June 26, 1998
California Secretary of State Bill Jones headlined a list of state and local dignitaries from California and Baja California on hand for the unveiling and ringing of the new El Camino Real Bell at the international border at San Ysidro and Tijuana, Baja California. The route linked 21 missions, three pueblos and four presidios along a 700 mile section in California from San Diego to Sonoma. In a symbolic gesture, 14 California missions rang their bells at exactly 12 noon on Monday. Initially, the first eighteen missions were built in Baja California and El Camino Real was the road that linked them together down the peninsula.
This ceremony marked a long time struggle to preserve the significance of this historic trail. The preservation of El Camino Real was first put forward in 1892 by Miss Anna Pitcher, Director of the Pasadena Art Exhibition Association to the Women's Club of Los Angeles. There was no action taken. Ten years later she talked to the Native Daughters of the Golden West, but to no avail.
In 1904, a group was formed called the El Camino Real Association and was charged with reestablishing the road. Mrs. Forbes' bell design was accepted as the standard marker to be used outlining the route. The route was established in 1906 and about 400 bells were placed along the route from 1906 to 1915. As the years went by, many bells began to disappear, but were replaced by Mr. Justin Kramer in 1963.
Today the California Federation of Women's Clubs (CFWC) is working to place more bells on El Camino Real in California. At times the task has been very difficult given the change that has taken place over the years. The early trails followed by wagons in the past have given way to paved roads and even freeways today. After a study of older mapping, a route has been reestablished in San Diego County. Consequently, Caltrans and the CFWC are locating sites for about 15 bells.