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.

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