Route 66 in the News
Camp Cajon Picnic Tables Saved
Twenty round, heavy, concrete tables rest in San Bernardino's Perris Hill Park. At Lytle Creek Park, also in town, there are 23 matching tables just as old.
About 5 feet in diameter, steel rimmed and with a 12-inch iron inscription plate in the center, these tables were at one time located in the Cajon Pass. It was part of Camp Cajon, which was established from 1919 to 1921 by William H. Bristol, a Highland citrus grower.
Bristol had taken part in a 1917 dedication ceremony of the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument, which commemorates the arrival of explorers, traders and settlers who traveled through the Cajon Pass during the 1830s and 1840s.
The event inspired Bristol to develop a modern-day welcome station for motorists entering or leaving the San Bernardino Valley along the National Old Trails Road, later to be known as Route 66. He came up with the idea of erecting picnic tables and a permanent building at an old camping area, which was known to early pioneers as Willow Grove and in close proximity to the monument.
In May 1919, Bristol took a two month vacation from his orange grove and moved to the pass. He pitched his tent at Willow Grove and made plans for building a dozen tables with accompanying benches.
Bristol's master plan soon changed from a simple welcome station into a full-fledged camp that was large enough to accommodate large groups of visitors. Public opinion was so great that financial contributions came from Elks lodges and other civic organizations, as well as from cities and private citizens.
Bristol didnt stop with 12 tables. Various accounts claim that he built anywhere from 43 to 55. There were also broilers, cook stoves, and barbecue pits as well.
The tables were dedicated by the Elks on Sept. 11, 1921, the same day the fraternal organization dedicated its Outpost Lodge across the highway. Iron plaques on each table provided information about surrounding communities. They also paid tribute to people who donated funds or bore the names of those whose memory the tables were dedicated.
The plaques read:
"A welcome and a Godspeed from the residents of Cajon Pass. 25 miles southest to East Highlands. . . The buckle of the Citrus Belt. 10 miles southwest, Santa Ana, county seat of Orange County, invites you. 23 miles north, Adelanto . . . The desert transformed into prosperous homes. 1920. . . Dedicated to the Checker Players by the family of John Andreseon, pioneer of 1850. 23 miles southwest to Fontana . . . The largest orange grove in the world. 18 miles southward to Rialto's orange groves on road to Los Angeles. 16 miles northeast to Hesperia . . . Gateway to Big Bear Valley and the mountains. 20 miles to San Bernardino . . . the Gate City and home of the National Orange Show."
The late San Bernardino County historian, Arda Haenszel, once told me that when she was a teenager in the 1920s, her family would drive out to Camp Cajon and have a picnic. Some years, they ate Thanksgiving dinner on those concrete tables.
In 1938, a devastating flood wiped out the campground, leaving the tables in a jumbled heap. But rather than dump them, civic-minded leaders brought the tables to San Bernardino and placed them at Perris Hill and Lytle Creek Parks.
Despite the encroachment of vandals, the medallion plaques are still intact today. In fact, in 2004, those at Perris Hill Park were restored as part of the Perris Hill Park Improvement Project under the auspices of the More Attractive Community Foundation, in cooperation with the City of San Bernardinos Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.
For more information on Camp Cajon and its founder, William Bristol, there is a wonderful book written by local historians John and Sandy Hockaday, titled "The Man Who Built Camp Cajon.''
Nicholas R. Cataldo is a local historian. Readers can write him at The Sun, 399 N. D St., San Bernardino, CA, 92401, or contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.