The farm came about somewhat by accident; the Loziers moved onto the property as newlyweds in the mid-'80s to be closer to Marshall's parents and had originally intended to purchase a house of their own. As they settled into their cottage--where, incidentally, they still live to this day--Sheryl began to garden. With Marshall's background both in the restaurant business and custom-home construction, the progression to culinary herb farming and landscaping was an almost natural one. He built the Rockwellian red barn and the farm's centerpiece, a roofed patio that now boasts a full coffee bar. With the basics in place, the farm opened its gates in 1992.
Dixie Sampier, a watercolor painter, found the farm ten years ago in a brochure put out by the San Diego Watercolor Society and has since become the "artist-in-residence," though she lives offsite in Santee. Her husband, Jack Sampier, is a pastor in Hillcrest, and on occasion she has taken children--mostly girls--from his parish to Summers Past so they can get away from the city for a while. "I just distract them from whatever's going on in their lives," she says. "There are dysfunctions in their family, you know, irregularities in their life. The farm is just a nice place to spend time." For Sheryl, the recent historical recognition of Olde Highway 80 is welcome. "My husband was born and raised here," she says, "and when he was a child, this was the highway right here. The one up above [Interstate 8] wasn't there; it was just a hillside. And so for it to be historic, it just lets San Diego hold on to its history and lets people remember that this is the way it was."
Patricia Husson, who grew up in and around Flinn Springs and has waitressed at Mary Etta's Cafe for the past 13 years, remembers when Flinn Springs "really used to be the middle of nowhere." Husson, who was a toddler in the 1950s, describes a childhood and adolescence full of freedom, much as Julia Flinn De Frate does in This Was Yesterday, though they grew up 80 years apart. "When I was a kid, we used to shoot guns all over, right here, just anywhere, shoot guns, and there was nobody around, nobody to even tell you not to do it," Husson says, laughing as she sits in the sun on a bench outside Mary Etta's. What is perhaps most poignant in her memories is the vastness of land, the accessibility and, above all else, the emptiness.
Slowly but surely, however, times have changed for Flinn Springs, in ways both big and small. There is the pending sale of the country store, which closed on April 1. Set back from the road by a stretch of driveway, the two-story yellow building is attached to five single-story shops whose facades are painted to look like an old western town--and with the mountains across the highway, the scene is entirely believable. A derailed caboose and an old-fashioned schoolhouse (originally William Flinn's repair garage, built in 1923) sit adjacent, an old water tower inscribed with "Flinn Springs, Since 1873" rising above. Owned by Paul and Reta Kress, who are both in their 80s, the country store is a picture-postcard kind of place with its "Cold Sarsaparilly" sign still on the wall beside the door and long wooden porch with tall, skinny cacti beside it.
In addition to owning the country store, the Kresses have been instrumental in keeping Flinn Springs' history alive. Shortly after they moved into the area, as Paul Kress tells the story, a neighbor, knowing he was interested in history, approached him with the three pamphlets that made up Julia Flinn De Frate's memoir. "She said, 'If you will do something about getting these three little volumes made into one, I'll give you the book,'" he remembers. "So I did." Since then, the Kresses have printed up three substantial batches, complete with black-and-white photographs. There is even a listing on Amazon, though no copies are currently in stock. At the moment, Summers Past Farms and the Lakeside Historical Society are the only places it is available.
For 15-year resident Carmella George, the loss of the country store is significant. "This here is a dying breed," she says, standing on the store's wooden porch. A former employee at the country store, George has remained close with the Kresses, addressing Paul affectionately as "Pops." She strolls down the elongated porch, remembering. "Somebody really needs to get the historical society to come out here and make this a landmark so it can preserve the history of these buildings and what the Flinn family and the Kress family have given to Flinn Springs," she says vehemently, "and keep the spirit and the feeling of the backcountry alive. We moved out here to get away from the city, and here the city is, knocking on our door."
George is right; Flinn Springs may not escape urban sprawl. Those who have sought a refuge from city life have found their answer in the simplicity and beauty of the area; newer, posher homes have appeared atop the hills along Highway 80, some tucked back into the mountainside. Along with the new population has come an increase in businesses. Just past the Lake Jennings exit off Interstate 8, which is the western entrance to Flinn Springs, is a strip mall with a 7-Eleven, a liquor store, and a Burger King, startling in contrast to the greenery and open spaces of the rest of the community. Reta Kress predicts more of the same. "I see a change coming, because now they have designated historical Highway 80," she says. "The growth is going to come out here, because it's like Route 66. I think it will be nice little businesses and probably a lot of fast foods."
The change appears to be not far in the future. Where there once were homes, there are now small business parks and industrial buildings. The look of the area is shifting. Dixie Sampier remembers a sweet scene she witnessed one morning ten years ago. "I photographed a little cottage home up there on the hill on that corner," she says, smiling, "and there came the old man out getting the newspaper, and, lo and behold, there came the kitty cat out from nowhere, there comes the rooster, and they kissed each other." Eventually, Sampier made a painting, but when she returned to the site, she found it in ruins. "Whoever lived there sold it to a developer," she says, "and I was never able to come and say, 'Hey, here's a painting of your home. I'm sorry it took me ten years to get around to it.'"