Ever hear the phrase, the Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise?
Recently, I was reminded of these words when two situations converged: our recent storms, and yours truly coming across one of newspaper columns from almost 15 years ago.
Convergence, in fact is what Joe’s column was about: the convergence of a “puny” stream with a town, and later with “progress.”
But the story of Munger Creek is also one of natural convergence; that of rainfall with terrain and a considerable tributary that, prior to housing, once merged to help create the much larger (and still-existent) Aliso Creek.
NAMED FOR A PROLIFIC FAMILY
"Old creek may be gone, but it’s not forgotten," read the headline for Joe Osterman's Local Lore column in the June 25, 1997 edition of the Saddleback Valley News.
"On a map, or in your mind’s eye, draw a diagonal line from the intersection of El Toro Road and Trabuco Road," Joe began. "Take the same line down to the railroad trestle near the El Toro Golf Course. Now you have the basic line of the route of a creek that used to drain that area but no longer exists. Today, let us consider the creek that is no longer there. Has it gone underground or, more likely the case, has it just been filled in as developers leveled out sites for homes and apartments in the new Lake Forest?"
I'm no expert on water management and diversion. But for the sake of soil stability I'm hoping that, as of today, the latter is true.
"It was known to some as El Toro Creek," Joe continues. "But more people, perhaps even officialdom, knew it as Munger Creek. It is not known whether the creek was named for Samuel Munger or for his widow, Nell. In the 1890s, Sam was the manager of the Irvine Warehouse. Feeling that , he moved his family to El Toro, then walked to work along the railroad tracks to and from Irvine."
We'll learn more about the Munger family in a future installment of El Toro & More. But for just a moment or two, I'd like us all to ponder the excellence of a father who not only commuted a distance to work for the sake of his children's education, but also commuted that distance on foot!
A MODEST MILE, BUT . . .
Whether the creek was named after Sam or his widow—for alas, Sam passed away in 1911 at the age of 54, leaving a family of ten offspring, many of them still quite young—the name definitely stuck. Why? Other homes and land parcels also were nearby, as was the schoolhouse, but perhaps the Munger family was most affected by the creek. After all, if you have a passel of young'ens to get off to school on time each day, a creek is certainly going to complicate matters. Not only as a diversion, but also—when heavy rainfall occurs and the water does rise—as a possible hazard.
Thankfully no lives ever were lost along the banks of the mostly un-mighty Munger. But as we will see it did, on occasion, affect getting from Point A to Point B.
"Munger Creek rises in the highlands (better make that past tense: rose) and ran its course in that diagonal route that we noted, headed toward its confluence with the Aliso just above the railroad. In that limited route it required two bridges and a two-foot galvanized iron culvert; above Second Street the west bank was all pasture land, farmed now and then with little success so left fallow the most of the time. Its eastern bank marked the borders of the citrus groves of the Gray and families; arable land was the norm between Munger and Aliso Creeks.
. . . NOT ALWAYS BENEVOLENT
"The creek was bridged for Second Street and 'Bennett's Hill,' the top coasting site for little red wagons . . . in the 1920s, Munger Creek did generate sufficient power to wash out that bridge, and the crossing was never rebuilt. The older students of that area, like Helen and Beverly Bennett, later recalled that their walk to school now involved going over to Front Street and on around to Olive [Street], or clambering over the ruins of the bridge and up the muddy slope . . . in dry weather, one clambered; in wet, common sense prevailed.
"The creek followed its course for the final 200 yards. It skirted the chicken yards and fruit trees in the rear of homes facing Olive Street, flowed through the culvert or over Cherry [Street] if any jamming occurred, and entered the Aliso just above the concrete ford, which was the only concession to bridging of the Aliso at Front Street."
(Although Munger Creek and the Munger home are not shown on appearing in Joe's 50 Years In Old El Toro, the Bennett home and streets just mentioned are noted.)
Joe pooh-poohs the idea that Munger Creek might have been "a stream of any consequence, although it did warrant a flood control project during the make-work depression years, the 1930s. The banks were angled back, a boon to a few bike riders who rode up and down those banked sides."
All the same, a creek that originated a mere mile above Old El Toro but gathered enough momentum before joining Aliso Creek to wipe out a bridge and sometimes cause detours—well, I'd say Munger Creek did, on occasion, have consequence.