Sharp & Savvy: Royce Gaylord Surdam (1835-1891)
by David Mason
An ambitious businessman, Royce Surdam also liked to deal in real estate. In 1874 he purchased a large track of land in the Ojai Valley and immediately started advertising in the county newspaper, the Ventura Signal, of his new town to be built in the beautiful valley. He explained all about the grand public square with a fountain, a wonderful academy, a town hall and a chapel.
He then advertised that he would give 20 acres of land to anyone who would build a hotel. He advertised the availability of his beautiful land of small city lots and five and ten acre parcels, in the newly named town of Nordhoff.
The Ventura Signal told its 400 subscribers in January, 1874: “The prospect of a rapid growth and settlement of the valley is now better than ever. Soon there will be a post office and a mail line established and the new hotel will be up and occupied”.
Mr. Surdam’s lots were being purchased by several parties, a new road from the Ventura Mission to the valley was being laid out and in March of 1874, Washington approved a post office for the new town, which was a great advantage to the citizens, tourists and invalids that were coming to the valley.
Although Mr. Surdam’s plan was a great success, his personal speculation failed to meet the success he anticipated. People did not rush to buy the small city lots when large broad acres were available on the outskirts of town. In December of 1874 Mr. Surdam sold his entire holdings of land in the valley.
Royce Gaylord Surdam, a man that who had a dream of a beautiful town in the center of the Ojai Valley, could not keep up his once ambitious spirit and his life came to an end with an overdose of morphine and a coroner’s inquest.