Independence, Inyo County, California

The Manzanar I Remember

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By Dorothy Lydston Gates

Due to my Mother's recurrent bouts with bronchial pneumonia each winter, my Father. Walter "Stub" Lydston, was advised by our family doctor to move us to a higher, dryer climate. Dad knew of the Owens Valley, as friends of his had settled in Manzanar earlier, so after a quick trip north, he returned to our home in Whittier with news that we were to move there too.

He rented a truck and driver and went ahead with our possessions. Later he told us of the poorly marked dirt roads causing them to go by way of Johannesburg. While he was getting settled, my mother, Nellie Lydston, with my sisters Tillie and Nellie and I stayed with relatives in Hollywood, then we left by train for the Owens Valley.

What a thrill that train trip was for us! We slept on the broad guage, then changed to the narrow guage at Owenyo, where we had breakfast. Dad was at the Manzanar station to meet us. Mr. Hawthorn, the driver of the mail truck, carried passengers when there were any. We crossed the Owens River, and the Los Angeles Aquaduct, which at that point was a wide dirt canal, there were ranches along the way and then we arrived at the little town of Manzanar, with its general store, its Post Office and town hall, and little two-roomed school house. When we reached the place where we were to live for a year, we found that Dad had the furniture all arranged and a large bowl of shiny red apples, picked from our trees, on the table. This was in October l9l9.

Very shortly we were absorbed in school. It was quite a change from the one in East Whittier where we had been going. Here there were only two rooms, two outside conveniences, plus a shed for horses. All gatherings, such as programs, dances, and chicken pie suppers were held in the town hall. On Sunday mornings the minister from Independence would hold services there, then go on to Lone Pine.

It was on July 4th 1920 that we saw our County Seat for the first time. We went by wagon for the all day festivities. It was a real old-time Fourth, with foot races for the young and old, plenty of fire crackers and best of all that lucious old time cream soda.

In Manzanar, summer picnics were held in the grove south of town. A feast would be spread on long tables, with two five gallon freezers of ice cream to top it. Huge swings were hung for the younger set and baseball for the older ones. Camping in George's Creek Canyon and on Shepherd's Creek was great fun. Summers seemed cooler and winters more severe.

The town's water supply came from Shepherds Creek, in an open wooden flume, across the desert where it was piped into the town. Many times during the winters this would freeze, which meant carrying water from an artesian well close to the old Shepherds ranch, the soil in this area was wonderfully fertile and grew marvelous apples, pears, potatoes and all kinds of garden produce.

This is the Manzanar I remember, and for me, but for brief visits. it came to an end in 1927 when I married Harold "Skinny" Gates, and moved elsewhere.

{*Copied without permission from Saga of Inyo County 1977 by Chapter 183, Southern Inyo American Association of Retired Persons.}

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