“Nordhoff vs. Ojai”

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News in the October 22, 1969 edition. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is Ed Wenig.

“Nordhoff vs. Ojai
by
Ed Wenig

Legend has that Mrs. A.W. Blumberg, wife of the builder of the first hotel in the Ojai Valley in 1874, insisted on naming the proposed new town “NORDHOFF” because she said, Charles Nordhoff had called attention to the valley. Husband A.W. Blumberg and promoter R.G. Surdam graciously went along with the suggestion.

Nordhoff did write much about California in a book titled “CALIFORNIA For Health, Pleasure and Residence”, but Ojai Valley was not mentioned. He also wrote for newspapers and magazines and, it is said wrote about the valley. The claim is controversial and has not been substantiated, in the view of historians of recent times.

CHARLES NORDHOFF (1830-1901)

In April 1894, Charles Nordhoff did register at the Gally Cottages, and a few days later lectured at the Congregational Church in Nordhoff on “OLD TIMES IN CALIFORNIA.” The local newspaper reported in two columns everything Nordhoff remembered, but he apparently said nothing about visiting the valley before the town was named for him.

In 1894, the people of Ojai Valley were really stirred up about the name “Nordhoff,” for the only town in the valley. The editor of “The Ojai” suggested in an editorial that the matter had been fully discussed, and that every man, woman, and child in the two valleys, resident or visitor, should be polled. The result of such an election would determine whether the question should be forever dropped, or the proper steps be taken to have the name changed.

Feelings run high

Letters literally poured into the editor of “The Ojai” for and against changing the name of the town. Feelings ran high. In a later editorial the editor gave a mild admonition that letters on the subject should be “cleanly worded communications intended for the common good.”

Those who favored changing the name NORDHOFF to OJAI argued that postal clerks throughout the nation were mistaking Nordhoff for Norwalk; that people outside of the valley were confused as to what the post office address really was; that Ojai Valley was losing the effect of much advertising by having another name associated with Ojai; that the name Ojai was unique, the only name of its kind in the whole wide world! One petition was even circulated in east Ojai Valley for the establishment of a new town in the valley to be called “Ojai”.

Those who opposed the name change explained the “Nordhoff” was the name chosen by the people who founded the town 20 years before in honor of Charles Nordhoff, New York writer and traveler, who, they said, had mentioned the Ojai Valley in a newspaper article; that “Nordhoff” had too long been attached to the location to cast it aside unceremoniously.

Twenty-three years later, without much fanfare, “The Ojai”, on March 31, 1917, carried this notice under the Headline: “Now it’s Ojai”: “This telegram from Washington is self-explanatory. H.R. MORSE, FOOTHILLS HOTEL, YOU MAY ANNOUNCE CHANGE OF NAME FROM NORDHOFF TO OJAI. BEST WISHES. (SIGNED) JAMES D. PHELAN, U. S. SENATOR.”

Footnote: Those who have read “Mutiny on the Bounty” will be interested to know that its co-author, Charles Bernard Nordhoff, who was a student at Thacher School in 1898-1899, was the grandson of the Charles Nordhoff for whom the town was named.

Charles B. Nordhoff in 1918.

SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM ORGANIZATION UNDERWAY

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Thursday, November 28, 1957 edition of “THE OJAI”. “THE OJAI” is now the “Ojai Valley News”. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown.

SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM ORGANIZATION UNDERWAY

The first steps in organizing an Ojai Search and Rescue Team to aid in searching for persons lost in Ventura County’s wilderness areas were taken Saturday evening by a small group of Valley men experienced in riding and hiking in the back country.

Prompted by the two recent deaths of persons lost in the Ojai area, the group met at the Sarzotti Park scouthouse to formulate the basic plans for an organization trained to cope with all types of search and rescue operations.

Although specifically designated as an independent team, not directly connected with any particular law enforcement or government agency, the unit would be at the disposal of any such agency needing its services.

