Chiriaco Summit, as it is now known, is definitely established as a desert landmark. Joe Chiriaco, the founder, came west in 1927 to see Alabama play Stanford in the Rose Bowl. He never returned to live in his home state of Alabama; instead he found employment with the Los Angeles Bureau of Water and Power as a surveyor.
He made his first trek into the desert when his work brought him into a desert area known as Shaver Summit. After several years he gave up his job with the Bureau and settled down at the Shaver Summit site, which he later purchased from J.E. Cram of Mentone, California.
In the early 1900’s, there was a gravel road out of Box Canyon that passed by Shaver Summit, running east toward Blythe. With rumors of new paved road between Indio and Phoenix, Joe began constructing a building, and on August 15, 1933 Joe Chiriaco opened his gas station and general store. He had one dollar in his cigar box till, and that dollar remains at the Summit. That same day, the new two-lane blacktop U.S. 60 also opened. passing in front of Shaver Summit. With the new U.S. 60 road opening, the gas station and general store thrived. And Joe Chiriaco as well.
Early in Joe’s surveying days he met a beautiful blonde Norwegian nurse from Minnesota named Ruth Bergseid, who worked at the Coachella Valley Hospital in Indio. On June 25, 1934, the couple was married. They both admit that those first years at the Summit were strictly pioneer days; gas lights, generators for power a very limited supply of water and long 18-hour days dispensing service to the traveling public. All this was done without the modern convenience of air conditioning.
About the same time as Joe Chiriaco began the business, the Metropolitan Water District began construction of the aqueduct project that would carry water from the Colorado River to the population basins of the Los Angeles area. After the completion of the aqueduct project, the desert returned to business as usual and until the spring of 1942, when Gen. George S. Patton established the Desert Training Center, with its headquarters at Camp Young, adjacent to Shaver Summit. Shaver Summit was the only place of its kind on limits to the soldiers for many miles. As Paul Wilhelm, a former soldier in the area at the time said, “Everything about Shaver’s Summit-of-the-road dispensary drew us like bees to blossoms.”
In 1945, Joe and Ruth Chiriaco established a rugged memorial to General Patton at Chiriaco Summit. Today there is a marvelous museum which honors the great American Hero, General George S. Patton and the Desert Training Center thanks to Margit Chiriaco Rusche and the Bureau of Land Management.
In 1958, a rural branch of the U.S. Post Office was opened and the name of the area was changed from Shaver Summit to Chiriaco Summit. Today, Chiriaco Summit is a family owned corporation with several family members continuing to work in different facets of the business.
Joe and Ruth passed away within months of each other in the spring of 1996. They embodied the true spirit of the desert and are dearly missed.