The El Camino Real and Its Historic Bells
In 1769, The El Camino Real, or Kings Highway, was just a footpath begun by the Franciscans and led by Father Junipero Serra who was a deciding influence in establishing the California Missions north from San Diego to Sonoma. Each Mission was situated in areas where large populations of Indians lived and where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. As time progressed and more Missions were built, the footpath became a roadway wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons. It was not, however, until the last Mission in Sonoma was completed in 1823, that this little pathway became a real route.
El Camino Real is the Spanish name for the historic road that joined the twenty one Franciscan Missions, the Pueblos and Presidios in the early days of California. Many of the Missions have been restored and the Kings Highway now is a magnificent modern road leading from San Diego, via Rose Canon, to Oceanside, then inland to Mission San Luis Rey and Pall from Oceanside to Mission San Juan P\Capistrano, Myford-Irving, Tustin, Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Fullerton, LA Habra, Whittier, Mission San Gabriel to El Monte, Puente, Pomona, Claremont, San Bernardino, Redlands, Colton and Riverside.
From Los Angeles El Camino Real leads to Hollywood, through Cahuenga Pass to Sherman Way thence to Mission San Freehand from Sherman Way to Calabasas, Camarillo, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Gaviota, Mission Santa Ines, Mission La Purisima, Los Olivos, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, San Miguel, Jolon, Mission San Antonio, Soledad, Salinas to Monterey and Mission Carmel, or from Salinas to Mission San Juan Bautista, San Jose, Mission San Jose, Hayward, San Leandro, to Oakland from San Jose to Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Mateo, Colombo, Ocean View, to Mission de los Dolores and San Francisco (Market and Third Streets). Across the bay, El Camino Real leads from San Rafael to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma.
The greater portion of El Camino Real is Highway 101, a part of the splendid system of California highways. It is a continuous road over seven hundred miles in length and is marked by the unique and picturesque Mission Bell guideposts which originally gave distances between the principal towns and directions to the Missions. The bells are placed along the road not merely as landmarks and guides to travelers but as testimonials to the work of the Franciscan padres who were the pioneers that settled California in 1769.
The miniature bells sold in mission gift shops since 1914, are replicas of the hundreds of Mission Bell Guideposts marking the El Camino Real. Some of the old inventory made from 1914 to 1955 is still available from California Bell.
The idea of placing a marker along the highway and in front of each Mission did not come about until 1906 when a cast iron 85 pound bell and piping designed by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes was placed into the ground in concrete at the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles, also know as the Plaza Church near Union Depot in Los Angeles.
The bells were inscribed, "El Camino Real 1769-1906." The dates reflect the founding of the first Mission and the dedication of the first bell in Los Angeles on August 15, 1906.
The plan had been to place one bell along each mile of the El Camino Real Highway, in front of each Mission, and also selected historical landmarks. By 1913, a goal of 425 bells was reached. One bell was placed in front of each Mission and the balances were placed along the El Camino Real Highway. Since then many bells were lost to road reconstruction and theft.
After feeble attempts over the past 50 years, John Kolstad, owner of Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes' original California Bell Company, and Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect of Caltrans, have teamed together and installed 555 original El Camino Real Bells along Highway 101. These bells have been installed on Caltrans property from Los Angeles to San Francisco. California Bell is now working with cities to reinstall the original bells in the remaining areas of the original route. From Sonoma to San Francisco, and Los Angeles to San Diego, new bells will be appearing along El Camino Real. Call your local City Manager for information on their installation progress. Click Here For Great Historical Photos