TR Robertson — Long before European explorers arrived in the Southern California region, indigenous groups of Luiseno, Kumeyaay and numerous other native tribes populated the coastal, inland, mountain and desert regions. The Carlsbad Historical Museum, located in Magee Park at 258 Beech Avenue, contains some of the early artifacts from the Luiseno and Kumeyaay peoples as well as a plethora of antiques from the early of days of the settlement of this region, long before Carlsbad became the city we know today and beyond.
The first European contact in this area was during the Spanish exploration of Garpar de Portola in 1769. Mexican settlement happened in 1842, in the southern portion of Carlsbad, when some of this region became part of Rancho Agua Hedionda owned by Juan Maria Marron. The settlement, of what would become downtown Carlsbad, happened in 1881 when John Frazier, a former sailor, moved into the area to try and farm the land. In 1883, Frazier dug a well and found water which he would offer at a train station whistle stop he set-up as a stop between Los Angeles and San Diego. He would call the train stop Frazier’s Station. Frazier dug a second well, located along the street now called Carlsbad Blvd., and tests run on the water established that the water was chemically similar to water found in spas in Europe. The town would be called Carlsbad, named after the Bohemian town Karlsbad, famous for its water and spas. John Frazier’s original well can be seen today, known as Alt Karlsbad.
By 1886, the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Company would be formed headed by Gerhard Schutte, Samuel Church Smith, DD Wadsworth, and Henry Nelson. They would start a marketing campaign to attract visitors to the town hoping the idea of water, resembling the best spas in Europe, would bring notoriety to the region. As more people came into the area, many decided to stay and establish a variety of businesses and build homes. Agriculture was one of the businesses established as farming of citrus fruits, avocados and olives were the primary crops being grown.
This leads us to the Shipley-Magee House. In 1887, Samuel Church Smith built his home, now known as the Shipley-Magee House. This was one of the first wood homes built on the coast. Most homes during that time in Southern California were constructed of adobe. The house was sold to Alexander and Julia Shipley in 1890. They would move permanently into the house in 1896. This house would remain in the Shipley family until 1974, when daughter Florence Shipley Magee deeded the house and the grounds to the City of Carlsbad to be used for historic and recreational purposes. The Carlsbad Historical Society was established in 1975 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Carlsbad history and would take control of the house turning it into a museum filled with donations and original furniture.
Docents give free tours of the Shipley-Magee house where they will tell you about all nine of the rooms and the hallway as well as interesting stories about the furniture, paintings, news article, maps, and thousands of antique items scattered throughout the home. In the Living Room hang two large landscape paintings by noted 19th century painter Hugo Fisher. Beautiful walnut furniture resides in the West Bedroom as well as a “crazy quilt” hanging on the wall donated by Mary Evans Johnson, a descendent of Samuel Church Smith. The docents will tell you why it is called a “crazy quilt”. Another room contains fascinating items from the famous Twin Inns, built in 1887, the former home of the Kentner family, which would evolve into an inn and restaurant. The home would later be called the Twin Inns, since the home resembled a similar home owned by the Wadsworth’s that was just down the street. Kenter would sell the home in 1917 and the mansion would be turned into an inn and restaurant, famous for their fried chicken dinners. Since then, the Twin Inns has changed hands, names and businesses numerous times. One of the items in the Historical Society Museum is a large guest sign-in book when the Twin Inns was an inn, containing such famous signatures as Clark Gable, Groucho Marx and Joan Crawford from years past. There are also dresses once owned by Florence Shipley Magee in another room, sipping cups from the mineral water spa in Carlsbad’s sister city of Karloff Vary, police uniforms, military uniforms, a 1930’s stove, Carlsbad High School memorabilia, and much more. Photos from long ago can be found on every wall scattered in the home. You will leave the museum with a feeling of what Carlsbad was like in years past.
A visit to Shipley-Magee House is not complete without a visit to the Shipley barn, just out back of the house. The barn is the oldest in Carlsbad, built in 1886 by the Shipley family. The barn, along with the home and property, was donated to the city in 1974. The barn went through renovations in 2001. Located in the barn are tools and implements from the early farming days, a buggy from the late 1800’s, a huge nautilod dating back millions of years, a replica chipped stone bear made by an early California Indian tribe dating back 7-8,000 years (the real one has disappeared), and one large chicken statue which use to be outside of the Twin Inns Restaurant. There were originally two of these chicken statues at one time standing along the entrance into the restaurant.
A large majority of California cities have museums associated with each city, well worth the time it would take to visit them. The Carlsbad Historical Society Museum is one of those museums where you can learn about the history and growth of one of California’s first coastal cities. Go to www.carlsbadhistoricalsociety.com for more information or call 760-434-9189. Hours of the museum are 11 am to 3 pm Friday through Sunday. For a private tour with a docent, make an appointment by calling.
Photos by TR Robertson