Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 10)

The following article first appeared in the January 3, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The article was written by Howard Bald. Bald used the same title for all of his articles.  So, the Ojai Valley Museum has added “No. 10” to the title.  All photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 10)
by
Howard Bald

It was always quite an occasion for mother, sister and me to drive to Ventura with the horse and buggy. The present highway did not exist then. The 15 mile drive down the Creek road with the numerous creek crossings took from one and a half to two hours, and the return trip from two to two and a half hours.

On the beach west of the Ventura pier we unhitched Charley and tied him to the rear of the buggy with a nose bag of rolled barley while we spread a blanket on the sand and ate our lunch.

The present direct route to Ventura didn’t go through until about 1917, so all travel was via the Creek road. From Nordhoff to Camp Comfort the road was much the same as it is today. But just below Camp Comfort it crossed the creek, then a mile or more beyond it recrossed the creek, finally emerging into the present highway at Arnaz, between the famous old Arnaz adobe and the present cider stand.

Camp Comfort on Creek Road.
Arnaz Adobe

The mail was carried by four horse stage, as was also express and other special items. Of course there was no refrigeration in those days, and ice was brought up by stage. It was said that on a hot day the stage could be trailed all the way from Ventura by the mark left on the dusty road by the melting ice. I think it was about 1907 that Mr. Houk (Fred Houk’s father) put in an ice plant.

“Isis Theater” on the left, probably the market and butcher shop in the center, and Walter E. Houk’s “Ice Plant” on the right.

There would be times in the winter when the stage would be held up for days because of high water. I think it was the winter of 1905-06 that the mail was held up for three weeks. It was that winter that Herb Lamb was the stage driver (Margaret Reimer’s father had the mail franchise then), and on one trip Lamb had his wife and infant among the passengers when the stage turned over in a creek crossing. The infant was swept away and never found.

There were other drownings in the streams in those days. One time (I believe it was 1914) a group of men over in Santa Ana (among them John Selby and Gird Percy) rode on horseback to the Matilija river canyon below Arnaz. One of the group ventured in, was swept away and never found.

I don’t remember what year it was that Bob Clark was living on the far side of the river and was stormed in when a baby was due. He had one saddle horse, “Dick,” that he would take a chance on. Dick got him across the river at what is now Casitas Springs. (We called it Stoney Flat in those days.) He took a team of horses and wagons from there, drove to Ventura and returned with Dr. Homer, as there was no telephone communication in those days. Old Dick carried the two back across the river. I believe Dr. Homer stayed three days before the baby was delivered. Dr. Homer is now retired to the Ojai.

Photo of Dr. Homer taken on August 11, 1951

Tom Clark had quite a reputation in those days for crossing roaring streams when no one else would venture in. There was one famous occasion about 1888 when he took a young lady and her trousseau over Sulphur Mountain with saddle and pack horses to Ventura, where she took a steamer to San Francisco. The young lady was Bessie Thacher, the aunt of Anson and Elizabeth Thacher.

Tom Clark

The valley had its highway tragedies in those days too, only they didn’t involve automobiles, but horses. Captain Gillette (who lived where Dr. Rupp’s office now is) was killed someplace near the present Country Club. Judge Hines went over a precipice near Topa Topa ranch with a team and buggy. Mrs. William McGuire, of the Upper Ojai, was thrown from a horse and killed on Ojai avenue. Chino Lopez, to keep warm, placed a coal lantern under the buggy robe (he was blind), the buggy went off the grade in Matilija Canyon and he burned to death.

A Thacher student boy in 1904 was thrown from his horse and dragged to death. A Gibson boy, whose family were Upper Ojai ranchers, was crushed by a falling horse. Then some time later the father, Mr. Gibson, was thrown from his buggy in a runaway and killed.

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

The following article first appeared in the April 11, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of Major Dron was added to this article by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

(Editor’s note: Major John Anderson Dron of Ojai died April 5. The following memorial was written by his longtime friend, D. Ric Johnson.)

Another part of the old Ojai of 15 plus years ago and much larger bit of my life is gone. Major John Dron has left us.

Ours was an almost instant rapport, but that was pretty average for him. He made friends easily and enemies not so easily. He had many of the former and proportionately few of the latter. You couldn’t be neutral about him, though I’ve never known a person who was more tolerant in everything except for public chicanery and avarice. Crooked politicians, corporate greed, and Babbits were his avowed, unremitting, unrelenting and implacable enemies.

The county Board of Supervisors adjourned early Tuesday
in memory of the
late John Dron, Sr.

He was classic Scot with their passion for learning; an abstract thinker with a great pendulum swing from effervescence to melancholy. When being a dour Scot “sipped his sorrer wi a long spoon,” as he was wont to say.

