One of the beautiful campgrounds managed by the Santa Catalina Island Company is called “Hermit’s Gulch.” It is located deep in Avalon Canyon and provides a tranquil setting to the contrasting activity of the Avalon village. The campground’s name reflects a charming part of our island history.
A gentleman from Kent, England was drawn to this lovely spot as early as 1887. His name was John Brinkley and he built himself a small cabin and began to grow fruit, vegetables and raise chickens in order to make a living on the island. He became known as “Chicken Johnny,” as few knew his given name and no one knew anything about him.
Although at home with nature, Mr. Brinkley kept much to himself when it came to socializing. However, over the years the community came to respect and care for the quiet man. Mr. Brinkley, in turn, became more comfortable with the Avalon citizens, not only as customers, but as friends. Although he still held to his reclusiveness when electricity finally came to Avalon. Mr. Brinkley wanted no part of the new technology and kept to his old ways. Many still considered him a hermit who wanted nothing to do with the town.
When the newly built community church decided to hold a fundraiser to purchase a bell for the bell tower, Mr. Brinkley went to work planting hundreds of watermelons for the fund raising picnic. The picnic was a huge success and enough funds were raised for the bell. The funds raised from the watermelons were the largest contribution to the success.
After a long and mostly solitary life, Mr. Brinkley passed away in 1936 at the age of ninety-two. It was then that the Avalon community became aware that all of his business dealings had been by barter and there was no cash in his small estate. The community came together to pay for the burial and erected a large headstone that read:
Santa Catalina Hermit
From 1887 – 1936
Died Age 92
Erected By His Friends
So the next time you’re camping at this special spot or hiking the canyon, remember his gentle spirit and love for this special place.