EARLY DAYS–Nordhoff founded dramatically

Royce Gaylord Surdam
Royce Gaylord Surdam

The following article was printed in the Ojai Valley News,  in 1979. It is reprinted here with their permission.

EARLY DAYS—Nordhoff founded dramatically by Ed Wenig

Few pioneer towns were founded so dramatically, and with so much fanfare, as was the town of Nordhoff on April 6, 1874. On that evening, R. G. Surdam, promoter-extraordinary, greeted over 300 people at the just completed Blumberg Hotel – a hotel built on the hope of a future population.

Months before, Surdam had advertised regularly in the VENTURA SIGNAL about the Ojai Valley as a delightful health resort, and just previous to the big hotel party, a large advertisement had appeared with a diagram entitled “PLAT OF THE TOWN OF NORDHOFF.”

It must have been a thrilling sight in that early April afternoon to see the gay society folk of Ventura and a hurriedly assembled band starting for the Ojai Valley on horseback and in all kinds of wagons. There was a road of sorts part way, but after that came to an end there was only a dim trail that crossed and re-crossed the San Antonio Creek a dozen or more times before reaching Blumberg’s Hotel.

$6.25 an acre!

After a sumptuous banquet, for which the guest paid $3, came a speech by Surdam. He explained that the new town would have a grand public square with a foundation in the middle, diverging avenues, a town hall, an academy, and a chapel. He also made it known that an “outside tract” of about 1700 acres was for sale at $6.25 an acre. The Ventura Band was scheduled to play for the dance after the dinner in a specially constructed bower. However, a furious east wind delayed the dance until 11 p.m., when the wind subsided, and then the happy crowd danced until daylight.

The following week the Ventura paper carried this headline: “NORDHOFF BALL A COMPLETE SUCCESS!” followed by the comment: “It was the biggest company which has ever been in the attendance at any ball in the county….The success of the affair is largely due to the enthusiasm and enterprise of the founder of the village, Mr. R. G. Surdam.”

Surdam had originally planned to name his town Topa Topa. However, by April 1874, he had decided to call it Nordhoff, in honor of the journalist whose writings had publicized California in the east.

The spectacular Mr. Surdam had many firsts to his credit in Ventura County. He was the first recognized real estate broker in Ventura County. With Thomas Bard, he built the first wharf in Ventura County in 1871. He founded the first town in the Ojai Valley in 1874. He built the first evaporating fruit drier on Poli Street near Ash Street in Ventura. He had come to California in 1854 where, it is said, he made and lost fortunes in mining.

Ojai Valley sold for 45-cents an acre

The following article was printed in the Ojai Valley News in the 1960s or 1970s, and is reprinted here with their permission. It was written by Ed Wenig.

Ojai Valley sold for 45-cents an acre

Fernando Tico
Fernando Tico

The entire Ojai Valley of over 17,000 acres was once an outright gift of the Mexican government to a prominent Ventura man, Don Fernando Tico. It should be added, too, that in the ensuing years the Ojai Valley was sold and resold for sharply advancing prices of approximately 45 cents to 62 cents, and then one dollar an acre!

The Ojai Valley had long been in the possession of Mission San Buenaventura when the Mexican government, in 1833, secularized (confiscated) all Mission property. In 1837 “Ranch Ojay” was granted to Don Fernando Tico, who held a high appointive position in the civil government of the Ventura area.

Fernando Tico built a little house in, what is now, the eastern part of the present city of Ojai and lived there some years. But he soon found that he was “land poor”. Taxes were too high. For that reason he even refused an additional gift of the Rancho Santa Ana, which was offered to him by Governor Alvarado. He moved back to Ventura, after selling the entire valley for $7,500 to Henry Storrow Carnes of Santa Barbara. In 1856, Carnes sold Rancho Ojay to Juan Camarillo for $10,000.

Juan Camarillo had come from Mexico in 1834 and was a successful merchant in Santa Barbara. He had soon begun buying and selling land grants, one of which was the Rancho Ojay. After holding it for eight years, he sold it in 1864 for $17,754 to John Bartlett.

It might be said that year 1864 marked the first subdivision of the Ojai. Four days after he purchased the land, Bartlett sold one-third to John B. Church for $6,000 and two-thirds to John Wyeth for $12,000. A month later Church and Wyeth sold half the valley to Charles H. Russell and Henry M. Alexander. These gentlemen bought the rest of the grant in the same year, and in 1868 the entire Ojai Valley was reunited again when it was sold to John P. Green, acting as attorney for Thomas A. Scott, former Assistant Secretary of War under President Lincoln.

There were no roads here when Ayers arrived

The following article was printed in the Ojai Valley News on Oct. 8, 1969; Page D-6.  It is reprinted here with their permission. We have made several minor adjustments to update the article.

There were no roads here when Ayers arrived by Ed Wenig

Robert Ayers
Robert Ayers

It is hard to visualize Robert Ayers, his wife, and their seven children making their way into the roadless Ojai Valley of 1868, over a hundred [and fifty] years ago, as the first American family to settle in the valley.