He opened the door to, or sent me down, many roads whose names end in “ology” — archaeology, anthropology, geology — whetting my already active curiosity in ancient engineering techniques and avenues of the literary arts never before considered. How many times have I arrived at his door with face and spirits dragging 20 feet behind to leave later willing to try again the struggle out of my personal morass.

We adventured together on short jaunts up the mountains in that jeep that was to John as was the yellow horse to D’Artagnan. Long trips — as the one when we misjudged the weather, and his ancient down sleeping bag burst in the night and mine was inadequate. The long dreary hours of the night tolled away by his sepulchral, plaintive voice querying “and what is the hour now?”

Never was I happier to see a dawn, and we did as mad a dance as his years and my infirmities would permit, ’til the sun and our little fire thawed us to merriment over our just-passed misery.

The delightful evenings spent in front of the inevitable fireplace, the night raw outside, and John reeling off vastnesses of poetry or reading philosophy, Plutarch, Henry Adams, his own letters to the great personages and their replies.

His pixie look when contemplating the deflation of some over-blown ego. The pipe with one side of the bowl burned away that took at least a box of matches per filling and the finger burned black from tamping it. His depressions, when his voice would trail off into nothingness to be followed with sighs and great groans of Scottish spiritual torment, he brought to us for surcease and went away having received it, as I did so often with him.

He gave to me that which my own father could not. A camaraderie that asked nothing but gave, expected and received all. Oh, how exasperating he could be!

Anecdotes? Our whole 15 year association was one long, loving anecdote.

The valley is less warm and less home now.

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Major Dron was born in Ayr, Scotland, September 13, 1893, coming to Big Oak Flat, California in 1900 and spending his boyhood there. He attended Berkeley High School and classes at the University of California, Berkeley.

During World War I he served as a machine gun officer. In World War II he was a Captain and Major in the Corps of Engineers. During the 1920’s he became a civil engineer, working with the Nevada and California division of highways.

A resident of Ojai since 1929, he pursued a career as engineer and surveyor, serving as ex-officio engineer of the city of Ojai for many years. In 1938 he was WPA administrator for the county of Ventura.

Well known for his many and varied interests, he was active throughout his lifetime in civic affairs, serving as trustee to the Ojai Community Art Center and Ojai Civic Association. He was an expert on architecture of the Parthenon, and was often consulted for his intimate and detailed knowledge of the backcountry of the county. He will be remembered by many as the man who kept the Edison Company from putting giant electric poles across the valley mountains.

“The Major” is survived by his three children: John A. Dron, Jr., Mrs. Robert (Dorothy) Rail, and Boyd S. Dron, all of Ojai; a sister, Miss Gladys Dron of Berkeley; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Community Art Center on S. Montgomery St. The family has requested that donations in memory be sent to the Art Center.

Major Dron in the Arcade

NEW RULES FOR KINDERGARTEN ANNOUNCED

The following article was on page 2 of the JULY 16, 1948 edition of THE “OJAI.” It is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News. The author is unknown.

NEW RULES FOR KINDERGARTEN ANNOUNCED

Enrollment in the kindergarten classes of the Nordhoff Union Elementary School district will be subject to regulations set up by the school board—regulations made necessary by the lack of sufficient kindergarten space, the coming school year, it was announced today.

With two sessions in the Oak View kindergarten and two at Nordhoff, there were not sufficient accommodations last September and there will be more on a waiting list this coming year, since the new kindergarten at Meiners Oaks will not be completed before February of 1949.

However, there is a solution which should work for the possible benefit of the children in their school work, members of the school board agree.

It is generally accepted that the school entrance age in California is too low, most states setting a higher age. By the sixth grade the average age is a year greater in proportion, showing that the average child either starts in later or has not been promoted at the end of one of the school years. The state convention of elementary school principals last April went on record as favoring a five-year entrance age to kindergarten.

Therefore, all children five years of age or older on September 1, 1948, will be admitted to a Nordhoff kindergarten; those from four years and six months to five years, as of September 1, will be placed on a waiting list and after the first day of school those whose ages are greatest will be notified that they may enter, the number allowed to enter depending upon class space still available.

Registration for kindergarteners or other pupils new to the district will be handled in the school office in Ojai beginning August 2. A birth certificate or other official evidence of correct birthdate must be shown to gain enrollment in either kindergarten or first grade. The school office will be open Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 12 noon and 1 to 4 pm beginning with August 2. In general, the school office will be closed during the month of July.

