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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Processing Information
  • Custodial History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Microfilm Edition
  • Digital Content
  • Restrictions

  • Descriptive Summary

    Languages: English
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla 92093-0175
    Title: Ed Fletcher Papers
    Creator: Fletcher, Ed
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0081
    Physical Description: 48 Linear feet (80 archives boxes, 5 card file boxes, 14 flat boxes, 35 mapcase folders, and 4 volumes)
    Date (inclusive): 1870 - 1955 (bulk 1920-1950)
    Abstract: The papers of Ed Fletcher of San Diego, California, consisting primarily of Fletcher's business records from his years as a noted San Diego land developer, civic leader, and member of the California State Senate. The papers document all aspects of Fletcher's career but are most complete in regard to his water-related enterprises, and include correspondence, legal documents, blueprints, reports and photographs. Although the bulk of the collection consists of business records, a large group of photographs provide a visual record of the Fletcher family.

    Processing Information

    At the time of processing in 1990, much of the original order of the collection had been destroyed. A number of alphabetical files remained intact, and these were used as a basis for reconstructing the correspondence. Whenever possible the processor attempted to discern the original arrangement of the materials and restore this arrangement, although it was necessary to create many artificial categories. Often, the processor removed from subject files correspondence with prominent individuals, bringing this correspondence together within the General Correspondence series. In these cases the processor created cross-reference sheets for the original subject file, so that all letters from the file could be traced.

    Custodial History

    In 1954 the Fletcher family donated a large collection of Ed Fletcher's papers to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA transferred this collection to UCSD in 1978. The family also gave additional papers to the San Diego Historical Society, and there is much overlap between the two repositories' collections.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers of Ed Fletcher of San Diego, California, consisting primarily of Fletcher's business records from his years as a noted San Diego land developer, civic leader, and member of the California State Senate. The papers document all aspects of Fletcher's career but are most complete in regard to his water-related enterprises, and include correspondence, legal documents, blueprints, reports and photographs. Although the bulk of the collection consists of business records, a large group of photographs provide a visual record of the Fletcher family. The collection is a rich source of documentation for the history of San Diego County in the early 20th century and for the history of California water development.
    Accession Processed in 1991
    Accession Processed in 2003
    This accession consists mostly of oversized photographs from throughout Fletcher's adult life. There are also numerous oversized certificates from 1895 to 1954 and some ephemera. These materials supplement the larger collection without adding significant new themes.
    Arranged in three series: 8) PHOTOGRAPHS, 9) CERTIFICATES, and 10) EPHEMERA.