The team would be divided into mounted (horse) and foot groups with each having a separate experienced and selected “special” unit.

The “general” groups would be open to anyone wishing to participate but would be used only for searches in the immediate Ojai Valley area during daylight hours. No special equipment would be required and it is expected that organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Ojai Trails Association, and Thacher School would join as individual units.

The “special” mounted and foot units will be limited to persons experienced in riding or hiking in the mountains and those with their own equipment for remaining in the back country from one to three days. This membership will also be limited to persons with their own trailering facilities and those who are prepared to leave their employment on short notice for a period of from one to three days.

These “special” units would be called upon for search or rescue operations in isolated areas, regardless of season or time of day or night and must be prepared to reach a base camp with their own transportation.

Neither group would operate as a “posse” or have any blanket law enforcement powers.

In any search and rescue operations in Ventura County’s huge unincorporated regions, the organization would work directly under Capt. Guy Fremlin of the sheriff’s office, who was recently appointed to head all such operations in the county.

Representatives of the Ojai Valley Search and Rescue team met with Capt. Fremlin earlier to work out details of cooperation between his office and the team.

The members of the “special” foot unit will probably be taken from experienced Explorer and Sea Scout groups and supplemented with adult leaders.

It is also hoped that a Scout mobile canteen, capable of feeding up to 300 people, will be made available for use at base camps, and that a separate Red Cross unit can be added later. All members of the “special” units will be urged to take or renew Red Cross first aid training.

The organization also plans to accumulate its own special rescue equipment and already has obtained a “basket-type” stretcher for carrying injured persons out of mountainous areas. Donations may be sought at a later date to help increase the amount of equipment.

A BASKET-STRETCHER of the type used to carry injured persons out of mountain areas is examined by a group of Valley men meeting last Saturday evening to organize an Ojai Search and Rescue Team to aid in hunting for lost persons n Ventura County. The stretcher was donated to the new group by a local scout troop. Applications are now being sought for membership in the Team and will be divided into mounted and foot units. An attempt is being made to organize the units on the basis of ability to provide immediate aid to any county agency needing help in search or rescue operations. From left to right are: Jack Huyler, Bill Bowie, Jesse Kahle, Frank Rio (behind stretcher), Ado Ruiz, Dwayne Bower, and Bud Bower. The Ojai Staff Photo

A series of practice drills for the “special” units will probably be held each year with simulated searches into the mountain areas.

Saturday’s organizational meeting resulted in creation of a table of organization for the team in which at least three persons were named to each office so as to guarantee uninterrupted operation should key personnel be unavailable at the time of a search.

Heading the overall operation of the team will be William Bowie, Ado Ruiz, and Bill Klamser, Jr. The mounted groups will be under Jack Huyler, Bud Bower, Gene Meadows and Jesse Kahle and Bowie said that leaders of the foot groups will be announced later.

A telephone system of relaying calls of members was established so that once the initial call from Capt. Fremlin or some other agency reaches the Ojai Police Department, a complete mobilization of the team can be made on short notice.

The team will also make itself available to Ojai area civil defense director James Alcorn, for use in the event of any major disaster in this area.

Application forms along with letters of information about the team will be distributed late this week and may be obtained at the Ojai city Hall or the Ojai Publishing Co. by anyone interested in joining the organization. Further information on the team may be had by phoning any of the three organizational directors listed above.

The Duke Comes to Ojai

The Duke Comes to Ojai

Written and compiled from various sources by Tony Thacher.

Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.
Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.

On a dry and dusty afternoon in late October of 1922 this unlikely pair were captured on film standing near the top of the alluvial fan emanating from Horn Canyon in the northeast corner of the Ojai Valley. Sherman Day Thacher, as headmaster of the school he founded 33 years before, is shown flanked by Olympic swimming gold medalist Duke Paoa Kahanamoku of Honolulu, Hawaii. Duke had been invited to come up from Los Angeles to give a demonstration and instruction in swimming to the assembled student body in the Thacher School’s pool. In reality this crude concrete structure was a rather murky irrigation and fire reservoir full of biota from the creek that filled it.

Duke’s swimming skills, superb physique and good looks had already made him a star both in and out of the water. And his gold medals and promotion of board surfing had made his reputation as the “Father of Modern Surfing” and the “Ambassador of Aloha.” From almost the moment of his birth on August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Kahanamoku’s life revolved around the warm Pacific waters surrounding Oahu.  While that on its own might not have been a particularly unusual accomplishment for an Hawaiian Islander of the time, what was unusual was his speed through the water. In the first officially sanctioned Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swim meet in Hawaii in August of 1911, Duke knocked over 4 seconds off the world record for the 100-yard open water event, causing stateside AAU officials to declare there must have been an error and refusing to sanction the time.

Although not used to swimming in a pool, Duke continued his winning ways in the water stateside. At the Olympic games of 1912 held in Stockholm, there was no mistaking Duke’s incredible speed and power, and he won the 100-meter freestyle, again breaking the world record and easily taking the Gold medal. Over the next few years, Kahanamoku’s reputation grew to new heights as he continued shattering world aquatic records in various competitions around the globe. Duke Kahanamoku continued swimming for the rest of his life, winning his last Olympic medal at the age of forty-two. His remarkable twenty-one year career as an Olympic champion remains today a record achievement.

Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

At the same time, he was credited for popularizing the sport of surfing. In a series of widely attended demonstrations around the world, Duke would ride the waves on his handmade long board to the delight of onlookers, and thus the ancient sport was revitalized along the coasts all over the world.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.
Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.

As someone identified with the Hawaiian Islands it is easy to forget that Duke Kahanamoku ever spent significant time anywhere else, yet he was a regular presence in Southern California throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s. The Southland was equally charmed with Duke making many friends and becoming a particular favorite of the movie colony. And, of course, his worldwide fame and good looks didn’t go unnoticed by the studios. In 1925, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) offered Duke a film contract. However, his promising film career was hobbled by an ironic twist – he couldn’t appear on-screen doing what the world best knew him for – swimming. AAU rules strictly prohibited Duke from accepting money for swimming. And Duke had no intention of giving up his amateur standing in athletics just for Hollywood film making, which he considered nothing more than a fun lark. So the studios found themselves with a non-swimming swimming star and were forced to come up with creative ways to use him in non-aquatic roles. They tried their best and over the next few years, Duke made appearances in a number of films. Without being able to be seen as the aquatic champion, his career in movies in the ‘20’s quickly fizzled. However, in later years, Duke would return to the screen on several notable occasions. In 1948 he played a native chieftain opposite another famous “Duke,” John Wayne, in The Wake of the Red Witch, and in 1955 he again played a native chief in the John Ford-directed Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and James Cagney.
Kahanamoku left a legacy in his native Hawaii, where he became its most revered citizen and goodwill ambassador. For more than twenty years he served as Sheriff of Honolulu and after Hawaii became the 50th State in 1959, he was made the State’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.” Kahanamoku died at the age of seventy-seven, just three weeks after greeting Hawaii’s one-millionth visitor.

TWO DUKES: John "The Duke" Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
TWO DUKES: John “The Duke” Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Today, there are many memorials and monuments to Duke Kahanamoku on the Hawaiian Islands, outside Sydney Harbor and elsewhere, but all too few stateside. However, in Ojai, it’s Sherman Thacher’s unheated and untreated irrigation reservoir that can still be linked to the legendary swimmer and surf rider, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.
Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.

THE THACHER SCHOOL

The following story is from Walter W. Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY”. Therefore, it is assumed that Bristol is the author.

THE THACHER SCHOOL
By Walter W. Bristol

This famous school began in 1889 under the direction of Sherman D. Thacher. The location of the school is fortunate—far enough from the town to exclude its concerns and adjacent to mountains, hills and canyons which stimulate interest in riding, hiking, camping, and other out-of-doors activities, which the school capitalized to the fullest extent. This fact led in time to the unique requirement that each boy own and care for a horse.

