January 1969 Rainfall and Resulting Damage

Fifty years ago, the Ojai Valley, as well as, all of Ventura County, was drenched by records amount of rain that resulted in the loss of life and millions of dollars of damage to public and private property.  The following two articles first appeared in the Wednesday, January 29, 1969 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A1. They are reprinted here with the permission of the “Ojai Valley News”. The author of the first article is unknown.  Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  Some of the photos were taken in January and others in February of 1969.    

The rainfall — this
is how it happened

On January 17 only 6 inches of rain had pattered on the valley. It looked like a dry year.

On January 29 over 30 inches had fallen from two Pacific storms.

The first storm started in earnest a week before last Saturday. When it ended in a drizzle six days later, over 12 inches of rain had fallen. However the valley was still in pretty good shape and Lake Casitas was storing 150,000 acre feet water for future use. Barrancas, creeks and rivers were running with a heavy winter flow.

Then it happened. Within the next 24 hours seven inches landed on the valley – double and triple that in the mountain areas – from a tropical storm.

Saturday morning, barrancas burst, creeks overflowed, and the river went wild, causing the biggest disaster in the history of the valley.

“GIVE ME MY BOOTS N’ SADDLE” was “Give me my boat n’ paddle” for Elmer Myatt of Kim Engineering and Lothar Herrman, who decided to have a little outing during the big rain Sunday night. Our photographer caught them preparing to wade to the restaurant for a coffee break. The white spots in the photo are rain drops on the camera lens. The water was nearly two feet deep for a couple of blocks along Ojai Avenue. (From Wed., Jan. 22, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette”; Page A-4)

Here’s the day-by-day rainfall:

OJAI:                                                                             1969
January 17 ………………………………………………………………… 6.05
Januray 18 ………………………………………………………………… 6.54
January 19 …………………………………………………………………10.47
January 20 …………………………………………………………………14.05
January 21 …………………………………………………………………18.61
January 22 …………………………………………………………………19.12
January 23 …………………………………………………………………19.22
January 24 …………………………………………………………………21.64
January 25 …………………………………………………………………28.64
January 26 …………………………………………………………………29.94
January 27 …………………………………………………………………29.94
January 28 …………………………………………………………………30.23
January 29 …………………………………………………………………30.23
OAK VIEW                                                                     1969
January 17 ………………………………………………………………….. 5.97
January 18 …………………………………………………………………..
January 19 ………………………………………………………………….. 8.87
January 20 …………………………………………………………………..16.48
January 21 …………………………………………………………………..20.07
January 22 …………………………………………………………………..20.65
January 23 …………………………………………………………………..20.65
January 24 …………………………………………………………………..22.16
January 25 …………………………………………………………………..29.46
January 26 …………………………………………………………………..30.89
January 27 …………………………………………………………………..31.28
January 28 …………………………………………………………………..31.30
January 29 …………………………………………………………………..31.59

Two swimming pools were washed away from homes along San Antonio Creek near Ojai. (Dan Poush photo from “THE GREAT FLOOD VENTURA COUNTY January 1969 February”)
The San Antonio Creek jumped its banks, then ran through Camp Comfort.
Flooding damage at the junction of Hermosa Rd. & Creek Rd. The Ojai Valley Inn golf course is at the right of the photo.
Private residence that was located along Creek Road. The flooding San Antonio Creek demolished it.
Railroad bridge toppled at Casitas Springs by 1969 flooding.


City faces crisis;
$400,000 repairs
Fran Renoe

“Ojai is, of course, a disaster area, and I have proclaimed it as such.” Mayor A. R. Huckins opened the Ojai City Council meeting Monday night with that statement, and the council immediately began discussion of the city’s damages.

Pipe gone

“At this time we have raw sewage dumping into San Antonio Creek. We need to replace 430 feet of sewer line,” City Manager Jack Blalock said, “This is our immediate problem. Then, there’s 500 feel along Creek rd. that is completely gone and at least a mile near Rancho Arnaz, and maybe more. Sewer lines in Meiners Oaks and Oak View are also washed out.

“This 430 feet requires 18-inch pipe, which is terribly expensive. It’s a matter of public safety, and has to be done immediately. We have a representative, John McWherter at a meeting of public works officials in Ventura tonight to find out what we have to do to be eligible for disaster funds and aid in this problem. We feel sure that Ojai will be given high priority in funds and aid,” Blalock said.

Councilman William Burr and Maarten Voogd formed a sub-committee relating to sewer problems and according to Burr, at least 6,000 feet of line is estimated to be lost, in addition to line that has yet to be measured, still covered by water or debris that the committee cannot get to and estimate damage. At this time, however, cost estimates run as high as $400,000. Blalock said that the needed 18-inch pipe runs at least $20 a foot.

Huckins reported that Blalock had ordered part of the sewer system plugged in order to keep out rocks and dirt. Even so, at least one section of sewer line is known to be plugged with debris, and Huckins commented “when that happens, sometimes it is cheaper to just lay another pipe.”

Blalock also needed approval of the council to clear the plugged lines. He said “there is a good possibility that our crew and equipment cannot do the job. We may need to call in a contractor to use jetting action tools. The first manhole just before the 430-foot break is completely filled with mud and we don’t have that kind of equipment.”

“I understand the city is also in the market for a new police car,” commented councilman Loebl.

“Yes, we were almost in the market for a new policeman,” commented Huckins. They were referring to the narrow escape achieved by Gene Meadows when his patrol car was inundated by flood waters just east of San Antonio Creek after the bridge went out.

