Sharp & Savvy: John Meiners (1827 – 1898)
by David Mason
Mr. Meiners was born in the town of Oldenberg, Germany, and received his early education and business training there. In 1848, he immigrated to America and settled in the town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He built a starch factory and sawmill, both of which he sold in 1860 to invest in a distillery. The company distilled wines, alcohol, spirits and whiskey. Their trade was mainly local, but occasionally items were shipped to France and Germany. By 1861, the distillery was operating at its capacity of 500 bushels per day.
Mr. Meiners acquired his property in the Ojai Valley in the 1870’s, sight unseen as a result of an unpaid debt. Mr. Meiners had never been to California and wasn’t sure if he had struck a good or bad deal, but, nonetheless, the deed was done.
He became aware that a banker friend was planning a trip to the area, so he asked if his friend could locate the 1,200 acres and let him know how it appeared. When his friend arrived in Santa Barbara, he was able to secure transportation over the mountains to the little valley where the Meiners’ land was located. It was in the westerly portion of the Ojai Valley. What his friend wired to Mr. Meiners was just a very few words; “it was the most beautiful valley he had ever seen”.
Within a few years, John Meiners moved his family to California and to their new ranch. He built a large house on a bluff overlooking the ranch and named it “Cheery Acres.”
He then put the ranch into production, planting fruit trees, wheat and barley. The center of the ranch was covered by a thick forest of oak trees, which he fenced off from the rest of the ranch to raise hogs.
Mr. Meiners found that the climate in the Ojai Valley was also good for his asthma and he longed for the day he could spend more time here. For years, he continued to commute between his California ranch and Milwaukee.
Since the ranch continued to produce excellent crops, Mr. Meiners planted even more and then put in several hundred acres in oranges, lemons, olives, prunes, apricots and apples.
Finally turning over his Milwaukee business to his son Gustave, Mr. Meiners was able to stay in California and work the ranch he enjoyed so immensely.
In December of 1898, John Meiners passed away and his heirs continued to operate the ranch until 1924. The ranch was then incorporated by the Ojai Ranch and Development Company, which subdivided 800 acres.
Today, Meiners Oaks is still sheltered by the towering oaks that led the friend to say; “it was in the most beautiful valley he had ever seen”.