Eagle Rock in the Rainy Season: A Challenge!

February 21, 2010 § 5 Comments

New Year's Day Flood 1934/5

In his memoirs, Eagle Rock pioneer settler Cromwell Galpin paints a vivid picture of farmers at the mercy of unpredictable rain patterns during the flood of 1889-90.

…In October of 1889 it began to rain, and it kept on until nearly seven inches had fallen; it also kept on raining a lot more in the months following, until May 1890, the local rain gauge indicated forty-two inches and Eagle Rock Valley was afloat, though the highest mountains still poked their heads above the flood.

When the water receded all the apples, apricots and peaches and Brown’s walnuts had been drowned; in the course of time to be cut up for fuel wherewith the Eagle Rock farmer was just moderately glad to eke out a substitute for money he might have made by farming. The whole Sycamore stretch of flat ground from Park Avenue (Fair Park) to the city limits, and west of Central Avenue (Eagle Rock Boulevard) was a huge morass that grew up immediately to willows, or where the water was still too deep, to cat-tails or tules. The willows grew thirty feet high in a year, and were so close together as to make the fight for existence a struggle for standing room. Then the willows were hewed with axes and snagged at with scythes and wallowed around with plows until a ditch had been cut from Park Avenue to below city limits, and the surplus water drained off…

Eagle Rock settlers may have been vexed at willows growing 30 feet in a year where there were previously none to be seen. But a likely explanation for this is suggested by Jotham Bixby in an oral history recorded by County flood engineer James W. Reagan in the 1910s. Bixby describes willows springing up all over Compton, Watts, and Huntington Park after the flood of 1868. He explained that such “marsh growth” had previously characterized the land but hadn’t been evident for years because it had been so thoroughly grazed by cattle, especially during very dry years.

Such thick vegetative growth once slowed the movement of water over land to the extent that rains seldom caused damage. To the contrary, the slow-moving waters were welcomed by farmers. They looked forward to deposits of rich silt which would increase the agricultural productivity of the land. Thus, it is possible that the rich soil that attracted Galpin to settle into the life of a farmer in Eagle Rock was the result of the same pattern of flooding that surprised him with a show of willows in 1890.

More than a century after willows were last seen in Eagle Rock valley, countless miles of concrete stormdrains move rainwater quickly and efficiently into the sea rather than allowing it to seep into the ground to replenish streams and aquifers. Our excessive use of hardscaping causes water to move incredibly rapidly into low-lying areas, causing sudden and severe flooding.

Scarcely a few decades after willows were last growing in Eagle Rock valley, this phenomenon was painfully evident:

“Peggy Jakobsen… was returning from school and finding the crossing at Caspar Avenue under water, walked east to Shearin Avenue and attempted to cross at that point. Caught in the grip of a whirling eddy, the child was swept from her feet and was being carried toward certain death when she was seen by her rescuers. The strength of the current carried one of the priests off his feet but his companion reached the child…” (The Eagle Rock Reporter and Sentinel, April 9, 1926)

Below are some pictures taken after the New Year’s Day flood of 1934/5. The photos came via Eric Warren of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, who just came out with the first published history of Eagle Rock, which is available at Read Books.

We are hoping to figure out the exact location of the photos, which were marked as being near Yosemite Drive. If that’s accurate, it is likely that they are from the Eastern half of Yosemite,  and show areas that were later drained by storm drains. I also checked  Eagle Rock Creek near La Loma but did not come to any conclusion. Water sleuths, if you are up for this challenge, it might be productive to first compare the photos to the map of storm drains at  Myriad Unnamed Streams.

New Year's Day Flood 1934/5

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§ 5 Responses to Eagle Rock in the Rainy Season: A Challenge!

  • michael Scanlon says:

    It just happens that I have been working @ my cousins house on Elmwood Drive
    right off La Loma, He was having rain issues that needed construction attention.
    I noticed that there was a lot of sycamore trees in a canada 1 block north of La Loma, Though this is officially Pasadena it was not on the map.

  • Petrea says:

    Galpin’s description reminds me of Hahamongna Watershed Park; so much vegetation has grown so high and so fast in just a few short years. Much of it was taken out by the recent flooding, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it grow back within a year or two.

  • Joe Linton says:

    After checking out your Myriad Unnamed Streams, I bicycled past Eagle Rock Springs this week.

    That part of Eagle Rock, and indeed a whole lot of Northeast L.A. (and many other places) has a topology and an irregular street grid that retains/conveys some of the former natural shape of the place.

    Thanks for helping me to explore.

  • amy fisher great great great grandaughter says:

    Hello Jane, where can i find Cromwell Galpin’s memoirs?

    • Jane Tsong says:

      Amy,
      I’m glad you are interested in reading more. Cromwell Galpin’s memoir is fascinating, but brief. You can ask at the reference desk of the Eagle Rock Public Library for a folder of Historical Society materials. The Eagle Rock Historical Society (http://eaglerockhistory.org/contactus.html) is open on Saturday 10am-12noon and they would have it as well. Enjoy….

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