Smythe: A Samuel Branch Story
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Smythe had earlier written the remarkable story of Samuel Cleeks who tilled an acre of land at Orlando in the Sacramento Valley for thirty years and grew an astonishing variety of crops on his single irrigated acre which gave him a comfortable living and still permitted him to save several hundred dollars a year.
Smythe on his Little Lander experiment. The founder of San Ysidro had always been closely associated with George Maxwell, whose National Irrigation Association had played such an important role in lobbying the Newlands irrigation bill into law in Then came his proposal for his Homecroft colonies in Massachusetts and Arizona. Smythe wrote Maxwell in June of that he was fascinated by the First Book of Homecrofters sent him by his friend.
Smythe, however, never envisioned his Arcadian community to serve as an antidote to social revolution, the obsession of his more alarmist friend, George Maxwell. The San Ysidro colony gave Founder Smythe the opportunity to put into practice these principles of brotherly love. San Diego was ready for the advent of Little Landers in The leading newspaper, the San Diego Union , reported in November, , that the city was getting its share of the thousands of tourists and colonists who were taking advantage of the low train fares to come to Southern California.
A concerted effort to people the back country and treble the population of the county with a determined effort to develop its agriculture was under way. In June, , John Scott Mills, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, complained that the productive capacity of thousands of acres surrounding the city was not known but that all indications showed that profits could be made on commodities such as potatoes, onions, tomatoes, beans, corn, poultry, etc. It was not a coincidence that the San Diego Chamber of Commerce undertook a campaign to promote county agricultural development in the same manner that Smythe launched his Little Lander Colony.
Smythe always worked closely with the Chamber on development projects for San Diego. Then came the kick-off event when Smythe addressed throngs of city folks in the Garrick Theatre in the first of his Little Lander lectures. He quoted eastern reports that a third of the immigrants to Los Angeles county would return home disappointed. Mother Earth never yet denied the cry of children. She never failed to respond to their needs. The earth is one employer, who permits you to name your own wages and to take for yourself all you produce.
It is the only friend that will stand by you in sunshine and shadow, in health and sickness, in youth and old age. Amid all our hopes of industrial greatness, the land is the only reality. And, in hard times-everybody can see it-can see that the man who owns the land, tills the land, lives by the land, is the only independent man.
He then asserted that within thirty minutes of the city plaza this kind of a generous livelihood awaited thousands of families if they possessed the will to take it. In contrast the routine, specialized labor tasks in factories appealed to the dullest of minds. San Diego county offered ideal conditions to embark on a Little Lands program since it offered all year round green house weather so that every day could be harvest day.
The joy and profit of outdoor life was here supreme. The speaker, however, did not ask them to accept this promise of a new life without further evidence. He also recounted numerous cases of residents of San Diego who were making a part of their entire living from city vegetable plots at their abodes.
The second Little Lander public meeting at the Garrick again drew a capacity crowd in August as Smythe sought to answer questions and quiet apprehensions about the venture. He decried the traditional view that San Diego county offered few agricultural prospects. The preliminary planning stage engaged the abilities of a number of prominent business men in the City of the Silver Gate. Formal incorporation of the Little Landers Corporation occurred on August 1, Included among the names of the eight directors were William E.
Smythe as president, Henry H. Mills as secretary and John B. George P. Hall, former chairman of the California State Board of Horticulture and author of a gardening column in the San Diego Union became the chairman of the advisory board for the Little Landers.
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The local press built up interest in these developments and reported that hundreds of families had enrolled in the program to get back to the soil and develop new institutions to improve country life. The announcement of the choice of site was made by President Smythe to the assembled supporters of the movement at a meeting at the Little Landers city club house on December 15, Smythe alluded to the nay-sayers who repeatedly asserted that there really was no satisfactory location for such a colony in the county. While San Diego awaited the much sought after transcontinental railroad line, augmented commerce, naval base etc.
Again Founder Smythe reiterated the principles of the colony: small land holding under intensive cultivation, expert agricultural tutelage, a system of marketing of colony produce directly to the consumer, and finally, a concentration of the colonists in a townsite separate from agricultural acreage where improvements would equal that of the finest city residence districts. Already the Little Landers project had performed a great service for San Diego in discovering the Tia Juana River and its little kingdom of rich agricultural land.
The valley floor contained about acres and the remaining acres lay along the hill side where modern day San Ysidro is located. The colony lands, starting with the foothills that bounded the northern side of the valley sloped gradually across a mesa and down to the alluvial bottom lands of the lower valley. The bottom lands were valued for their rich fertile soil and for the stream of water which underlay them and assured success for the colony.
The valley floor supported a stand of willow and sycamore trees. Streets and parks of the San Ysidro townsite were marked out by plow furrows and both lots and acres by stakes. The three carloads of Little Landers and friends arrived at the appointed place near the Belcher homestead and after welcoming speeches by Smythe and George Hall drew numbers from a hat and then selected their town site lots and acre tracts.