After staying a short time in the old Tico adobe, Robert Ayers bought a ranch in the Upper Ojai. At that time the Upper Valley was the more desirable of the two valleys on account of the level, rich land, with abundant water flowing through it.

Four years later in 1872 Ayers bought a 400 acre ranch in the Lower Valley which extended north to the mountains from what is now Soule Park Golf course. Then in 1887 he sold this property and bought the 7,000-acre Casitas Ranch on which he raised some of the finest race horses in the county.

Ayers had come to California in 1850. After two years of gold mining, in which he had been exceedingly successful, he brought his family to California from the east, and settled in Sonoma County, not far from Petaluma. Here he farmed, built and operated the Washoe Hotel, and acted as postmaster of Stony Point.

The Ayers family were truly pioneers when they arrived in the Ojai Valley in 1868. There was no town of Nordhoff and no grade road from Ventura. Ventura County did not exist as a political unit, but was part of Santa Barbara County.

Six years later in 1874, we find the names of Mrs. and Robert Ayers and their daughter, Agnes, on the guest list of the promotional ball sponsored by R. G. Surdam and A. W. Blumberg to arouse interest in the establishment of a town which was later to be named Nordhoff [now Ojai].

Robert Ayers organized the first Ojai Grange in 1875, as a part of the national organization of farmers which had been started eight years before as the “Patrons of Husbandry”, and whose national membership numbered some 750,000 members. Soon some 20 prominent Ojai Valley farmers belonged to the local Grange. Robert Ayers provided the organization with a building in which they could store flour, potatoes, coffee, sugar, and soap that had been shipped from San Francisco.

Ayers served as county supervisor from 1885 to 1889, during which time he planned and constructed part of the first grade road from Ventura to Ojai.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ayers and their family of seven children have long since passed away, there are many descendants. Among the Ayers’ grandchildren who live[d] in the Ojai Valley are Frank and Kenneth Ayers, and Mrs. William Suytar. [Today there are no descendants of the Ayers living in the valley.]



There were two articles published on the front page of THE OJAI on Friday, June 22, 1917. THE OJAI is now the Ojai Valley News. The first article was posted on OjaiHistory.com on Sept. 23, 2016 with their permission. Following is the second article, posted with the approval of the Ojai Valley News too. The author is unknown.

Courageous Hearts Bravely Face Situation, With Hopefulness for an Even Greater Ojai, Inspired by Mr. Libbey’s Telegram of Sympathy and Cheer

Out of the ruin and desolation wrought by the greatest disaster in the history of all Southern California will arise a greater Ojai. The indomitable will of our citizens, bolstered up by the good offices of such men as E. D. Libbey, Chas. M. Pratt, W. M. Ladd, O. W. Robertson, Geo. O. Carpenter, F. H. Osgood and many others, has so willed it.

But the first thoughts of our people turned to the homeless and suffering–the refugee victims of the great catastrophy. While the embers were still smoking on the site of leveled homes, where the bare chimneys stood as monuments of the untoward disaster, and while the firelines in the hills about us still held the brawn and bravery of the community fighting for the mastery with tireless zeal, the Men’s League began to act, and with what grand and noble purposes they labored, and the good accomplished, may be gleaned from the following report of the secretary:


Meetings of the Executive Com. of the Men’s League were held at the Boyd Club Monday and Tuesday afternoons. A special Relief Committee was appointed as follows:

Harrison Wilson, chairman.
Boyd Gabbert, secretary-treasurer.
J. J. Burke
G. H. Hickey
S. D. Thacher

This committee was authorized to collect funds and to disburse them for the good of those suffering from the recent fire.

The chambers of commerce of Los Angeles, Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and other cities, have been requested to act as treasurers for relief funds which may be subscribed by people in their various localities, and to notify their local newspapers to this effect, remitting funds thus collected to the Ojai committee.

The Emergency Committee has established its headquarters in the office of the Ojai Realty Co. (Burke & Gabbert) and have met daily to work out plans for effective action. They have posted the following notice on the inside window, which represents the spirit in which they propose to work:

Consult us freely if we can be of
any use, to you or anybody else.
We are here to help.
Don’t be backwards.
We are ready to act at once.


The co-operation of the Women’s Club has been cordially given. All supplies of garments, bedding, utensils, etc., may be left at the clubhouse, and applications for such things may be left there.

Money subscriptions may be left with or sent to Mr. Gabbert, and requests for aid of any kind should be made at headquarters. Anyone will be welcome to state his or her own difficulties, or the needs of him or herself. The committee is anxious to aid everyone and to handle applications as confidentially as possible.

The Ojai State Bank is ready to make special loans or longer time than usual and at lower rate of interest.


The committee is very anxious to help in rebuilding and hope they will be able to help every citizen of the Ojai who was burned out, back to as good a position as he was in before the fire. The committee is specially interested in the rebuilding and to have all structures built in the best possible taste. They hope to consult Mr. Requa or other competent architect in regard even to the simplest buildings, and they beg everyone who contemplates building without any assistance to consult with them, without charge, in order to obtain such architectural help as may be practicable.

