Nordhoff High School (1909 – 1919)

The First Decade of the Nordhoff Union High School
An Address by Walter W. Bristol, the First Principal Presented in December 1939.

Although I had been re-elected principal of the Madera Union High School, I decided to make a change; and, with my family, went up to Berkeley and put myself at the disposal of the appointment secretary of my alma mater, the University of California. When I went into her office one morning, she asked me to see a gentleman from Ojai. I was introduced to Sherman D. Thacher. Well, the upshot of the matter was that I decided to go to Ojai, the personality of Mr. Thacher having much to do with my choice. However, I had been in the Ojai Valley many years before and remembered the beautiful environment.

We reached Ventura on the morning of July 1, 1909. The “Ojai Bullet” [a railroad engine] was busy shunting beets at Oxnard, so we stole a march on the Southern Pacific [Railroad] and came up the Creek Road in a surrey drawn by two horses, which made the hot, dusty trip in about three hours. We stayed at the Berry Villa, a small hostelry situated back from the Main Street, behind Charlie Gibson’s blacksmith shop [now the site of the post office]. Mrs. Joe Berry, who is still living in the Valley, kept a very nice place.

While I was looking over the school situation, Mrs. Bristol had a very amusing time trying to find a place to live. We finally leased a house on Blanche Street, which was being built by Mrs. Bates of Ventura. We spent the rest of the summer in Santa Barbara.

The Old Elementary School, Nordhoff High School’s First Location

The time for opening the school duly arrived. On the second Monday in September 1909 [Sept. 13, 1909], Miss Mabyn Chapman and I met the trustees and twenty-four pupils. Members of the board of trustees were: Sherman D. Thacher, Joseph Hobart, F. H. Sheldon, Dr. B. L. Saeger, and Frank Barrows. The school convened on the second floor of the old grammar school building, which has just been torn down [1937]. Principal Edgerton had the grammar school on the ground floor with about 75 pupils.

The situation was depressing. The upper floor consisted of two class rooms and two other small rooms, one of which, used for an office, was hot, and in the other in the attic a colony of bats had their hideout and regaled us every day with nauseating odors.

But all that was overlooked and in time remedied. Mr. Thacher introduced us to a group of splendid boys and girls, who almost to a man lived up to what our first impressions indicated. But, the principal evidently did not live up to the first impressions of the pupils, for I learned afterward that they thought he, because of his heavy eyebrows and stern expression, was going to be a hard taskmaster.

The appointment secretary at Berkeley had sent Miss Mabyn Chapman as assistant to the principal. Miss Chapman remained with the school for five years. She was a remarkably versatile person. She could teach almost any subject usually given in the high school those days with equal facility and made a charming hostess. She lived in a cottage next to ours, and that corner (Blanche and Oak Streets) became the social center of the high school. I speak feelingly about Miss Chapman (now Mrs. Howard Bald) because the successful launching of the high school owes much to her ability and her loyal attitude.

We had a successful, happy year in spite of our handicaps. On the evening of the day school closed, I was taken to Ventura by the [Abe] Hobsons in their car to take the train en route to China, Japan and the Philippines; and so close was my schedule of travel that, on returning, I arrived in Ojai the day before school opened in the fall of 1910.

Mrs. Ruth Forsyth of Gilroy was added to the faculty the second year. She also remained five years and was a splendid teacher. Miss Chapman and Miss Forsyth became fast friends, and I could fill a page or two recounting amusing and sometimes strenuous adventures.

The distinctive feature of the second year of the school was the introduction of an extensive course of lectures and entertainments. The principal gave a series of illustrated talks about his trip to the Orient. Principal Lee of Oxnard High School gave an illustrated lecture on the Shakespeare country. Mrs. Albert Barrows gave a talk on the Philippines, and we had a concert or two. In lighting the projector, we had to use acetylene gas; and it was a toss up as to whether it would last through the lecture. The girls that year organized a basketball team and met Santa Barbara. The boys did some track stunts, with Bob Dennison frequently coaching them. Tennis was, of course, a favorite sport.

A play of that year stands out in my mind. It was “Op O’ My Thumb,” in which Margaret Bald distinguished in the leading role. I recall that Mrs. Margaret Clark Hunt furnished horses one Saturday for the whole school. We went to Topa Topa’s summit. Through the kind offices of some of the boys, I was pulled out of the saddle when the interesting trip was over. I did not go to church the next day.

