San Diego Union Tribune 'Sage of Palomar' was a hands-on builder
The Way We Were
By Vincent Nicholas Rossi
October 1, 2006
In reporting the accidental death of Ralph Tillinghast in March 1948, Escondido's Daily Times-Advocate said he was "widely known as the 'Sage of Palomar.' "
People remember Tillinghast today as the builder of the Palomar Mountain Lodge and a host of cabins on the mountain from the 1920s through the 1940s. He also played a significant role in the community, helping to found and lead the Palomar Mutual Water Co., running a gas station and general store and lending a hand to people in need.
Tillinghast was born in Kansas in 1888. At age 18 or 19, he moved to California, settling in La Jolla where his sister lived, said his grandson, Doug Tillinghast.
The 1920 U.S. Census showed Ralph Tillinghast living in La Jolla with his wife, Alice, and his son, Roy, who was born in 1919. Tillinghast listed his occupation as a building contractor.
By the time of the 1930 census, Tillinghast and his family were living on Palomar Mountain. He built a log cabin in an area then called Happy Holler - near what is now Crestline Road - where he set up a small sawmill to build cabins using the wood from cedar and fir trees, his grandson said.
Tillinghast also built rock chimneys and fireplaces, many of them still in use on Palomar Mountain.
"Ralph was very good with his hands," said his daughter-in-law Doris Tillinghast.
Palomar was a small, tight-knit community. "I could count the number of cabins on both hands and still have a couple of fingers left over," said Pat Jones, who spent summers on the mountain with his grandparents in the 1920s and 1930s.
At first, the small community had to bring water up from the valleys. In her 1958 book, "Palomar Mountain: Past and Present," Marion Beckler wrote that in the early 1920s the Pedley family "gave land for a well and Ralph Tillinghast, resident of the area, contracted to dig the well." Out of this project grew the Palomar Mutual Water Co., for which Tillinghast served as manager until his death.
Soon after securing a water supply, community members raised funds to build a clubhouse. Tillinghast provided materials, labor and supervision for construction of the clubhouse, which Beckler's book described as an evening gathering place for the community. Residents "walked from their cabins with lanterns which they placed about for light. They visited about the big fireplace, or they danced, and they sat out on the porch with its view of all the vast country and cities below."
Starting in the 1940s, the clubhouse came under a succession of private owners who expanded the building to develop it as a resort, first as the Edgewood Tavern, then the Skyline Lodge, and finally the Palomar Mountain Lodge.
Eventually, Tillinghast moved down the mountain a bit and built a gas station and general store, along with living quarters for his family. For many years it would be the only gas station on the mountain.
In 1948 Ralph Tillinghast drowned in a boating accident while on a fishing trip near Boulder Dam in Nevada.
Remarking on the nickname "Sage of Palomar," daughter-in-law Doris Tillinghast repeated words from Ralph's obituary in the Oceanside Blade-Tribune: "Anybody that ever came up to Palomar and met him became his friend."