It is hoped that the dreadful disaster of the fire may thus in many ways prove a blessing to the people of the Ojai, making it a better and more beautiful region than ever before, and the committee begs co-operation to this end.

The committee will cordially welcome at their headquarters, at all times anyone who has any suggestions to make as to ways in which the committee may be useful, or anyone who can tell of the need or special suffering of others.

No one should think of this help which the committee and the subscribers to the fund are giving as in any sense charity. It is merely ordinary neighborly helpfulness, such as any of us would be glad to receive. It is really a kind of mutual insurance whereby those who have not suffered desperately bear part of the burden of those who have lost heavily.



There were two articles published on the front page of THE OJAI on Friday, June 22, 1917. THE OJAI is now the Ojai Valley News. The first article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown. The second article will be posted on this site at a later date.

Where the Fighting was Fiercest Along Great Battleline of Flame, with Figures, Facts and Fancies Concerning the Devastating Disaster

In our last issue we were only able to refer briefly to the devastating fire which with almost resistless force swept the adjacent hills for miles, leaving the watershed of a green forest reserve bleak and barren; then lashed into fury by a terrific gale, shot into the valley by leaps and bounds, leaving in its wake a checkered area of ruins, where a short time before stood the homes of our citizens, or the rich fruitage of orchard and field.

And even now, no word picture can be traced upon paper that would adequately and accurately portray scenes and incidents following closely the first realization that the civic center was in the lurid path of danger. It was the noon hour, or thereabouts, when the contingent of Ojai’s heroic fighters headed for the fireline in the Matilija, where the first struggle for mastery over the relentless fire demon was staged by our home guards and citizens generally, although at Wheeler’s a brave band of sixteen were at that moment facing a hell of fire, which commanded a position cutting off possible assistance, having eaten its way through the north fork, over and along the ridges, at a point near the new bridge at the turn leading to Matilija Springs, jumped into the canyon, while another lurid line reached out towards Fred Sheldon’s and the more open valleys beyond, until shooting hither and yon the billows of flame penetrated to and beyond Lyon’s Springs. Even then the hot breath from the seething furnace had not shaken us in our deep-seated sense of security. Men, women and children watched the rising pillar of smoke blacken and broaden without fear or apprehension, little dreaming that a few hours later the somber hues would be reflected in a bright red glare up and down the post office tower from the Ojai Avenue and Signal St. sides, with ominous significance.

It was at about this time that reports passed from lip to lip, highly tinged with exaggeration—Lyon’s Springs, rumor said, was burned and that Mrs. Lyon had perished in the flames; that the Sheldon place was in ashes and sixteen women and children were hemmed in at Wheelers, the latter statement being true. Then followed the terrorizing news that the Farnum place was in ashes and that the Lamb house did not burn and the family was safe, Mrs. Land and a few days old infant, with the nurse, finding refuge in a near field. The infant has since died, and the death of the nurse from shock was reported early in the week in these columns.

Forest Ranger Bald, at one time hemmed in by the fire at Wheelers, made his way to Ojai, reaching here almost exhausted at about 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon, to get in communication with Santa Barbara forest service station. The telephone line at Wheeler’s going out of commission 15 minutes after the first sweep of flames, but more particularly to get a line on the situation here. He found that most of the available men were fighting in the Matilija, at Fred Sneldon’s and in the vicinity of Cozy Dell and Loring Farnum’s. When asked his opinion of the situation here, he said it was very grave, and immediately began to muster a fighting force here and to get some of the 150 or more men back from the hills. It was then that the first real alarm was felt, and only shared in by a few. But as the moments flew by the menace grew, and with the approach of dusk the threatening tide of fire was rolling onward, nearer and nearer. After the Farnum home had been wiped out, the word passed along that the beautiful Sinclair home was doomed, and from the tower an appalling sight fairly blanched the faces of those who watched. A little before 7 o’clock, machine after machine rolled in from Ventura, in response to the call for aid to move out the women and children, and a little later Santa Paula got the startling message: “Ojai is doomed” and the response was immediate. At 7 o’clock, or a little later, a terrific wind added to the fury of the conflagration, which had divided and spread, reaching the southward to Sid Graham’s and beyond, cutting off escape in that direction and thereafter, for hours, cart loaded with terrified refugees sought safety in Santa Paula and Ventura via Sulphur Mountain Springs, until, so far as known, only Mrs. Hudlburg, Mrs. Munger, Mrs. Gallantine and Mrs. Russell remained, all refusing to go, but some time after midnight Claude Gallantine forced his mother out although at that hour most of the carnage had been done.

Before 9 o’clock a perfect whirlwind of fire was roaring through the northern, northwestern and western portion of the village with freakish, uneven strides, refusing to be conquered, the the cry, “we are doomed!” on many tongues, or reflected in the faces of those upon the street, and while it seemed a bedlam with whirring , honking cars, there was but little disorder and no hysteria when the excitement and danger was greatest, although the scene was most appalling to the clearest heads and stoutest hearts.

