El Camino Real

The road that linked the missions, pueblos, and presidios in early California was called El Camino Real. While typically called “The King’s Highway” the term “camino real” is more usually used to denote a crude road, almost a trail, used mostly by wagons.

El Camino Real markerModern day U.S. Highway 101 follows the general route of the original trail and a plan to mark the original route was developed in 1902 by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Los Angeles. The Camino Real Association was established in 1906 and, in that year, the decision was made to mark the original route with guide posts. The design chosen by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes used a mission bell supported by a staff in the shape of a Franciscan walking stick. Each mile of the route (450 total then, presently expanded to a goal of 700) was to have a marker.The first marker was dedicated 15 August 1906 at the Plaza Church in Los Angeles. The bell was cast iron and weighed 100 pounds; supported 11 feet off the ground by iron tubing. The route was completely marked by 1913. In 1933, the California Division of Highways took over care of the bells and many disappeared when roads were widened or relocated. Only 120 remained in 1959. In 1963, 81 replica bells were donated for replacement purposes while one of the original bells was sent to Majorca, Saint Serra’s birthplace. Later, in 1978, Caltrans developed replacements made out of concrete. New bells now are created in iron again. According to the book California’s El Camino Real and Its Historic Bells by Max Kurillo, Erline M. Tuttle there are some 15 different bell designs. While moved several times since and subsequently having some restoration work done on it, the picture to the left shows the original bell as it now stands in front of the Plaza Church in Los Angeles.
Original Bell
Picture taken 11:30am
15 Aug 2006

The California Bell Company were the originators of the 1906 El Camino Real Bell and are currently supplying Caltrans and other cities today with the original 1906 style bells. Some 577 new bells are being installed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (The California Bell Company has changed hands since it was originally established; see below.)Locally, one of the first generation bells hung in front of the Santa Maria Inn when U.S. 101 actually ran through the city. It is now at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. If you look closely at its picture to the right you will note the general characteristics of the bells. The dates 1769 and 1906 represent the start of the mission system and the date the bell concept arose. On the front are the words “EL CAMINO REAL” and on the back is the artist’s copyright notice: “COPYRIGHTED 1906 BY MRS. A.S.C. FORBES.” I had to move the bell (with permission) to get the copyright picture and can attest to the fact it’s at least 100 pounds. 🙂 Bell at Historical Society






Strange as it may seem for something not quite tangible, El Camino Real has its own California Landmark status. One of the signs is at the San Diego Mission (on the front wall by the entrance), the southern terminus. I presume another sign will be at the northernmost mission and will add it when found (actually, the end-point Landmark sign is in front of the Mission in San Francisco; I have it **posted here**).

Picture taken 10:40am 23 Jul 2002

El Camino Real

This plaque is placed on the 250th anniversary of the birth of California’s apostle Padre Junípero Serra, O.F.M. to mark the southern terminus of El Camino Real as Padre Serra knew it and helped to blaze it.

1713 – November 24 – 1963

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 784

Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with the Committee for El Camino Real
December 29, 1963

Bell Centennial

Centennial Picture
Picture taken 9:25am 15 Aug 2006

On 15 August 2006, a centennial ceremony for the bells was held in Los Angeles just across the plaza from the site of the original bell. The centennial celebrated the history of the bells. A special centennial bell was cast just for this ceremony. Comparing with above, you’ll note that the centennial bell carries the dates: 1906-2006 and has the word “Centennial” just above the El Camino Real notation.

Centennial Bell
Picture taken 9:25am 15 Aug 2006
Bell Celebration
Picture taken 10:45am 15 Aug 2006
Bell Unveiled
Picture taken 10:55am 15 Aug 2006

Bell Company Owner
Picture taken 11:00am
15 Aug 2006

After short speeches by Keith Robinson from Caltrans, Max Kurillo (see above), Tammy Guensler from the GFWC California Federation of Womens Clubs, Adeline Coronado from the Native Daughters of the Golden West and John Kolstad, owner of the California Bell Company, the covering was taken off and the Centennial bell became the star of the show.John is shown on the left with the bell behind him. John’s story is interesting in that he started out wanting a bell for his backyard and finally found the maker of the original bells. But, he would not sell him just one so John did some research and finally ended up buying the California Bell Company so the history behind the bells would not be lost.And, if you want a bell for your backyard (or school or…) just contact John through his Website. He’ll be happy to sell you one with or without the clapper (all of the current bells along the roads are without a clapper).