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Celebrating Sweetwater women Richard Pena | Sat, Feb 26 2011 12:00 PM

Next month the Sweetwater Woman's Club will have a gala of sorts, a celebration to mark the club's 100th birthday.

Because of what the club means, not only to its members but to almost everyone in the valley, we thought we would do two consecutive columns. The first of these is a short history of the club with some meaningful anecdotes of happenings. In 100 years the latter are quite a few.

Some years ago two ladies of the club, Loraine Howell and Zelma Klicka wrote a short treatise, a history of the organization from its very beginning.

The Sweetwater Valley in the early 1900s, they tell us, was an area of large and small ranches with the majestic Mount Miguel standing guard in the east.

Fruit and nut orchards dotted the hillsides with the lowland river area - a haven for the truck gardens. Because of the size of the ranches, five acres or more, homes were far apart. Hence, families seldom saw each other.

In early 1911, therefore, a few women in the valley decided that it would be a good idea to form a club.

The records show that there were 16 ladies present at that first meeting. It was held at the home of Mrs. Charles Higgins, whose ranch was just west of the present Lomacitas Lane. Mrs. George Norton acted as chairman and from this beginning the club elected its first president, Mrs. W.F. Bellinger, with Mrs. M.I. Strong as the secretary/treasurer. They chose lavender and white as the club's colors and imposed a membership fee of 25 cents per year, a modest sum indeed.

In the first few years the club meetings were held in member's home with the thoughts and visions that someday the club would have a home of its own. The idea, of course, was that the clubhouse would be for the benefit of all in the valley. In addition to being the base for the Woman's Club meetings, they visualized it being used for weddings, receptions, birthday parties and the like.

The ladies were involved in various charities but they always set aside some funds that would be used in building the club.

The big money-maker was in selling shares in the clubhouse. This proved rather lucrative because in a few years they had amassed $1,000 which, in those days, was enough to erect quite a building. The land was obtained - a lot on Bonita Road just west of Central Avenue - and before too long the ladies had a home.

Furniture was donated, with the chief piece being a baby grand piano, something that, no doubt, lent class to the establishment.

The ladies and the clubhouse were also responsible for the original library in the community. The county furnished the books and the other equipment that goes with a lending library. Some club members were instructed and for many years the clubhouse was the center of the valley's reading material.

But just when the club and its clubhouse were becoming a driving force in the community, destruction struck.

This was in 1916 and it featured the storm that caused havoc not only in the Sweetwater Valley but in the entire San Diego area. This was the rain storm that was attributed to Charlie Hatfield, the rainmaker.

The sides of the Sweetwater Dam gave way and torrents swept through the valley taking everything in their path to the Pacific Ocean. This included the almost brand new clubhouse and all its furnishings, including the baby grand piano.

Soon after the flood the Woman's Club met in the home of Mrs. R.C. Allen. At this meeting the first order of business was the clubhouse. A resolution was made where the ladies averred "never say die." Their goal, of course, was to build another clubhouse.

In next week's column we will have a continuation of this narrative along with some remarks by Carolyn Ketterer, the club president.

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