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The bells placed along the historic El Camino Real mark an important route in California History, about which every California 4th grader becomes an expert!

he 700-mile-long El Camino Real linked California’s 21 missions, which were founded by Father Junipero Serra and spaced approximately one day’s journey apart by horse. Over the years, El Camino Real gave way to modern highways.

Efforts to mark the old highway were first initiated in 1892, and in 1906 The California Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Native Daughters of the Golden West oversaw the first installation. The markers are said to be modeled after the bells of the Old Plaza Church in Los Angeles. The cast iron bells hung from eleven-foot bent guideposts that made them easily visible to passing travelers. The first bell was installed in front of the Old Plaza Church in downtown Los Angeles.

The original bell installers made no provision for maintenance of the bells. By 1926, the bells had fallen into disrepair and some had been stolen. From 1926 to 1931, the California State Automobile Association and the Automobile Club of Southern California assumed responsibility for maintenance and replacement of bells on state-owned property. In fact, the bells served as vital markers for California motorists during that period.

In 1960, Justin Kramer of Los Angeles won the bid to manufacture replacement bells. His design became the standard for decades to come. In 1974, the California Legislature appointed the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to be responsible for repairing or replacing bells. Caltrans replacement bells are now cast in concrete, rather than iron.

In 2000, CalTrans received a federal grant to restore the El Camino Real Mission bell marker system on the state highways from San Francisco through Orange County. The new bells are a copy of the 1906 bells, unlike the bells installed by civic groups and CalTrans from 1960 to 1998. The bells are placed on both sides of the highway at approximately 1-2 mile intervals. In locations where Caltrans could not find a safe place to install the bells they were not erected – creating a longer gap between bells. More than 555 bells mark the historic route.

A few I have come across:

Heritage Park:  (N 33.23519 W 117.32127)

Mission San Luis Rey (N 33.22841 W 117.31812)

Mission Ave ( Hwy 76 ) & Melrose Drive (N 33.25136 W 117.26537)