Lewis who received the contract to build the first house in San Ysidro luckily had first choice in picking his acreage. Little Landers scrambled over the terrain for hours making their selections.
The Little Landers Colony of San Ysidro
Smythe disclosed the intention of the company to push ahead rapidly with the grading, the sewage and water lines, the park and other improvements and their determination to begin a campaign in Los Angeles to divert incoming colonists to the Little Landers settlement at San Ysidro. Interest in the colony ran high during the following spring and summer. Smythe, after all, was a past master at promotional work and saw to it that the local press had an interesting series of events to record for Little Lander publicity purposes.
Thus, in May the House of Little Landers was opened in the old Hubbell mansion in the city and the grounds were converted into an exhibit of intensive agriculture as practiced at San Ysidro. Hall and others. In subsequent weeks the citizens of San Diego learned that fifty families had enlisted in the enterprise, that twenty families were living at San Ysidro, that the original nucleus was made up of San Diego residents but that a Little Lander Society of Los Angeles had been formed and that families were arriving from that city.
The old ranch adobe was converted into headquarters for the company and the Belcher homestead became the San Ysidro Inn. It was a frame cottage with a massive cobblestone fireplace and chimney, overhanging eaves, long hall and front porch. Other houses were already built by contractor J.
Lewis who also assumed the role of general manager for the colony. Lewis had the contract to build the depot when the site was determined. Five floored tents had been erected to serve as dormitories while homes were built.
Smythe: A Samuel Branch Story
The Smythe family removed their place of residence from El Cajon to San Ysidro and had a house warming on July 4, Then, they came dressed in their Sunday-wear to welcome the First Lady of the community in her new home. Thenceforth it became customary for Mrs. Smythe to entertain San Ysidro wives and mothers with a regular Thursday afternoon social get-together. It was her earnest endeavor to level the social barriers, and with music, conversation, games, flowers and refreshments to prove that gracious living could elevate what otherwise appeared as a drab existence.
Within the year the Smythe house was completed and served as a model San Ysidro residence.
The national press commented on these events. The Brooklyn Standard Union wished the enterprise well, but doubted that many city dwellers could afford such an undertaking. At Portland, Oregon, editorial writers were impressed and suggested the formation of a Little Lander colony in their own environs in order to solve the high food prices, relieve congestion in their city and improve the surrounding countryside.
Biographies Of Writers Attending Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering
Many had come in order to realize an old American ideal of individual independence. All had some capital to start their acre homes. There were few who did not have some practical experience in farming, or at least gardening. Many wanted to remove themselves from the tensions of American urban living and all were attracted to the benign San Diego climate.
He explained the symbol in the flag of his design which had a white star on a field of blue. This was the star of hope pointing the way to refuge for those thirsting for the old American ideal of self sufficiency. A job of our own.
A life of our own. He wanted the emblem to be fashioned into a pin and worn by the friends of the movement throughout the nation.
Its impact would be to add to the prosperity of the city. A special car brought colonists into town. Smythe outlined plans to develop marketing facilities in the city. Included were plans for a highway connecting National City with San Ysidro. While the year, , had been one of good beginnings, proved to be almost a blank in terms of forward movement. The timing was right. It was gathering evidence to dramatize the degradation of rural social living.
Proximity to the metropolitan area of San Diego brought cultural opportunities as well as economic sustenance for the Little Landers. The first and, apparently, only issue of a promotional periodical titled Little Landers Library , edited by Smythe and George P. Hall, appeared at this time and reinforced the themes lifted up by the Country Life Commission. It also served as a brochure of the Little Landers Corporation as it outlined the aims and methods of the colony. Especial attention was paid to the promise of a San Diego market for colony produce and the expected rise in realty values expected at the settlement.
Financing and management by the corporation became the source of community problems in One hundred families had been involved in the colony but only thirty-eight families survived the vicissitudes of Little Lander existence by the fall of No new homes had been added and the parent corporation faced bankruptcy in November when the salaried employees collected debt judgments for arrears in pay. Smythe later recalled that many of the original purchasers of land were speculators who refused to carry out the terms of their contracts and actually never lived in the village.
Two other members of the colony who played an important role in the reorganization of management which followed were the Reverend Josiah Poeton and a former professor at Vassar College, Mr. Heath Bawden. They agreed that many of the first colonists were novices at gardening and simply did not know how to obtain a livelihood from their acreage the first year. The basic problem, however, was lack of capital. A hole was dug for a reservoir, piping was laid but proved defective and the second-hand gasoline engine proved balky and ineffective so that the settlers were lacking irrigation.
All their money had gone into building their homes so they did not have the means to install their own wells and pumps as had some of the colonists who were located on the bottom lands. The aggrieved San Ysidrans also voiced their discontent with the absentee management of the corporation. What was needed was a resident manager who could meet problems as they arose at the site.