Fanned by the gale the flames shot upward from base and brow of the hills beyond the Foothills hundreds of feet, and the drop into the valley was swift and sudden. The destruction of property was just as rapid. When the Foothills hotel formed a pyramid of fire, with the Robertson and Sinclair homes in ruins, the work of havoc had begun in the valley. The streets were carpeted with ashes and cinders like glaring torches hurtled through the air, starting fresh fires far from the parent body of flame. Its early entry into the village was heralded by the report that the Hudlburg home was afire, to this was soon added Judge Wilson’s, but neither had to see his home and sit upon the porch (where a chair had caught fire and gone out) before he would believe it.

But there was still an abundance of costly fuel for the flames, which ate their way into the heart of the residence section, leveling the homes of F. H. Osgood, A. Rudolph, R. P. Menefee, S. L. Smith, D. D. Schurman, G. W. Mallory, Mrs. F. Weir, Mrs. B. S. Stewart, John King, John Timms, Jim Fraser, Geo. Foreman, Morris Cota, P. A. Crampton, C. A. Stewart, O. H. Busch, Mrs. W. L. and Clarence McKee, Mrs. T. G. Gabbert, Mrs. Wermuth, Frank Wolfe, Frank Kelley, C. C. VanFleet, P. K. Miller, Mrs. Ella Miller, G. B. Turner, Ed. Haas, Boyd Gabbert, Chas. Gibson, A. W. Helm, and further north and east those home of Jack Edwards, Dave Warner and Mrs. Rich. In the work of destruction on the hill and the flat below, Dr. Van Patten, Fannie Johnson, Miss Draper and Miss Scott shared the same fate.

Sweeping through Libbey park, the fire reached the high school grounds and reduced to ashes the Manual Arts building, leaving the main building and Domestic Science building to pounce upon the home of W. W. Bristol, the Bristol private school and Presbyterian manse, all being destroyed, while opposite, across the highway, the new residence of John Flanagan, not then occupied, and S. D. Nill escaped, after scorching shrubbery and burning paths around the houses. How the Kenworthy home in the open field south of the high school escaped, is one of the mysteries of the freakish fire. It was burned bare to the house and out buildings, but in spite of the wind the family conquered in the desperate fight. The escape of the Ojai Inn was just as miraculous, although mighty hard fighting was in progress in that quarter, and the fire was kept at bay along the west line of Ventura street, and little damage was done in that entire section of town, but close shaves were many and frequent during the rain of fire and reign of terror.

When a cinder-torch dropped into Frank Wolfe’s eucalyptus grove, sown to grain, short work wa made of the task of wiping out the home, and crossing over to Hugh Clark’s barn quickly reduced to an ash heap, clearing the yard of a valuable collection of wagons, buggies, ranch and road machinery. Tom Clark’s t * o tally-ho coaches were in the ruined area. In the tool house were stored Bill Clark’s fine saddle and Chas. Brady’s tool chest—now a scrap heap.

From there the fire swept down the alley between the Drumgold cottages and Drown place, burning outbuildings of Mr. Findley; setting fire to Willard William’s woodpile, burning our portable hen roost and charring the back-porch railing of the house, but the entire row was saved through the heroic efforts of Andy Crowe, who was on the job all the time.

The successful struggle to save Taylor and Clark homes and the garage, with the fighting sentinels back of the business houses, and on top of them, saved the entire row and the arcades, and probably about everything else now most happily in sight.

At that moment, all north of Ojai avenue and to the west was baptized in flames—the buildings heretofore mentioned, with the Baptist and Catholic churches, barns, garages, etc., included, were scattered heaps of smoking, blazing ruins, and that the village was not laid waste completely is an incident entitled to a place with the miracles.

An abundance of water, judiciously applied, backed by a strong fighting force, saved the Hermitage ranch of the Orr estate and the Fordyce place. Chas. Orr’s loss was confined to orchards and apirary, and Fordyce lost a line of flume along with the orchard loss.

Water also save Judge Daly, Mrs. Gardner, the Stetsons and others. The Limonerie firefighters numbering 35 accomplished heroic work on and near the Orr place, and on Sunday were hurried to Wheelers to relieve the high tension, it being the first outside help to reach that blazing inferno, where Forest Range Reyes, with a determined but inexperienced squad of employees of the Springs, and guests, including Webb Wilcox and his plucky wife, made a name for himself that will go down in history. Jacinto is a demon of the fire line, and the work done by Geo. Bald, his son Howard and Bert Cooper—all rangers—was of high order of efficiency, and Geo. Macleod, int the rural carrier service, aided loyally.

And the women of the Red Cross, and others—God bless them!—how they worked to sustain the firefighters! Mrs. Wilda Church kept open house for days, preparing food. Over 600 meals were carried by messengers to the exhausted men.