Thacher Admin Building

The scholastic requirements are high and each student must stand on his own abilities, since Mr. Thacher refused the privilege of the accredited system in force in the California Universities, substituting instead the College Board examinations.

Sherman Thacher
Sherman Thacher

The Commencement exercises in the Thacher Bowl are most interesting and attract capacity audiences.

The red arrows point at the two Wilder brothers and Mr. & Mrs. Sherman Thacher.
The red arrows point at the two Wilder brothers and Mr. & Mrs. Sherman Thacher.

Wm. L. Thacher came to the valley in 1895 and became the Associate Headmaster. Upon the death of Sherman Thacher in 1931, Morgan Barnes succeeded, and in 1936 Anson S. Thacher became Headmaster.

The school was incorporated in 1924. For many years the limit of students at the school was placed at sixty. Ignoring parental pressure and an increased revenue Mr. Thacher preferred quality to quantity. Of late years provision has been made for an increase of fifteen students.

At the Presbyterian Church on March 20, 1939, the Fiftieth Anniversary Memorial Service was held. Morgan Barnes, who came especially from his home in Pennsylvania, presided. Men prominent in the educational field from different parts of the country participated in the significant event both at the church and at the school during the year. Among them were:

Dr. Charles Seymour, President of Yale.
Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, President of Stanford.
Dr. Monroe E. Dentsch, Vice-President of University of California.
Dr. Robert A. Millikan, Chairman of the Executive Council of the California Institute of
Technology.

It is interesting to note that in the 57 years of the school’s history 1103 students have passed through its portals. A score of more of the alumni have attained distinction in education and administration, and two outstanding in literature, viz; Thornton Wilder, twice-winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Charles B. Nordhoff, co-author of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and other works. [Charles B. Nordhoff was the grandson of Charles Nordhoff for whom Ojai was originally named.]

Thornton Wilder at Yale.
Thornton Wilder at Yale.

 

Charles B. Nordhoff in 1918.
Charles B. Nordhoff in 1918.

Our Town, Part 2-Social Life in Early Nordhoff

Our Town, Part 2 by Helen Baker Reynolds

Among the valley’s residents even in earlier times were families whose interests were not provincial. A reading club and a Chautauqua group had been formed for the purpose of study, and when mother started a Shakespeare Club it too became a focus of studious effort. The members even, from time to time, enacted Shakespearean plays. Mother, herself, in the role of Lady Macbeth, attained a degree of local acclaim. She was troubled by the necessity of saying, “Out, damned spot,” but salved her conscience by saying “damned” very quickly and almost inaudibly.

A center of community life was our Presbyterian church. Unimposing in design, it was nevertheless a joy to the eye because of the masses of climbing roses that transformed it into a bower. It stood cat-a-corner from our front gate and across from the grammar school. Church bells and school bells punctuated our days, and both rang out in the event of a fire.

In addition to regular Sunday services, many other worthy activities were centered on sound local charities: the Ladies’ Missionary Society; and a local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. All I remember about the WCTU is that each member wore a small white ribbon bow pinned to the front of her dress, and the Ojai group sometimes sponsored a program denouncing the Evils of Drink.

Besides church and temperance and study club activities, there were other events of importance scattered throughout the year. In very early times just before the turn of the century a festive event for the young social group had been an all-day tally-ho ride around the “Triangle” to Ventura, to Santa Paula, and return. Mrs. Lord’s musicales had become quite a social feature. Mrs. Lord was our teacher of music and one who would have graced the life of any larger community. She maintained and developed her own technique as a versatile musician while giving devoted care to her family and inspired instruction to pupils.

Mrs. Lord’s classes and her recitals enriched the simple life of our valley. (Editor note: Mrs. Lord’s daughter, Agnes Gally, carries on the family tradition today, as a violinist in the Ventura County Symphony and a local string quartet.)