After some discussion led by Councilman Monroe Hirsch concerning competitive bidding for a new patrol car — he wanted to know if dealers outside of Ojai were invited to bid on new cars — the council approved purchase of a patrol car. Competitive bidding between local Ford and Chevrolet dealers is conducted, with Blalock explaining that in one instance an outside bidder was only $1.75 lower than a local dealer, and that when servicing and repair work had to be done, it was cheaper to buy from a local dealer as the patrol cars could be worked on locally, instead of the police department having to drive the cars to dealers outside the valley.

Canada st.

“Other immediate damage includes street repair, especially Canada st.,” commented Mayor Huckins. “We thought at first the water was coming from the Stewart Canyon storm drain. Now it appears that it is an entirely new stream.”

AFTER THE FIRST RAINSTORM Stewart Canyon basin, built by the federal government as flood control above Canada st,, had reached a peak of 15 feet and here has receded to 11 feet. Water metering tower is well above water level. (from Sun., Feb. 2, 1969 edtion of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette”;Page B-3)

“Parts of Canada are caving in,” Blalock said. “We may lose all of the street as far as Eucalyptus unless we can divert the stream.”

CANADA STREET in Ojai is gradually sinking in places as a result of an underground river which is threatening the walls of the Stewart Canyon concrete tunnel underneath the roadbed. The city recently has believed to have found the source of the water and is bypassing it into the tunnel underneath the street. Only time will tell — and the next big rain — if that is the solution. (from Jan. 15, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette”; Page B-3)

Councilman Burr announced that he and Voogd would be meeting Thursday night with County Public Works staff to see what could be done and what was supposed to be done. Huckins commented that a special meeting of the city council would be called if necessary to expedite authorization for any street work that needed to be done.

“There is a strong possibility we will be able to get disaster funds,” Huckins said. “We certainly can’t float a bond issue at this time and as a public body we can’t borrow from the bank. Therefore, we’ll just have to find out how to get money, then worry about how to pay it back as this is an emergency.”

Councilman Hirsch emphasized that he thought it most important that the city work with the County public health authorities to consult and approve Ojai’s actions before fixing the pipe. He felt this was important in order “not to incur liabilities where the sewage goes out at the downstream area.”

John McWherter, of the Ventura sanitary engineering firm of McCandless-McWherter & Co., arrived to make his report to the council of what had happened at the Monday night meeting in Ventura with State and County public works officials and disaster authorities.

“A Mr. King of the State Emergency Assistance Office in Sacramento met with at least 50 representatives of various city and county staffs to tell us what could be done to correct the flood damage and how to apply for assistance,” McWherter said.

Next meeting

“I brought the council a sample resolution which is to be filled out and presented to the Tri-County meeting of state and federal disaster people at the Federal building at 9 a.m. Saturday.  If Ojai is interested in obtaining assistance we should have this resolution passed upon tonight so it can be presented at that meeting.”

McWherter said he felt that the Ojai sewer system would get top priority, and suggested that a second resolution be passed if any financial aid was to be requested for street damage and repair.

Huckins immediately stated that he was in favor of the resolution to seek sewer aid, but not in favor of asking for street repair aid. “We should not ask for outside aid unless we just can’t handle it ourselves,” Huckins stated.

Burr recommended that a complete report on street damage be compiled including time spent, equipment used, photographic proof, because he felt that such a report would strengthen the cities request if made at a later date. Hirsch and Loebl voted against tabling the street resolution. The council was, however, unanimous in it agreement to collect material to be presented at a later date for financial aid for street repair work.

McWherter stated that as many as 39 state and federal agencies were standing by to provide assistance to those cities and civic agencies needing help.

Federal funds

Hirsch maintained that “it is unfair to have Ojai taxpayers paying into a fund which is used by other cities and not taking advantage of the availability of such funds when offered. I fail to see the value of essentially penalizing a small community such as ours,” Hirsch said.

“We did sustain a disaster and it is going to cost money. I don’t think we would be taking any advantage of financial funds.”

“There’s no question that federal help is needed in the sewer clean-up,” Councilman Voogd said. “But at the same time we have to be very careful to only ask for money when we really need it and after an evaluation of the situation.  If some of these situations are not as crucial as they look then we must judge the degree of crisis. That is on what we should act.”

Other business conducted by the council consisted of approval of minutes from the planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review; approval of resolutions authorizing the preparation of plans and specifications of the Del Norte sewer extension which will service Jim Wyndle’s Richfield Service Station, the Ojai Valley News and the State Equipment Yard near the Y shopping center, plus a resolution to establish an underground utility district — this involves multiple use of a trench by Cable TV, the Edison Company and possibly Pacific Telephone.

The council also approved two ordinances, one adopting a uniform building code and another a uniform plumbing code.

FIXING THE GAS LINE on the Grand Avenue bridge, partially washed out, was this repairman from Southern Counties Gas Tuesday. He was held by the legs by another repairman. Utility company workmen worked round the clock after the storm to restore services in most areas. (Wil Marcus photo); Wed., Jan. 29, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette” (Page B-7).
Looking west on Grand Avenue in January 1969.
Grand Avenue bridge damaged by flooding in 1969.
Gridley Road was damaged by the flooding.
ALL THAT REMAINS of Friend’s Packing House up on the Maricopa Highway is resting in the yard of Realtor Jack Gilbert’s home across the highway. Gilbert’s house was also totaled. The packing house was dismembered and washed down across the highway. (From Sun,, Feb. 2, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette”; Page A-6)
Flood damage to the Maricopa Highway across the Ventura River from the Ojala Resort. The bridge leads over the river to Matilija Hot Springs.
Flooding damaged Wheeler Springs which is located along Highway 33 (AKA: Maricopa Highway).

Pony Express Day will be held at Lake Casitas

The following article first appeared in the August 27, 1999 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  All photos were added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  Those photos are of items that the Oak View Civic Council possess and which Barbara Kennedy and Leanna Kennedy graciously arranged for the museum to photograph.     

Pony Express Day will be held at Lake Casitas
Lenny Roberts
OVN staff reporter

Oak View’s Pony Express Day, the annual event staged to supplement operating costs for the community’s civic center, has found a permanent home at Lake Casitas.

Pony Express Day reflects the long-gone days when Oak View staged similar events in honor of the unincorporated community, which was a stop on California’s Pony Express route.

In 1995, members of the Oak View Civic Council created Pony Express Day while searching for alternative sources of income to support the recreational and other programs it offers.

After three years of moderate success at the Oak View Community Center, organizers moved the event to the lake in 1998 in an effort to lure more people from Ojai and beyond, according to honorary mayor Barbara Kennedy.

Flyer promoting 1998’s “Pony Express Day”.

“Having it at the lake is a big advantage,” Kennedy said. “We’re expecting 200 to 300 entries for the car show alone and have already received calls from people in Los Angeles who want to enter.

“The Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce is involved and hopefully we’ll get a lot of the Ojai people there.”

Last-minute entries for the 12-category car show, at $25 each, will be accepted until showtime. Trophies will be presented for first and second place, best of show and for the mayor’s favorite entry.

Newspaper ad promoting 1999’s “Pony Express Day”. Local artist Colleen McDougal did the illustration.

“That’s what they tell me — I just pick the one I like,” Kennedy said.

The Ojai Band, which recently concluded its 1999 Wednesday night summer concert series at the Libbey Park bandstand, is scheduled to perform, as are the crowd-pleasing Frontier Gunfighters who stage a series of comical mock shoot-outs against a western-style backdrop.

Also returning is emcee Rick Henderson, the Miss Chili Pepper and Mr. Hot Sauce competitions, the Bronk Vreeland Ojai Ford-sponsored International Chili Society chili cookoff, the Old Time Fiddlers, the Ojai Valley News-sponsored horseshoe tournament, KHAY Radio personalities with live periodic broadcasts and other entertainment yet to be determined.

Notice the sponsors of the 1999 “Pony Express Day”.

For kids of all ages, sno-cones will be provided by the Oak View Lions.

Pony rides and game booths featuring carnival-style competitions will be evident throughout the day, as will Sheriff Department exhibits, including Ojai’s K-9 unit and representatives from the Police Activities League (PAL) and the Ojai Valley’s DARE program.

Kennedy said the availability of booth space is running out for commercial and non-profit vendors. However, there are still some available at $25 for non-profit and $50 for commercial vendors.

There is no charge to attend Pony Express Day, but parking at Lake Casitas is $5 per car.

For additional information or entry forms for any of the events, call Kennedy at 649-2232 or Oak View Civic Council president Leanna Kennedy at 649-9720.

This booklet contained the listing of event sponsors, Schedule of Events, advertisements, and Special Thanks.


This photo was on Page A-1 in the Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001 edition of the Ojai Valley News. Photo by Chris Wilson. The caption read, “MISTY GLENN sits atop Election at Oak View Civic Council’s Pony Express Day corral Saturday afternoon. Terry Kennedy, in cowboy hat, led riders around the corral on Election and Cassie, at right, both owned by Rhonda West of Oak View. This event has been going on for more than 50 years.” Notice the T-shirt Kennedy is wearing.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 10)

The following article first appeared in the January 3, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The article was written by Howard Bald. Bald used the same title for all of his articles.  So, the Ojai Valley Museum has added “No. 10” to the title.  All photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 10)
Howard Bald

It was always quite an occasion for mother, sister and me to drive to Ventura with the horse and buggy. The present highway did not exist then. The 15 mile drive down the Creek road with the numerous creek crossings took from one and a half to two hours, and the return trip from two to two and a half hours.

On the beach west of the Ventura pier we unhitched Charley and tied him to the rear of the buggy with a nose bag of rolled barley while we spread a blanket on the sand and ate our lunch.

The present direct route to Ventura didn’t go through until about 1917, so all travel was via the Creek road. From Nordhoff to Camp Comfort the road was much the same as it is today. But just below Camp Comfort it crossed the creek, then a mile or more beyond it recrossed the creek, finally emerging into the present highway at Arnaz, between the famous old Arnaz adobe and the present cider stand.

Camp Comfort on Creek Road.
Arnaz Adobe

The mail was carried by four horse stage, as was also express and other special items. Of course there was no refrigeration in those days, and ice was brought up by stage. It was said that on a hot day the stage could be trailed all the way from Ventura by the mark left on the dusty road by the melting ice. I think it was about 1907 that Mr. Houk (Fred Houk’s father) put in an ice plant.

“Isis Theater” on the left, probably the market and butcher shop in the center, and Walter E. Houk’s “Ice Plant” on the right.

There would be times in the winter when the stage would be held up for days because of high water. I think it was the winter of 1905-06 that the mail was held up for three weeks. It was that winter that Herb Lamb was the stage driver (Margaret Reimer’s father had the mail franchise then), and on one trip Lamb had his wife and infant among the passengers when the stage turned over in a creek crossing. The infant was swept away and never found.

There were other drownings in the streams in those days. One time (I believe it was 1914) a group of men over in Santa Ana (among them John Selby and Gird Percy) rode on horseback to the Matilija river canyon below Arnaz. One of the group ventured in, was swept away and never found.

I don’t remember what year it was that Bob Clark was living on the far side of the river and was stormed in when a baby was due. He had one saddle horse, “Dick,” that he would take a chance on. Dick got him across the river at what is now Casitas Springs. (We called it Stoney Flat in those days.) He took a team of horses and wagons from there, drove to Ventura and returned with Dr. Homer, as there was no telephone communication in those days. Old Dick carried the two back across the river. I believe Dr. Homer stayed three days before the baby was delivered. Dr. Homer is now retired to the Ojai.

Photo of Dr. Homer taken on August 11, 1951

Tom Clark had quite a reputation in those days for crossing roaring streams when no one else would venture in. There was one famous occasion about 1888 when he took a young lady and her trousseau over Sulphur Mountain with saddle and pack horses to Ventura, where she took a steamer to San Francisco. The young lady was Bessie Thacher, the aunt of Anson and Elizabeth Thacher.

Tom Clark

The valley had its highway tragedies in those days too, only they didn’t involve automobiles, but horses. Captain Gillette (who lived where Dr. Rupp’s office now is) was killed someplace near the present Country Club. Judge Hines went over a precipice near Topa Topa ranch with a team and buggy. Mrs. William McGuire, of the Upper Ojai, was thrown from a horse and killed on Ojai avenue. Chino Lopez, to keep warm, placed a coal lantern under the buggy robe (he was blind), the buggy went off the grade in Matilija Canyon and he burned to death.

A Thacher student boy in 1904 was thrown from his horse and dragged to death. A Gibson boy, whose family were Upper Ojai ranchers, was crushed by a falling horse. Then some time later the father, Mr. Gibson, was thrown from his buggy in a runaway and killed.

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

The following article first appeared in the April 11, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of Major Dron was added to this article by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

(Editor’s note: Major John Anderson Dron of Ojai died April 5. The following memorial was written by his longtime friend, D. Ric Johnson.)

Another part of the old Ojai of 15 plus years ago and much larger bit of my life is gone. Major John Dron has left us.

Ours was an almost instant rapport, but that was pretty average for him. He made friends easily and enemies not so easily. He had many of the former and proportionately few of the latter. You couldn’t be neutral about him, though I’ve never known a person who was more tolerant in everything except for public chicanery and avarice. Crooked politicians, corporate greed, and Babbits were his avowed, unremitting, unrelenting and implacable enemies.

The county Board of Supervisors adjourned early Tuesday
in memory of the
late John Dron, Sr.

He was classic Scot with their passion for learning; an abstract thinker with a great pendulum swing from effervescence to melancholy. When being a dour Scot “sipped his sorrer wi a long spoon,” as he was wont to say.

He opened the door to, or sent me down, many roads whose names end in “ology” — archaeology, anthropology, geology — whetting my already active curiosity in ancient engineering techniques and avenues of the literary arts never before considered. How many times have I arrived at his door with face and spirits dragging 20 feet behind to leave later willing to try again the struggle out of my personal morass.

We adventured together on short jaunts up the mountains in that jeep that was to John as was the yellow horse to D’Artagnan. Long trips — as the one when we misjudged the weather, and his ancient down sleeping bag burst in the night and mine was inadequate. The long dreary hours of the night tolled away by his sepulchral, plaintive voice querying “and what is the hour now?”

Never was I happier to see a dawn, and we did as mad a dance as his years and my infirmities would permit, ’til the sun and our little fire thawed us to merriment over our just-passed misery.

The delightful evenings spent in front of the inevitable fireplace, the night raw outside, and John reeling off vastnesses of poetry or reading philosophy, Plutarch, Henry Adams, his own letters to the great personages and their replies.

His pixie look when contemplating the deflation of some over-blown ego. The pipe with one side of the bowl burned away that took at least a box of matches per filling and the finger burned black from tamping it. His depressions, when his voice would trail off into nothingness to be followed with sighs and great groans of Scottish spiritual torment, he brought to us for surcease and went away having received it, as I did so often with him.

He gave to me that which my own father could not. A camaraderie that asked nothing but gave, expected and received all. Oh, how exasperating he could be!

Anecdotes? Our whole 15 year association was one long, loving anecdote.

The valley is less warm and less home now.


Major Dron was born in Ayr, Scotland, September 13, 1893, coming to Big Oak Flat, California in 1900 and spending his boyhood there. He attended Berkeley High School and classes at the University of California, Berkeley.

During World War I he served as a machine gun officer. In World War II he was a Captain and Major in the Corps of Engineers. During the 1920’s he became a civil engineer, working with the Nevada and California division of highways.

A resident of Ojai since 1929, he pursued a career as engineer and surveyor, serving as ex-officio engineer of the city of Ojai for many years. In 1938 he was WPA administrator for the county of Ventura.

Well known for his many and varied interests, he was active throughout his lifetime in civic affairs, serving as trustee to the Ojai Community Art Center and Ojai Civic Association. He was an expert on architecture of the Parthenon, and was often consulted for his intimate and detailed knowledge of the backcountry of the county. He will be remembered by many as the man who kept the Edison Company from putting giant electric poles across the valley mountains.

