A Brief Overview of the History of Gorman
The settlement of Gorman has the unique honor of being one of the oldest continuously used roadside rest stops in California. The native people, traveling along their ancient trail system, would have stopped there when it was the Tataviam village of “Kulshrájek”. By the early 1700’s the Spanish had been using the native trail for some time and in the 1700’s Captain Pedro Fages wrote of passing the village as he traveled the road then called “El Camino Viejo” – The Old Way. The first Americanos in Alta California also followed the Spanish in stopping to rest and feed their horses in the beautiful mountain meadows and streams that surrounded the village now known as Gorman.
Between the “Gold Rush” of the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, the founding of the Indian Reservation at the bottom of Grapevine Canyon in 1851 and the founding of Fort Tejon at the top of Grapevine Canyon in 1854, the area of the future town of Gorman quickly became a popular stop for the freighters and travelers of the day.
One of the first non-Indian families known to have settled in the area was that of Charles Johnson and his wife Soledad Girado. When Charles died, the location became known as Rancho la Viuda or “Widow’s Station”. A traveler stopping there in 1855 wrote of the widow and her four children living at the site and providing for the needs of travelers.
Another family recorded there in the mid-1800’s were the Reeds. In January of 1857 the strongest earthquake to ever hit California centered in the nearby Tejon Pass. It was recorded that a woman died at Reeds Rancho when the beams of the house fell on her. Reeds Rancho was also listed on early maps as a road stop in the future area of Gorman.
The next person known to be ranching there abouts was David Alexander, who at the time was the sheriff of Los Angeles County. Mr. Alexander, whose brother ran the post store at Fort Tejon, had a freighting company that made deliveries from the harbor at San Pedro to points north so a ranch at the top of the San Emigdio Mountains would have been an important rest stop for his teams.
By the time the Reservation and Fort closed in the mid-1860’s, James Gorman had settled in the community that now bears his name. Mr. Gorman was from Ireland and had served at Fort Tejon as a civilian teamster and herder and while in the area no doubt decided to settle in the beautiful mountain valley to the south of the Fort.
Gorman met his wife, Johanna O’Keefe, also from Ireland, when buying supplies in Los Angeles and they were to have three sons and a daughter. The Gormans built, or moved into, a large log house that sat between the road and along the mountain stream running through the area. The house had rooms for travelers upstairs and a large dining room downstairs where meals were served. In 1876, only eight years after their marriage, James Gorman died when he was run over by his wagon as he was returning from Los Angeles with a load of supplies. The next year James and Johanna’s little girl was to die as well.
The first post office was established at “Gorman’s Station” in December of 1877 with Henry Gorman, probably James’ brother, as the first postmaster. With the help of her brother-in-law and her sons, Johanna continued to run the family farm and the roadside “way station” until her death in 1889. T he
The Gorman Family home Served as a roadside Inn through the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s when the Ralphs family lived there. Gorman Family Home
With the closing of Fort Tejon the economy of the area shifted to mining and the community of Gorman became the main source of supplies, services and entertainment for the many miners of the Hungry Valley and Frazier Mountain areas. By this time the settlement consisted of a store, post office, saloon, blacksmith shop, stable, hotel and numerous homes and ranch buildings. In the 1890’s, writer Mary Austin wrote of the town;
“We took dinner at ‘Hell’, a supply station and hostelry, known sometimes as ‘Gorman’.”
The Gorman brothers sold their property to Oscar Ralphs in 1898. Mr. Ralphs and his brothers had established the Ralphs Markets in Los Angeles in the early 1890’s. Another property owner in the area by this time was James McKenzie. His oldest daughter, Mary, married Mr. Ralphs in 1901. They lived in the Gorman family home with their nine children and established a dynasty that has carried on for 100 years.
First store In Gorman – 1915
The first store in Gorman – 1915
In the early 1900’s James McKenzie was running the post office and store from where he would sell gasoline in cans for the many horseless carriages and motorized wagons beginning to pass by. When the road through Gorman was finally paved in 1914, the growing number of trucks and automobiles brought a good deal more traffic to Gorman Station. In 1923 the first gasoline station was built there by Standard Oil. It was the company’s first such station in the state to be located away from a railroad site, to where the fuel was delivered by train tanker cars and stored. The oldest Ralphs’ son, Lloyd is quoted as having said; “Thy pioneered country stations when they put this one on”.
Lloyd Ralphs, Sr. was also the one to expand and improve the roadside businesses for the family. The Greyhound Stage and Bus Line made it’s stops at the “Pickwick Restaurant” where the Ralphs provided dormitories for employees and cabins for travelers. There was no bar in the community during “Prohibition” but Lloyd once said; “We did have a few bootleggers come around once in a while”.
A famous guest of note in 1920 was Charles Lindbergh. The Lindburgh Camp was established on the northeast side of the Gorman Hills from where he tested and flew a glider. The folded-wing Albatross was pulled to the camp behind a Studebaker sedan on a specially constructed trailer. The Bakersfield newspaper reported:
“the corps of newsreel men and photographers had spent a sleepless night awaiting the famous flyer.”
Lindburgh had just completed his celebrated Trans-Atlantic flight the year before.
School had been held in various locations around Gorman for decades but in 1938 the present school building was built as a WPA project in the smallest school district in Los Angeles County. The building also served as a community meeting center and during World War II the air raid shelter. The Gorman community ball team played other area teams at the school’s ball field through the 1930’s and 40’s.
Being located on the busiest highway in California the people of Gorman knew well the need for an ambulance as so many of the injured were brought to their homes. An ambulance service was established in 1932 with the purchase of an old Packard automobile which was converted into an emergency unit and equipped with one stretcher. The ambulance could be reached through the switchboard at the motel and whoever was available would drive it.
Gorman – 1960’s
Gorman continues to be a popular roadside rest stop for the travelers of today’s Interstate Highway 5. Based on the post office being established in 1877, Gorman celebrated the 125th year anniversary of its founding in 2002.
Additional information may be found in “A View from the Ridge Route” series