Adams’ Pack Station: A Brief History
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Dedicated in 2011.
Sign text: The barn and two-room bunkhouse/store that were still being utilized at Adams’ Pack Station in 2011 were built 75 years earlier by the original owner of what has become the last remaining pack station in southern California.
It was late in 1936 that J.P. Steele of Sierra Madre obtained a special use permit for a pack station, outfitter store and parking lot at the end of a new road paved to Chantry Flat in 1935. Steele owned First Water Camp in the streambed directly below Chantry in the Angeles National Forest.
For three-quarters of a century, the station’s donkeys and mules would be the lifeline for supplies to three active resorts and about 200 cabins accessible only on foot in Big Santa Anita Canyon.
A little more than a year after Steele’s permit was approved, a flood washed away 68 cabins in March 1938, sparking the Steele family to abandon the station.
Half-Century of Adams Family Ownership
A young man named Frank Adams, who sometimes helped out at Santa Anita Park race track, bought the pack station in the fall of 1938. A few months later Frank hired his brother Bill and sister Katie to run the station. The business was expanded the following spring of 1939 with the addition of two donkeys and a lead horse, and Bill soon purchased the growing business from his sibling.
Four years later Bill took a night shift at a rubber plant to help out with the World War II effort and caught his right hand in the rollers of an extruder, which flattened and stretched his hand. Bill was forced to sell the station for $500 but continued to work there part-time and later repurchased the station in the fall of 1949 for $1,500.
Bill and his wife Lila packed supplies, delivered mail, brought out garbage, sold ice cream and soda, greeted visitors and generally took care of the canyon for 35 years.
In 1984, the Adams sold the station to Bill’s nephew Dennis Lonergan and his wife, Jody, who ran the station for 15 years. Bouts with nature and the economy forced the Lonergans to sell the station and move to the city in 1999.
Taking Station into the 21st Century
Kim Kelley bought the station in 2000 and endured five years of ownership during a particularly challenging period of natural disasters and the closure of the road for nearly two years before being forced to sell.
Cabin owner Deb Burgess and her mother Sue Burgess bought the station in April 2006 and restored the Adams name to signify a return to the Adams’ business model with the help of day-to-day general manager Richard Conforti and other volunteers.
Under their stewardship the pack station launched a web site to create a social network for the 21st century and became a popular gathering place for hikers and families to enjoy the expanded merchandise and food offerings of the general store and myriad activities, including regularly-scheduled outdoor music programs, pulled pork sandwiches, animal petting, and guided hikes.
Despite a continuing series of economic and natural disaster challenges and more road closures, all of which constantly threaten ongoing operations, by 2011 the station was maintaining its original mission of providing supplies for Sturtevant Camp and the 81 cabins that remained in the canyon as Adams’ Pack Station celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Top photos: Pack trains with mattresses and lumber, shown in lower photo being led by station owner Dennis Lonergan, circa early 1990s (courtesy Jody Lonergan)
Longtime owner Bill Adams delivering load at Fern Lodge in front of sleeping cottages, circa late 1940s (courtesy Glen Owens)
Center photos: Station owners Bill & Lila Adams at station BBQ, circa 2001 (courtesy Mary Douglass)
Left to right, longtime pack station owner Bill Adams with Jim Heasley and subsequent owners, Adams nephew Dennis Lonergan and wife Jody in 2000 (courtesy Jeff Lapides)
Bottom photo: Richard Conforti and Pack Station co-owner Deb Burgess (middle) accept donations from Arcadia Historical Society’s Carol Libby to help save Adams’ Pack Station store in 2010.
Chantry Flat Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91006