I was walking along Freedom Boulevard, in Freedom, Calif., looking for a photocopy store when I saw veterans selling fireworks for the Fourth of July. I then found out this area was formerly called Whiskey Hill, with the current name more about leaving behind its Wild West days than patriotism.
Independence Day this year fell on a Saturday, and the day before I got a chauffeuring job to rural Santa Cruz. Between dropping off and picking up, I ran a couple errands, but really had a few hours to kill. So instead of driving I walked.
That’s when I saw Michael Baker, commander of The American Legion Post 121, with several others at their fireworks stand. Around the holiday, many community groups in California get permission to sell so-called “safe and sane” fireworks like sparklers and fountains. They don’t explode like firecrackers or shoot up like rockets, which are illegal everywhere in the state. With the backdrop of Freedom and veterans, I wanted to get a shot. Baker, a Vietnam War veteran dressed as Uncle Sam, was more than happy to talk about their group, stand and how things have been going. Last year they got $3,200, split between two groups. This year there are concerns with the drought. They unfortunately can only do cash since their credit card machine was not up, and a lot of groups got permits to operate, cutting the profits. Freedom may only be a few thousand people large, but everywhere has a story.
A few blocks away I found the local photocopy store I saw in the phone book, but it was closed, probably because of the holiday. On the outside wall of a nearby bar and grill, a Pajaro Valley Historical Association, Monterey Viejo Chapter 1846, E Clampus Vitus plaque read “violence, hangings, drinking, and bull and bear fights were part of daily life” in what was formerly Whiskey Hill. Looking into it more, I learned it also had a reputation for brothels, and in 1877 the name was changed to Freedom in hopes of changing the image. The social issues with waves of young men during California’s early days wasn’t limited to here, but I had never heard of it being so connected to town names.
Since I was driving, I did not try the whiskey, and didn’t have a lot of time to look into the history further. But still an interesting first time in Freedom/Whiskey Hill.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to get my photo of the plaque, but this is one I found online.