For the convenience of Oak View children, registration there will be conducted on or about September 1 at that school; an announcement will be given later, after Mrs. Ethel Eitens, principal, has returned from her summer school work. Casitas Springs children will enroll the first day of school, September 13.

David Mason: Linking past & Future

The following article first appeared on Page A-2 in the November 11, 1992 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It’s reprinted here with their permission.

by
Susan Petty

David Mason: Linking Past & Future
———————–
“In the middle of the Ojai Valley lies a little hamlet, which the people have been kind enough to name after the author of this book.”
—- Charles Nordhoff

———————–

“The Ojai Valley (pronounced Ohy) is reached by a drive of 38 miles by way of the Carpenteria and the Casitas Pass…The valley is famous even in California for the abundance and loveliness of its woods of evergreen oaks…the oaks dot the surface of the whole lower valley, and are scattered over it in single specimens and clumps…”

The description crafted by Charles Nordhoff in his 1882 edition of “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” is a vision shared in many ways by one special Ojai man.

Separated by a century, Charles Nordhoff and David Mason share a common bond – enthusiasm for the Ojai Valley, and the ability to communicate that to others. Nordhoff wrote eloquently one hundred years ago about the grandeur of the valley and of California. Mason, a lifelong resident of Ojai, currently gives witty, informative slide shows about the history of the valley.

“Charles Nordhoff died on July 14 in 1901. I was born 38 years later in Ojai, on July 14. That coincidence has become significant to me over time, as I have become more drawn to the early days of Ojai,” said Mason, 53. “I feel very close to Nordhoff’s era in many ways.”

Mason’s interest in the past was sparked in 1964, when a friend’s mother died. The friend asked to use Mason’s dumpster to throw out some old things. Those “old things” included hundreds of postcards and photographs of early Ojai, and other memorabilia, Mason rescued all he could from the trash bin, and he was hooked.

“I framed a lot of the postcards, and had copies of the photos made for the Ojai Valley Museum and the Ventura County Museum. Over the years I’ve collected much more, and I’ve saved things, like photos of Lake Casitas being built. I’m an incredible packrat,” he said with a chuckle.

Mason now serves as vice chairman, and is past chairman, of Ventura County’s Cultural Heritage Board. He was the first chairman of the City of Ojai’s Cultural Heritage Board, and was also Ojai’s Citizen of the Year in 1986. Mason works as a realtor, having retired after a 25 year career as a florist. He owned the award-winning Village Florist in the Arcade, and closed it three years ago.

David Mason is one of Ojai’s best known and popular historians. Here he is at the historical Ojai State Bank’s vault. News Photo by GEORGE TENNEY.

Mason’s slide show, which he presents to groups around the county, begins with Charles Nordhoff’s birth in 1832 in what was then Prussia. He tracks Nordhoff’s life – his move to America at the age of 3 and, later, traveling around the world with the U.S. Navy. Eventually Nordhoff became editor of the New York Post, and wrote his famous book “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” in 1872. That 206 page volume brought so many settlers to the state that Nordhoff was the name originally chosen for Ojai.

“Between 1870 and 1900, the population of California doubled, growing from 560,000 to well over a million. In that same 30 year period, over three million copies of Nordhoff’s book were sold,” Mason commented.

According to Mason, Mrs. Catherine Blumberg suggested the town be named Nordhoff in the early 1870’s. Topa Topa was also being considered. Catherine and her husband, Abram Wheeler Blumberg, came out West because of Nordhoff’s book and built the Ojai Inn in what is now Libbey Park. Nordhoff remained the village’s name for over 40 years.

“The name was formally changed to Ojai in 1917, at the beginning of World War I. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment, which fueled the change,” Mason remarked.

With slides and commentary, Mason captures the growth of the little town from 1872, when about 50 people lived in the village, up into the 1920’s. By then, cut-glass heir Edward Drummond Libbey of Ohio had come to Ojai and put his very personal stamp on the town. Libbey bought the 360 acre Arbolada, to save the area from being cut down for wood, and began to sell lots for homes. He also built the Ojai Valley Inn, the Post Office tower, the arched entryway to Libbey Park (now gone), and transformed the front of the downtown stores into a Spanish Mission style Arcade. Libbey also made a generous donation to the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, and had a hand in its construction.

“Mr. Libbey had the desire to make things beautiful and the money to do it. He was influenced by castles in Spain and the rural Spanish towns, with their muted colors and soft, flowing lines.

“Mr. Libbey was also a smart developer. Here he had bought the Arbolada, but then had trouble selling the lots. People would come out to Ojai to buy a lot and they’d see how rustic things were downtown, with dirt streets and wooden slats along the front of the stores. It lacked charm. It looked like a Western frontier town and there wasn’t much to do,” Mason said. “So Libbey created a golf course and a nice downtown.”

