Thursday, August 23, 2012

El Camino Real Bell

In 1769, El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, was a footpath begun by the Franciscans to link the California Missions north from San Diego to Sonoma. Each mission was situated in areas where large Native American populations lived, where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. As time progressed and more missions were built, the footpath became a roadway wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons. A large portion of the route would eventually be paralleled by state highway 101.

In 1906, an effort was initiated to commemorate El Camino Real with the placement of 85-pound bells along the state highway. These distinctive bells were hung on supports in the form of a shepherd’s crook. By the 1960s, most of the original 450 bells had disappeared due to theft, vandalism or re-routing of the roadways.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, preservation organizations and individuals renewed a state-wide effort of marking El Camino Real with new bells and crook supports. Utilizing an original 1906 bell as a pattern, the newer versions are still being cast by the California Bell Company, headquartered in Saratoga. A video of the company’s casting process may be found here.

Maureen Everett, a San Jose resident, generously donated a crook and bell to History San José. Two enthusiastic volunteers dug the 4 foot hole necessary to support the bell. This week, the pole was cemented, the crook fastened and the bell hung.

The museum’s bell is adjacent to the Trolley Barn and near the Phelan Avenue gate entrance. Utilizing this marker, the El Camino Real story will be integrated into our Historic Transportation Education program, enlightening school aged children about this portion of California’s heritage.