Felicita County Park and the Felicita Prehistoric Village Site are located in a Southwest Escondido valley just minutes from the scenic Lake Hodges area. While most visitors now go to the park to hike, take advantage of one of the playgrounds or gather with family for a weekend barbecue, there was a time when this valley was home to the Kumeyaay tribe.
This perfectly situated valley allowed for easy access to the coast where the original inhabitants gathered shellfish and to the nearby mountains where they held tribal festivals. After the Kumeyaay people left this valley, the land, including parts of today’s park area, was purchased by James McCoy in 1867. Known as McCoy’s Grove for several decades after, the land was later purchased by the Lewis family in 1918 and was used to grow wheat, grapes, oranges and lemons.
The County of San Diego purchased the park in 1930 for $12,000 and hired a caretaker, Earl Shidner, who made many additions to the park over the years, including picnic tables, a barbecue pit, playground equipment, a windmill and a concrete dance floor for visitors to enjoy while listening to live music.
The Felicita Prehistoric Village Site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 31, 2008 and is considered historically important based on its relevance to prehistoric village activities, ethnic heritage, exploration and settlement, and prehistoric archeology. According to the City of Escondido Felicita County Park Web page, this important site was home to one of the oldest and largest Native American villages in San Diego County.
In 1926, Dr. Benjamin Sherman wrote a romanticized story about a Native American woman named Felicita La Chappa, which was performed as a play in this park in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After the county purchased the land in 1930, Francis B. Ryan, an Escondido resident, suggested that the park be named after the play’s heroine.
The legend of Felicita claims that she fell in love with and married a soldier after she and her father helped the soldiers in an 1846 battle of the Mexican War. In reality, her real love was Boley Morales with whom she spent her life in the Escondido area. She was, in fact, a Kumeyaay woman and daughter of Pontho, a Kumeyaay chief. While she did not live in the valley that is now home to the park bearing her name, she did live in the San Pasqual Valley, which is where she resided until her death in 1916. She was then buried in the nearby San Pasqual Indian Cemetery, but there is no current marker to show the location of her grave.
It is true that her father helped the American soldiers in 1846 as they fought the Californios in the Battle of San Pasqual. And it is true that she was given the name Felicita by a local mission priest, but her Kumeyaay name was Hal-ah-wee. You can learn more about Felicita and her tribe at the San Pasqual Tribe website.
Evidence of early inhabitants still exists within the park, but it now has the appearance of a modern community space with a variety of amenities. This includes a nature trail and hiking trails that wind through 53 oak-covered acres, playgrounds, two horseshoe pits, a volleyball court, picnic tables and barbecue grills. There is also a small museum in the park, which is a must see for those interested in history.
Here is some helpful information for those planning on visiting the park:
Location: 742 Clarence Lane in Escondido
Hours of Operation: Open daily from 9:30am to sunset
Parking Fee: $3.00 per vehicle (pay at gate)
Pet Policy: Leashed dogs are allowed.
If you are interested in holding an event in Felicita Park, there are several picnic areas that can be reserved, as well as a stage area, two wedding venues and a reception tent. Whether you are looking for the perfect place to tie the knot, a new playground option for your little ones or somewhere to steal away for a picnic by a creek, Felicity County Park in Escondido is a great place to spend the day.
Photo Credits: San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department