Late in the 1870s, Anne and Clemens Sandrock and their two small children moved south from Bear Valley to San Diego. Their route may have taken them along the main road that ran through Mission Valley, a road traveled by people coming from the backcountry to Old Town or to Alonzo Horton’s New San Diego. Then as now there were breaks in the south wall of the valley. The slope up which Highway 163 runs today was called Poor Farm Grade; Texas Street was called Mission Grade.
Seeing the activity in the valley, Clemens decided to locate a store at the midpoint, near the intersection of Mission Grade and Mission Valley road. It would be a good place for business, Clemens thought. So he built a five-room store and house and put a sign in front that said “C.W. Sandrock’s Tienda.” As was the custom of the day, the grade was later named after them: Sandrock Grade.
The valley was a wide, open space, with thickets of willow along the river. Bluegill, sunfish, and bass could be caught in the river’s potholes. Fox, raccoon, and possum inhabited the land. During dry months, the shallow, meandering river nearly disappeared. A road crossed the San Diego River at the foot of the Sandrock Grade, and farmers would bring straw in the summer to pack down the damp sand to provide a firm crossing. Fording the river was impossible if it was flowing to any extent.
In the winter of 1873, several years before the Sandrocks arrived, the river overflowed four times. Mail had to be ferried back and forth by boat. On an early morning in late January, a wall of water came down the San Diego River. As the first flood crest hit the river mouth, Old Town was flooded and the railroad bed was washed out. A family with a small farm in the flats of Old Town was saved, but their house, garden, trees, and possessions were swept away. People watched from the high ground as trees, stumps, and drowned livestock poured out onto the flats. No land showed between the river mouth and Point Loma.
Anne and Clemens were born in Germany. It had been hard living in Germany in the mid-1800s. Men were drafted to fight in the many wars that tore the country apart, and they left to avoid conscription. There were other Germans who lived in Old Town and New San Diego: Louis Rose, the Mannassees, the Schillers, the Klaubers, and the Winters. Some were from near where Anne was born, but no one came from her birthplace.
In New San Diego, people were becoming wealthy. Doctors arrived, small hospitals were set up, attorneys had clients, builders constructed or moved buildings, hotels were developed , only to suffer from the loss of occupants during the bust periods. There were the ups and downs of economic cycles. This had become almost a pattern in San Diego. First, people would flock here, then they would go away.
The Sandrocks’ move to the valley did not bring them prosperity. The valley remained a rural place, for no one wanted property where flooding occurred. The family had grown by two, and the four children added to the burdens of an already stretched pocketbook. In 1882, Clemens was arrested and charged with battery against his wife. The charges were later dropped because of the illness of family members.
Sometime in the late 1880s Anne and Clemens separated. Anne stayed at the desolate spot at the grade, and Clemens opened a store near the ancient palms at Old Town. By the mid-1890s the younger children, Anna and Louis, were living with Clemens, while the older two, Will and Emma, lived in a house near the Mission Valley store.
From the porch of the Sandrock Tienda, Anne could look out and see customers approaching. She may have had moments of fear. She was alone, and it wasn’t always safe to be alone.
She had several neighbors. They were her customers, as were the Indians and Mexicans who lived in the valley. Often the Indians had taken Mexican names, and that was how she knew them.
There was a history of immigrants to the area mistreating Indians, using them for cheap labor and penning them up in reservations after throwing them off Mission lands. Indians tried to regain their lands, but they were often unable to and became wanderers. They lived in brush huts or small rancherias, and Anne would see them come and go through the valley in a constant search for food. She had heard of Indians killing people. A family was murdered in Otay several years before, and people who lived in isolated areas were always in danger.
Anne Sandrock was 53 years old on October 5, 1895. She was an old woman by the standards of the times. The possibility of remarriage was remote. She was not even divorced, and who would want a poor old woman with a mental condition?
Her body was found by William Terry. The following is from the transcript of the inquest held at the store that night.
In the matter of the Inquisition by Coroner’s Jury into the cause of death of Mrs. Anne Sandrock, Dec’d.
Before Theo F. Johnson, Coroner. By T.H. Risdon, Deputy. Mrs. Sandrock’s Store, Mission Valley. San Diego County, October 5th, 1895
The Coroner appoints W.W. Whitson shorthand reporter, and directs him to report in shorthand and transcribe the testimony and proceedings herein.
District Attorney A. H. Sweet is present and participates in the examination of witnesses.
The following named persons are sworn to act as jurors, namely James Duffy, W.R. Rea, Robert Butler, A.J. Simpson, Jacob Jepsen, Wm. Smith, Henry Kuehl, and R.J. Blythe (commonly known as Murray).
The jurors view the body of the deceased. Miss Emma Sandrock, having been duly sworn testifies.
BY THE CORONER:
Q: You mat state your name?
A: Emma Sandrock.
Q: Your age?
Q: Where have you been residing?