Mason feels that if Libbey were to visit Ojai today, he would be quite pleased with the town.

“He would definitely approve of the look of Ojai. He would particularly like the Redevelopment Agency’s project of 1980, which remodeled the back of the Arcade to match the front. That completed Mr. Libbey’s vision for the town,” he said. “But he would miss those arches that were in front of the park!”

The arches were torn down in the late 1960’s. Originally they stood along the Ojai Avenue entrance to the park, and were designed to provide a balance to the heavy look of the Arcade. The park arches had an overhead trellis that was covered in wisteria. And directly in front of the arches, a lion’s head fountain served as a horse trough. The fountain was in place several years before Libbey commissioned the arches.

Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain. The park’s name was changed from “Civic Center Park” to “Libbey Park”.

Mason believes that there might be a resurgence of interest in the old arches, and a move to replace them eventually. Mason would support such a move.

“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Libbey’s aesthetic vision for Ojai,” he said. “It’s our heritage. It’s what makes us unique.”

[Mason later headed up a committee to rebuild the Pergola. The recreated Pergola was dedicated on July 4, 1999.]

Contributions needed — Museum set for expansion

The following article first appeared in the December 20, 1967 edition of the Ojai Valley News on its front page.  It is reprinted here with their permission.

Contributions needed
Museum set for expansion
by
Mel Remsburg

The Ojai Valley Museum brings to a close, at the end of this month, its first year of service to the valley. The future looks even brighter, with expansion as the goal for the 1968 year.

This week, officers and directors launched the museum’s contribution membership drive, which is expected to finance the operation in the coming year. The proposed budget for the next 12 months is $2,638. Last year’s expenses were about $200 less.

Fund chairman A. C. Dahlgren announced that membership applications may be obtained by writing to the Ojai Valley Museum, 841 E. Ojai ave., Ojai. Many of the applications have already been sent to prospective members and to those who participated in its founding.

Also sent to charter members and now available to interested persons is the museum’s 1967 yearbook, telling of the expansion ahead and the services offered the public by the museum.

The expansion program provides for the removal of the existing wall at the museum, to open up the rear room for additional displays. The project, including construction of new partitions, painting, and tile floor, is expected to cost $375, with voluntary labor.

New display cases are also planned, including those of subdued lighting for the expanded area. Cost is estimated at $725.

In addition to these plans for improvement of display facilities, the museum is interested in two other phases of development. The first is the broadening of its function to include an historical association, with the museum acting as a display facility and storehouse for records, artifacts, and other material. The museum officers are also planning for the organization of a Junior Museum for the benefit of the youth in the Ojai and Cuyama valleys.

OJAI VALLEY MUSEUM --- The museum has completed its first year of operation and is now seeking contribution-memberships to help finance its proposed growth and expansion. Connie Davis, the new assistant to Chamber secretary-manage Betty Fielder, examines an antique stove, one of the many historical items that have been donated to the museum.
OJAI VALLEY MUSEUM — The museum has completed its first year of operation and is now seeking contribution-memberships to help finance its proposed growth and expansion. Connie Davis, the new assistant to Chamber secretary-manager Betty Fielder, examines an antique stove, one of the many historical items that have been donated to the museum.

This proposal was made at the time of formation but the directors have been without the guidance and assistance of individuals who could successfully plan and conclude such a function. Directors invite the assistance of individuals who would pursue either of these plans.

Robert O. Browne, museum president, said, “Generous contribution – memberships have made this a successful year. We solicit your membership or renewal in order to continue the operation of the museum in the years ahead.”

“Your museum is sustained only by the financial and physical help of civic minded individuals in the community. With your support the museum will grow and continue to provide the only existing local depository for items of historical significance in our community and for the documentation of history of this area. The Ojai Valley Museum, Inc. is organized as and educational, charitable institution. Contributions made are deductible by donors; bequests, legacies, transfers or gifts are deductible for federal estate and gift tax purposes,” the president revealed.

On Nov. 14, 1966 the Ojai Valley Museum was born. John Shea chaired the first meeting on that date. Committees were appointed to formulate by-laws and articles of incorporation.

Its purpose was fourfold;
1) To establish a museum in the valley.
2) To encourage study and research in the field of California’s history with special emphasis on the Ojai and Cuyama valley, to collect historical material including manuscripts, documents, books, pictures and artifacts and make them available for study.
3) To restore and preserve landmarks and sites of historical value in the valley.
4) To cooperate with the other organizations doing work of a related nature.

Two open meetings were then scheduled and the public was invited. The flame began to burn brighter and in March, 1967, the first annual meeting was held, Officers and directors were elected and plans for the displays were formulated.

On April 18, the official opening exercises were held. Assemblyman Ken MacDonald and Supervisor Ralph “Hoot” Bennett were among the 200 visitors.

The directors are indebted to the many individuals who provided the funds for this first year of operation and to the many craftsmen who supplied the labor and materials without cost.

The museum is in a sublease agreement with the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber not only provides for keeping the museum open during the week, but also shared in the expense of the operation. A review of the budget discloses that the financial help which the museum can seek for 1968 amounts to $2,638 or approximately $7.25 per day.

Officers of the museum are R. O. Browne, president; B. A. Lawrence, secretary; A. C. Dahlgren, treasurer. Directors include Effie Skelton, Tyrus Kahman, Lois Powers, William Magill and Elizabeth Thacher.

Judge held court under an oak tree

This article first appeared in the January 7, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of the elderly Judge McKee was run with the article when it appeared in the 01/07/1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News.  

Judge held court under an oak tree
by
Ed Wenig

It was in the eventful year of 1887 that James McKee, Civil War veteran, one-time school teacher, and Indiana judge, came to the Ojai Valley, expecting to regain his health in idyllic rural surroundings. The solid citizens of the community elected the frail, scholary man to be their Justice of the peace, a post which he continued to hold until his death in 1904.

It was no easy task to be a judge in pioneer days in the Ojai, when everyone knew everybody else.

One particularly knotty problem arose in the nineties when 13 exuberant men and a few boys got into trouble with the law by carrying out the old pioneer custom of surprising a newly-wed couple in the middle of the night with a “shivaree.” This consisted of surrounding the home and shooting blasts from a shotgun in the air, accompanied by unearthly yells and other noise-making. This traditional expression of good will was not appreciated by the newlyweds. In fact, they swore out complaints against all the thirteen, charging them with disturbing the peace and illegal entry.

It ended well

One by one each of the 13 went to Judge McKee and pled “Not Guilty.” It is said that one of the first to arrive was Bob Clark who later became a U. S. Marshal.  John Thompson, at boy at the time, and one of the indicated, recalled being taken to Judge McKee by his father and waiting outside the Judge’s home in fear and trembling, while his father and Judge McKee had a long and friendly talk.

A Ventura lawyer, Judge Shepard, was engaged to defend all the accused. In the meantime, a large group of women in the valley planned a big dinner and social evening in anticipation of the celebration of the acquittal of all. But when the district attorney examined the evidence and circumstances, and refused to prosecute, the ladies cancelled their plans. It all ended happily for the defendants, each paying $1.75 apiece as his portion of the lawyer’s fees.

According to all who remember him, Judge McKee was a very devout and kindly man, always ready to help those who went to him for advice or for assistance in drawing up legal documents. The story is that he once risked his life to ride horseback through the swollen river to Matilija to draw up a will for a dying man.

Most of the time Judge McKee tried cases in his own home, but on warm summer days, he sometimes moved his court into his yard under a big oak tree.

Judge James McKee Photo from the Ojai Valley News

Judge McKee’s daughter, Mrs. Emily Courtney, now lives in Ventura. His granddaughter, Mrs. Catherine Craig, formerly postmaster of Ojai, lives in the Ojai Valley.

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News, but the date of the edition of the paper in which it appeared is unknown. It was written by Ed Wenig. Wenig wrote for the newspaper in the late 1960’s into the 1970’s.

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98
by
Ed Wenig

Two “iron horses” pulled four carloads of exscursionists into Nordhoff, as the band blared a welcome on a balmy spring morning of March 12, 1898. Ojai Valley residents, who had driven from far and near, in wagon, buggy and surrey, looked on with pride as official guests from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and neighboring Ventura County towns arrived on the first train ever to enter the Ojai Valley. Here indeed was concrete evidence of “progress” in its most up-to-date form.

On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a "lively blare of trumpets" in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.
On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a “lively blare of trumpets” in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.

The most important visitors were driven to the homes of prominent residents of the valley for luncheon, after which they were taken for brief scenic drives through the valley. But most of the passengers were loaded into surreys and wagons and taken to a picnic under the oaks in what is now the Civic Park [Libbey Park]. Then, the speeches began. Among them, one by W. C. Patterson, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, expressed thanks to the people of the Ojai Valley for having given “the outside world a chance to see and admire the beauty of the magnificent amphitheater of mountains which enclose this ideal spot.”

Health resort

In the Midwinter Edition of the Los Angeles Times appeared this comment: “This railway will open tourists to one of the most charming valleys in the state . . . With the advent of the railway, Nordhoff will possess all the requirements of a pleasure and health resort.” Imagine the pride of the residents of the valley when they read in the Ventura County Directory, “The valley has been settled by a superior class of people, intelligent, refined, and very enterprising. Many of them have abundent means and have been men of standing and influence in other communities.”

There were four passenger pickup stations on the railroad between Ventura and Nordhoff. Starting from Ventura they were Weldon, Las Cross, Tico, Grant, and finally the Nordhoff Station. In the first few weeks after the opening there were two trains daily, after which a schedule of one train per day was established. In response to repeated requests from J. J. Burke, the Southern Pacific re-established a schedule of two daily trains for the winter months only. Trains left Nordhoff at 7:20 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Ventura. Returning trains arrived in Nordhoff at 1 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Passengers bound for Matilija Hot Springs disembarked at Grant Station located approximately at the present lumber yard at the “Y” [Rotary Park now]. From there they went by stagecoach, and, in later years, by Stanley Steamer to Matilija.

Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the "Y" intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of "Grant Station" back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.
Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the “Y” intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of “Grant Station” back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.

It took 10 years

The arrival of the first train was the culmination of ten years of hopes and planning. In 1891, under the headline “Railroad Coming” a writer for THE OJAI observed, “Soon the invalid or tourist can recline in his upholstered seat within the observation car and be whirled over hill and vale to his destination, instead of a tedious ride in a stagecoach.” At first a Ventura company had been formed to build a narrow gauge railroad. But Captain John Cross proposed to build a standard gauge road, and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the businessmen of the Ojai Valley was successful in bringing the dream to reality.

When automobiles came into more general use the importance of the railway passenger service declined, and in later days the line was used entirely for shipments of freight.

Since the flood of 1969, which washed out portions of the road bed, the railroad has been abandoned. [Today it is the Ojai Valley Trail.]

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt

The following article first appeared in the December 3, 1969 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of John Meiners is used here by courtesy of the Ojai Valley News. The other photos were added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt
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 (1826 - 1898)
John Meiners (1826 – 1898)

John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired this 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 perhaps it was 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.

Hogs grazed there

For a long time the oak grove was fenced, and provided 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 Rd. A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road had 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 be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stagecoach drivers.

The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.
The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.

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, “Through the flames the horses could be seen plunging and dashing about insanely in the midst of the burning firey furnace; twenty fell victims without a single rescue.” But, the article goes on to state further, “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.”

House still stands

The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880’s 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 and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.
John Meiners and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.

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 [Oak Grove School now], on the west by Rice Road, and 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 St., north and south.

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

Controversy in 1893 over postmaster

The following article was run in the January 28, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News.  It is reprinted here with their permission.  Photo of George W. Mallory courtesy of the Ojai Valley News.  Photo of Mallory – Dennison Store added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

Controversy in 1893 over postmaster
by
Ed Wenig

As a rule, local politics in a village the size of Ojai are of interest to its residents only. But the year of 1893 proved to be the exception to the rule. In that year an election was held in the Ojai Valley which received national attention.

It came as the result of the election of Grover Cleveland, Democrat, to replace President Benjamin Harrison, Republican, in the White House. According to time-honored custom, this signified a nation-wide shifting of all local postmasterships from the incumbent Republicans to “deserving Democrats.” In Nordhoff it meant that B. F. Spencer, Republican postmaster, would normally expect to relinquish his position to a Democrat nominated by the local Democratic Committee.

But the attitude toward the “Spoils System” was undergoing a change throughout the nation, and, in tune with the times, some citizens of Nordhoff, including several Democrats, decided that this procedure was not in the best interest of the Ojai Valley. They resolved to take positive action to remedy the situation. Accordingly, the Ojai Club, which was made up of prominent citizens of the valley and which was very influential in the affairs of the community, received the following petition:

“TO THE OJAI CLUB: We, the undersigned residents of the Ojai Valley, believing in and desiring to initiate the principle of election of postmasters by the people, request of the Ojai Club—a non-partisan association—to take the proper steps for the holding of a PUBLIC ELECTION IN NORDHOFF; the returns of which would indicate the choice of its people for postmaster…”
(Signed)
James Braken, Democrat
Joseph Hobart, Republican
H. J. Dennison, Populist
W. L. Hall, Republican
John Murray, Jr., Democrat
J. R. Bennett, Independent
K. P. Grant, Republican

After due consideration the Ojai Club complied with the request and arranged for two election boards. One was instructed to handle the ballots for all the men over 18 years of age who were served by the local postoffice. Another was instructed to tally the women’s vote — this in spite of the fact that woman suffrage had not yet been granted. There were no public nominations, each voter merely writing the name of his choice on the ballot. Thus many received only one vote. However, the men generally voted for the incumbent, B. G. Spencer, and the women split their vote between Spencer and G. W. Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee.

George W. Mallory 1859 -1939
George W. Mallory (1859 -1939)

This novel election aroused widespread interest in the communities throughout the nation. The MORNING BULLETIN of Norwich, Connecticut gave a detailed account of the election in an article entitled, “A NORDHOFFIAN METHOD.” Its concluding sentence was, “It has not been announced yet whether Headman Maxwell, within whose jurisdiction the Nordhoff post office is, favored the people or the machine.”

In this case, the “machine” turned out to be the winner, and Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee, was duly appointed postmaster. After the election, but before Mallory’s appointment, the local editor commented, “The irregular election last Saturday to ascertain the choice of the people of Ojai for postmaster of Nordhoff was deemed a success by those most interested. It is not, and was not expected that the result of the election will have any immediate influence in Washington. It is designed as a reform measure, to secure a postmaster desired by the people who support the business, and should have a voice in the management of their own affairs. As G. W. Mallory is the choice of the Democratic Committee, he will probably receive the appointment, and he will be generally acceptable to the people.”

Mr. Mallory served as postmaster throughout the four years of the Cleveland administration, and in accordance with custom, was replaced by a Republican postmaster upon the election of the Republican William McKinley to the Presidency. Mallory regained his position in 1914 when the Democrats returned to power with the election of Woodrow Wilson. Thus he served the citizens of Nordhoff well as postmaster for a total of twelve years.

Mallory had come to the valley in 1886, establishing himself in a men’s furnishings store. He immediately began to devote much of his time and talent to the benefit of the community. During his 53 years in the valley he served the Presbyterian Church as elder and superintendent of the Sunday School; the Masonic Lodge as treasurer for nine years; the City Council, both as member and mayor; the Jack Boyd Club as director; and the elementary school district as clerk. His business activities included acting as director of the local bank and of the Ojai Power Company. After his retirement he became deputy assessor for Ventura County.

George W. Mallory standing behind counter on the right. This photo was taken in 1905 of the Mallory - Dennison Store.
George W. Mallory standing behind counter on the right. This photo was taken in 1905 of the Mallory – Dennison Store.

Mr. Mallory’s widow lives in Ojai, and his son, Bill Mallory, is a businessman in Ojai.

Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on February 19, 1999. It is used here with their permission.

Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned

By

David Mason

“The People of The Ojai can best show their appreciation of the generosity of the donors by keeping the fountain free from defacements, and by gradually developing around it village improvements of other kinds.” –The Ojai, Saturday, October 15, 1904

The journey to the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, was long and tiring.

The dusty road was hardly passable in many places and the fact that the buggies had to ford rivers at least a dozen times didn’t help. The wild berries hanging down from the low tree limbs seemed to cover the trail.

There was a sign of relief when the buggies made it to the small camping area, now Camp Comfort, to take a rest. The stream was always running with cool water and the towering trees provided a shady nook.

When travelers finally reached the small western town of Nordhoff, the first stop was the conveniently placed watering trough and drinking fountain in the center of town.

The fountain was a beautiful addition to the small community which had earlier lacked any architectural charm – it’s design would eventually become known as “Mission Revival” and it was one of the earliest examples.

The Ventura Free Press called it “one of the finest fountains in the state,” and described it in detail.

“On the side facing the middle of main street, we see the drinking place for horses, consisting of a stone trough about twelve feet long, two feet deep and two feet wide, always full of running water supplied from a pipe running out of the lion’s mouth.

“A division, the centerpiece of the fountain, runs lengthwise directly back of the horse trough, and is made prettier by having the stone cut into mouldings at either end. This piece is about fourteen feet long and fully eight feet high in the middle, and is rounding at the top. At each end of this, only a few inches above the ground, the poor thirsty dogs find drinking places.

“The drinking place for humanity is found on the side next to the Ojai Inn, and consists of a large bowl hollowed out of a piece of stone, into which runs a tiny stream of water from a small lion’s mouth.

“The donor has not forgotten the tired traveler, but has built a broad resting place for him on a big slab of stone. The Ojai newspaper refers to as ‘an ornament we should be proud of.'”

Early image of the Nordhoff horse trough, before the pergola was built.
Early image of the Nordhoff drinking fountain, before the pergola was built.
Lion head fountain on the horse trough, before the pergola was built.
Lion head fountain on the horse trough.
Lion head fountain on the street side of the pergola, 2017,
Lion head fountain on the street side of the pergola, 2017.

