Arroyo Seco and Devil’s Gate: Early Picnics in West Pasadena

Before the Gilbert Darling family moved from Iowa to Pasadena in December, 1891, the daughters were told that Pasadena was a place “where one can plan a picnic in the summer and be sure it will not rain.”

picnic in the Arroyo Seco in the 1880s
A picnic in the Arroyo Seco, sometime in the 1880s. (Main Photo Collection, E1-16)

Picnics were a very popular form of entertainment in early Pasadena, but they were not limited to summer. There was an Iowa and Illinois picnic on January 1, 1889, a Lake Vineyard Water Company picnic on February 23, 1895, and a Pasadena Band of Hope picnic on March 18, 1890.

Pasadena Museum of History has photographs of some of these early picnics at Devil’s Gate and the Arroyo Seco, two of the favorite spots in West Pasadena. The formal dress may seem surprising to us, but that was proper picnic etiquette for the nineteenth century.

Etiquette books of the time were full of specific instructions for picnics, and there was detailed advice on which foods should be brought. There was a definite way to conduct a picnic in a dignified manner. But picnics were also a change of pace, and great fun.

family at a picnic in 1888
Although it might not look like it, they are having a great time. One of the R.W. Gardner photographs of the Rigg family picnic at Devil’s Gate on March 31, 1888. (Main Photo Collection, D1a-59)

The Rigg family had a wonderful time on March 31, 1888 at Devil’s Gate, and that experience was preserved by photographs and an account in the Pasadena Daily Star:

“A jolly crowd of picnickers passed through our streets on Saturday morning on their way to Devil’s Gate. The party consisted of T.J. Rigg and family...They report a very pleasant time exploring the hidden mysteries of mountain and stream. The party are indebted to Mr. R.W. Gardner for several group pictures taken at the Gate in various positions with his private camera, which will serve as a pleasant reminder of this delightful excursion to the picturesque Arroyo.”

- Pasadena Daily Star, April 2, 1888.

- Kirk Myers

This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of West Pasadena Residents' Association's The News.