The El Camino Real Bells

The “El Camino Real Bells” have long been in place since the early part of the last century to mark the original route of “El Camino Real” from San Diego to Sonoma in California.  The El Camino Real,  (Royal Highway or King’s Highway), closely follows Highway 101 in California.  The El Camino Real was the first roadway in the State, built by the Spanish during the early mission days.

The 700-mile-long El Camino Real linked California’s chain of 21 missions, which were founded by Father Junípero Serra and reputed to be spaced one day’s journey apart by horseback.  Unfortunately over the years the Camino Real gave way to modern highways, primarily Routes 101 and 82.   Around the turn of the century several civic groups, concerned that this historic road was being lost to “progress”, worked to try to preserve it by having the state declare it a historic road and marking the original route with this legendary bell.

The bells were first erected and paid for by the Camino Real Association in the early 1900s.  The Association installed the guidepost bells to mark the road and many of these bells are still standing today.

The first bells were designed and produced by a woman, Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, known as America’s First Woman Bell Maker.  Her first El Camino Real Bell was erected in front of the Plaza Church in Los Angeles in 1906.  The bells continued to be largely produced in the 1920’s.

Originally there were about 370 bells along El Camino Real, but because of theft and vandalism the number has dwindled to about 75.

In 1914 Mrs. Forbes founded the California Bell Company and not only continued producing the full size bells, but due to popular demand began producing miniatures of the El Camino Real Bell for souvenirs to the missions and bell collectors all over the world.

The dates on the “El Camino Real Bell” show “1769 & 1906”. The 1769 date refers to the founding of the first mission in San Diego, California, and the date “1906” refers to the placement of the first El Camino Real Bell in Los Angeles.

The largest know collection of “El Camino Real Bells” is located on the grounds of Paradise Point Resort located on San Diego’s Mission Bay in California.  These bells, produced by Mrs. Forbes, were from a lot of 50 bells delivered to the San Diego area in 1914.  It is estimated that over 20 of these original 1914 bells are located throughout the property of the hotel.

(Source: California Bell Company is the originator of the 1906 “El Camino Real Bell”, est. 1914 by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes)