forefathers’ foresight led to valley parks by David Mason
“No camping was permitted west of the stream;although parties may spend the day or the evening under the live oaks, and for a small consideration may buy wood from the custodian of the park with which to cook their dinners – or suppers.”
“History of Ventura County, California” – 1926
The journey from San Buenaventura north through the settlement of Stoney Flats (now Casitas Springs) to the town of Nordhoff (now Ojai) was a long and sometimes treacherous trip. The buggy trail switched back and forth across the flowing San Antonio Creek at least a dozen times on its way to the Ojai Valley. The trail was commonly referred to as Creek Road and by today’s standards, it was indeed a scenic road.
In 1883, Mary Gally, owner of the Gally Cottages, wrote in her diary, “My favorite drive that first summer was down the Creek Road for it was the one green spot in the Ojai, with the wild grapevines hanging down from the trees and the grassy banks above the running water.”
For many years, travelers had found a beautiful spot to stop, camp, rest and water their horses. It was a cool refreshing place just on the outskirts of the small town of Nordhoff, a place that was shaded by many mature oak trees and a creek that ran nearby. It was widely known as a comfort spot, and the location would become known as Camp Comfort. It was the coming of Mr. and Mrs. E.P. Foster to the town of Ventura that would save this wooded campsite for future generations to enjoy. Foster had come to Ventura in 1872 to become a rancher. Later, he would become president of the Bank of Ventura which sold to Bank of Italy (now Bank of America). In 1874, Foster married Orpha Woods, and together they had 10 children.
The Fosters loved trees and the shade they provided on their family picnics. They often rode in their
carriage, drawn by two beautiful horses, to the Camp Comfort area, long before it was a public park. The land on which Camp Comfort was located belonged to a gentleman named John Hodson who owned many acres in the area. Hodson was in the process of cutting thousands of cords of wood from his acreage and selling it and the thought of cutting down the stately oaks that shaded the comfort stop much disturbed the Fosters, so they decided to prevent it, if possible.
Meanwhile, with the nation accepting the fact that the automobile was here to stay and not just a passing fad, many new roads were being built. The first organized automobile race was being sponsored by the Vanderbilt family on the East Coast, and out here in the West, Foster was going before the County Board of Supervisors with his idea of creating a public park along the narrow dirt trail so that all the people could relax and enjoy the shade. The parcel of land consisted of 20 acres of “wild land.” The Board of Supervisors negotiated with the owner to purchase the property and succeeded. The final price was $2,500 in gold.
The June 18, 1904, edition of the local newspaper, The Ojai, reported: “Last week the Board of Supervisors who met in the shade of the beautiful live oaks that adorn the premises, were so favorably impressed with the camp and its surroundings that they unanimously agreed to buy the property for a public park.”
Speaking on behalf of the citizens of the small town, the paper continued, “The Honorable Board of Supervisors, in this noble act, has the Ojai’s approval and appreciation, and also its lasting gratitude.” The area was officially named Camp Comfort and it was the first county park.
The Fosters did not satisfy their desire for parks with Camp Comfort. They purchased 65 acres from the Ayers family along the banks of the Ventura River to create another park (now at the north end of the Ojai freeway). This park was to be designated as the Eugene T. Foster Memorial Park in honor of the young son of the Fosters who had died at an early age. The Fosters purchased additional acreage from some of the surrounding property owners to increase the size of the park. The entrance was through a great stone gateway over a bridge crossing the Ventura River.
Foster Park was a popular camping ground from the start. There were barbecue pits, camping spots, swings for the children, a swimming hole in the river and, amongst the sycamores on the other side of the river, a place for campers to locate their tents and remain all summer if they desired.
Over the years, a small settlement developed just outside the entrance to the park and became known as the town of Foster Park. The town received an official post office in December of 1952. However, within 17 years, the whole town was obliterated by the construction of the freeway to Ojai.
The Fosters would continue their endowments to the county. The financing of the Buenaventura Hospital, later named the Foster Memorial Hospital (now Community Memorial Hospital), and the creation of the 65-acre Seaside Park lying along the ocean shore, also known today as the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The Fosters personally worked to have other public parks established in the various sections of the county. They were interested in the beautification of the parks and highways. Many of the tree-lined highways in Ventura County were started by them.
(c) 1999 The Ojai Valley News