Records show that Bonsall was originally known as "Mt. Fairview" and later as "Osgood," after the chief engineer who was in charge of the Southern California Railroad Survey Crew in the 1870s. A petition for a post office in 1889 recommended the names of "Reed," "Favorite," or Bonsall." Post office headquarters in Washington, DC chose the latter, the name of a retired Methodist minister, James Bonsall, who developed a fruit tree nursery in the area in 1889.
Apparently, Mr. Bonsall was taking a load of lumber south through Gopher Canyon when his wagon broke down. He found the area so appealing, he purchased some acreage from a settler, built a home and developed his nursery all with a cash capital of $3.00. His enterprise was very successful and his house still stands today.
In the late 1800s, the hamlet of Bonsall offered the services of a post office, blacksmith shop complete with tethering rock to tether the horses while shopping, a general store, hotel and local school. The fertile valley became the center of a small dairy industry.
The post office was the community center; the postman carried more than just mail. He toted cream from the Creamery in Bonsall to the train at Oceanside for shipment to San Diego.
The post office was a tiny five-by-five foot space inside the general store in the south (east) bank of the San Luis Rey River where the Bonsall Community Church now stands. In the early 1900s the store was known as George D. Stevens & Co., "dealers in dry goods and groceries, hats, caps, shoes, hardware and notions, ladies and children's furnishings." In 1918, when Bonsall's population was only 100, John Patten, who worked in Mr. Stevens' store, inherited the store upon the death of Mr. Stevens. Patten and his wife, Evelyn, ran the store until his death in 1937. Soon after, Evelyn bought a store across the river on the site of former Perry's Market, and ran it until she sold it to the Wilson Perrys' in 1945.
The old hotel stood opposite the original schoolhouse. It was run by two sisters who provided accommodations for travelers and for teachers on the occasions when roads were impassable due to heavy rains.stepping back in time to an era when children learned the three "R's" in basic education with no time for frills. In our research we uncovered a fount of Bonsall lore which should interest old and new residents alike.
Former postmaster and Bonsall resident, Joseph Koehler, came to North County from Chicago, Illinois when he was nine years old and attended school in our little old schoolhouse. He recalled when, in 1916 the flood waters of the San Luis Rey River washed out the concrete bridge that crossed the stream where West Lilac Road crosses it now, and a one-lane wooden bridge with a turnout in the center was constructed in its place, which was used until 1927. The San Luis Rey River Bridge AKA the Bonsall Bridge, was built downstream in 1924-25 and was used until it became too small to handle modern traffic.
The community surrounding the schoolhouse was one of large ranches and small farms. The valley floor had several dairies of good size, registered Herford cattle, wine grapes, truck farms, chicken, turkey and olive ranches, pig farms, an ostrich farm and several rabbitries. Some people raised thoroughbred horses. Bees were plentiful. All water was pumped from wells along the river.
Now days, as one travels from our present post office via Old River Road, it is so easy to drive past the school buildings without giving thought of their contribution to the quality of our life here. There is an excellent modern school of high academic standing (along with the new Norman L. Sullivan Middle School at 7350 West Lilac), a fleet of busses to transport the eager pupils to class, and there, sitting midst a group of eucalyptus trees is the "little old schoolhouse." What a wealth of living has passed through her doors (and still does).