the U.S. Land Commission. At the turn of the century, many more land grants were made by the Mission and others. This continued right up until the mid-1800s when Rancho Los Laureles was granted to Jose Agricio, a member of the Mission. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was just around the corner.
- The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War. It was signed in 1848 by both the U.S. government and a representative of the collapsed Mexican government. This was a key event for the area, as Upper California, New Mexico, and Arizona were ceded to America. Also, the U.S. claim over Texas was recognized. Around this time the Esselen had all relocated to Carmel Valley.
- Another key development that would affect Carmel Valley, Monterey, Pebble Beach and surrounding areas was the purchase of parts of the Peninsula and adjoining lands by the Pacific Improvement Company (PIC) in 1880. 1883 was also a pivotal year, as it marked the creation of a dam that is currently below the San Clemente Dam. In addition, infrastructure was built so water could be piped into PICs Del Monte Hotel and into Monterey.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the population was growing spurring major improvements and changes. PIC drilled wells near Laureles Ranch, installed pumps and began pumping up to 2 million gallons of water per day.
Much happened in the area between 1917 and 1929. Del Monte Properties was founded by S.F.B. Morse. Once he acquired Carmel Valley property, he also acquired valuable water rights. In the early 1920s several mining companies were founded in the lower river / Carmel River areas. Morse built another dam upstream from the first one. In 1927, Robles Del Rio Lodge, with a 9-hole course, opened in Carmel Valley.
There was all sorts of growth and activity in the 1930s and 1940s. Brown Trout were introduced into the river at several separate times by the Department of Fish and Game. The five golf courses now in the area received irrigation. Floods occurred, and in 1943, the Sam Clemente Dam received over 5 inches of rain in two days. A filter plant opened near the dam later. In 1948, the Los Padres Dam was built; with mules and a single bulldozer!
In 1946 Byington and Tirey Ford developed Carmel Valley Village which included a general store, soda fountain, drug store and barber shop in the architectural style of a Mexican village. The brothers’ initial plans included an airpark where they planned to sell hangars for airplanes. The business didn’t “take off,” likely due to the aftereffects of WWII so they adjusted and sold ranch-style houses instead.
In the history of Carmel Valley, between 1960 and 1980, much more growth and many more services appeared, including:
- The opening of Quail Resort in 1963.
- The sale of CW&T (California Water & Telephone) to American Water Works Company in 1965.
- Major flood events, including one in 1969 that destroyed the bridge at Don Juan Ranch, and caused extensive erosion along Carmel Valley.
- The opening in 1970 of Rancho de La Canada golf course, the airstrip built on Ponciano Ridge in 1972, a severe drought in 1976, and the creation of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District in 1977.
- In 1979 one of the founders of the Carmel River Steelhead Association met with representatives of the local Assemblyman’s office to talk about the declining population of steelhead in the Carmel River. This meeting was to have large-scale implications, as it led to the formation of the Carmel River Watch (CREW). Members came from California Department of Fish and Game, the Sierra Club, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, and several other agencies.
In the 1980s, the region saw the enactment of the Carmel Valley Flood Plan Ordinance, the green light being given to the building of a new Sam Clemente Dam project, and restoration of areas of the Carmel River. In the 1990s, as the new millennium approached, several more key and newsworthy events took place. Among those, a protest by the Esselen over the location of the planned Los Padres dam, the formation in 1993 of a steelhead spawning habitat restoration project, and an environmental move that saw Pebble Beach golf courses begin to use reclaimed water. Many writs were executed and agreements arrived at to protect waters of the stream and animals in the area. The only endangered river in California, the Carmel River, was named so in 1999 (the Herald had a piece on this in April of that year).
In the more recent history of Carmel Valley, the Carmel Valley Historic Airpark Society was able to save the airpark, shut down in 2002. It is now used as a park for local residents to fly remote-controlled planes.
The history of Carmel Valley … shaped by the Esselens, fostered and nurtured by the Spaniards, and continually invested in and protected through several centuries. It’s a wonder to behold.
Our thanks to the Carmel Valley Historical Society and several other sources for inspiration and facts related to this brief recounting of the history of Carmel Valley. Learn more about the Carmel Valley Historical Society from their Facebook page.