There wa not busier place—not even where flames were the thickest—than the telephone office. Miss Lewis, local manager, was at her post of duty, assisted by Miss Myrtle McQuiston when the excitement was at its zeneth, and a perfect bedlam of calls kept the wires hot. These young ladies kept their mental faculties clear and hands and tongues busy, but the strain was terrible, and when the danger was over Miss Lewis suffered a partial collapse, and Miss Ethel Dear, of Fillmore, has been assisting at the board for several days, and Miss Gifford is on duty for her regular shifts. Saturday night Mrs. Sam Hudlburg, former manager, came up from Ventura to do relief work, and was on duty when the fire burned brightest and when the shingles were hottest. All honor to there brave young women, one and all.

The work of Santa Paula and Ventura was the sort that makes mankind more akin. The response to the dry distress was instant and the efforts were unceasing. The honor roll is too long for publication, but Ojai is too deeply grateful to find expression in words. They inspired courage: they threw open their homes to the flood of refugees. None were neglected. Let us not forget.


With the ruins of many homes still smoking, President E. W. Gerry, Secretary L. P. Hathaway and John Burson, representing the Ventura County Mutual Fire Insurance Co., arrived on the scene Tuesday, and without any quibbling passed out checks to the policy holders of the full amount of the risks, as follows:
C. A. Stewart…………………………………$1100
G. W. Mallory……………………………………1400
G. B. Turner………………………………………3000
R. P. Menefee……………………………………1550
Boyd E. Gabbert…………………………………750
Mrs. E. H. Hass…………………………………..800
Presbyterian Manse…………………………1800
Dr. P. S. Van Patten………………………….1000
F. A. Crampton…………………………………..1400
W. W. Bristol……………………………………….400
John Timms………………………………………….500
F. J. Bates (3 res.)……………………………3200
Mrs. Ceorgena Kelley……………………….4500
Baptist Church…………………………………….600
Total paid…………………………………….22,000
Frank E. Wolfe, insured for $1300—not adjusted as yet.
Boyd E. Gabbert is the legal agent and is fully justified in feeling proud of the prompt action of his company.

Representatives of five insurance companies—the Aetna, Hartford, Firemens Fund, N. Y. Union and Home—have been busy since the fire adjusting losses, the following are the fortunate policy holders, with the amount of insurance, several having more than one policy, covering different classes of property, the figures being in the aggregate.
O. H. Busch, $1100
Olive L. Bristol, $3750
Charlotte S. Draper, $2500
Loring Farnum, $5650
Fred W. Hawes, $1500
Edward H. Hass, $1500
Krull & Roeper, $800
J. B. King, $500
R. H. Miller, $1000
Geo. L. Marsh, $1000
P. K. Miller, $1000
John Meiners heirs, $1000
R. P. Menefee, $800
F. H. Osgood, $8800
Ojai Improvement Co., $37,650
Lucy Rudolph, $2200
Louis Roeper, $500
C. S. Rich, $2400
Harriet Robinson, $3000
Grace Sinclair, $10,400
Mrs. B. S. Stewart, $2000
High school, $3000
D. D. Schurman, $1400
Mary N. Smith, $2700
Henry Teideman, $200
Phillip S. Van Patten, $5500
Emily A. Van Patten, $1000
Frank E. Wolfe, $300
Susan D. Weir, $700
David Warner, $1000
Isabella Warmuth, $800
Total $107,100


These two articles were published on the front page of THE OJAI on Friday, June 15, 1917. THE OJAI is now the Ojai Valley News. The articles are reprinted here with their permission. The authors are unknown.


The devastating torch of carelessness was applied by campers in the Matilija Canyon, near the ancient Berry cabin, Saturday morning, causing a spread of flame that swept the near hills for miles, the lurid tongues of fire reaching to the beautiful Ojai, lapping up 60 or more buildings, with a toll of three lives from heat, shock and fright, with enormous property loss.

When the first alarm was sounded, The Ojai had gone to press, being late, owing to lack of help and too much heat, and with the menace of the flames growing greater every moment as the line of fire crept this way, with the Sheldon, Farnum, Lopez and other homes apparently in its path, the village awoke to the grave danger—not of the Ojai, but of the Matilija, of Lyon’s, of Wheeler’s, and concern and excitement grew until the climax was reached when all believed that Ojai was doomed, and the flight to safety began early Saturday evening.


Property Loss is Great, Number of Families Homeless

Details of the appalling calamity, and the many distressing incidents associated therewith during the hours of intense battling with the seething mass of stubborn, hungry flames, will form a later story, as at this time a brief reference to the sad fatalities, together with an unofficial summary of property loss, with the telegram of sympathy and cheer from Ojai’s greatest benefactor appended, must suffice.


Toledo, O., Apr. 17 H. WILSON—Am greatly shocked by calamity visiting Ojai, which I know must be a great loss to many. Please express to every citizen in Ojai Valley my sympathy.

From such devastation and ruin will spring renewed energy and courage. If I can be of any assistance, command.

Kind regards,


Miss Sawyer, of Ventura, formerly employed at the Bard hospital, of late attending Mrs. Herb Lamb, to whom a son was born last Thursday, died suddenly at the Farnum place, soon after the home was destroyed, death resulting from shock.

As the result of fear and exhaustion, after a fruitless battle to save the family home, Miss Theresa Maroquin dropped dead at 5 o’clock Sunday afternoon. Eight hours later, Y. Valenzuella, a relative of Miss Maroquin, and aged father of Mrs. Frank Lopez, died suddenly, as the result of the intense heat.

John Travino, while fighting fire near his home close to the Van Patten residence (burned down) by Foothills Hotel, was struck by an automobile and suffered a fractured skull, injured eye and compound fracture of one limb. He is in the county hospital. His family knew nothing of the accident which occurred Saturday night, till today (Monday). He is unconscious.

The Loss

Foothills Hotel and three cottages; residences of H. T. Sinclair, Loring Farnum, Miss Draper, Miss Scott, Fannie Johnson, O. W. Robertson, F. H. Osgood, Dr. Van Patten, Pres. manse, Bristol school, W. W. Bristol, H. S. Manual Arts bldg., A. Van Curen, A. W. Helm, Chas. Gibson, Morris Cota, Bates cottages (3) Mallory & Dennison (3) Mrs. B.S. Stewart, F. A. Crampton, S. L. Smith (2), Mrs. W. L. McKee, Clarence McKee, Mrs. T. G. Gabbert, Geo. Foreman, Jim Fraser, Jno. King, John Timms, Mrs. A. I. Wermuth, D. D. Schurman, Mrs. Ella Miller, P. K, Miller, Frak Kelley, O. Klein, R. Menefee, Ed. Haas, Fred Hawes, G. B. Turner, Mr. Rudolph, Mrs. Rich, Jack Edwards, Meiners (small house), Frank Wolfe (2), Dave Warner, J. Maroquin.

Baptist and Catholic churches, Linder’s unoccupied plumbing shop, besides barns of G. H. Hickey, Hugh Clark, J. C. Leslie and Hobs, and a number of garages.

Mason Chronicles (5)


This article was published in the Ojai Valley News on May 25, 2007. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Ojai readies for war with homefront efforts —
Nearby submarine sighting prompts World War II vigilance

by David Mason

On Feb. 24, 1942, the appearance of a Japanese submarine near Santa Barbara, and its shelling of the coast, emphasized the possible danger to California. As the submarine slipped into the Santa Barbara Channel and fired 20 rounds from its 5-inch guns into the Ellwood Oil Refinery at Goleta, it became evident that there was a real need for a well-trained organization to take over the responsibility for the defense of California.

The incident unnerved locals when told that it was the first attack of the war on the U.S. mainland. In the Ojai valley, blackouts became a nightly occurrence for several weeks.

Residents of Ojai, as in all American communities, threw themselves behind the war effort by raising money for the Red Cross, purchasing war bonds, rationing rubber tires, collecting scrap metal, nylon and silk and sewing bandages.

The civilian aircraft spotters set up an observation post on the old Raymond Ranch at the end of Ladera Road.

Patrols covered the waterfront: Malibu, Point Mugu, Oxnard, Carpenteria, Santa Barbara and Gaviota. Those were the days of bulky journals filled with notes of alleged submarines, which frequently turned out to be just sea lions, and of mysterious lights which were observed along the blacked-out coast. Those were the nights of two-man patrols tramping up and down the beaches in a darkness broken only by the signals of blue-covered flashlights which they carried so that their officers could find them.

Meanwhile, Col. Frank Dunkley’s 2nd Battalion of the 134th Infantry Regiment was ordered to take his battalion inland as a reserve force. Finding a location for the training base, he discovered the Ojai Valley Country Club. The club had been built in 1923 by Edward Drummond Libbey, owner of the Libbey Glass Company, and it was designed by the famous architect Wallace Neff. Ojai’s weekly newspaper, known as The Ojai, reported that Army officers had visited the valley during the first week in May to scout locations for a small unit of soldiers.

After getting permission from the Libbey estate to occupy the private property, a battalion of 1,000 men took over the former club. Enlisted men set up 125 tents on the golf course. Officers were housed in the clubhouse.

At the Ojai camp, fondly named Camp Lah Wee Lah His, meaning “the strong, the brave” in the language of the Nebraska Pawnee, which was the 134th regimental motto. Country Club Road was renamed Nebraska Road in honor of the regiment’s home estate.

There were a few problems with the rifle and machine gun field firing, which frequently amounted to a few minutes of firing the weapons either in Rancho Matilija or up in the Sespe and then spending the rest of the day fighting the brush and grass fires that they started.

Ojai was the scene of the inevitable formal guard mounts, and battalion and regimental parades. The band members in their white leggings and cross belts and shiny helmets, always put on a good show for those dress occasions.

The spic-and-span members of the guard would execute their movements in precision, the commander of the guard would inspect the men and always aroused the admiration of numerous spectators with his skillful spinning of the rifle as he stepped from one man to another while the band carried on with the “Missouri Waltz”.

The regimental parades on Sunday afternoon were an attraction for the hundreds of Ojai Friends, wives and sweethearts.