An afternoon tea at the Thacher school was always a gracious event, and once every year the school invited the whole valley to a reception. In the era of taffeta petticoats there would be a great deal of rustling, and the white kid gloves were everywhere in evidence. Children attending with their parents would be starched and scrubbed and on such good behavior to be almost unrecognizable. Madam Thacher, as she was always called (the mother of the headmaster) presided at all such affairs with the utmost charm and dignity. Whenever I would be led up to greet her I would have the dazzled sensation of being presented at court.

The Tournament was a tremendous event in our otherwise quiet valley. Flowers lent an added note of gaiety; backstops and grandstands were bedecked with massive bunches of lupine and California poppies.

On Saturday evening at the close of the tournament, the Thacher school held a dance. When I was a child, no one from our family attended these festive gathering, for mother disapproved of dancing. Later, when I was in high school, I questioned mother about her scruples with a good deal of tearful emotion. Why was the dancing wrong, I wanted to know? How about mother’s own Grandmother Day, who danced the mazurka so beautifully?

Mother was sympathetic. She was not forbidding me to dance, she explained; I might dance if I thought it was right. But she felt it her duty to tell me (here she showed a great deal of embarrassment) that modern dances such as the waltz, and now others she had heard spoken of as the one-step and two-step and fox trot, were likely to rouse the baser impulses in men and boys. Of course, when her grandmother was young, dancing had been quite different. There seemed little reason to fear the moral effect of the mazurka.

Living close to the village center, mother’s scruples perhaps were confirmed by the character of the public dances occasionally held in the grammar school assembly hall. For all I know, these dances may not have been quite innocuous. They were noisy, however, and to judge by the sounds, not excessively refined. The Hoodlums, who either attended or looked through the windows, uttered rowdy whoops and catcalls above the sounds of music and uproarious shouts of laughter.

Immured in our Snug Little World nearby, we heard the sounds of revelry as echoes straight from hell. No one of us, as I recall, ever commented on the noise from the schoolhouse. Mother would have felt embarrassed to take open cognizance of such goings-on, and from her, our mentor, the rest of us took our cue.

Charles Nordhoff Visits the Ojai Valley

Charles Nordhoff Visits the Ojai Valley by Richard Hoye

The City of Ojai was first established as a village in 1874 and given the name Nordhoff. The village retained this name for 43 years, until it was changed to Ojai in 1917. Its original name was derived from the author, editor and journalist Charles Nordhoff, who lived from 1830 to 1901.

His name is still retained in the name of the high school, Nordhoff High School, and the name of the highest point on the ridge which forms the northern wall of the Ojai Valley, Nordhoff Peak. There is also a fountain at the center of the city which commemorates his daughter, Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff.

Charles Nordhoff is frequently confused with his grandson Charles Bernard Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty; but they are of different generations. Charles Nordhoff was a well-established author in his own right. He wrote about a dozen books. His first books were about his early life as a seaman, and his Man-of-War Life (1855) was used at Annapolis as a standard reference for naval cadets. His most famous book was California for Health, Pleasure and Residence, published in June 1872. He was a deeply religious man, and one of his books was titled, God and the Future Life (1883). His Politics for Young Americans (1875) was used in public schools as a civics text.

Charles Nordhoff was a “correspondent” in Washington, D.C., for the New York Herald newspaper from 1874 until his retirement in 1890. The New York Herald was the foremost newspaper in the nation, comparable to the New York Times today. This was at a time when there was no Internet, no television and no radio. Newspapers were the principal method of mass communication. As a “correspondent” (we might say reporter/commentator) at the nation’s capital for the nation’s foremost newspaper, he was at the top of his profession and was well-known nationwide.

The following statement was included in an obituary written just after his death, which occurred in San Francisco on July 14, 1901:

“The town of Nordhoff was named for Charles Nordhoff, in appreciation of the good words spoken of the Ojai Valley as a health resort, both as a writer and in personal talks with friends.”