“The Major” is survived by his three children: John A. Dron, Jr., Mrs. Robert (Dorothy) Rail, and Boyd S. Dron, all of Ojai; a sister, Miss Gladys Dron of Berkeley; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Community Art Center on S. Montgomery St. The family has requested that donations in memory be sent to the Art Center.

Major Dron in the Arcade


The following article was on page 2 of the JULY 16, 1948 edition of THE “OJAI.” It is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News. The author is unknown.


Enrollment in the kindergarten classes of the Nordhoff Union Elementary School district will be subject to regulations set up by the school board—regulations made necessary by the lack of sufficient kindergarten space, the coming school year, it was announced today.

With two sessions in the Oak View kindergarten and two at Nordhoff, there were not sufficient accommodations last September and there will be more on a waiting list this coming year, since the new kindergarten at Meiners Oaks will not be completed before February of 1949.

However, there is a solution which should work for the possible benefit of the children in their school work, members of the school board agree.

It is generally accepted that the school entrance age in California is too low, most states setting a higher age. By the sixth grade the average age is a year greater in proportion, showing that the average child either starts in later or has not been promoted at the end of one of the school years. The state convention of elementary school principals last April went on record as favoring a five-year entrance age to kindergarten.

Therefore, all children five years of age or older on September 1, 1948, will be admitted to a Nordhoff kindergarten; those from four years and six months to five years, as of September 1, will be placed on a waiting list and after the first day of school those whose ages are greatest will be notified that they may enter, the number allowed to enter depending upon class space still available.

Registration for kindergarteners or other pupils new to the district will be handled in the school office in Ojai beginning August 2. A birth certificate or other official evidence of correct birthdate must be shown to gain enrollment in either kindergarten or first grade. The school office will be open Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 12 noon and 1 to 4 pm beginning with August 2. In general, the school office will be closed during the month of July.

For the convenience of Oak View children, registration there will be conducted on or about September 1 at that school; an announcement will be given later, after Mrs. Ethel Eitens, principal, has returned from her summer school work. Casitas Springs children will enroll the first day of school, September 13.

David Mason: Linking past & Future

The following article first appeared on Page A-2 in the November 11, 1992 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It’s reprinted here with their permission.

Susan Petty

David Mason: Linking Past & Future
“In the middle of the Ojai Valley lies a little hamlet, which the people have been kind enough to name after the author of this book.”
—- Charles Nordhoff


“The Ojai Valley (pronounced Ohy) is reached by a drive of 38 miles by way of the Carpenteria and the Casitas Pass…The valley is famous even in California for the abundance and loveliness of its woods of evergreen oaks…the oaks dot the surface of the whole lower valley, and are scattered over it in single specimens and clumps…”

The description crafted by Charles Nordhoff in his 1882 edition of “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” is a vision shared in many ways by one special Ojai man.

Separated by a century, Charles Nordhoff and David Mason share a common bond – enthusiasm for the Ojai Valley, and the ability to communicate that to others. Nordhoff wrote eloquently one hundred years ago about the grandeur of the valley and of California. Mason, a lifelong resident of Ojai, currently gives witty, informative slide shows about the history of the valley.

“Charles Nordhoff died on July 14 in 1901. I was born 38 years later in Ojai, on July 14. That coincidence has become significant to me over time, as I have become more drawn to the early days of Ojai,” said Mason, 53. “I feel very close to Nordhoff’s era in many ways.”

Mason’s interest in the past was sparked in 1964, when a friend’s mother died. The friend asked to use Mason’s dumpster to throw out some old things. Those “old things” included hundreds of postcards and photographs of early Ojai, and other memorabilia, Mason rescued all he could from the trash bin, and he was hooked.

“I framed a lot of the postcards, and had copies of the photos made for the Ojai Valley Museum and the Ventura County Museum. Over the years I’ve collected much more, and I’ve saved things, like photos of Lake Casitas being built. I’m an incredible packrat,” he said with a chuckle.

Mason now serves as vice chairman, and is past chairman, of Ventura County’s Cultural Heritage Board. He was the first chairman of the City of Ojai’s Cultural Heritage Board, and was also Ojai’s Citizen of the Year in 1986. Mason works as a realtor, having retired after a 25 year career as a florist. He owned the award-winning Village Florist in the Arcade, and closed it three years ago.

David Mason is one of Ojai’s best known and popular historians. Here he is at the historical Ojai State Bank’s vault. News Photo by GEORGE TENNEY.

Mason’s slide show, which he presents to groups around the county, begins with Charles Nordhoff’s birth in 1832 in what was then Prussia. He tracks Nordhoff’s life – his move to America at the age of 3 and, later, traveling around the world with the U.S. Navy. Eventually Nordhoff became editor of the New York Post, and wrote his famous book “California for Health, Pleasure, and Residence” in 1872. That 206 page volume brought so many settlers to the state that Nordhoff was the name originally chosen for Ojai.

“Between 1870 and 1900, the population of California doubled, growing from 560,000 to well over a million. In that same 30 year period, over three million copies of Nordhoff’s book were sold,” Mason commented.

According to Mason, Mrs. Catherine Blumberg suggested the town be named Nordhoff in the early 1870’s. Topa Topa was also being considered. Catherine and her husband, Abram Wheeler Blumberg, came out West because of Nordhoff’s book and built the Ojai Inn in what is now Libbey Park. Nordhoff remained the village’s name for over 40 years.

“The name was formally changed to Ojai in 1917, at the beginning of World War I. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment, which fueled the change,” Mason remarked.

With slides and commentary, Mason captures the growth of the little town from 1872, when about 50 people lived in the village, up into the 1920’s. By then, cut-glass heir Edward Drummond Libbey of Ohio had come to Ojai and put his very personal stamp on the town. Libbey bought the 360 acre Arbolada, to save the area from being cut down for wood, and began to sell lots for homes. He also built the Ojai Valley Inn, the Post Office tower, the arched entryway to Libbey Park (now gone), and transformed the front of the downtown stores into a Spanish Mission style Arcade. Libbey also made a generous donation to the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, and had a hand in its construction.

“Mr. Libbey had the desire to make things beautiful and the money to do it. He was influenced by castles in Spain and the rural Spanish towns, with their muted colors and soft, flowing lines.

“Mr. Libbey was also a smart developer. Here he had bought the Arbolada, but then had trouble selling the lots. People would come out to Ojai to buy a lot and they’d see how rustic things were downtown, with dirt streets and wooden slats along the front of the stores. It lacked charm. It looked like a Western frontier town and there wasn’t much to do,” Mason said. “So Libbey created a golf course and a nice downtown.”

Mason feels that if Libbey were to visit Ojai today, he would be quite pleased with the town.

“He would definitely approve of the look of Ojai. He would particularly like the Redevelopment Agency’s project of 1980, which remodeled the back of the Arcade to match the front. That completed Mr. Libbey’s vision for the town,” he said. “But he would miss those arches that were in front of the park!”

The arches were torn down in the late 1960’s. Originally they stood along the Ojai Avenue entrance to the park, and were designed to provide a balance to the heavy look of the Arcade. The park arches had an overhead trellis that was covered in wisteria. And directly in front of the arches, a lion’s head fountain served as a horse trough. The fountain was in place several years before Libbey commissioned the arches.

Colorized post card of the pergola with fountain. The park’s name was changed from “Civic Center Park” to “Libbey Park”.

Mason believes that there might be a resurgence of interest in the old arches, and a move to replace them eventually. Mason would support such a move.

“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Libbey’s aesthetic vision for Ojai,” he said. “It’s our heritage. It’s what makes us unique.”

[Mason later headed up a committee to rebuild the Pergola. The recreated Pergola was dedicated on July 4, 1999.]

Contributions needed — Museum set for expansion

The following article first appeared in the December 20, 1967 edition of the Ojai Valley News on its front page.  It is reprinted here with their permission.

Contributions needed
Museum set for expansion
Mel Remsburg

The Ojai Valley Museum brings to a close, at the end of this month, its first year of service to the valley. The future looks even brighter, with expansion as the goal for the 1968 year.

This week, officers and directors launched the museum’s contribution membership drive, which is expected to finance the operation in the coming year. The proposed budget for the next 12 months is $2,638. Last year’s expenses were about $200 less.

Fund chairman A. C. Dahlgren announced that membership applications may be obtained by writing to the Ojai Valley Museum, 841 E. Ojai ave., Ojai. Many of the applications have already been sent to prospective members and to those who participated in its founding.

Also sent to charter members and now available to interested persons is the museum’s 1967 yearbook, telling of the expansion ahead and the services offered the public by the museum.

The expansion program provides for the removal of the existing wall at the museum, to open up the rear room for additional displays. The project, including construction of new partitions, painting, and tile floor, is expected to cost $375, with voluntary labor.

New display cases are also planned, including those of subdued lighting for the expanded area. Cost is estimated at $725.

In addition to these plans for improvement of display facilities, the museum is interested in two other phases of development. The first is the broadening of its function to include an historical association, with the museum acting as a display facility and storehouse for records, artifacts, and other material. The museum officers are also planning for the organization of a Junior Museum for the benefit of the youth in the Ojai and Cuyama valleys.

OJAI VALLEY MUSEUM --- The museum has completed its first year of operation and is now seeking contribution-memberships to help finance its proposed growth and expansion. Connie Davis, the new assistant to Chamber secretary-manage Betty Fielder, examines an antique stove, one of the many historical items that have been donated to the museum.
OJAI VALLEY MUSEUM — The museum has completed its first year of operation and is now seeking contribution-memberships to help finance its proposed growth and expansion. Connie Davis, the new assistant to Chamber secretary-manager Betty Fielder, examines an antique stove, one of the many historical items that have been donated to the museum.

This proposal was made at the time of formation but the directors have been without the guidance and assistance of individuals who could successfully plan and conclude such a function. Directors invite the assistance of individuals who would pursue either of these plans.

Robert O. Browne, museum president, said, “Generous contribution – memberships have made this a successful year. We solicit your membership or renewal in order to continue the operation of the museum in the years ahead.”

“Your museum is sustained only by the financial and physical help of civic minded individuals in the community. With your support the museum will grow and continue to provide the only existing local depository for items of historical significance in our community and for the documentation of history of this area. The Ojai Valley Museum, Inc. is organized as and educational, charitable institution. Contributions made are deductible by donors; bequests, legacies, transfers or gifts are deductible for federal estate and gift tax purposes,” the president revealed.

On Nov. 14, 1966 the Ojai Valley Museum was born. John Shea chaired the first meeting on that date. Committees were appointed to formulate by-laws and articles of incorporation.

