During the 1870's, Cambria became the second largest town in our county and was bustling with opportunity. Every July 4th, the town was a buzz with anticipation of a parade and picnic in the pine forest. The local establishments, which included two livery stables, five saloons and threedry goods stores were festooned with red, white, and blue bunting.
Farmers from as far away as Adeliada hitched their old mares to the family wagons or their matched pairs to fine carriages, put on their best clothes, carried out the plain or fancy food their wives had prepared, loaded up the kids and set off for a day of festivitiesin town.
Wagons, carriages and men on horseback would line up from what is now the corner of Bridge and Main Streets out east toward Santa Rosa Creek Road and wait. The Cambria Band led a parade of wagons/floats grandly decorated with garlands of flowers and pretty young girls aboard who wore long dresses with sashes that identified them as to personify the American ideals of "Liberty", "Prosperity", and "Truth". The parade began on Lee Street (now Burton Drive) and made its way down Center Street to Bridge Street then headed north toward the Pine Forest on the way to San Simeon.
In the mid-1890's, the Fourth of July picnic moved further out of town to the Phelan Ranch which is now know as the Covell Ranch. Jeffrey and Alice Hearn Phelan were among Cambria's earliest settlers. Indeed, there was no town of Cambria when they built their first cabin in 1858. They engaged in dairy and stock raising. The Phelans graciously offered a portion of their pine forest and a large clearing for a picnic site
and baseball diamond. Baseball was just coming into its own then, and the local team, the Cambria Kelp Eaters, would take on all challengers at the picnic. After the turn of the century, a rodeo ground was constructed by the Native Sons of the Golden West, and many a cowboy tried their luck and ended up kissing the dirt.
Mrs. Phoebe Hearst and her son William Randolph were gracious benefactors of the picnic at Phelan Grove. They provided trophies for the three best parade entries, cash prizes for the rodeo winners and several head of cattle for the barbecue. Ah, the barbecue. The new master of the pit was Eugenio Bianchini. He and his crew favored open pit barbecue. They would skewer the beef on hard wood poles and place over oak coals. The poles were so heavy that it took several men to turn the meat.
Cambria's famous Phelan Grove, now known as the Covell Ranch gatherings expanded to include May Day and Swiss Independence Day celebrations. Celebrants would come from Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande, numbering as many as 2,000 visitors descending on Cambria.
In the tradition of the Picnics in the of the late 1800's, the Cambria Historical Society held its Sixth Annual Cambria Heritage Celebration on Sunday, June 27th 2004 at Phelan Grove on the Covell Ranch.