Steve Williamson, a docent at the Temecula Valley Museum, made me realize in December of 2013 that the bell donated by the Temecula Valley Women's Club could be a replica of the bells that marked El Camino Real. I had seen some of those bells when I visited San Juan Bautista, in 2008. The story to tell was right in front of my eyes.
The original idea of placing bells to mark the road -allegedly followed by the friars on their way to found the California Missions- is attributed to Mrs. Harrye Rebecca Forbes, a member of The Native Daughters of the American West, and of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Forbes, the wife of an ironsmith, had 450 bells placed between San Diego and Sonoma. Forbes highlighted in her own way the 21 missions separated from one another by a day's worth of walking. Some sources suggest the original bells showed the dates 1796 and 1906, to commemorate the founding of the mission of San Diego and the placement of the first bell. The inscription on the bell at the Hotel Mission Inn in the city of Riverside, shown above, indicates the dates the missions of Loreto and Solano were founded -Oct 25, 1697-July 4, 1823.
Forbes bells symbolize the renaissance of the Mission Style and the reinterpretation of the history of California that took place at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
To write this article I spoke with John Kolstad, the owner of California Bell Company. He told me his most recent order by the state of California was of 37 bells to be placed in Marin County. Kolstad said 585 bells were made between 2004 and 2012, and that in Riverside many private citizens ordered them for their homes and ranches.
Mrs. Forbes' bell frenzy is 107 years old. Today, the bells vary in size and price and can display any inscription the commissioner requests. And though the design and meaning of the bell was the product of Mrs Forbes' imagination, the missions sell small replicas, by the thousands, thus endorsing her reinterpretation of California's past.
To read En California las campanas marcan el Camino Real, published 12/28/2013, click here.
I started working the Western End of Riverside County in 2013. A fascinating local history can only be paired with a burgeoning urban center showing the fastest growth in the entire US since 2012.