The first homesteaders began to arrive in the Borrego Valley
around 1910. The valley was isolated, hemmed in by rugged mountains on
three sides. Going to town for supplies meant at least a five-day
round-trip to Brawley, or the long climb up Grapevine Canyon and on to
Ramona. But slowly, a little community began to develop. In the
mid-1920s, a road was opened up through Sentenac Canyon, and the Ensign
family put down the first deep well in the valley, attracting more
settlers to the area.
1928 was a banner year for the Borrego Valley. The first
public school opened in the valley; a local voting precinct was
established; the first chamber of commerce, the Borego Boosters Club,
was formed; San Diego County assigned a deputy sheriff to the area; and
on March 1, 1928 the Borego Post Office was created. ("borego"--with
just one "r"--was how the old timers always spelled the name.)
The first postmaster was
Eslie Wynn, an Azusa jeweler who had
taken up a homestead in the southeastern part of the valley around 1918.
The original Borego post office was located in his home. Wynn's place
was close to where the old roads past Borrego and Barrel Springs met the
road over the hills from the Narrows that connected with the new
Sentenac Canyon route (which later became Hwy. 78). With the post office
there, Wynn's homestead became a natural meeting place for the residents
of the valley. This was the start of Old Borego.
Wynn was quick to take advantage of the increased traffic.
Before the year was out, he installed a gas pump in front of his home,
and opened the first gas station in the valley. In the spring of 1929,
Wynn had a new building built opposite his home, and moved the post
office across the way. That September, he opened the valley's first
store in the new building. His clerk was homesteader Herbert LaNiece.
The county also established a branch library in the store building, and
Mrs. LaNiece agreed to serve as librarian. Later, around 1935, a
separate little library building was built north of the store.
The mail for Borego came down from Julian two days a week, and
local residents could pick up their letters at Wynn's post office. Henry
Nelson was the first to drive the mail, and also carried passengers and
freight. Milo Porter, who homesteaded near the mouth of Henderson Canyon
in 1927, hauled the mail from October, 1928 to June, 1930. "he got $60 a
month," his widow, Lelah (now 94) recalls, "and furnished his own
transportation and his own gasoline." Fred Robinson had the contract
next, but gave it up in February of 1932 to become road foreman for the
new Borego Township.
Eslie Wynn continued to expand his commercial enterprises. In
1933 he built a garage north of the store building. His mechanic, it
seems, was James Thomson, a recent arrival from Los Angeles. In 1932,
Wynn concluded that hauling the mail paid more than serving as
postmaster, and since the government wouldn't allow him to hold both
jobs, he resigned as postmaster on March 1st and started making the
twice a week run to Julian. James Thomson became Borego's new
postmaster, but after his wife's death in 1934, he decided to leave the
valley, resigning as postmaster on July 31, 1934. His replacement was
Glenn DuVall, who had proved up a homestead near Clark Dry Lake in 1929.
Eslie Wynn drove the mail until January, 1935, when he died of
a heart attack after a heated argument with a pair of prospectors who
had rented some burros from him and never paid him. Milo Porter took
over the mail contract again, and held it until July, 1938, when he left
the valley for Julian. Glenn DuVall continued both as postmaster and
storekeeper, and was soon joined by his younger brother, Edward. They
promised customers "a good line of staple groceries" and fresh
vegetables every Saturday.
When Glenn DuVall got married in the summer of '36, he left
the valley, and Eddie DuVall took over the store and the postmastership.
Eddie DuVall got married about that same time. His wife, Alta, first
came to the valley on a Sierra Club field trip. She taught school in Los
Angeles for most of the rest of the decade.
What little other commercial development there was in the valley then
was mostly centered around Old Borego. In
1930 Frank Osborne built a
little store and trailer camp on his homestead south of DuVall's, near
what is now the northwest corner of Yaqui Pass and Borrego Springs
roads. Hes also sold gasoline at times. Osborne remained in the valley
until around 1936.
The Yaqui Pass Road was built in 1934-35 to connect
with the new state highway through the Narrows. It was paved by the
military during World War II-- the first paved road in the valley.
Across form Osborne's, Noel Crickmer opened the valley's first hotel,
the Desert Lodge, in 1939. Greatly expanded, it survives today as La
Casa del Zorro. Crickmer's original adobe is now a part of the lobby.
The Borego Post Office survived until July 31, 1940, when it
was discontinued due to lack of business. The population in the valley
had dropped by more than two-thirds during the Depression; by 1943, it
had sunk so low that the Borego School had to close for a year. Mail for
the few remaining residents came on a star route from Julian, with Al
Mathes doing the driving.
Eddie DuVall kept the store going, though. His son, Denny,
recalls how his father would take his '35 Ford and haul a trailer out to
San Diego to load up with merchandise for the store. "He'd come back,
and the rear bumper would be about six inches off the ground!" he says.
During this time, Eddie also served as Deputy Sheriff for the valley.
Besides the store, he had several small rental cottages nearby, and in
1948 he even expanded the place, building an addition between the store
and the garage.
After World War II, things began to pick up again in the
valley. Electricity arrived in 1945, and in 1947, the new community of
Borrego Springs went on the market, shifting the center of valley
affairs northwest to Christmas Circle. In 1949, Borrego Springs got its
own post office, and the new (and Proper) spelling became official.
Eddie DuvVall always aggressively resisted the new spelling of Borrego,
and kept his "Borego" Store open until the late 1950s. Even on into the
1960s, he kept a supply of auto parts on hand, and still did a little
business now and then. Eddie DuVall finally died in 1973.
Old Borego has passed into other hands, but fortunately many
of the historic buildings there have been preserved by the current
owners. The stone portion of Eslie Wynn's original home and post office
is the oldest surviving building in the valley, and DuVall's Borego
Store was a local landmark for decades. Although it is no longer the
center of the community, Old Borego remains the historic heart of the
Borrego Valley -- a reminder of the pioneer heritage that forms the
foundation for modern Borrego Springs.