This is the common understanding as to how the village came to be named for the author, and it is an explanation that has been repeated many times over. Nonetheless, it is incorrect.

“Persons seeking to learn what Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley pick up his California for Health, Pleasure and Residence from a local library and search the book intensively only to discover that there is nothing in the work about the valley! This leads to perplexity and confusion! The book was published in 1872, and the village was named Nordhoff in 1874. . . . but, he had not written about it.”

The key to understanding what actually occurred rests in the fact that there was a subsequent edition of the work, published in 1882. The title page of the second edition stated that it was a “New Edition, Thoroughly Revised.” It is in the 1882 edition that information about the Ojai Valley is to be found. Unfortunately, it is also an edition that is less commonly shelved in public libraries.

Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley eight years after the village was given his name. So, it wasn’t his writing about the Valley that led to the use of his name. The suggestion for naming the village is attributed to Catherine Blumberg, wife of the man who constructed the first hotel in the center of the hamlet. She thought the use of Nordhoff’s name would be a good idea (better than the Topa Topa first considered). Nordhoff’s famous book about California had been published a couple of years earlier, and tourists were carrying it about as a reliable guide to the state.

Main Street, Nordhoff, California in 1890

A two-volume biography of Thomas Bard was written by the author W.H. Hutchinson (Oil, Land and Politics: The California Career of Thomas Robert Bard) and published in 1965. Bard was the Valley’s first real estate agent; and he later became a member of the U.S. Senate, representing the State of California. Hutchinson included the following statement in his book:

“Without visiting the Ojai, he [Charles Nordhoff] penned some glowing prose about its salubrious climate and other advantages, and it is believed that he gleaned his material from Bard and Roys Surdam. His other periodical press articles and a book about his travels first gave national publicity to the southern coast and especially to Santa Barbara.”

If complete information had been available to Hutchinson, he would have reached a different conclusion.

Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley for a quick, weekend turnaround on October 22-23, 1881. Here is part of a report from a Santa Barbara newspaper:

NORDHOFF AT NORDHOFF

The Ventura “Signal” says:  “For the first time, on last Saturday, in company with D.W. Thompson and wife of Col. Hollister, of Santa Barbara. Charles Nordhoff, the celebrated newspaper correspondent, and the man to whom more than anyone else Southern California owes the greater portion of her population, visited Nordhoff and the Ojai Valley. Of course, he went into ecstacies over the beautiful valley.”

— Santa Barbara, The Daily Press, Oct. 31, 1881, p. 2:1.

Charles Nordhoff doesn’t seem to have been a man who would have been lost to “ecstacies”, even though the Valley does have this effect upon some. The visit was a momentous event. Here was William Hollister, owner of the Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara, and Dixie Thompson, manager of the hotel, escorting Charles Nordhoff on his first visit to the valley. Hollister was a man of considerable wealth, after whom the town of Hollister was named in northern California. So, both Hollister and Nordhoff had towns named after them.

“Dixie Thompson was owner of a Ventura ranch which in time would be described as the largest lima-bean ranch in the world. His name is found today in Thompson Boulevard in Ventura. The news account omits the fact that Mrs. Charles Nordhoff was also a member of the party.”

We see, then, that Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley in October 1881. The second edition of his book on California, and the edition with information about the Ojai Valley, was published in 1882. He saw the valley before he wrote about it, and Hutchinson was wrong in this particular.

Charles Nordhoff’s interest in the valley was friendly and supportive. He visited again in 1889 and 1894. He was a member of the building committee for his community church in Alpine, New Jersey; and when a decision was made to construct that church in stone rather than wood, the architectural design for the wooden church was sent to the Ojai Valley and used for the design and construction of the Valley’s Presbyterian church (which still stands). He (a Methodist) donated money for construction of the Presbyterian church and provided books for its “Sabbath School” (we would say Sunday School).

