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From Spiritualist Roots, Leucadia Has Grown Pleasant State of Mind : 'Special beach atmosphere' keeps residents at home in this part of city of Encinitas.

May 10, 1990|DAVID SHAUGHNESSY

If Nathan Eaton had had his way in the late 1800s, the folks now living on the picturesque bluffs and sandy beaches of the northern end of the city of Encinitas would be residing in Eatonville, Calif.

Eaton, a Civil War veteran, beekeeper and the Johnny Appleseed of Southern California salt-bush, cut a colorful swath across the history of the area. Eaton, a New York native and former Chicagoan, became the first non-Indian to settle in Encinitas when, in 1875, he staked out a homestead claim of 80 acres along the south side of San Marcos Slough, now known as Batiquitos Lagoon. The area was known at the time as Green Valley Canyon, but Eaton, ever the individualist, preferred a different designation--Eatonville.

By the early 1800s, Eaton, a bachelor, was no longer alone in the area. Along with a few other intrepid settlers, a group of English spiritualists arrived, bringing with them a love of religious freedom and a penchant for Greek history and mythology. They renamed the town Leucadia--Greek for "place of shelter, isle of paradise"--after a tiny island off the coast of Greece.

As the town grew, the English settlers, who called themselves the Leucadia Land & Town Co., named all the streets after Greek gods and goddesses.

Today, more than a century later, Leucadia, now home to about 10,000 people, still offers its own version of paradise by the sea, a quiet beach town of young couples or affluent retirees.

Living on tucked-away streets with names like Jupiter, Neptune and Olympus, in houses that seem to be carved from the thick, green avocado groves, the residents of Leucadia are a diverse, proud group. Since 1986, when the communities of Encinitas, Cardiff, Leucadia and Olivenhain were incorporated into the City of Encinitas, the people of Leucadia have been adjusting to their new lives as residents of a good-sized city while trying to maintain their local identity and flavor.

"We're part of Encinitas in total," said Lloyd O'Connell, Leucadia resident and president of the Encinitas Historical Society, which before the incorporation was known as the Leucadia-Encinitas Historical Society. "But, regionally, we're Leucadia people. The ZIP code, 92024, is the same for Encinitas and Leucadia, but we can and do use Leucadia as our mailing address."

Whether to Leucadia or Encinitas, it's the natural beauty of the white sand beaches and the sheer, breathtaking cliffs that seems to attract people.

"We love the coast," said Geraldine O'Connell, Lloyd's wife. "We were here from 1956 through 1958, then moved here to stay in 1960. Highway 101 was the only road up to Los Angeles, and the area was just so beautiful, with the beaches and the eucalyptus trees."

Bob Lucas, who lives on Hermes Avenue, was also drawn by the natural beauty and climate. A television communications teacher at Palomar College, he came to the Encinitas area 10 years ago but has spent the past four in Leucadia.

"Leucadia in particular has a special beach atmosphere, and it's still affordable," he said. "It has a certain laid-back atmosphere, a kind of hippie quality that I find attractive. And, of course, I like being near the beach."

Being near the beach is a prime consideration for the folks of Leucadia, as is the funky atmosphere, which is so casual that many of the residents aren't quite sure where Leucadia ends and the rest of Encinitas begins. Some people thought that Leucadia Boulevard, a main street that runs east-west through Leucadia, was the dividing line. Others opted for Encinitas Boulevard, which runs parallel to Leucadia Boulevard but about a mile and a half south. According to the City Planning Department, the line is actually at Union Street, about halfway between the two.

Controversy over the dividing line between Leucadia and Encinitas dates to the days of Nathan Eaton, when two other Civil War veterans, Thomas Rattan and John S. Pitcher, hired a surveyor named D. N. Sanford of San Diego to help them lay out the streets. James Benjamin Elliot, a section foreman for the railroad, arrived in the area shortly after Eaton. Using the Chinese workers from his work crew, he cleared out the native sagebrush and planted many of the eucalyptus trees that give the area some of its appeal.

Ben Elliot, as he was known, was a kind of one-man Chamber of Commerce and booster club for the city. He even placed ads in the Eastern papers to attract residents and, when the Hammond family--all 11 of them--arrived from St. Louis, the population of Encinitas-Leucadia instantly doubled.

Of course, the Hammonds were more than a little surprised when they stepped onto the platform that served as a station that day in February, 1883. Instead of the orange groves, wild grapes and the river that Elliot had advertised, they found a flat, dry land with nothing but sagebrush growing on it.

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