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Officials Ring In Replica Bell at Park

September 19, 2000|NANCY FORREST

Community leaders and local residents were on hand Monday to celebrate the dedication of a ceremonial bell installed at Plaza Park to mark the portion of the old El Camino Real that stretches from Rancho Camulos near Lake Piru to Oxnard.

It is the 14th so-called replica bell installed at key sites along the route of the old "King's Highway" in Ventura County. Another bell will be dedicated this weekend in Ventura's Pierpont area.

Both installations were made possible by the efforts of affiliate groups of the California Federation of Women's Clubs and the cities' parks departments.

"I got so excited about this because this started a century ago," said Mary Schwabauer, president of the Moorpark Women's Fortnightly Club. "This is the history of El Camino Real. The first bell was established in Baja in the 1650s. There were 430 bells from San Diego to Sonoma, and only 123 bells remain."

The women's clubs and the Daughters of the Golden West set out to replace the bells along El Camino Real in the early part of the 20th century, just as motorcars and roads were introduced, Schwabauer said. The women's clubs have replaced 209 bells and will soon put one up at the Golden Gate Bridge, she said.

The King's Highway was established by King Ferdinand of Spain in the 19th century, stretching from San Diego to San Francisco, along Old Conejo Road, now Highway 101, in Ventura County. The bells became a symbol of the King's Highway or El Camino Real.

Catherine Mervyn, a retired teacher and historian, researched historical records for nearly a year to verify that Plaza Park qualified for a bell placement. Mervyn said her goal is to install nine similar bells to coincide with the nine missions--including the San Buenaventura Mission--established by Father Junipero Serra.

"Finding sites that are appropriate is the real challenge," Mervyn said. "This was an important place to put it. Plaza Park is part of the actual old town, and that is very crucial."

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