Its purpose was fourfold;
1) To establish a museum in the valley.
2) To encourage study and research in the field of California’s history with special emphasis on the Ojai and Cuyama valley, to collect historical material including manuscripts, documents, books, pictures and artifacts and make them available for study.
3) To restore and preserve landmarks and sites of historical value in the valley.
4) To cooperate with the other organizations doing work of a related nature.

Two open meetings were then scheduled and the public was invited. The flame began to burn brighter and in March, 1967, the first annual meeting was held, Officers and directors were elected and plans for the displays were formulated.

On April 18, the official opening exercises were held. Assemblyman Ken MacDonald and Supervisor Ralph “Hoot” Bennett were among the 200 visitors.

The directors are indebted to the many individuals who provided the funds for this first year of operation and to the many craftsmen who supplied the labor and materials without cost.

The museum is in a sublease agreement with the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber not only provides for keeping the museum open during the week, but also shared in the expense of the operation. A review of the budget discloses that the financial help which the museum can seek for 1968 amounts to $2,638 or approximately $7.25 per day.

Officers of the museum are R. O. Browne, president; B. A. Lawrence, secretary; A. C. Dahlgren, treasurer. Directors include Effie Skelton, Tyrus Kahman, Lois Powers, William Magill and Elizabeth Thacher.

Judge held court under an oak tree

This article first appeared in the January 7, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of the elderly Judge McKee was run with the article when it appeared in the 01/07/1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News.  

Judge held court under an oak tree
Ed Wenig

It was in the eventful year of 1887 that James McKee, Civil War veteran, one-time school teacher, and Indiana judge, came to the Ojai Valley, expecting to regain his health in idyllic rural surroundings. The solid citizens of the community elected the frail, scholary man to be their Justice of the peace, a post which he continued to hold until his death in 1904.

It was no easy task to be a judge in pioneer days in the Ojai, when everyone knew everybody else.

One particularly knotty problem arose in the nineties when 13 exuberant men and a few boys got into trouble with the law by carrying out the old pioneer custom of surprising a newly-wed couple in the middle of the night with a “shivaree.” This consisted of surrounding the home and shooting blasts from a shotgun in the air, accompanied by unearthly yells and other noise-making. This traditional expression of good will was not appreciated by the newlyweds. In fact, they swore out complaints against all the thirteen, charging them with disturbing the peace and illegal entry.

It ended well

One by one each of the 13 went to Judge McKee and pled “Not Guilty.” It is said that one of the first to arrive was Bob Clark who later became a U. S. Marshal.  John Thompson, at boy at the time, and one of the indicated, recalled being taken to Judge McKee by his father and waiting outside the Judge’s home in fear and trembling, while his father and Judge McKee had a long and friendly talk.

A Ventura lawyer, Judge Shepard, was engaged to defend all the accused. In the meantime, a large group of women in the valley planned a big dinner and social evening in anticipation of the celebration of the acquittal of all. But when the district attorney examined the evidence and circumstances, and refused to prosecute, the ladies cancelled their plans. It all ended happily for the defendants, each paying $1.75 apiece as his portion of the lawyer’s fees.

According to all who remember him, Judge McKee was a very devout and kindly man, always ready to help those who went to him for advice or for assistance in drawing up legal documents. The story is that he once risked his life to ride horseback through the swollen river to Matilija to draw up a will for a dying man.

Most of the time Judge McKee tried cases in his own home, but on warm summer days, he sometimes moved his court into his yard under a big oak tree.

Judge James McKee Photo from the Ojai Valley News

Judge McKee’s daughter, Mrs. Emily Courtney, now lives in Ventura. His granddaughter, Mrs. Catherine Craig, formerly postmaster of Ojai, lives in the Ojai Valley.

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News, but the date of the edition of the paper in which it appeared is unknown. It was written by Ed Wenig. Wenig wrote for the newspaper in the late 1960’s into the 1970’s.

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98
Ed Wenig

Two “iron horses” pulled four carloads of exscursionists into Nordhoff, as the band blared a welcome on a balmy spring morning of March 12, 1898. Ojai Valley residents, who had driven from far and near, in wagon, buggy and surrey, looked on with pride as official guests from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and neighboring Ventura County towns arrived on the first train ever to enter the Ojai Valley. Here indeed was concrete evidence of “progress” in its most up-to-date form.

On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a "lively blare of trumpets" in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.
On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a “lively blare of trumpets” in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.

The most important visitors were driven to the homes of prominent residents of the valley for luncheon, after which they were taken for brief scenic drives through the valley. But most of the passengers were loaded into surreys and wagons and taken to a picnic under the oaks in what is now the Civic Park [Libbey Park]. Then, the speeches began. Among them, one by W. C. Patterson, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, expressed thanks to the people of the Ojai Valley for having given “the outside world a chance to see and admire the beauty of the magnificent amphitheater of mountains which enclose this ideal spot.”

Health resort

In the Midwinter Edition of the Los Angeles Times appeared this comment: “This railway will open tourists to one of the most charming valleys in the state . . . With the advent of the railway, Nordhoff will possess all the requirements of a pleasure and health resort.” Imagine the pride of the residents of the valley when they read in the Ventura County Directory, “The valley has been settled by a superior class of people, intelligent, refined, and very enterprising. Many of them have abundent means and have been men of standing and influence in other communities.”

