TBNC dgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek Large Scale Environmental Planning Exhibit, Pala Creek, California USA

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Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison from over Pauma Valley way

TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison, Pauma Valley, California USA

Please Excuse the Slow Download.   These Are Really Old Photographs


TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison, Pauma Valley, California USA


the Claimed “First White Man” on Palomar Mountain 
in a Photograph Exposed in the 1910's, or a Little Later

To Learn More of This Colorful Local Legend -  Visit Nate's Multi-Part Story By David Ross

TBNc Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, The Village Road Runner Print Media, Pauma Valley, California USA

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The Valley Road Runner
The hometown newspaper of Charles and Lynn Smith

Post Office Box 1519 · Valley Center · California 92082
760.749.1112  Local Contact  ·  760.749.1688  Facsimile    


Highlights of Nate's Story From Author DAVID ROSS ;



One of the roads up Palomar Mountain has been known for five decades as “The Highway to the Stars.” The road named after Nate Harrison might well be known as “The Highway Back Into Time.”

TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Nate Harrison, The Man at Pauma Valley, Pete's Good Friend, Edgemon Southern California USA

This is how Nate Harrison Grade looked back in the days when the only way up was by wagon


If you listen, besides the sound of the wind and hawks wheeling effortlessly overhead, you can hear horses straining against their leather harnesses, wooden wagon wheels creaking, and teamsters swearing and cracking the whip over the necks of the sweating beasts.

You may see the ghost of an old white-bearded black man, the first “white man” on the mountain, meeting exhausted horses and men just as the wagons enter the cool shade of the trees after climbing 4000 feet in the broiling sun. He’s driving a wagon loaded with cool water from the first spring discovered on Palomar Mountain. If you try, you can almost taste the dust and the sweet water on your tongue, so cold it makes your teeth hurt. . .

Nate Harrison Grade once appeared on the maps as “Nigger Nate Grade,” and even as “Nigger Grade.”

It was a cruder, crueler age in many ways, and people thought nothing of calling the freed slave who spent much of his time on what was then known as Smith Mountain, “Nigger Nate.”

By all accounts, that’s what he called himself. The grade named after him was once the only way up the mountain, and it was in continual use by all the residents until east grade was built in the 1940s to transport the 200 inch mirror for the Hale telescope up to Palomar Observatory.

In fact, the Highway to the Stars was built especially for the mirror; the rest of the observatory’s paraphernalia came up on the Harrison Grade, the way settlers had “made the grade” for sixty years or more.

The grade starts in Pauma Valley, just a few hundred yards from the intersection of Cole Grade Road and Hwy 76.

When you are coming down Cole Grade from Valley Center, you can see the Nate Harrison Grade winding its way up the mountain, almost to Boucher Point, the site of the now sleeping CDF watch towner, built on a cliff at 5438 ft.

The grade criss-crosses up the mountain in long switchbacks, that, from a distance, look like hairline fractures tracing the mountain’s face. The grade is about 10% on the average, which means that it’s definitely four-wheel drive territory, unless, like the few residents who use it, you know it well.

Although you can undoubtedly get up to the top of the mountain in less than an hour if you push it, a road trip up Nate Harrison Grade is definitely a trip to be savored.

So if you plan to take the trip, allow at least a couple of hours, which includes time to pull off and look down into the Valley, or, if it’s a clear, Santa Ana driven day, the channel islands off Mexico.

It’s the perfect poor man’s National Geographic expedition, with no discomfort, some adventure, and a lot of beautiful scenery.



TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison over at Pauma Valley, A Good Man, Pala Creek, California USA

Ol' Nate Harrison at His House Early in the Twentieth Century


Many years ago they used to iron out the ruts and holes in Nate Harrison Grade by dragging a tree downhill behind a team of horses. Often logs would be dragged behind wagons whose owners were afraid that their brakes weren’t up to the challenge.

About 1904 (according to Leo Calac) a Moravian Missionary to the Indians bought lumber from the mill on top of Palomar Mountain. He used it to build the chapel that is still used at the Rincon Reservation.

The missionary, David Woosley, not only brought the lumber for the church, but also for his house down the grade by horse and buggy, dragging the log as a brake.

