Pasadena Avenue

Back in 1874, the settlement that would become Pasadena had the working title of “Indiana Colony” as its core founders hailed from Indianapolis. When the time came to name a post office and thus the town, those founders considered – then nixed – “New Grenada”, “Indianola”, “Muscat”, and “Kleikos”(!). Ranchero Manuel Garfias, former owner of Rancho San Pascual, where the new town lay, called his home “la llave del rancho” – “key of the ranch” – which inspired the colonists. However, they found “llave” hard to spell and pronounce, so they sought instead a catchy native term for “key of the valley”. Enter Rev. George Nelson Smith (1807-1881), a Vermont-born missionary who had been based in Michigan since the 1830s and knew the Ojibwe/Chippewa people so well that he translated the Bible into their language. He submitted Tá pe ká e gun–Pâ-sâ-de-ná for “Key of the Valley”. His other suggestions, for Crown, Peak, and Hill of the Valley, all ended in “Pâ-sâ-de-ná” as well. So the founders just went with that. Now, how did the good reverend, living way out in Northport, MI, come to name a California town? I believe colony president Dr. Thomas B. Elliott (1824-1881) wrote back home to Indianapolis journalist Eli Cromwell Tuttle (1842-1925) for help. Presumably he was friends with Tuttle and knew that Tuttle’s father-in-law, Rev. Smith, was versed in native languages. Smith’s letter with the “Pâ-sâ-de-ná” suggestions was addressed to “Son Tuttle”, so Tuttle was obviously involved. Some reports suggest that Dr. Elliott had gone to college with Smith – but with a 17 year gap between their ages, I wouldn’t count on that.