Meiners Oaks

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Posted by Craig Walker on June 14, 2011

Meiners Oaks by Ed Wenig

Meiners Oaks, a community where nearly every home is under a Live Oak tree, takes its name from John Meiners, who owned the large area for many years.

John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired his Ojai ranch in the seventies, sight unseen, as a result of an unpaid debt. When he heard that his friend, Edward D. Holton, a Milwaukee banker, was going to California for a brief trip, Meiners asked him to see the property he had acquired. Mr. Holton’s evaluation was, “It is the most beautiful valley I have ever seen.”

Upon investigating his new property, John Meiners found that he owned what was perhaps the largest oak grove on level land in Southern California, much of it so dense that the ground was in continuous shade. Furthermore, to his surprise, Meiners discovered that the climate of the valley was good for his asthma.

For a long time, the oak grove was fenced and provided a pasture for a large herd of hogs. All traffic from Ojai to Matilija went on a private road through the Meiners property, using a gate which was supposed to be kept closed. So many people went through the gate without closing it that in 1893, the manager of the ranch, P.W. Soper, locked the gate. With the Meiners road closed, the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Road.

A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road has been flooded, “the mail was sent up to Matilija last night on horseback, the rider going across the back hill country . . .” However, Mr. Soper later gave several keys to A.W. Blumberg, operator of Matilija Hot Springs, with the stipulation that they were to be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stage coach drivers.
In 1896, the big barn on the Meiners ranch, located approximately where the Ranch House Restaurant is now, caught fire one evening about midnight. No fire-fighting equipment was available. Twenty horses, many tons of hay, harness, and farm implements were completely destroyed. “The Ojai” of February 15, 1896 reported . . . “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.”

The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880s until his death in the valley in 1898. His original big house still stands on the hill above the Ranch House Restaurant and is now used by the Happy Valley School.

John Meiners organized his ever-increasing acreage into a very productive ranch. Several hundred acres to the north of the oak grove were planted in oranges, lemons, prunes, apricots and apples. P.W. Soper, father of the late “Pop” Soper, was general manager of the Meiners Ranch and lessee of 90 acres of Texas red oats, 90 acres of wheat and 200 acres of barley. A visitor who toured the ranch with Mr. Meiners in 1897 wrote, “At the Meiners Ranch we saw stalks of oats that measured 7 feet 7 inches.”

To visualize the vast area, the ranch can be described as bounded on the south by the hills of the Happy Valley School, on the west by Rice Road, on the north by the foothills near Cozy Dell Canyon and on the east by a line running through the junction of Highway 33 and El Roblar Street, north and south.

The forebears of several of the present-day residents of the Ojai Valley came here as a result of John Meiners’ interest in his ranch. The granddaughters of Edward D. Holton, who made the original favorable report concerning the ranch of Mr. Meiners and the Ojai Valley, are Misses Alice and Helen Robertson of the east valley, and his granddaughter, Mrs. Anson Thacher. Otto Busch came to the ranch as manager in 1907, and his son George Busch, now retired, was one of Ojai’s postmasters.

“He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt,” Ojai Valley News, Dec. 3, 1969

Comments (8)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew Mashburn August 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm

“…the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Road” is the last sentence of the third paragraph in this article. I’ve resided in the Ojai Valley for all of my 60+ years. I know of very few remaining stagecoach roads in and about our lovely valley. A number of years ago, Bob Collins and I were walking on North Rice Road. Bob showed me a narrow, weed infested, tree covered, dirt road that leads down the side of the cliff from the side of N. Rice Road into the Ventura River bed. Bob told me that it’s an old stagecoach road. I have no idea where Bob gleaned this information, but Bob lives not far from the this old road. If one would like to take a look at the road, it’s located immediately south of the residence at 441 N. Rice Road behind two mailboxes.

Craig Walker August 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Thanks for this tip, Drew. I’ll check it out next time I walk up that way.

David Mason August 18, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Drew and Craig… the original stage road to the Matilija was indeed where Rice Road is now located. It had two gates that the stage driver would have to unlock and then relock because of the cattle being raised on the property. The stage driver would sometimes forget (?) to re-lock the gate and the cattle would get loose, after years of complaining by the rancher, the gates were locked and the stages could no longer use that route. They then had to go the longway around which took them in the area of the current “Y” shopping center and up what is today Maricopa Hwy, but it was just a path at that time. Glad to know the old route is still visible.

Drew Mashburn September 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

David:

When I was a teenager, I worked for the Ventura County Parks Department at Soule Golf course. This was before the department leased out the operations of the course. I believe I worked there during the summers of ’66, ’67 and ’68. There was a huge, ancient Coastal Live Oak tree on the course that was designated Ojai’s Bicentennial Tree a few years later. Unfortunately, that tree died and fell. Anyway, while I was working there, I worked with an older gent named Lloyd Alcorn (deceased). Lloyd told me that this tree sat on an old stagecoach road and the tree was a stopping point for the stage due to the fact that it provided much shade. I have no idea where Lloyd obtained this information. Lloyd was a major collector of old glass bottles and he lived on North Poli Street in Meiners Oaks across the street from my maternal grandmother (Peg Wells).

Drew Mashburn September 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

David:

When I was a teenager, I worked for the Ventura County Parks Department at Soule Golf course. This was before the department leased out the operations of the course. I believe I worked there during the summers of ’66, ’67 and ’68. There was a huge, ancient Coastal Live Oak tree on the course that was designated Ojai’s Bicentennial Tree a few years later. Unfortunately, that tree died and fell. Anyway, while I was working there, I worked with an older gent named Lloyd Alcorn (deceased). Lloyd told me that this tree sat on an old stagecoach road and the tree was a stopping point for the stage due to the fact that it provided much shade. I have no idea where Lloyd obtained this information. Lloyd was a major collector of old glass bottles and he lived on North Poli Street in Meiners Oaks across the street from my maternal grandmother (Peg Wells).

Mitch Mashburn September 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

The stage passage to upper Ojai started at the hairpin curve at the Bottom of Dennison grade. When I was around twenty years old a friend and I tried to follow it up we made it quite a ways but heavily overgrown and lots of poison oak.
We found one dump site, lots of tin cans, broken bottles, and womens ‘ lace up shoes from that era. If I recall we found 1 medicine bottle intact. It’s in my collection.
We ended up trying to come down from upper Ojai and didn’t have much luck it was all washed out and overgrown.

Steve MacDonald June 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

My first real job was in Meiners Oaks at Bud Whatt’s Shell Service in the mid-60′s, making $.90 an hour. Regular gas was about $.25-$.30/gal..
Bud had a policy: One gallon or a full tank, the customer always got full service.

Henry January 19, 2014 at 9:32 am

Great piece on the history of Meiners Oaks! I came looking for the location of Meiners’ original home, and I here it is! However, there is one correction:

The school located on the hill above the Ranch House restaurant is not the Happy Valley School (which is now called Beasant Hill School) – it is the Oak Grove School. Just for edification, the Beasant Hill School (formerly Happy Valley School) is located in the east end of the valley on Ojai Santa Paula Rd.

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