A while back the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC) purchased a ranch near the entrance to the Ojai Valley. Just opposite Casitas Springs this ranch lies nestled between Santa Ana Road and the Ventura River. The OVLC’s purpose in purchasing this ranch was to gain access to the Ventura River in order to continue their mission of restoring and conserving it for the use of future generations.
By purchasing the ranch, however, the OVLC also gained a beautiful ranch house which, county permitting, may be added to the register of Ventura County Historic Landmarks. It was called the Hollingsworth Ranch – purchased in 1877 by its namesake Mr. Jack Hollingsworth.
This article is not in any way a comment on the plans and actions of the OVLC. Instead, the purpose is to share with you a little bit of Ojai Valley history from a part of the Valley which does not receive much attention, historically or otherwise.
The Hollingsworth Ranch was originally part of the Rancho Santa Ana land grant. After changing hands three times, Jack Hollingsworth purchased the ranch in 1877. Jack would remain at the ranch for the rest of his natural life, becoming a local fixture. He was known for his integrity, sensibility, and his penchant for practical jokes. One such prank was recounted by an aging grandchild:
“Apparently Jack was on his ranch when a pair of hunters ventured onto the ranch grounds. The intruders seemed sure that they could hunt game while passing through the ranch – Jack was not so sure. He had an idea and instructed his teenage son, Laurence, to run down a row of fruit trees and then drop down dead when he fired his rifle. Grandpa Hollingsworth was well [known] as a crack shot. Laurence ran off like a bat out of hell. Jack picked up his riffle [sic] and shouted, ‘there goes that dam [sic] boy…’ When Laurence reached the end of the long row of trees he fired a shot and the boy dropped like a stone. The two hunters, horrified that they had witnessed a murder, took off like rabbits and ran all the way [into Ventura]. When they found the local authorities they hurriedly related the story of the ‘shooting in the orchard.’ When the locals figured out where the shooting had taken place they merely laughed and shook their heads before informing the wild-eyed hunters that Jack Hollingsworth had played one of his infamous pranks.”
During this period, the Hollingsworth Ranch was little more than a small ranch house with a few nearby buildings – storehouses mostly. When Jack Hollingsworth’s son took over, however, things began to change.
James C. Hollingsworth (Jim) was not the rancher that his father was. While he did spend his childhood on family farms, Jim was well educated for a young man in the 1910s. He attended USC for two years in preparation for a law degree, but was called to serve in France during WWI. After being honorably discharged he returned to San Buenaventura and set up a law practice with his partner Edward Henderson. Due to his success in law, Jim Hollingsworth became district attorney for Ventura County in 1927, unfortunately taking office in time to preside over the St. Francis Dam Disaster. The disaster did not hinder his career, and Jim Hollingsworth was able to live out the remainder of his life at the Hollingsworth ranch, bequeathed to him after Jack Hollingsworth’s death.
Under Jim Hollingsworth’s supervision, the ranch became less of an agricultural venture and more of a comfortable home. The old ranch house was demolished and replaced with a larger stone building. The surrounding grounds were augmented with entertainment facilities, such as a large barbeque and patio, a swimming pool, and a shaded masonry grove near the river.
The house has since endured with but minor alterations. Although not fully visible from Santa Ana Road, Google Maps has a beautiful aerial photograph of the ranch if you wish to see the beautiful building. [In Google Maps, search on Hollingsworth Ranch Road, Oak View, CA; then click on "Satellite"]
Ojai Valley Land Conservancy tour of the Hollingsworth Ranch
“Grandpa Hollingsworth” by Southern Courtney, date unknown
Sheridan, Sol; History of Ventura County, vol. 2; The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co; Chicago, 1926; p. 260-3