In the late 1800s San Diegans were eager to connect with the rest of the world by rail. Planners for the new California Southern Railroad (CSRR) decided to take a “short cut” bypassing Los Angeles, and connected to the eastern mainline at Colton. Large Chinese crews help build the CSRR original route and two of the lost campsites, are documented in the Sorrento Valley near San Diego and near Temecula. The most difficult leg would be up the Santa Margarita River from Oceanside, through Temecula Canyon, passing today’s Fallbrook, to Temecula, eventually to Colton. An estimated 2,000 Chinese, some, veterans of the Transcontinental Railroad, worked out of the Temecula camp to blast through the tortuous rocky canyon of the Santa Margarita, mostly in today’s Camp Pendleton. The work was hard and dangerous and there were injuries but no deaths documented. Glimpses of Temecula Canyon, the rail bed and flooding sites, can be seen along De Luz Road out of Fallbrook northward. Temecula Canyon cuts through the southern extension of the Santa Margarita Mountains in the Cleveland National Forest. CSRR began operations in 1882.
The great floods of February 1884 came down the Santa Margarita River and the saga of Ah Quin of San Diego began. The torrents wiped out the roadbed from outside Temecula in the Canyon downstream, isolating Fallbrook Station in the Canyon. Details are vividly captured in Ah Quin’s diaries. Ah Quin, was one of the original 1880 labor contractors for CSRR, but because of the rains, he was forced to return to San Diego through Los Angeles. Ah Quin delivered a repair crew of around 500, consisting mostly of Chinese who worked through the summer. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act reduced the number of Chinese workers available. After the fruit picking season Ah Quin brought in 340 more, and the CSRR resumed operations in December, except for a strip between Temecula and Fallbrook. CSRR was by-passed and then abandoned by AT&SF by 1900. The remaining Chinese started their settlement of San Diego County and the romance of the CSRR is a centerpiece of local history seen in Old Temecula today.
Most of Temecula Canyon is not accessible. Glimpses of the Canyon and the River can be possible coming out of Fallbrook, on De Luz Road north to cross and then follow Temecula Canyon west, Sandia Creek Road and North Stagecoach Lane upstream toward Temecula. Old Town Temecula is along Front Street, and the whole story can be viewed at the Temecula Valley Museum, 28314 Mercedes Street off Front St. Site of old CSRR station is west of Pujol St. parallel Murrieta Creek just north of Main St. Murrieta Creek meets Temecula Creek from the direction of the Pechanga Reservation just south of town to begin the Santa Margarita River.