There were four passenger pickup stations on the railroad between Ventura and Nordhoff. Starting from Ventura they were Weldon, Las Cross, Tico, Grant, and finally the Nordhoff Station. In the first few weeks after the opening there were two trains daily, after which a schedule of one train per day was established. In response to repeated requests from J. J. Burke, the Southern Pacific re-established a schedule of two daily trains for the winter months only. Trains left Nordhoff at 7:20 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Ventura. Returning trains arrived in Nordhoff at 1 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Passengers bound for Matilija Hot Springs disembarked at Grant Station located approximately at the present lumber yard at the “Y” [Rotary Park now]. From there they went by stagecoach, and, in later years, by Stanley Steamer to Matilija.

Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the "Y" intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of "Grant Station" back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.
Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the “Y” intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of “Grant Station” back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.

It took 10 years

The arrival of the first train was the culmination of ten years of hopes and planning. In 1891, under the headline “Railroad Coming” a writer for THE OJAI observed, “Soon the invalid or tourist can recline in his upholstered seat within the observation car and be whirled over hill and vale to his destination, instead of a tedious ride in a stagecoach.” At first a Ventura company had been formed to build a narrow gauge railroad. But Captain John Cross proposed to build a standard gauge road, and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the businessmen of the Ojai Valley was successful in bringing the dream to reality.

When automobiles came into more general use the importance of the railway passenger service declined, and in later days the line was used entirely for shipments of freight.

Since the flood of 1969, which washed out portions of the road bed, the railroad has been abandoned. [Today it is the Ojai Valley Trail.]

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt

The following article first appeared in the December 3, 1969 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of John Meiners is used here by courtesy of the Ojai Valley News. The other photos were added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

He got Meiners O. for unpaid debt
Ed Wenig

Meiners Oaks, a community where nearly every home is under a Live Oak tree, takes its name from John Meiners, who owned the large area for many years.

John Meiners (1826 - 1898)
John Meiners (1826 – 1898)

John Meiners, native of Germany, had come to the United States about 1848 and had established a successful brewery business in Milwaukee. He acquired this Ojai ranch in the seventies, sight unseen, as a result of an unpaid debt. When he heard that his friend, Edward D. Holton, a Milwaukee banker, was going to California for a brief trip, Meiners asked him to see the property he had acquired. Mr. Holton’s evaluation was perhaps it was the largest oak grove on level land in Southern California, much of it so dense that the ground was in continuous shade. Furthermore, to his surprise, Meiners discovered that the climate of the valley was good for his asthma.

Hogs grazed there

For a long time the oak grove was fenced, and provided pasture for a large herd of hogs. All traffic from Ojai to Matilija went on a private road through the Meiners property, using a gate which was supposed to be kept closed. So many people went through the gate without closing it that in 1893, the manager of the ranch, P. W. Soper, locked the gate. With the Meiners road closed the only way of getting the mail to Matilija by stagecoach was a roundabout one by Rice Rd. A news item in “The Ojai” related that, as Rice Road had been flooded, “the mail was sent up to Matilija last night on horseback, the rider going across the back hill country. . .” However, Mr. Soper later gave several keys to A. W. Blumberg, operator of Matilija Hot Springs, with the stipulation that they be used only by mail carriers and scheduled stagecoach drivers.

The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.
The barn and livestock area on the Meiners Ranch. A fence surrounds the main oak grove seen in the distance.

In 1896, the big barn, on the Meiners Ranch, located approximately where the Ranch House Restaurant is now, caught fire one evening about midnight. No fire fighting equipment was available. Twenty horses, many tons of hay, harness, and farm implements were completely destroyed. “The Ojai” of February 15, 1896 reported, “Through the flames the horses could be seen plunging and dashing about insanely in the midst of the burning firey furnace; twenty fell victims without a single rescue.” But, the article goes on to state further, “Mr. Meiners built a large temporary barn on Monday, and the work of the great ranch goes on energetically.”

House still stands

The Milwaukee brewer lived on his ranch intermittently from the 1880’s until his death in the valley in 1898. His original big house still stands on the hill above the Ranch House Restaurant and is now used by the Happy Valley School.

John Meiners and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.
John Meiners and his wife can be seen sitting on the raised, covered porch on his hillside home on the Meiners Ranch.

John Meiners organized his ever-increasing acreage into a very productive ranch. Several hundred acres to the north of the oak grove were planted in oranges, lemons, prunes, apricots and apples. P. W. Soper, father of the late “Pop” Soper, was general manager of the Meiners Ranch, and lessee of 90 acres of Texas red oats, 90 acres of wheat, and 200 acres of barley. A visitor who toured the ranch with Mr. Meiners in 1897 wrote, “At the Meiners Ranch we saw stalks of oats that measured 7 feet 7 inches.”

To visualize the vast area, the ranch can be described as bounded on the south by the hills of the Happy Valley School [Oak Grove School now], on the west by Rice Road, and on the north by the foothills near Cozy Dell Canyon, and on the east by a line running through the junction of Highway 33 and El Roblar St., north and south.

The forebears of several of the present day residents of Ojai Valley came here as a result of John Meiners’ interest in his ranch. The grand-daughters of Edward D. Holton, who made the original favorable report concerning the ranch of Mr. Meiners, and the Ojai Valley, are Miss Alice and Helen Robertson of the East Valley, and his great grand-daughter, Mrs. Anson Thacher. Otto Busch came to the ranch as manager in 1907, and his son, Geo. Busch, now retired, was one of Ojai’s postmasters.