February 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts



Follows Camp

by Cecile Page Vargo

         Brothers, Ralph and Jack Follows arrived in Azusa in 1891 from England, hoping the therapeutic powers of the San Gabriel Canyon would cure Ralph's tuberculosis. They rented a cabin on the old Ferguson property in the lower East Fork. As Ralph's health improved, he turned the little cabin into a short-order restaurant for canyon travelers and miners.  In 1896, the Henry Roberts property upstream from the Ferguson place was in his name, and he  began work on what was to become the largest most famous camp in the San Gabriel Canyon. 

           Ralph married Jennie Heaton, the daughter of one of the miners, the following year.  Together they turned Follows Camp into a place noted for "Good home cooking, a genial friendliness and welcome, good fishing and glorious scenery were the attractions."  An early brochure touted that camp life was "spent in real comfort.  The tents are all good size, well floored, cozily furnished and are kept spotlessly clean.  Where guests may prefer, homelike rooms may be reserved. The camp is provided with bath tubs, shower baths and plunge bath - and every modern arrangement has been incorporated to insure perfect sanitation and health throughout the camp. Pure mountain water is pumped by a private water plant which Mr. Follows has installed at enormous expense.  Mountain fruits and vegetables, rich milk and fresh eggs are produced on the premises. The table is always supplied with fresh meats and seasonable delicacies, and ice is brought up daily on the stage."

          In spite of his own battle with tuberculosis, Follows was unsympathetic to others suffering from the disease. Brochures for Camp Follows sternly announced "NO CONSUMPTIVES ADMIITED. This rule is absolute and no deviation from it will be made!"

          The four-horse Follows Stage was famous for hauling guests up the grueling twelve mile canyon road. Upon arrival in camp there was accommodations for over 200 guests...Thousands of people came from all over the west to stay in the camp over the years.  If  one  was lucky during their stay, early-day film stars such as Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle would be filming silent movies. Guests sometimes found themselves being used as extras in the old Westerns, as did Follows himself,  his stage and 4 horses, and the  hired hands.

          Follows Camp was as troubled by canyon road maintenance as any of the canyon resorts and camps. In later years, Mrs. Jennie Follows related that her husband's life story "was one of trying to keep that road open so he could pack people and things through, and out again. It meant appearing before the county board of supervisors and asking the Azusa merchants for help. Now it is possible to go in half an hour the distance it took a four-horse stage 3 1/2 hours to travel. It was necessary then, though to ford the stream some forty times, and even in the best weather that was not an easy trip. In times of high water it was impossible." Nearly every winter the road would wash out. When it was impassable, the only route from Azusa was the old Woods trail over the mountain, which meant traveling all day on narrow and steep passage via shank's mare. 

          The first automobile arrived at Follows Camp in 1904. The trip was quite a harrowing experience. In 1925 the road was rebuilt and paved, and cars were a common site in the resort. Ironically, as Sedley Peck lamented, "The coming of the automobile made the trip to Follows Camp too easy, the romance was gone and soon the camp languished and died."  In an even crueler twist of fate, Ralph Follows himself was killed in an automobile accident near Redlands. Jennie ran the resort for a few years, but it was more trouble than it was worth. No one wanted to stay overnight when they could drive back and forth themselves in a short period of time.

Follows Camp in Present Day History

           While so many of the great resorts and camps were ruined by the great floods of 1938, it was the depression that killed the  reign of Follows Camp as a renowned  tourists camp. In 1975 and 1976 the old Ferlguson property where the Ralph Follow's original dream began with a short order restaurant, was combined with Follows Camp.  The Ferguson property had been a religious retreat known as Beaulah Land after World War II and became Shady Oaks in the 1950's, with a store and picnic area. Together, the combined properties are the Follows Camp of today, land it is known as a place where one can relax and "start the day by looking for the mother lode and ending the day at The Fort with delicious dinners and a game of pool...great trout fishing during the season the river is stocked every two weeks and …great places to swim."

          The forces of nature still wreak havoc on Follows Camp. January 2005 record rainfalls wiped out three bridges, stranding 135 residents. The storm also washed away the grassy riverbank as the San Gabriel River rose 20 feet above normal. The resident's home wine cellar was washed away, spilling dozens of bottles of wine into the raging waters. For two and a half weeks people were cut off from the outside world, relying on Sheriff Department airlifts, and neighbors who loaded a crude steel supply filled compartment with supplies then dragged it by pulley over the river.  Eight residents, hardy as any original camp pioneer, finally  took matters into their own hands to build a dirt ramp over the main bridge using bulldozers and dump trucks. For now the artists, retirees and others who live in the private camp community for the solitude it provides, have an umbilical cord to supplies and surrounding communities. 

          The days of mining camps and flamboyant resorts are gone, but many people still choose to enjoy these areas today in one venue or the other.  Time will only tell when another deluge will cause the great flood waters to rise and fall once again.



The San Gabriels:

The Mountain Country from Soledad Canyon to Lytle Creek

by John W. Robinson

Big Santa Anita Historical Society


The San Gabriels:

Southern California Mountain Country

by John W. Robinson

Golden West Books\San Marino CA

 Internet Sources:

History of Follows Camp


Los Angeles Times

Stranded, but Not Helpless

by David Peterson, staff writer

January 29, 2005



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