A site designated as California Historical Landmark No. 942 will soon belong to the City of Chino Hills.
One of the plaques at the old fire station at 4040 Eucalyptus Ave. marks the home of Isaac Williams and the other the site of the 1846 Battle of Chino, the first skirmish on California soil in what was to become the Mexican-American War.
The fire station site and facility will be given to the city by the fire district in exchange for the city's payment of $8 million for a new station in southern Chino Hills.
Battle of Chino
Led by Benjamin D. Wilson, 24 Americans were captured by 50 Californios at the adobe house of Isaac Williams, the "Don Julian" of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.
The skirmish led to the death of a Californio soldier and the surrender of "Don Julian" Williams, Benjamin "Don Benito" Wilson and their men, who were dragged in chains to Los Angeles to be executed, but released.
The fire station, built as a substation in 1964, was referred to as the "Los Serranos station," but 18 years prior to that, the land was recognized with a marker.
On Sept. 28, 1946, a plaque was embedded in a concrete pedestal topped by a cannon at what was then the south entrance of old Casa Colina on the Boys Republic grounds, according to Champion archives.
Nine descendents of Isaac Williams attended.
For 16 years, the monument stood mostly hidden by brush until the site was cleared so that the monument would be more visible.
A year later, in 1962, the cannon was stolen from its moorings by juveniles.
It was found a week later and restored, but was stolen after six months.
Another cannon wasn't acquired until 1974 and a new monument was installed 300 feet east of the original one.
In 1982, the State Department of Parks and Recreation installed a second marker designating the large adobe Williams' home as a California Historical Landmark that provided a waystation for travelers after the Battle of Chino.
In 2010, during a rise of metal thefts, the cannon was turned over by the Fire Department to the San Bernardino County Museum for safekeeping, said Fire Chief Tim Shackelford.
According to local historian Paul Spitzzeri of Chino Hills, Mr. Williams became well known for his hospitality during the discovery of gold in 1848 and the huge rush of ‘49ers the following year.
"Many of these came by a southern route via the Colorado River, that followed what is now the 71 Freeway on the way to Los Angeles," he said in a column he wrote for the Champion.
"An ideal waystation for travelers was the Williams’ home," he said.
Mr. Williams kept a register, now in the collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, which Mr. Spitzzeri described as a remarkable document not only because it lists names and home states of the travelers, but because of the amazing stories, recollections, warnings, and messages it contains.
The first travelers to sign in, on Aug. 12, 1849, were from New York and one of them recorded that members of their party were killed or died of fatigue and that animals drowned, according to Mr. Spitzzeri's account.
They warned that “Americans [are] very careless” by traveling in small groups and not carrying enough weapons against Indians, who were understandably outraged to have so many invaders in their territory.
One group complained that the Yuma Indians “badly insulted [us] but our party was too small to show resentment."
There was no discussion between the City of Chino Hills and the Fire District of what was to become of the plaques.
Denise Cattern, president of the Chino Hills Historical Society said the group looks forward to staying involved with future plans for the site.