Discovering the Past
From preservation to education, the Rancho Bernardo Historical Society celebrates the region’s rich history. The nonprofit organization not only illuminates the past but also stays engaged in the community’s present through involvement in events like the annual Memorial Day Pancake Festival and the Fourth of July parade. There’s something for everyone at the Rancho Bernardo History Museum, from exhibits and archives to the free monthly speakers series to the new hand-built replica mud wagon. Learn more through our conversation with RBHS President Nancy Canfield.
Q&A with President Nancy Canfield
Can you give us a brief history of Rancho Bernardo?
Before the community of Rancho Bernardo was first settled, the original residents were the Kumeyaay Nation. Evidence places them here for over 10,000 years.
In 1769, Spanish soldiers and Franciscan missionaries began settling the area with the Presidio of San Diego and the Mission San Diego de Alcala. They continued throughout what is now California and surrounding areas. From 1769 to 1821, the area was under Spanish rule and in what is now San Diego County, the authority of the missions, who named the areas.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 and the mission lands came under Mexican rule. The Mexican government offered large land grants to anyone settling here and working the lands between 1842 and 1845. One such was the Snook Ranch, which became Rancho San Bernardo. They stocked it with cattle, sheep, horses, mules, and oxen. In 1846, the Battle of San Pasqual took place on and around Rancho San Bernardo. This led to the Mexican-American War and the region became California, U.S., in 1848. It was sold and resold, then subdivided. The short-lived town of Bernardo developed, with a post office and general store by 1872. After the completion of the Lake Hodges Dam and with the development of Escondido, the town of Bernardo disappeared in the 1920s.
The last of the ranches became Daley Ranch, and in 1960 plans developed to build the master-planned community of Rancho Bernardo. Since then, Carmel Mountain Ranch was developed, along with a middle and high school, and 4S Ranch on part of the Ralphs Ranch. Del Sur and Santa Luz followed, and the borders of the original lands continue reaching out further.
What is the Rancho Bernardo Historical Society’s mission? How has this developed since the organization was founded?
The society’s mission has not changed since its inception: “…a nonprofit organization, dedicated to preserving the local history and increasing public awareness through programs and outreach. As a nonprofit we depend on the community to help us accomplish our mission: volunteers, donations and contributions, memberships, and gifts to our collections.”
Please tell us about the RB Historical Society Museum. What memorabilia and exhibits do you currently have on display?
The first exhibit you will see when entering the museum is a hand-built authentic replica of an 1880s vintage mud wagon – slightly smaller than a stagecoach. This was used to transport people around the county and was key to expanding the region. Along the museum wall, we begin with a timeline depicting the people and events that built the region, beginning 10,000 years ago with the Kumeyaay Nation of Indians, the Spanish and Missionary settlements, the Mexicans after they won the war and settled large land grants, the conquest of the Americans over the Mexicans, and the arrival of white settlers from all over America, particularly with the Gold Rush. California, like all of America, was and continues to be settled by people seeking refuge and opportunity from all over the world.
Display cabinets, framed pictures, and artifacts encircle the room on all sides, depicting events in the history of Rancho Bernardo. The Wall of Honor contains framed photos of local residents who served this country. There is a research library, and volunteers assist people doing research. Another display is of the fires of 2007, when Rancho Bernardo lost approximately 365 homes. In the back, there is an archive room that catalogs many collections donated to the museum, such as the papers relating to building the new library, Ed Brown Center, and 4S Ranch, to name a few. In the last year we have completed digitizing thousands of documents and photos, and the public can browse them online or with the help of volunteers in the archives by making an appointment. But there is much more to do.
The historical society has a fledgling education program whereby a former school teacher goes into local elementary schools to teach about the indigenous people of this area, the Kumeyaay, which is part of the Poway Unified School District curriculum for third graders. There are also programs for scouts and other groups who come in upon request. There is a monthly free speaker series, which is usually recorded and posted on YouTube. Likewise, the museum volunteers to interview local interesting residents, often seniors, and that too is posted on the RBHistoricalSociety.org website.
What region does the society cover? What are some of the historical highlights of 92127 specifically?
As you have already read, borders come and go, and leadership and ownership change, so what is now Rancho Bernardo or 4S Ranch was once part of great ranches with no such name. The Ralphs family retains a portion of 4S Ranch for annual family events, such as a Thanksgiving gathering. Escondido and Poway have histories that once blended over the Rancho Bernardo border of today, such as with Old Highway 395, now called Pomerado Rd. for a good deal of the road.
What is your current role within the society? How did you first get involved?
