Around Town: A legend delivered by word of mouth

January 02, 2013|By Anita S. Brenner

When we moved to La Cañada in 1976, our 83-year-old neighbor, Hazel Castevens, told us that the Wells Fargo Pony Express once had a route past what is today the west end of the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA parking lot. The street was called Michigan Avenue. It was later renamed Foothill Boulevard.

Defects in Hazel’s story, while not obvious to us, were obvious to others. The Pony Express route was from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento. The route went nowhere near La Cañada.

Also obvious to others were the dates. The Pony Express was in existence from 1860 to 1861. In 1861, the Crescenta Cañada Valley was still owned by Julio Verdugo. There was no need to deliver mail. Crescenta Valley pioneer Col. Theodore Pickens would not arrive for another decade.


We began to examine other possibilities. Perhaps Hazel was referring to the Wells Fargo stage lines? Or a connecting short line stage route? Wells Fargo historians note that “from 1852 to 1918, Wells Fargo rushed customers’ important business by any means — steamship, railroad, and, where the railroads ended, by stagecoach.”

Our Wells Fargo theory fizzled out. Although Wells Fargo did join with other stage companies to form the Overland Mail Company, with a route through Southern California called the Butterfield Line, that line did not go near Foothill Boulevard.

Marianne Babel, a Wells Fargo historian, showed us a map. The Butterfield route went through Los Angeles and El Monte, but it never came to La Cañada.

We began to explore a railway connection theory. By 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison made his famous train tour of California, the mail system relied heavily on the transcontinental train system. There also were short-line stagecoach connections. By 1891, there was major train depot in Pasadena. We wondered if a short line stage company picked up the mail at the train station and delivered it to the Crescenta Cañada valley.

Eager to solve the mystery, my editor, Carol Cormaci, helped me scour the Los Angeles Times’ (digital) archives. We discovered that by 1908, La Cañada was known for hotels, hiking trails and quail hunting. Weather permitting, stage lines did travel between La Cañada and Pasadena.

We found clear proof in a 1908 Times article concerning the brief “war” between two competing stage line owners, a Mr. Bergmann and a Mr. Hood.

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