HISTORY OF RAMONA
The area of Ramona was first inhabited by the Diegueno Indians, a semi-nomadic people who traveled between the coast and the back-country, living in Ramona when it became too cold for them in Mesa Grande.
The Diegueno Indians left considerable archaeological evidence behind them. Etchings and paintings on rocks, and many grinding stones. Their grinding stations were always located near stands of rocks, oak groves, and streams. They ground the acorns from the great oaks into a meal that was used to bake a type of travel bread.
Records show that in 1775 Spanish soldiers came to what became know as the Santa Maria Valley and attacked a native village called “Pamo” in retaliation for the destruction of a nearby mission. This was the first recorded contact with white men and may have been in what is now Ramona, or possibly Pamo Valley.
The next contact came when a Catholic expeditionary mission led by Father Sanchez and escorted by six Spanish troops, traveled through the Santa Maria Valley from the Presidio in San Diego. Passing through Ramona, north of Goose Valley they stopped to have breakfast in Ballena. Ballena means whale in Spanish and was named for the mountain that looks like a large whale. Afterwards they continued on to Santa Ysabel and the Warner Springs area. The Padre remarked that the Ramona area looked like it would be a good area to raise hay.
The original mission grant of 18,000 acres in the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ysabel was made to Jose Joaquin Ortega in 1843. Three years later the Ortega house was visited by General Stephen Watts Kearny, when he passed through Ramona on his way to fight the Battle of San Pasqual, with the Californio ranchers. Kearny lost his dragoons to the superb lancers and horsemen who had raised cattle in the area all their lives.
Ramona had several connections to the battle. When visiting several homes in the area Kearny met one of Ramona’s earliest settlers, Edward Stokes who was originally from England. They met when Kearny was encamped in Warner Hot Springs. Stokes, a former British sailor was the son-in-law of Jose Joaquin Ortega and built his own adobe ranch house in 1843 in Goose Valley. The trail that Kearny and his dragoons took in December of 1846 still exists in sections today and is known as Old Survey Road 97.
In 1849 a Lieutenant Dave Couts brought the first four wheeled wagon into the valley.
The gold rush that flourished in Julian after 1870 led to the creation of a stage line that ran between San Diego and Julian, and passed through Ramona. The trip began at 6 AM and arrived in Ramona at 3 PM.
The first house built in present day Ramona was the Verlaque House. It is still standing and houses the Guy Woodward Museum. It was build as a store on two acres given for that purpose by a Bernard Etcheverry, who acquired the land grant that had originated with the Ortega Family. Etcheverry raised sheep until driven out of business by drought and Ramona’s native burrs, which made the wool worthless.
At first Ramona was called Nuevo, because there was another town named Ramona farther north. When that town became defunct, Ramona acquired the name permanently. Helen Hunt Jackson, writer of the famous fiction book “Ramona” had no connection to the town, nor did the story.
The town site of Ramona was laid out in the 1870s, with Main Street following the original San Vicente Road. Ramona was developed by the Santa Maria Land and Water Company, which purchased 3200 acres and sold them off. The head of the development was a man named Milton Santee. The plan also was to build a religious seminary here, but nothing ever came of it.
In 1886 Augustan Barnett made bricks to build the Ramona Hotel, later called the Kenilworth Inn and opened in 1887. Barnett, a wealthy man originally from New York, decided to share his wealth with his fellow citizens by building the Ramona Town Hall, which he gave to the town. The first grammar school built in town was constructed from brick left over from these building projects.
The first drug store opened in 1889 and in 1895 John C. Bargar opened the first blacksmith shop. Bargar also built a lumber yard which he sold to the Ransom Brothers in 1924. The Ransoms still own it today.
The first locally owned bank was established in 1911. It operated until 1928 when it was taken over by the Bank of America. Electricity arrived in Ramona in 1926, the same year the first paved highway was completed.
In 1925, at the instigation of the Chamber of Commerce and the Farm Bureau, a water company was created to deliver water from Santa Maria Creek to Ramona. A bond issue passed 93-3 to appropriate money for the project.
In the 1920s Ramona was the site of some of the largest turkey ranches in the world and called itself “The Turkey Capital of the World.” In 1947 one of the turkeys from Ramona was presented to President Harry Truman.
In the 1930s Ramona received an interesting distinction by being awarded a silver cup for having the best voting record in the state six times. The voting percentages ranged from 93.3% to 98.8% during this decade. The cup can be seen on display at the Chamber office.
Ramona connected to the San Diego Aqueduct in the 1950s and 1960s and established a sewer system.
In the late 1960s, poised for the development that continued ever since, Ramona had a population of about 5000. Today the population is 40,000 plus.