This article was published in the Ojai Valley News on June 12, 1974. It is reprinted here with their permission. It has been slightly edited for accuracy.
How Soule Park Happened – “You can have your park and golf course”
by Jerry Crary
One of the jewels in this Shangi-la called Ojai, is the Soule Park and Golf Course along the foot of Black Mountain. When it was suggested that our tree planting program, to further beautify the area, be dedicated to Zaidee Soule, we thought it an excellent idea. We also felt we should find out further facts about Miss Zaidee and the Soule family who left us such a lovely legacy to see what made them tick.
As a result we have interviewed a number of Old Timers, some native to the area. We have found in most cases that their forgetery is better than their memory, but let us pass the story along to you.
Actually it can be recorded that the Soule Park and Golf Course was born that February day in 1959 when Zaidee Soule walked into Doug Jordan’s Ojai Valley Grocery, saw Doug working in the produce department and said to him, “Doug, you can have your Park and Golf Course any time you want it.” Let’s let Doug recount the story. “I just about fainted, but after pulling myself together I asked her if she really meant it. She said, yes, that she and Nina had had an agreement that as long as the two of them lived they wouldn’t sell the ranch. She continued that Nina wanted it to go where the most people could enjoy themselves – like a golf course and park.”
“My produce stand could wait and I just took off to see Art Johnson, mgr. of the Bank of America to tell him the good news. He, in turn, dropped everything and immediately called Zaidee’s Attorney, Ferguson Fairbanks of Fillmore, who confirmed her decision. We stayed right with it and set up a meeting the following day with the Board of Supervisors. The meeting was held at the Pierpont Inn with Mr. Fairbanks, his son and the Board of Supervisors and the Park and Golf Course was in the mill.”
But let’s go back to 1874 when Cyprus E. Soule, who had a ranch near Healdsburg on the Russian River in Sonoma County, sold that ranch and purchased 310 acres in the Ojai Valley. He was born in Canada, his parents being of English-German descent and had come to California in 1859. In 1862 he had met and married Miss Addie Koger, the daughter of William and Matilda Koger from Virginia who was a prominent rancher in Sonoma County. There were four children when the Soules moved to the valley, William E., Lillian E., Nina E., and Earl E. The journey to Ojai took days with two wagons, a four horse wagon for equipment and home furnishings and a covered wagon for the family. Soule had visited the valley in 1873, purchased the land and arranged for a house to be built that was ready for them on their arrival.
Previous to this time the valley had been operated as a sheep ranch by Messrs. Olds and Daily with some 10,000 sheep. In 1874 there were eight families in the valley including Robert Ayers, H. J. Dennison, Richard Robinson and Joseph S. Waite. The early settlers had to get their mail at Ventura and for years had to pay themselves for delivery of mail in the valley. Originally Mr. Soule engaged in wheat farming but later went into hay, raising horses and fruit.
Zaidee was born here March 12, 1878. The family took an active part in the community life. They were charter members of the Grange, Soule was first Master of the Lodge and his wife held important offices in the same. Soule served as Justice of the Peace for four years, Clerk of the School Board for fourteen years and a member of the Board of Trustees during the building of the first Presbyterian Church. He also served for ten years as a member of the County Republican Committee. He died in 1890 at the age of 62.
Following Soule’s death Mrs. Soule, with Earl’s assistance, took over the management of the Ranch. We gather from those who knew her that Addie Soule was a real dowager, a woman of imposing and dignified appearance. She evidently not only supervised the ranch but ruled over the family circle. The following is a quote from and article written by Mona Breckner on the Soule family and published in the Golden Book on the 50th Anniversary of Ojai by the Ojai Valley News.
“Mrs. Soule was a very devout and social-minded individual. Mrs. Ray Craft, who knew and worked with her in community service, recalls she was an active member of the benevolent committee of the Society of Kings’ Daughters, a fore-runner of the Ojai Valley Women’s Club.”
