Flat Rock

By Judy Schulman; excerpted from Torreyana, September 2009

Located just south of the foot of the Beach Trail is a freestanding Delmar Formation structure called Flat Rock.  It has also been referred to as Indian Bath Tub Rock. At its top, there is an approximately 5’ by 6’ foot hole that at one time went down about 4’ There are several stories as to how the “excavation” came to be. These include that it was actually an Indian bathtub, a hollow to provide fish for the missionaries, a human sacrificial altar, and a place a hermit used for preserving his daily catch of fish.

The truth is that it is the remains of a turn of the century coal mine. While visiting his cousin, a Del Mar deputy sheriff in the 1890s (some sources say 1870s, others 1880s), Welshman, William Bloodworth discovered, at low tide, a coal vein some distance off shore. Another version of the story says that he discovered pieces of the black fuel on the beach while on a Sunday picnic. In either case, he used Flat Rock to employ a common mining method used in Wales. He planned to sink a shaft at shoreline and then go beneath the ocean to tunnel out horizontally about 100’ to the coal deposit. He was able to get to about 15‘ down before waves and high tide made it impossible to go any further. Despite building a trough, the shaft kept getting filled with water, rock, and sand. He was never able to tunnel out into the ocean.

Bloodworth’s scheme wasn’t all that far-fetched. There are several references about coal in this area. Charles Christopher Parry was sent here in 1850 as part of the U.S. –Mexican Boundary Survey to look for coal deposits on the ocean bluffs. Accounts say that low-grade coal deposits were found near the coastal area near Torrey Pines. Some sources report that ranchers were said to collect chunks of coal that washed on shore and used these as fuel.

There are three versions as to how Flat Rock became separated. In version one, it is a sea stack which is the result of continual erosion from wind and water. In version two, workers from the old Del Mar Hotel separated it from the mainland in order to build a roadway. Hotel carriages would take guests on picnic drives beside the water to the present site of Scripps Beach. In version three, a stage company proposed operating a stage line between Del Mar and La Jolla. In any case, it was possible to use the road only during extremely low tides.

For more information on Flat Rock stories, see Hank Nicol’s book Notes from the Naturalist.

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