The fountain, built in memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff in 1904, was indeed an improvement to the downtown block. The community of Nordhoff, the principal settlement in the Ojai Valley, had been established in 1874 and was still in its early stages of development. Evelyn Nordhoff was the daughter of Charles Nordhoff, the well-known author for whom the town was named.

Evelyn Nordhoff’s early life was spent at the family home on the New Jersey palisades, in an area which would eventually become known as “Millionaire’s Row.”

As a young woman, Evelyn enrolled at Smith College, located in west-central Massachusetts and founded in 1871 for the education of women. Her schooling was cut short after one year, with the reason given that “she was needed at home.”

Evelyn learned to etch copper and gained notice by producing decorative, printed calendars. She also created artistically-worked leather pieces.

According to researcher Richard Hoye, “An opportunity opened for Evelyn to visit England when her brother Walter was posted there as a newspaper correspondent.”

In 1888, the first Arts and Crafts exhibition was staged in London, and a co-founder of the exhibition society, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, presented four lectures on bookbinding. Evelyn’s attendance at these lectures piqued her interest in that line of work.

When she eventually returned to America, the Nordhoff family made a touring visit to California. The Ventura County newspaper reported that the Nordhoffs passed through the seaside town and went directly to the Ojai Valley.

Returning to New York City, Evelyn obtained work with a bindery to pursue her interest in the art of bookbinding. There she learned to sew pages and to mend old books. This was the first level of the craft. Evelyn would learn the business from many teachers before she became proficient in the skill of bookbinding.

Evelyn opened her own workroom in Greenwich Village across from the New York University. Her artistry in the work of bookbinding began to gain attention for the young Evelyn as a woman and an artist. She possessed the Nordhoff sense of independence, and the initiative in pursing against the odds.

Training in a craft from which women had previously been excluded reflects a high degree of personal determination and she was a good example of a confident and talented woman, the first woman in the United States to take up the vocation of artistic bookbinding.

Evelyn Nordhoff spent her summer months in California with her parents, who, by this time, made their home in Coronado. In late summer of 1889, when Evelyn would again have departed from Coronado after a summer’s visit, her parents did not realize that this would be their last parting with their daughter, for in November they received word she had died.

She had suffered an attack of appendicitis, was operated on, and failed to recover.

The Nordhoff fountain was given to the community of Nordhoff by sisters Olivia and Caroline Stokes in Evelyn’s memory. The Stokes sisters had inherited wealth from banking, real estate and other interests in the New York City area. They were lifetime companions, never married, especially devout and well-known philanthropists. Their gifts were numerous and worldwide.

The Stokes sisters visited the Ojai Valley in 1903, staying at the Hughes home on Thacher Road, and were probably influenced by Sherman Thacher, founder of a nearby boys’ school, to build the fountain as a lasting memorial to this talented young lady.

Richard Hoye suggests that, “There may also have been a temperance motive. The banning of liquor was strongly supported in the community and by the Stokes sisters. A drinking fountain closely located to a horse trough would remove an excuse that stage drivers and their passengers might have had to resort to alcohol to slacken their thirst after a dusty trip from Ventura to the mountain town.”

In 1917, when Edward D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, began his transformation of the small town, he had the fountain moved back four feet to widen the roadway.

Libbey removed the Ojai Inn and built a beautiful, wisteria-covered, arched and walled pergola. With the fountain as the center focal point, an attractive entrance was created into the Civic Center Park, now Libbey Park.

The pergola with fountain in snow, January 1949.
The pergola with fountain in snow, January 1949.
Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain.
Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain.

In the 1960s, the whole structure began to shown signs of age and suffered major damage from vandalism. In the turmoil of this period, the entrance arch was damaged by explosives and by 1971 the pergola and fountain were removed.

The pergola was bombed in 1969 and later removed.
The pergola was bombed in 1969 and later removed.

The bronze plaque on the fountain that was inscribed, “In memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff, this fountain is given to the people of Nordhoff, 1904” was returned to members of the Nordhoff family.

With the restoration of this landmark – the pergola and the Nordhoff fountain – the bronze plaque has been returned to the people of the Ojai Valley. The plaque will once again be placed on this beautiful fountain which will be rebuilt in memory of Evelyn’s aspirations and accomplishments – a spirit which has prevailed in the history of the Ojai Valley, in its schools and its artistic culture.

Celebration of the newly rebuilt pergola with fountain, July 4, 1999 .
Celebration of the newly rebuilt pergola with fountain, July 4, 1999 .
Florist and historian David Mason getting flowers ready for the pergola restoration celebration. He was the driving force behind the project to rebuilt the pergola.
Florist and historian David Mason getting flowers ready for the pergola restoration celebration. He was the driving force behind the project to rebuild the pergola.