    Colonel Edward ("Ed") Fletcher was a noted San Diego businessman, land developer, civic leader, and California State Senator. He worked to develop the county's water resources and highways, and his efforts contributed significantly to the urban development of Southern California.
    Born in Massachusetts on December 31, 1872, Fletcher's mother died when he was 4 years old. His father kept the family together for five years, but finally placed the children in foster homes and moved to Florida. In 1888, at the age of 16, Ed took his savings of $126.50 and moved to San Diego to live with his sister Bess, who had come there following her marriage to Jarvis Doyle.
    Fletcher claimed that he arrived in San Diego with $6.10. He became friends with M.T. Gilmore, a prominent bank officer, and Gilmore gave Fletcher his first job -- cleaning out Gilmore's yard. Beginning his business career as an agent for a produce merchant, Fletcher travelled by bicycle into remote rural areas of the county. He soon developed a network of loyal customers and a thorough knowledge of San Diego county geography. Through his experiences he quickly realized that the growth of the county's population depended largely on the development of water resources. He established his own produce business, eventually joining his brother-in-law in a partnership, called the Fletcher-Doyle Company.
    Fletcher went back to Massachusetts in April 1896 and married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Catherine Batchelder. It was apparently a happy marriage and the couple had ten children -- seven boys and three girls. The families of most of these children still reside in the San Diego area and are still active in the civic and business life of the city.
    In his youth Fletcher was involved in a number of military organizations. In 1892 he joined the Naval Militia and was elected Ensign a year later. He organized a regiment of volunteers during the Spanish-American War. In 1904 he received a commission as Ensign in the Naval Militia, and Governor Pardee appointed him Commanding Officer of the unit. In 1906 he went to San Francisco for duty after the earthquake and fire. During World War I he was one of the five members appointed to the District Exemption Board for southern California, serving the entire period of the war. Governor Hiram Johnson appointed Fletcher a "Colonel" on the governor's staff. Fletcher retained this position until his election to the State Senate in 1934, but people continued to use the title in addressing him.
    Fletcher's familiarity and appreciation for the San Diego "back country" led to greater involvement in its land and water development. Deciding to focus his efforts on land development, he sold his interest in the produce business to his brother-in-law and founded a real estate enterprise, the Ed Fletcher Company.
    One of Fletcher's most important developments involved the Villa Caro ranch, which included present-day Mt. Helix, Grossmont, and parts of El Cajon. Financing for this venture came from William A. Gross, an actor and theatrical producer who had met Fletcher at Yellowstone Park in 1901. Fletcher and Gross conceived of creating an artists colony in what would become Grossmont Park, and they succeeded in attracting the opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink as a resident. They eventually sold lots to a number of prominent people in the arts, including songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond, pianist Teresa Carreno, and author Owen Wister. Motion picture companies used the area in the 1910s and 1920s, and Grossmont Studios flourished for a brief period. Fletcher himself established a country residence at the foot of Grossmont.
    Fletcher's least successful venture was Fletcher Hills, a large tract north of La Mesa. Fletcher placed the lots on the market immediately prior to the Depression and sales were slow throughout the 1930s. It was not until the late 1940s that the area began to grow, and the development eventually became profitable for Fletcher's heirs.
    In many of his land development ventures Fletcher followed a similar pattern. He functioned as the visionary, possessing foresight and knowledge of the local area. His partners were usually wealthy men from outside the San Diego area, content to furnish the financing and leave Fletcher in charge of the logistics. Generally the partner would contribute 5/6 of the cost, with Fletcher adding the remaining. Fletcher would then carry out the work, often without a salary, until the project was finished or the property sold. The partner would then have his money repaid at 7% interest, Fletcher would take 25% of the profits as salary, and 75% Fletcher would re-invest.
    Fletcher's many partnerships proved lucrative. With William and Ferdinand Thum, brothers who had become millionaires through the manufacture of ball bearings, Fletcher financed many San Diego building projects. In 1911 he interested William E. Hodges, Vice-President of the Santa Fe Railroad and President of the Santa Fe Land and Improvement Company, in projects such as Rancho Santa Fe, Hodges dam, the San Dieguito water system, and residential developments in Solana Beach and Escondido. Along with William G. Henshaw and William G. Kerckhoff, Fletcher developed Warner Ranch, obtained financing for creation of the Volcan Land and Water Company, and helped to build Warner Dam, which became Lake Henshaw.
    Early in his career Fletcher became involved with the development of San Diego County's water resources. In 1903 he conceived of channeling the waters of Pauma Creek near Mount Palomar for irrigation of the Pauma valley. He succeeded in securing financing for this project from William Kerckhoff of the Pacific Light and Power Company in Los Angeles, an associate of transportation magnate Henry E. Huntington.
    Fletcher's involvement in the San Diego Flume Company was one of his most important water-related enterprises. Along with his partner James A. Murray, a banker from Butte, Montana, Fletcher improved the flume system substantially and eventually delivered water to the communities of El Cajon, La Mesa, and East San Diego. The system ultimately included the Cuyamaca and Murray dams, both built by Fletcher, Murray, and other associates. Under Fletcher the San Diego Flume Company evolved into what would be known as the Cuyamaca Water Company.
    On many occasions Fletcher attempted to sell the Cuyamaca system to the city of San Diego, but political and financial complications prevented the sale from taking place. Negotiations with the city began as early as 1913 and continued through the 1920s. Early opposition came from John D. Spreckels, San Diego's most powerful business leader. Spreckels and his associates had constructed their own water system and succeeded in contracting for the city's water supply. Although Spreckels later supported the acquisition of the Cuyamaca system, further complications ensued. Fletcher finally sold his system to the La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Spring Valley Irrigation District in 1926.
    Fletcher was also deeply involved in the building of roads and highways. He became the chairman of the County Road Commission in 1910, was instrumental in building the old plank road to Yuma, Arizona, raised money to build local motorways, and served on the County Highway Commission for many years. But one of his most important road projects was the promotion of a transcontinental highway through the southern states. He was president of the Dixie-Overland Highway Association and the Lee Highway Association, reading a message from President Calvin Coolidge at the dedication of the San Diego terminus in November, 1923.
    In 1926 he organized and participated in a record-breaking cross-country motor tour via the Dixie Highway, driving to Savannah, Georgia and back to San Diego from St. Augustine, Florida. In 1929 he travelled in an enormous motorcade from San Diego to Memphis, Tennessee. Through this event -- organized by Fletcher and named "The Broadway of America" -- he intended to publicize the need for a San Diego to New York City motor route.
    Always civic-minded, he was a Director of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and organized both the San Diego Athletic Club (and with George Marston and Fred White lost an enormous amount of money when the Club defaulted during the Depression) and the Commonwealth Club. For several years he chaired the city's Community Chest drive, and he worked closely with the President of the State Teacher's College (precursor of San Diego State University) to upgrade the college's facilities. He gave Solana Beach a mile of waterfront footage for a park. He also provided the County of San Diego with property for Grossmont High School, the Mt. Helix cross, and camps for various youth groups.
    Along with other civic leaders, Fletcher was instrumental in promoting military installations in the county. In 1906 he entertained the officers of the Atlantic Fleet at his country home at the Villa Caro ranch. He furnished water for Camp Kearney at a low rate during World War I and he lobbied for the establishment of local Navy and Marine bases.
    Fletcher became involved in politics during the rise of Progressivism. A staunch supporter of Governor Hiram Johnson, Fletcher was a "reform" Republican and a member of the Lincoln-Roosevelt League -- a group opposed to the influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad in California politics. In 1934 San Diegans elected Fletcher to the State Senate, and he held his seat for 12 years until his retirement. Among his legislative accomplishments were the establishment of the Cabrillo Monument on Point Loma and numerous bills relating to forestry. He co-authored legislation concerning water resources, including bills to fund the Central Valley Water Project and the establishment of the San Luis Rey Water Authority. In the 1945 session he promoted Senate Bill 310, which conveyed state lands around Mission Bay to the city of San Diego for park development. Fletcher ran for Congress in 1940 but lost the election to incumbent Ed Izac.
    In 1952 Fletcher published his memoirs, a loosely organized collection of reminiscences intended primarily for his children. The most detailed portions of the book related to the development of San Diego's water resources, a topic on which he wrote frequently.
    Ed Fletcher died in San Diego in 1955. Many of his sons continued the family tradition of local business and civic leadership. Steve Fletcher became the manager of the Ed Fletcher company, Charles Fletcher served as president of Home Federal Savings and Loan, and Ferdinand Fletcher was a prominent attorney.
    For more details of Ed Fletcher's biography, see Memoirs of Ed Fletcher (1952) in the rare book collection of the special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Preferred Citation