Another minister, Baptist preacher Thomas J. Wood, who homesteaded Witch Creek (near Santa Ysabel) in the 1870s and used to take his buggy up Nate Harrison Grade once a month to bring God’s word to the mountain top.

According to his grandson, Jim Wood, on the way back down Wood would stop and get a drink from Nate. Then he would pay him a quarter to cut him a pine log to drag behind his wagon as a brake.

Some parts of the road today look like they might be kept “flat” the same way. About two miles into the grade from the valley floor it becomes just wide enough in most places for two cars to pass each other, although there are many switchbacks and hairpin curves where you could very easily have a crack-up.

Fortunately, there’s not enough traffic for that to be a real problem.

For the first fifty years or so after he settled on the mountain Nate Harrison used to greet wagons with buckets of water for their horses. He adapted well to the Twentieth Century, and towards the end of his life he would greet automobiles with water for their radiators.

The Memoirs of Abel M. Davis quotes Mary Connaghan Newell of Escondido, who called Harrison the Good Samaritan of Palomar. He would introduce himself as “the first white man on the Smith Mountain.” “Endearing himself to thousands of visitors over a period of more than 70 years, he was literally ‘the man by the side of the road—watching the world go by.’

He is said to have come from a Southern state as a slave accompanying his master who was prospecting for gold in Merced. He was one of the “Forty-Niners” who helped get California off the ground by the giving the whole world a gold transfusion a hundred and fifty years ago.

“The master died and Nate drifted south until he reached the Palomar area and settled down to spend the rest of his life in an old cabin and being a ‘character’ to all who knew him. He had little worldly goods, but was rich in kindness, generosity and possessed a lively sense of humor.

“Records show that as early as 1850 there were families who piled into their wagons and drove to Palomar for cooler weather and a vacation.”

Of course, the Indians had been going there for centuries to gather acorns for the making of Wee-Wish, which made up 60% of their diet.

As Davis’s memoirs observes, Harrison operated what in today’s parlance was the first “filling station” along the route, comparable to our own 7-11’s, except, instead of Big Gulps, he offered cool buckets of Palomar spring water.


TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison and Some of His Mules, Too, Pala Creek, California USA

Nate Harrison's Water Along West Grade, Exposed Sometime in the 1910's
From Catherine Beighline's Collection

“After horses and sightseers were refreshed, Nate would amuse them with his comical remarks and antics. He soon became a ‘must’ on the traveler’s list to watch for.”

He got along equally well with the native Luiseno Indians who visited the Mountain each fall. According to Calac “They always stopped off at Nate Harrison’s place to water their horses and themselves from the cool spring. Nate bought supplies at the Rincon store and got along very well with the Indian people.”

One of his favorite pastimes was to tell tall stories about how he sought refuge on the mountain and didn’t know for years that there had been a Civil War and that one of its results was to free the slaves.

But it appears he made that story up, according to an article published in Southern California Rancher in May of 1952. That article says Lysander Utt came from Virginia during the Gold Rush, bringing one slave with him. He was operating a trading post in Tustin when California issued a decree making slavery illegal.

Harrison probably came to Palomar because his former master had property interests in Agua Tibia. He first settled in Doane Valley and then moved below the snow line and planted an orchard.

One or two of the trees that he planted remain today, still bearing fruit if you can get to them before the birds do.

Although one might suppose that, as an “escaped slave” Harrison was an outlaw, actually he was always on the side of law and order. He was on the posse that tracked and strung up the murderers of the Smith that Smith Mountain was called after. The mountain was a refuge for cattle rustlers and Harrison often helped the sheriff catch them too.

Truth Or Legend ?

In these parts, truth and legend do tend to meet in a gray tidal zone, and so with colorful characters like Nate Harrison, it’s hard to tell where the truth leaves off and the fact begins. And, to a certain degree, it stops mattering.

For instance, there’s the legend that when Nate Harrison finally got deathly ill and was checked into a hospital in San Diego, that the nurses had to peel layer after layer after layer of longjohns that he apparently wore until they rotted off his body.

