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Road Maintenance History

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Road Maintenance is All About History
By Tom Davis, Field Engineering

DPW traces its roots back to a modest beginning in 1889 when the County formed a Board of Public Works whose job was dust control and ensuring streets were clear of debris and waste. Their only equipment—a two-wheel horse-drawn cart. Things have really changed over the last 112 years.

DPW built a lot of roads as it grew but today the department mostly maintains them. The last road built by County forces was Skyline Truck Trail, finished in the late ‘70s by the Division I Construction Crew. But plenty of others were built or improved over the years, including Sunrise Highway, Mussey Grade Road, Dehesa Road, Montezuma Valley Road and others.

Mussey Grade Road now disappears into San Vicente Reservoir, but before the reservoir was built it was maintained as the only link from Julian to the railway depot at Foster, near where the dam sits today.

County forces did a lot of work on South Grade Road up Mt. Palomar, and their improvements allowed transport of the 200-inch mirror to Montezuma Grade Road (S-22)photothe Mt. Palomar Observatory. Back when we had road building crews, the work was long, arduous, and often meant living on-site. Workers were put up in tents, and worked sunrise to sunset six days a week. The County provided food via a horse-drawn "chuckwagon" staffed by County cooks.

County forces built or improved many of the main thoroughfares that course through the this area today. Some of them were just old wagon trails. When Caltrans was formed, they took over maintenance of many of these roads, but some gradually reverted back to County administration as the Interstate system was built.

Highway 80, built between 1910 and 1918, still exists in some places with different names. It went from Mission Valley to Yuma back when San Diego County included all of what is now Imperial County. Aurora Drive in Lakeside is in the original roadbed of Highway 80. The second generation of Highway 80 was built in the ‘20s and ‘30s and we maintain much of it now. It’s called "Highway 8 Business" and "Olde Highway 80" today. Near Jacumba, where the main road is the old state highway, you can find markers stamped into the concrete that list the name of the company that built the road and when they built it. You can actually follow these stamps westward and see how crews paved the new road toward the city.

Back then, we had a much larger area to cover than we do now. Between 1930 and 1935, there were 34 Road Stations, compared to 11 currently. We had road stations in Otay, Santa Ysabel, Nestor, Pauma, Olivenhein, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Grantville, Borrego Road Camp at Tamarisk Park, and something called "Palomar Prison Camp." Most of these areas have either been annexed, incorporated or combined into a larger area.

Names of supervisors at these old stations conjure up an image of different times. Names like "Slick" Smyth, Jim Dandy, and "Pop" Pratt. Some have faded from memory and there is scant record of them – names like "Taylor," "Haptonstall" and "Harper" are all that appear in the weathered archives.

Bob McDaniel contributed to this article. 


DPW History