Remembering Claremont’s little-known National Historic Trails

By Ted Trzyna

National Historic Trails are treasures that many people don’t realize pass right through their backyards.  How many of us in Claremont, California are aware that two National Historic Trails pass through our town? Not very many, I suspect. The 50th anniversary of the National Trail System in 2018 gives us a special opportunity to take notice of our local trail heritage, along with cities and towns across the country that will be doing the same.

The place now called Claremont is along an east-west route below the San Gabriel Mountains that was first used by deer, grizzly bears, and other animals, then by Indians who often followed animal trails, then by Spanish explorers and settlers, mule trains, wagon trains, and finally railroads and motor vehicles. Two of these routes have been designated by the National Park Service as National Historic Trails:

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.

In 1775-76, Anza, a Spanish military officer, led a group of almost 300 people and hundreds of horses and cattle from the interior of what is now Mexico to establish a fort and mission in San Francisco. On January 2, 1776, they camped at a spot along San Antonio Creek in what is now Montclair, and on a cold, rainy January 3they made their way along a northwesterly route through what is now Claremont. It isn’t possible to trace their exact route from the diaries kept by the expedition’s leaders, only a general direction. Two days later they arrived at the San Gabriel Mission.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail.

This trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Los Angeles Plaza was used from 1829 until the mid-1850s. Mule pack trains carried blankets and other woolen goods westward; these were traded for California horses and mules, which went in the opposite direction, sometimes in the thousands at one time. From Santa Fe, several routes converged in Cajon Pass; in terms of present-day landmarks, this single trail entered Claremont at El Barrio Park, crossed the south end of the Pomona College campus, passed by City Hall, and proceeded westward more or less along Bonita Avenue. In 2018, Claremont Heritage plans to work with others to remember the National Historic Trails that cross our town. This could include a public event, exhibits, a search for vestiges of the Old Spanish Trail, and even permanent murals. Whatever is done will take into account the tragic consequences of these trails for Native Californians. For that reason, I think “remembering” is a better word than “commemorating.”

Ted Trzyna,, is President of InterEnvironment Institute, Chair of the Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and co-chairs the Natural Resources and Urban Landscapes Committee of Claremont Heritage.