From Humble Beginnings: Discovering the Senlis Cottage in Heritage County Park

Within Heritage County Park in Old Town San Diego the Senlis Cottage stands as a testament to the modest dwellings that working-class individuals occupied during the late 19th century. Built in 1896 for Eugene Senlis, an employee of renowned horticulturist Kate Sessions, this cottage offers visitors a glimpse into the past, showcasing a simpler way of life without modern amenities such as gas, electricity, water, or sewer. Today, the cottage has been moved and restored, serving as a museum and providing park visitors with public restrooms.

The Senlis Cottage, constructed in the 1880s, represents a typical working-class residence of that era. It embodies the 19th Century Vernacular architectural style, characterized by its simple and practical design. During this time, San Diego was undergoing significant growth and development, attracting individuals from various walks of life, including laborers, craftsmen, and agricultural workers.

Eugene Senlis, the original occupant of the cottage, was an employee of Kate Sessions, a pioneering horticulturist who played a vital role in shaping San Diego’s landscape. Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” was instrumental in introducing numerous exotic plant species to the region and promoting the importance of green spaces. Senlis’ residence adjacent to Sessions’ nursery highlights the close relationship between employer and employee during this period.

In 1978, the Senlis Cottage, then located at 1536 Second Avenue, faced the threat of demolition due to urban development. Fortunately, thanks to the dedication of organizations such as the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) and Mary Ward, the cottage was relocated to Heritage County Park on March 1, 1978. A fundraising campaign raised $6,250, allowing for the safe transportation and restoration of the cottage. It was a significant victory for historic preservation and a celebration of San Diego’s rich heritage.

The rehabilitation of the Senlis Cottage in 1979 ensured its long-term preservation and adaptability for public use. Although the cottage lacks the amenities we take for granted today, it now serves as a valuable resource for park visitors. Adjacent to the parking circle, public restrooms were added on the north side of the building to cater to the needs of park-goers. On the west side of the cottage, a museum showcases exhibits and artifacts that provide insight into the life of a working-class family in 19th-century San Diego.

The Senlis Cottage is easily accessible to visitors interested in immersing themselves in the city’s history. Heritage County Park itself is a peaceful and picturesque setting, featuring several other restored historic buildings. The park offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city, providing a serene environment for learning about San Diego’s past.

The Senlis Cottage in Heritage County Park stands as a remarkable reminder of the working-class dwellings that once populated Old Town San Diego during the late 19th century. Its relocation and restoration through community efforts serve as a testament to the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. By visiting the Senlis Cottage and exploring Heritage County Park, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and lifestyles of working-class individuals who contributed to the growth and development of San Diego.

Hours – Daily, sunrise to sunset

Phone – (619) 291-9784

Address – 2450 Heritage Park Row, San Diego, CA 92110