David Mason, about 4 years old, behind the wheel of the military jeep that was parked in front of his Fox Street home. Janice Cornine (middle) and Joyce Nichols (left) are not afraid of David's driving skills! Servicemen's wives lived with David's family, so servicemen would come in the jeep from the Ojai Valley Inn to visit their wives at David's home.
David Mason, about 4 years old, behind the wheel of the military jeep that was parked in front of his Fox Street home. Janice Cornine (middle) and Joyce Nichols (left) are not afraid of David’s driving skills! Servicemen’s wives lived with David’s family, so servicemen would come in the jeep from the Ojai Valley Inn to visit their wives at David’s home.

There was training in scouting and patrolling, first aid, military courtesy and discipline, there were Saturday morning inspections, and the review of weapons training.

In town, a hospitality center established by the Red Cross was set up in the Ojai Electric Shop on North Signal Street.

The USO opened in the Jack Boyd Club which was located on the main street just east of the Pergola. The men could find some relief from the exertions of training by attending the USO for ice cream and soda pop while listening to “Pistol Packin’ Mamma” on the radio.

As the battalions began to move out of Ojai, to begin processing for special expeditions, their records checking, inoculations and supplying were all accomplished here.

By the end of January 1944, units from Port Hueneme moved in. Like the Army before them, the sailors became an important part of valley life, even spending their liberty time helping local ranchers with the harvest during the summer and fall.

Local firefighters could always depend on the Navy personnel to help in an emergency. When a commercial airstrip was approved in Mira Monte, which came to be known as Henderson Field, the Navy loaned its heavy equipment to grade the landing strip.

The base hosted a golf match between Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on the nine-hole course. It was an extravaganza of stars and military brass that focused enormous media attention on the small town an its former country club. In a letter to the editor of The Ojai, the Presbyterian minister wrote, “The superb setting which suggested something of the grandeur and beauty of the far-flung expanse of our fair America – the green stretch of the beautiful golf links mounted to the noble range of the Matilija, and the mountains touched with the glory of the setting sun.”

Nine days later, on May 8, 1945, V.E. Day was celebrated by all Americans, and three months after that, V.J. Day brought an end to five years of combat fought on every continent of the world.

On June 7, 1947 the former country club was officially re-opened as the Ojai Valley Inn, leaving behind forever its place in the history of World War II.

How Soule Park Happened

This article was published in the Ojai Valley News on June 12, 1974. It is reprinted here with their permission. It has been slightly edited for accuracy. 


How Soule Park Happened – “You can have your park and golf course”

 by Jerry Crary

One of the jewels in this Shangi-la called Ojai, is the Soule Park and Golf Course along the foot of Black Mountain. When it was suggested that our tree planting program, to further beautify the area, be dedicated to Zaidee Soule, we thought it an excellent idea. We also felt we should find out further facts about Miss Zaidee and the Soule family who left us such a lovely legacy to see what made them tick.

As a result we have interviewed a number of Old Timers, some native to the area. We have found in most cases that their forgetery is better than their memory, but let us pass the story along to you.

Actually it can be recorded that the Soule Park and Golf Course was born that February day in 1959 when Zaidee Soule walked into Doug Jordan’s Ojai Valley Grocery, saw Doug working in the produce department and said to him, “Doug, you can have your Park and Golf Course any time you want it.” Let’s let Doug recount the story. “I just about fainted, but after pulling myself together I asked her if she really meant it. She said, yes, that she and Nina had had an agreement that as long as the two of them lived they wouldn’t sell the ranch. She continued that Nina wanted it to go where the most people could enjoy themselves – like a golf course and park.”

“My produce stand could wait and I just took off to see Art Johnson, mgr. of the Bank of America to tell him the good news. He, in turn, dropped everything and immediately called Zaidee’s Attorney, Ferguson Fairbanks of Fillmore, who confirmed her decision. We stayed right with it and set up a meeting the following day with the Board of Supervisors. The meeting was held at the Pierpont Inn with Mr. Fairbanks, his son and the Board of Supervisors and the Park and Golf Course was in the mill.”

But let’s go back to 1874 when Cyprus E. Soule, who had a ranch near Healdsburg on the Russian River in Sonoma County, sold that ranch and purchased 310 acres in the Ojai Valley. He was born in Canada, his parents being of English-German descent and had come to California in 1859. In 1862 he had met and married Miss Addie Koger, the daughter of William and Matilda Koger from Virginia who was a prominent rancher in Sonoma County. There were four children when the Soules moved to the valley, William E., Lillian E., Nina E., and Earl E. The journey to Ojai took days with two wagons, a four horse wagon for equipment and home furnishings and a covered wagon for the family. Soule had visited the valley in 1873, purchased the land and arranged for a house to be built that was ready for them on their arrival.

Previous to this time the valley had been operated as a sheep ranch by Messrs. Olds and Daily with some 10,000 sheep. In 1874 there were eight families in the valley including Robert Ayers, H. J. Dennison, Richard Robinson and Joseph S. Waite. The early settlers had to get their mail at Ventura and for years had to pay themselves for delivery of mail in the valley. Originally Mr. Soule engaged in wheat farming but later went into hay, raising horses and fruit.