“Writes Mrs. Craft, “Many early residents will remember the familiar sight of her buggy and old horse, Toby, going about the valley on errands of mercy: a cow was furnished to a needy family with small children; food, especially fruit and vegetables, was donated daily, from crops grown on the Soule Ranch; and finally the generosity of the Soule family thru the last two members, Nina and Zaidee, who gave the beautiful Soule Recreation Park, the picnic grounds of the old ranch, along with the Golf Course.”
“Perhaps bringing with them memories of manor house living in the south, the Soules sought to enjoy the same type of social life on their ranch. Centered in their picnic grounds and surrounded by gardens and fruit orchards, was the entertainment area where regular gatherings took place. “Ladies and Gents” in their “best bib and tucker” congregated to partake of the good foods. the watermelons were particularly famous, and Howard Gally recalls the watermelon patches as “nothing like them in the entire valley”.
Gally, whose family lived on an adjacent ranch, remembers how the Soule family improvised. He remembers very little of the father who must have died early, but he especially recalls Earl Soule. Water was one of the scarcest commodities facing the ranches, and he recalls the excitement when a drill point was sunk to deep levels and water was pumped out by hand. Eventually Earl Soule improvised and operated a gasoline engine to provide power, guarding this engine with his life, even sleeping in the engine house for fear that it might be tampered with. Later he used this power to bring natural gas, tapped from the mountain above , into the house for lighting and cooking purposes.”
In 1922, [one year after] City of Ojai was incorporated, Early Soule was elected as Chairman of the Board of Trustees – the equivalent of mayor in today’s government. [He succeeded Glen Hickey who served for only one year. Soule served as Chairman for four years] until 1926.
The following is a quote from the “History of Ventura County” published in 1926. “Mr. Earl E. Soule has made a fine record since becoming the mayor of Ojai, exercising the same sound business methods in that office that he does in his private affairs. During his administration a bond issue was authorized by the voters for the purpose of constructing a sewer system, which is now being installed. He is jealous of his community’s good name and reputation and is devoting himself indefatigably to the welfare of the town and the upbuilding of its interests.”
Earl continued to serve as a member of the Board until 1932. In the mid-forties he suffered a severe heart attack and was nursed and cared for by his two sisters in the family home until he died July 6, 1953.
We again quote from Mona Breckner’s article. “Mrs. David Davis, who now live in Siete Robles, Ojai, knew the sisters intimately, and knew that hard times had befallen on them. She describes Nina , who was slowly dying of an incurable disease, as the most talented of the family, of brilliant mind and happy disposition, who passionately loved the valley. In the last days of her illness Mrs. Davis visited her daily, and Nina loved to share her treasures with her – perhaps a beautiful poem which she may have composed, or and unusual wild flower, or a much loved story.
It was Nina, says Mrs. Davis, who handled the family business and carried out her mother’s wishes that no encumberance of any kind ever be placed against the property. It was Nina who sought out the council and advice of Al West at the Ojai Branch of the Bank of America on financial matters. And it was Al West and their old friend, Mr. Ted Fairbanks, Sr. of Fillmore, an attorney, who helped them draft and execute their final will.
Offer after offer, fantastic in price, came to them for the sale of the ranch for subdivision purposes, but always the same answer: “This beautiful spot will never be subdivided; it will remain as one piece for the people of Ojai to enjoy as we have enjoyed it.”
From the Ventura County Star Free Press of September 28, 1964, “Ojai Mourns Its Beloved Benefactor Zaidee Soule. Everyone who knew her knew Zaidee Soule loved Ojai, and when she died Saturday night of a lingering illness, it appeared that Ojai loved her, too.”
Unfortunately, park and golf courses require cuts and fills and unsightly wire fences, The Soule Park Tree Committee believes that the tree planting program will dress up the scars of progress. It is certainly most appropriate to dedicate the program to Zaidee, Nina and the Soule family. If they could speak we feel sure it would have their whole-hearted approval.