    Ed Fletcher Papers. MSS 81. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Transferred from UCLA, 1978. Further additions in 1995.

    Microfilm Edition

    The microfilm edition of the Ed Fletcher Papers reproduces the original manuscript collection for the accession processed in 1991 with the exception of Boxes 82 through 86; Boxes 95 through 98; all map case (MC-XXX) materials; and the bound volume entitled "Exhibits for hearing" in Box 57, Folder 8. The accession processed in 2003 has not been microfilmed.
    Each microfilm reel corresponds to an individual box in the collection. Reel 1 reproduces the contents of Box 1 and so forth. Each folder title has been photographed at the beginning of a folder. Microfilm reels for Boxes 1-28 are located at FB-511; microfilm reels for Boxes 29-56 are located at FB-512; microfilm reels for Boxes 57-89 are located at FB-513; microfilm reels for Boxes 90-94 are located at FB-514.

    Digital Content

    The microfilm of the accession processed in 1991 has been completely digitized. Most of the photographs in the collection have been scanned and are currently being added to the Library's Digital Collections website. To view available images, click the "View Online" button and select "image" under Formats from the collection page.


    Boxes 95-98, containing extremely brittle newspaper clippings, cannot be used without permission of the program director.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    San Diego (Calif.) -- Pictorial works
    Baja California (Mexico : Peninsula) -- History
    Diaries -- 20th century
    Legislators -- California -- San Diego County
    Dams -- California -- San Diego County -- Views
    Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, Calif.)
    San Diego County (Calif.) -- History
    Real estate development -- California -- San Diego County
    Interstate Highway System
    Dams -- California -- San Diego County
    Urbanization -- California -- San Diego County
    Scrapbooks -- 20th century
    Photographic prints -- 20th century
    Roads -- California -- San Diego County
    Water resources development -- California -- San Diego County
    San Diego Flume Company -- Archives
    Fletcher, Ed
    Cuyamaca Water Company -- Archives