Zaidee was born here March 12, 1878. The family took an active part in the community life. They were charter members of the Grange, Soule was first Master of the Lodge and his wife held important offices in the same. Soule served as Justice of the Peace for four years, Clerk of the School Board for fourteen years and a member of the Board of Trustees during the building of the first Presbyterian Church. He also served for ten years as a member of the County Republican Committee. He died in 1890 at the age of 62.

Following Soule’s death Mrs. Soule, with Earl’s assistance, took over the management of the Ranch. We gather from those who knew her that Addie Soule was a real dowager, a woman of imposing and dignified appearance. She evidently not only supervised the ranch but ruled over the family circle. The following is a quote from and article written by Mona Breckner on the Soule family and published in the Golden Book on the 50th Anniversary of Ojai by the Ojai Valley News.

“Mrs. Soule was a very devout and social-minded individual. Mrs. Ray Craft, who knew and worked with her in community service, recalls she was an active member of the benevolent committee of the Society of Kings’ Daughters, a fore-runner of the Ojai Valley Women’s Club.”

“Writes Mrs. Craft, “Many early residents will remember the familiar sight of her buggy and old horse, Toby, going about the valley on errands of mercy: a cow was furnished to a needy family with small children; food, especially fruit and vegetables, was donated daily, from crops grown on the Soule Ranch; and finally the generosity of the Soule family thru the last two members, Nina and Zaidee, who gave the beautiful Soule Recreation Park, the picnic grounds of the old ranch, along with the Golf Course.”

“Perhaps bringing with them memories of manor house living in the south, the Soules sought to enjoy the same type of social life on their ranch. Centered in their picnic grounds and surrounded by gardens and fruit orchards, was the entertainment area where regular gatherings took place. “Ladies and Gents” in their “best bib and tucker” congregated to partake of the good foods. the watermelons were particularly famous, and Howard Gally recalls the watermelon patches as “nothing like them in the entire valley”.

Gally, whose family lived on an adjacent ranch, remembers how the Soule family improvised. He remembers very little of the father who must have died early, but he especially recalls Earl Soule. Water was one of the scarcest commodities facing the ranches, and he recalls the excitement when a drill point was sunk to deep levels and water was pumped out by hand. Eventually Earl Soule improvised and operated a gasoline engine to provide power, guarding this engine with his life, even sleeping in the engine house for fear that it might be tampered with. Later he used this power to bring natural gas, tapped from the mountain above , into the house for lighting and cooking purposes.”

In 1922, [one year after] City of Ojai was incorporated, Early Soule was elected as Chairman of the Board of Trustees – the equivalent of mayor in today’s government. [He succeeded Glen Hickey who served for only one year. Soule served as Chairman for four years] until 1926.

The following is a quote from the “History of Ventura County” published in 1926. “Mr. Earl E. Soule has made a fine record since becoming the mayor of Ojai, exercising the same sound business methods in that office that he does in his private affairs. During his administration a bond issue was authorized by the voters for the purpose of constructing a sewer system, which is now being installed. He is jealous of his community’s good name and reputation and is devoting himself indefatigably to the welfare of the town and the upbuilding of its interests.”

Earl continued to serve as a member of the Board until 1932. In the mid-forties he suffered a severe heart attack and was nursed and cared for by his two sisters in the family home until he died July 6, 1953.

We again quote from Mona Breckner’s article. “Mrs. David Davis, who now live in Siete Robles, Ojai, knew the sisters intimately, and knew that hard times had befallen on them. She describes Nina , who was slowly dying of an incurable disease, as the most talented of the family, of brilliant mind and happy disposition, who passionately loved the valley. In the last days of her illness Mrs. Davis visited her daily, and Nina loved to share her treasures with her – perhaps a beautiful poem which she may have composed, or and unusual wild flower, or a much loved story.

It was Nina, says Mrs. Davis, who handled the family business and carried out her mother’s wishes that no encumberance of any kind ever be placed against the property. It was Nina who sought out the council and advice of Al West at the Ojai Branch of the Bank of America on financial matters. And it was Al West and their old friend, Mr. Ted Fairbanks, Sr. of Fillmore, an attorney, who helped them draft and execute their final will.

Offer after offer, fantastic in price, came to them for the sale of the ranch for subdivision purposes, but always the same answer: “This beautiful spot will never be subdivided; it will remain as one piece for the people of Ojai to enjoy as we have enjoyed it.”

From the Ventura County Star Free Press of September 28, 1964, “Ojai Mourns Its Beloved Benefactor Zaidee Soule. Everyone who knew her knew Zaidee Soule loved Ojai, and when she died Saturday night of a lingering illness, it appeared that Ojai loved her, too.”

Unfortunately, park and golf courses require cuts and fills and unsightly wire fences, The Soule Park Tree Committee believes that the tree planting program will dress up the scars of progress. It is certainly most appropriate to dedicate the program to Zaidee, Nina and the Soule family. If they could speak we feel sure it would have their whole-hearted approval.