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Historic Stagecoach Stop Now Open to the Public

Warner-Carrillo Ranch House has been renovated and turned into a museum

Written by J. Harry Jones
11/18/12 - San Diego Union Tribune - Original article

The historic Warner-Carrillo Ranch House near Warner Springs has been renovated and opened as a museum. J. Harry Jones · U-T

The Warner-Carillo Ranch House, considered one of the most historic buildings in the county, has been renovated, turned into a museum, and is now open to the public.

After more than a decade of fundraising and renovation work, the house's "soft opening" was held Saturday. It will be open every weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Built in 1857, the ranch house tells the story of the emigrant trail, the overland Butterfield Stage Station and the prominent ranching history of the area.

"The Warner-Carrillo ranch house is a very significant landmark," said Roy Coox, general manager of the Vista Irrigation District, which has owned the land where the house sits since 1947.

"It's a very important building because it was a trading post and a stagecoach station, and it's located at the key crossroads where the Overland Emigrant Trail comes into California. It's estimated that 80,000 people stopped by that ranch house just during the gold rush alone in the mid-1800s and maybe 250,000 people came past that house in the 1800s on their way west."

Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which will run the museum, said the house was in the first well-watered valley people saw after crossing the great southwestern desert.

Bruce Coons, executive director of SOHO, in front of the Warner-Carrillo Ranch House. J. Harry Jones · U-T

"Until they got to this spot they thought they had made the biggest mistake of their lives," he said.

"It's a strategic spot because right here we're at a fork in the road - turn right and head for the gold fields of San Francisco. Left, right there, goes to San Diego."

If one ignores the nearby highway and power lines, the setting is much as it would have been more than 150 years ago.

"Warner's ranch is a comfortable house situated in the valley, in the midst of a beautiful meadow, and with its shingled roof looked more like civilization than anything I had seen for many days. There were hundreds of cattle grazing on the plain, and everything looked as comfortable as every natural advantage could secure," said Waterman L. Ormsby, a correspondent for the New York Herald, in an article printed in 1858.

The ranch house served as the Butterfield Stage Stop from 1858 until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Located on San Felipe Road (state Highway S2) a half mile east of Highway 79 in the Warner Springs area, the house is owned by the irrigation district and the surrounding land is still used for cattle ranching.

Twelve years ago SOHO listed the house as the "most important unprotected historical site in San Diego County."

"We almost lost it," Coons said. "It was almost in ruins. It was close to being gone."

But after The San Diego Union-Tribune featured a front-page story about the structure, an anonymous donor gave $75,000 toward its restoration, a sum matched by the irrigation district.

"Over the years we had been talking about how nice it would be to restore and save it," said Coox, who was recognized earlier this year by SOHO as the Preservationist of the Year for his tireless efforts to save the house. "We did some things to stabilize it, brace it, just to keep it from falling down."

Since then, other donations and two large grants from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment raised more than $700,000.

Work was completed a couple months ago, and Saturday the house was officially opened.




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