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Dear Matthew Alice:

San Diego County has lots of odd names, but one of my favorites is Dictionary Hill in Spring Valley. Why is it called Dictionary Hill? Why can't I find it on any maps?

E.E., Spring Valley

The truth is, Dictionary Hill isn't its real name. It's just a nickname acquired about seventy years ago, before there was much of anything out in that area north of Sweetwater Lake. It seems that an enterprising encyclopedia publisher came to San Diego from the Midwest to peddle his wares. Apparently, encyclopedias were something San Diegans could live well enough without, and business was pretty bad. But the publisher came up with what could be the most ingenious marketing idea anyone's devised. He bought the area now known as Dictionary Hill from the federal government for twenty-five dollars, subdivided the property, and gave away lots with each encyclopedia purchased.

The story goes that a dictionary was also thrown into the bargain, and the hill was' named after it. instead of being called Encyclopedia Hill.

One of the oddest things about the Dictionary Hill area, also known as La Presa, is the way the streets were laid out on the original subdivision maps. Usually, roads on a mountain or hill will be drawn around the knobby terrain, and street maps will have those characteristic curves. Dictionary Hill's are laid out in a grid that makes the area look as flat as the San Joaquin Valley. Engineers in Los Angeles did the subdivision maps for the publisher, and no one bothered to tell them what the land looked like. So they used the easy approach and laid out the streets in a grid. The Dictionary Hill area in Spring Valley is bounded on the south by Jamacha Road, on the north by Eucalyptus Street, on the west by Grand Avenue, and on the east by Sangamon Avenue, according to the original descriptions of the development.

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