He was supposedly 101 (or so he claimed, but then, does it really matter?) when he finally died in 1920.

But the reaction of his neighbors to his death is a fact not a legend. We still have the monument, made from white quartzite, mined at considerable difficulty and transported by horse drawn wagon to the spot on the grade where the small but dignified pile of rock greets the rare traveler today.

Bob Davis, an 83 year old resident of Palomar Mountain recalls that his father, Stanley R. Davis, built the monument. He also built the oldest remaining cabin on the mountain in 1918, the same year the family brought little Bob to live there. Davis, a contractor, also built the massive fireplace at the Palomar Mountain Lodge.

The monument was erected and a bronze plaque was affixed to it and quite a crowd of people attended the dedication and admired the handiwork. Davis’s grandfather played My Old Kentucky Home and other favorites of Nate’s on the violin.

The modest pile of stones used to carry a plaque that read: Nate Harrison’s Spring. Brought here as a slave about 1848. Died Oct. 10, 1920. Age 101. ‘A Man’s a Man for ‘a That.”

Modest, even “tiny” are adjectives that spring to mind in seeing the stones that outline the cabin and indicate where the fireplace was.

Nearby an old Indian trail runs through, evidence that while Nate was the first “White Man” on the mountain, he was certainly not the first man.

Nate is known to have married an Indian woman, who had two children, although whether they were his children is unknown.

Although he stuck pretty close to home most of the time, Nate used to occasionally get on his horse to ride further up the mountain to visit a Basque sheep herder named Boucher, after whom Boucher Heights was named.

He was also good friends with George Doane, after whom Doane Pond is named.



TBNC Edgemon Milda Town at Pala Creek, Pete's Ol' Friend Nate Harrison's Small Hand Tools, Pala Creek and Pauma Valley, California USA

Ol' Nate Harrison "Treasures" 
Outstanding Artifacts From Ol' Nate's Cabin


"Harrison lived simply, 
but he lived free and for a man born a slave, 
that was probably the greatest gift of all" [David Ross].



Credits Expressed by DAVID ROSS, Author

" I’d like to make some acknowledgements of people who have been particularly helpful: 
The Catherine Beishline Collection, for some of the better old photos, longtime resident Richard Day, for some valuable information and insights, photographer Theresa Gallagher, historian Petie McHenry and fellow-traveler Don Seitz ". 


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The Valley Road Runner
The hometown newspaper of Charles and Lynn Smith

Post Office Box 1519 · Valley Center · California 92082

760.749.1112  Local Contact  ·  760.749.1688  Facsimile    



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Social & Economic Development / Urban Development & Redevelopment / Regional Development / Natural Resource Management & Integrated Land Use / Infrastructure and Intermodal Interconnectivity Systems / Governance Framework

The environmental planning assessments encompass areas such as land use, socioeconomics, transportation, economic and housing characteristics, air quality and air pollution, noise pollution, the wetlands, habitat of the endangered species, flood zones susceptibility, coastal zones erosion, and visual studies among others, and is referred to as an Integrated Environmental Planning Assessment [IEPA].

In the United States, for any project, environmental planners deal with a full range of environmental regulations from federal to state and city levels, administered federally by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA].

A rigorous environmental process has to be undertaken to examine the impacts and possible mitigation of any construction project. Depending on the scale and impact of the project, an extensive environmental review is known as an Environmental Impact Statement [EIS], and the less extensive version is Environmental Assessment [EA]. Procedures follow guidelines from National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], State Environmental Quality Review Act [SEQRA] and/or City Environmental Quality Review [CEQR], and other related federal or state agencies published regulations.

The Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP) is a non-profit organization of interdisciplinary professionals including environmental science, resource management, environmental planning and other professions contributing to this field. AEP is the first organization of its kind in the USA, and its influence and model have spawned numerous other regional organizations throughout the United States. Its mission is to improve the technical skills of members, and the organization is dedicated to "the enhancement, maintenance and protection of the natural and human environment". From inception in the mid 1970s the organization has been closely linked with the maintenance of the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA], due to California being one of the first states to adopt a comprehensive legal framework to govern the environmental review of public policy and project review.


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