Charles Nordhoff also established an enduring friendship with Sherman Thacher, founder of the Thacher School in the Ojai Valley. Thacher hosted a reception in the Valley for Nordhoff in 1894. There is a record that Thacher later visited Nordhoff at Coronado, California, where Nordhoff had retired. Thacher was also among the last persons outside the immediate family who visited with Nordhoff in San Francisco shortly before Nordhoff’s death.

Sharp & Savvy: Sherman Day Thacher

Sharp & Savvy: Sherman Day Thacher (1861 – 1931)
by David Mason

Sherman D. Thacher

It was in 1888 that Sherman Thacher took up a homestead claim of 160 acres in the Ojai Valley. At first he thought he might teach as a side line which would furnish him some means of livelihood.

The idea of a school was gradually developed and the first pupil came to the “Casa de Piedra” ranch in 1889, and while being educated by Mr. Thacher, he was given the opportunity to develop a wholesome outdoor life.

Mr. Thacher’s original plan was not to remain in the valley, but to stay only temporarily, then journey on to destinations unknown. As fate would have it, the beauty and charm of the valley grew on him. He soon noticed that the outdoor life agreed with him and he saw success ahead which spurred him on.

His teaching began with the one pupil from the east and eventually, more came. Sundays, holidays and off school hours were devoted to improving his property. He even built a house with his brother’s help.

His brother, William, was also involved in civic activities and was responsible for founding the famous tennis tournaments held annually in Ojai.

With the addition of more pupils the ranch soon developed into a full time school. More suitable buildings were added year after year.

Mr. Thacher was certainly well qualified to run a school, he had graduated from the Yale University in 1883, in 1884 entered the law department of Yale University, graduating in 1886. He practiced law in Kansas City, Missouri, and in 1887 came to the town of Nordhoff in the Ojai Valley.

In 1896, he married Eliza Seely Blake, a native of San Francisco who was a graduate of the University of California in 1895. They would become the parents of six children.

Mr. Thacher served as headmaster of the school until his retirement in June, 1931. He had been associated with the scholarly and cultured life from his early childhood.

He was a kind and generous man and a valley leader. Along with his school he had been; president of the board of trustees of Nordhoff High School from 1908 until 1922, trustee of the San Antonio school district from 1898 until 1912. He was a member of the Ojai Valley Men’s League from 1910 until 1920, director of the Ojai Civic Association, and a member of the Ojai Valley Presbyterian Church since 1887. Mr. Thacher worked closely with his friend Edward D. Libbey, to change the entire face of the downtown of Ojai.

He was the paternal great-grandson of Roger Sherman who was born in 1721 and best recognized as one of the founding fathers who helped draft and sign the Declaration of Independence and laid the foundation for our current-day Treasury Department.

Many men prominent in business and the professions, not only in California but

Sherman Thacher

throughout the world, acknowledge their debt to the Thacher School for a wholesome education that has been an opening to the resources of a broad and fundamental life.

Before his death in 1931, his devotion to the valley that he loved was without thought of personal gain, he created a school of high scholastic standing, a lasting monument so recognized by educators of renown to be one of the finest schools to ever serve the students that arrive yearly from all parts of the world.

 

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Postcard: Thacher School Administration Building


Thacher School Administration Building. Several original Thacher School structures were destroyed in a 1910 fire. Sherman Thacher asked Arthur B. Benton, who was designing the first Nordhoff High School campus, to design the new Thacher administration building and dormitory. Arthur Benton, best known for Riverside’s Mission Inn, was one of the first proponents of Mission Revival architecture. Completed six years before Libbey’s transformation of downtown Ojai, the Thacher Schoolhouse is probably Ojai’s first Mission Revival building. Among those who once boarded here were author Thornton Wilder and businessman Howard Hughes.


The above is an excerpt from Ojai: A Postcard History, by Richard Hoye, Tom Moore, Craig Walker, and available at Ojai Valley Museum or at Amazon.com.