I am now serving my second two-year term as president of the RB Historical Society. In 2005, I became a member of the historical society because of my keen interest in history, awakened during research for a book I was writing. When the president at the time learned I was the honorary mayor of Rancho Bernardo through the Chamber of Commerce, I was asked to head up the fundraising to enable RBHS to build a museum – they had outgrown the shipping container that had served them minimally through the hot summers at the historic Bernardo Winery.
It took several years but we raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars to build the museum. Finding a lot that would work proved more difficult than first thought. So, the Bernardo Winery offered us four little shops in the old Bunk House, which we refurbished and made the Rancho Bernardo History Museum.
What do you most enjoy about working with the historical society?
What I most enjoy about working with the historical society are the constant surprises that occur either through the public seeking or offering unknown bits of memorabilia or information. Recently, someone wanted to know if we had documentation of her home, which she was planning to sell, that had reputedly been the original school house but had burned down. Or the location of the original San Rafael church in Rancho Bernardo (a house on Capilla Rd.). We’ve done talks about the long history and controversy of the cross on Battle Mountain, and where Mule Hill got its name (battle involving Kit Carson, where they reputedly were pinned down and forced to eat their mules).
How does the historical society stay connected with the local community?
RBHS stays connected with the community through our constant outreach with events like our annual Pancake Festival, which we hold on Memorial Day each year, to honor our military who have fallen and who continue to serve. Our monthly speaker series is a big attraction. Recently, we invited the community for the grand unveiling of our mud wagon, which had a sneak preview at the Fourth of July Parade, though not quite complete with pin striping. It was drawn by two white draft horses and was very impressive!
RBHS participates in all community events: RB Alive! Street Fair, where we host the Cultural Center; Fourth of July activities, including the parade; the annual Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation Thanksgiving Luncheon; and many others.
What are the organization’s short-term and long-term goals?
Our short-term goals are to expand our education program, incorporating the mud wagon to illuminate the importance of transportation to bring in inhabitants, resources like doctors and settlers, and supplies. You can’t grow everything for yourself, nor can you consume all the wheat you grow, so commerce depends on distribution. In the longer term, we continue to expand our exhibits and collections, providing resources to the community. Most importantly, we need to develop a plan for the future growth of the RB Historical Society, and for this we reach out to the surrounding communities to join us and share ideas. Please contact me for volunteer opportunities such as docents, in the archives, and for events. We have a burning need for someone to help grow our membership! We will train on all jobs; no former knowledge or experience is required.
How does the historical society fund its programs and projects?
The historical society survives wholly on memberships, events like the Pancake Festival, donations, and grants such as the Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation, Rancho Bernardo Business Association, San Diego County, and City of San Diego.
Do you have any upcoming events that the community should know about?
The RBHS will be holding the museum open extra hours during the Bernardo Winery’s 39th Annual Fall Arts & Crafts Fair on Oct. 15 and 16. In December, look for dates of the Holiday Nights when the winery and museum are ablaze in holiday decorations and special events.
When and where does the historical society meet?
Our hours of operation, days, and times for the speaker series and other events are posted on our website, which is just beginning a complete overhaul. Our board meetings are open to the public and take place the second Monday of the month at the museum.
The Rancho Bernardo History Museum is located at the oldest continuously operating winery in San Diego County, Bernardo Winery, established in 1869. The current owners, Ross Rizzo and his mother Veronica, are the latest in a continuous family ownership since 1927. As the story goes, five winemakers from northern Italy bought the winery during the downturn caused by Prohibition. The winery was deeply involved in making olive oil for the fishing industry of San Diego, and the wine produced was for ceremonial purposes only – that is, the Church. It was commonly said that the miracle of the Bernardo Winery was that the grape juice they produced miraculously turned to wine by the time it reached the end of the road!
The Rancho Bernardo Historical Society is one of those gems about which people are always saying, “I never knew you were here.” Please come for a visit, sample the delightful shops at the winery, and enjoy a bit of the grape at the tasting room. Free concerts every Sunday afternoon, too!
Name: Nancy Canfield
Community: Westwood for 31 years
Profession: Realtor, Windermere Homes & Estates
Education: Degrees and certifications in business from SDSU, UCSD, and Miramar College
Family: Husband – Jim; six children, three on active duty in the Navy; six grandchildren, with twin nine-year-olds living with us while their mom is out to sea for seven months
Hobbies & Interests: Aside from my family activities and the museum, I am a writer. I’ve published a book, several stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Heart of a Woman series, and newspaper and magazine articles whenever I can make the time.
At-A-Glance Historical Society
Rancho Bernardo Historical Society Museum Hours
Tuesday: 10 a.m – 12 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday: 1 – 4 p.m.
Sunday: 1 – 4 p.m.