A Brief History of Knox's El Cajon Hotel


Knox's El Cajon Hotel was a familiar landmark and a welcome stopping place for early travelers through El Cajon Valley.

It was built by Amaziah Lord Knox in the latter part of 1876. It was built in a field near the southwest corner of the present Main Street and Magnolia Avenue on his ten acre parcel of land.  Mr. Knox paid Ben Hill $1,000 in gold coin for the land. The original building was a two story seven-room structure which served as a combination residence and hotel. Attached to the east side of the building was a dining room. Another one or two rooms were attached to the rear. Still further to the east was a corral for the horses and mules. In 1881-82 the dining room wing was removed and in its place a much larger two story hotel was built which adjoined the original 1876 building on its east side.

Mr. Knox had come to the El Cajon Valley in 1869, the year that most of the valley was formally opened for settlement. In about 1868 Isaac and James B. Lankershim had purchased the greater part of the 48,799,85 acre Pedrorena "Rancho El Cajon" and Sublitt-Meredith Company had purchased a smaller portion. Both were subdividing the land for sale for large wheat or grain ranches. Mr. Knox was employed by Isaac Lankershim to manage the planting of a large acreage of the Valley to wheat and to build for him the ranch house on his Rancho Viejo.

For a number of years, beginning in 1870 after gold was discovered in Julian, there was much travel on the road between San Diego and Julian. This road or wagon trail passed through El Cajon Valley -- coming over the Grossmont Pass and up the road (now Main Street) to the present corner of Main and Magnolia. Here the road made a sharp turn north to the Santee area and then east again to Lakeside, Foster, up the old Mussey Grade (now covered by the waters of San Vicente Dam) and then on to Julian.

It was here at the corner of present Main Street and Magnolia Avenue that the teamsters with their freight wagons would camp for the night -- enroute to and from Julian. They even left some of the mules hobbled here in the field while they made the trip on to San Diego and until they returned here again enroute to Julian.  Fewer mules were needed for the trip between El Cajon and San Diego.

Mr. Knox was observing this activity with great interest. He decided that a little hotel or tavern would be a very welcome accommodation to these teamsters and travelers -- and so, in 1876 he built the little combination residence and hotel which was the first beginning of the city of El Cajon. Also, its lobby provided space for El Cajon's first post office when Amaziah L. Knox was appointed as El Cajon's first postmaster on June 6, 1878. In 1877 the population of the entire El Cajon Valley was 25 families, comprising about 90 individuals. Then in about 1881-82 Mr. Knox built his larger new hotel adjoing the original structure. During all of his years of service he conducted a livery stable in connection with the hotel business. Mr. Knox sold the hotel in 1908.

In later years (in the 1915 era) a still newer annex was constructed joining the east side of the 1882 section and the original section was moved slightly toward the rear of the lot. The sign on the new section read "El Cajon Hotel - New and Modern - W.L. Wilkerson, Prop."

In about 1944 when property was being sold for the construction of newer business buildings, the larger 1882 hotel was dismantled and the original 1876 building was acquired by Mr. S.H. Mathews and it was moved about two blocks away to the southeast corner of Lexington and Magnolia avenues. There it served as the private residence of the S.H. Mathews family until after the death of Mr. Mathews in 1971. Mr. Mathews enlarged the front window in the living room, removed the partition between the living room and the dining room, and added a bedroom and bathroom to the east side of the original structure.

The hotel bears an attractive historical landmark plaque which was placed there on May 7, 1967 by the Illa M. Knox Parlor 320 of the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

In 1972 the hotel was purchased by the City of El Cajon and was moved to city property on the southwest corner of Park and Magnolia Avenue joining Judson Park. It has been restored as an historical museum, not only to serve the public at large, but with special emphasis on being helpful to students and all those seeking information on their local community history.

One bedroom is furnished with original bedroom furniture of the Amaziah Knox family - a gift of Miss Mable Knox, daughter of Amaziah and Illa Knox. The wash bowl and pitcher are from the D.G. Durbin family, another of our early settlers who came to the area in 1898.

The portraits of Amaziah and Illa Knox hanging on the wall in the parlor are the originals which hung in the Knox 1882 hotel building. The Bible is the Knox family bible.

The beautiful, black steel wood-burning stove in the kitchen was used by the Knox's to prepare their own meals and those of guests. It had been given to a friend, who in turn donated it back to the museum.

Other exhibits are composed of artifacts saved by a number of El Cajon's early families.

by Hazel I. Sperry

Amended and updated information is in italics, 2013.

Note:  Before being named El Cajon during incorporation on November 12, 1912 - the village and town had been called The Corners, Knox's Corners and even Knoxville.