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12G Mount Wilson

Location: Los Angeles County, California

Named for Benjamin Davis ("Don Benito") Wilson (1811-78), who arrived in Los Angeles with the William Workman party (1841). Wilson had planned to continue to China but decided to settle here instead. Formerly a fur trapper and Indian trader in the Santa Fe area, he became a naturalized Mexican citizen and then began his extensive local land holdings with a purchase of part of Rancho Jurupa (now Riverside) from Juan Bandini. He then married Ramona Yoruba whose family owned property including the 78,941 acre (Spanish) Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. He fought on the American side during the Mexican-American War and afterward served as a mediator. He was active in the move to have Southern California admitted as, a separate State. Elected Mayor of Los Angeles (1851). Served as Indian Agent, and established many of the Reservations. He then extended his holdings by purchasing the 128 acre Rancho Huerta del Cuati which he renamed "Lake Vineyard Ranch" (1854), and also acquired much of the old Mission San Gabriel property. He collaborated with Phineas Banning to begin the harbor at Wilmington (1866). He raised sheep, cultivated fruits and walnuts, and was one of the first to turn to commercial wine-making. He then became one of the first subdividers, turning his land into townships-at one time he owned lands that became Westwood, Pasadena, Alhambra, San Gabriel, Riverside and San Bernardino. He gave part of his property, as a wedding present to his daughter, her husband named it San Marino and later sold it to Huntington. Wilson unsuccessfully drilled for oil, but was a leading figure in coaxing the "Big Four" to extend their Southern Pacific R.R. through Los Angeles rather than around it (1876). General George S. Patton was one of his grandchildren.

This summit is named for Wilson because he is credited with creating the first modern trail into the front range of the San Gabriel's (1864). He revamped an old Indian path that began at the base of Little Santa Anita Canyon where the Gabrieleño village of Alyeupkigna had once stood. Wilson sought to convert plentiful stands of sugar pine and cedar into fences and wine barrels. When the trail was half completed in early Spring, he went the rest of the way on horseback through nearly impenetrable chaparral with William McKee. Once on top, they noted the view, the gushing spring and even found two crumbling log cabins that they assumed were probably built by horsethieves. By the summer the trail was complete and Wilson built a small cabin on top and commenced logging and milling operations. Wilson soon gave up this venture, but the trail remained. This trail is cited (although the mountain is not) by the Wheeler, 1878).

During the 1880's the Wilson trail served as a main avenue for a newly coined activity: recreation, with ever more hikers and equestrians each year. While originally known as Wilson's Peak, early Pasadenans also knew it as Signal Peak (because from this spot it was customary for hikers to build a bonfire to let friends below know that they had arrived without mishap). The exact spot where signaling occurred is west of the true summit-where the old Wilson trail gained the crest.

Hiram Reid notes that the summit was also sometimes called Harvard Telescope Point. A Harvard University facility was the first observatory on the summit (1899-90).

The Carnegie Institution began building the present multiple dome observatory complex in 1905. The Pasadena and Mount Wilson Toll Road Company built a new approach from Altadena (1891). Thereafter mountaintop camping became popular with "Steil's (later Martin's) Camp" located on Harvard Saddle, and "Strain's Camp" built by the springs northwest of the summit. These flourished until the Toll Road Company completed purchase of 1050 acres of the summit (1904), and built a Mount Wilson Hotel (1905-13), which was burnt by fire, but rebuilt (1915-64).

The first auto made the trip to the summit in 1907. Later there was a series of regular peak climbs by car. The record time over the ten miles and 4500 feet of gain is still 22.0 minutes-set by Frank Benedict in a Paige 6-66 (1922).

All this ended when the Angeles Crest Highway reached here (1935). Modem Communications made the summit its central broadcasting point (1948), by mid-Century 13 TV and,12 FM transmission towers were constructed, giving this area its currently familiar look.

Today the entire 720 acres atop this peak are owned by Metromedia since their purchase as part of a windfall package deal (1963).

This was Weldon Heald's first peak, he climbed it solo (March 1924).

Name first appears on USGS Pasadena quad (1900).

Peak was on the original 1946 HPS Peak List. Weldon Heald climbed this peak in 1924.


Hundred Peaks Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club
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Updated 25-February-2003