During the second year of the school, I urged, much to the evident consternation of the trustees, the necessity of having larger quarters and more equipment. Being convinced that such was the case, the trustees began the discussion of a site for the proposed new building. According to law, if all the trustees of a school unite on a site, it may be carried without a vote of the people concerned. Four of the trustees, from the first, favored a site about three-quarters of a mile west of the village [then known as Nordhoff]. One member stuck to his guns for a site east of town on what is now known as the Waite Tract.

The whole matter was warmly discussed on the street and in the press. At last, the day of the election arrived and such excitement. The west side carried the day by 40 votes. Bonds for $20,000 were voted, and in the summer of 1911 the buildings were rushed to completion on ten acres of land, half of which was given to the district by Waldo Forster.
In September 1911, the first sessions in the new but somewhat incomplete plant began. Miss Helen F. Dorrance and Miss Ida Belle Lamb were added to the faculty. John Timms was the janitor and gardener and served for many years. Under the direction of Miss Lamb (now Mrs. R. S. Dennison), the Girl’s Glee Club became a prominent and most delightful feature of the school.

The new school buildings were formally dedicated November 1, 1911. Dr. James

The “new” campus in 1910

Blaisdell of Pomona College was the speaker of the evening. In the spring of 1912, Miss Lamb presented her Girl’s Glee Club in its first concert. It was most ambitious for a small school (about 40 [pupils] now] and very successful. The stage setting won great applause by the large audience and was the work mainly of Miss Nina Soule and Mrs. [Olive] Bristol.

The first part of the program was the Glee Club. The second part was Denza’s cantata “The Garden of Flowers,” starring Carolyn Wilson. Miss Chapman had organized a Deutscher Ziken (German club), and on May 10th gave a concert and play in German. The play presented that year was “The Elopement of Ellen,” which included in the cast Howard Bald, Nina Freeman, Thornton Wilson, Abbie Cota, and Tom Gibson.

The first class (1912) to graduate was: Grace Hobson (Valedictorian), Carolyn Wilson (Salutatorian), Nina Freeman, Ethel Freeman, Edna Leslie, Abbie Cota and Levi Bray.

The annual, which we named Topa Topa made its first appearance at the close of the 1912-1913 session. Carolyn Wilson was editor and Howard Bald business manager.

At the opening of school in 1912, automobiles made their first appearance in the faculty. Miss Forsyth drove down from Gilroy in a Reo, and Miss Dorrance appeared in some kind of car. The principal did not have such a luxury until 1917.

Physical Education was started in that year [1912]. Miss Chapman and Rev. W. H. Macpherson taught the various stunts in this line and gave public exhibitions from time to time.

There were two major plays in 1912-13. “The Lady of Lyons,” a five-act play, starred Thornton Wilson and Helen Baker. The play was directed by Miss Dorrance, and the rather elaborate costumes were designed and made by Miss Chapman. It was a memorable show. Also, “A Scrap of Paper,” starring Thornton Wilson and Dorotha Clark [was performed], with a part for each member of the class. Another excellent program was presented by the Girl’s Glee Club, under Miss Ida Lamb’s direction, in the spring of 1913.
The class of 1913 was: Margaret Bald, Fred Burnell, Howard Bald, Ruby Watkins, Mertie Jackson, Mary Freeman, Elma Morris, Thornton Wilson, Dorotha Clark, Jennie Friend, Maxwell Allen, and Rose Goodman.

Howard Bald was ill on commencement night, which circumstance gave the principal a chance to commend his splendid services to the school.

Owing to the well-nigh perfect record at the University of California of Grace Hobson, professor Thomas of the University school examination staff, reported to us that the N. U. H. S. stood first in the state in scholarship among the freshmen at the close of the first semester on 1912-13. Carolyn Wilson that same year, at the San Jose Normal School, won a prize of $150 for good work in her studies and for participation in school activities.

School opened early in September, as usual, in 1913. In the fall of that year, the Alumni Association was formed, and for several years we held annual conferences. The graduates living near attended, and many who were away sent letters.

The Girl’s Glee Club gave a concert on December 12th, and Miss Agnes Lord assisted with her violin. It was Miss Lamb’s last concert, for she married R. S. Dennison soon after. Miss Dorrance continued the girl’s chorus work. The play that fall was Kendrick Bang’s “The Worsted Man,” a semi-musical comedy, starring Harry Stoker and Charlotte Treadway.

The month of February, 1914, was noted for a great storm. Rain poured down for 54 hours with scarcely a let-up. School was closed for three or more days. In June “The Private Tutor” was presented by the senior class, consisting of Tom Gibson, Clifford Watkins, Irma Busch, Julia Lescher, Elizabeth Kincher and Jack Clark.

Tom Gibson, a remarkable lad, was the Valedictorian, his subject being “The Marvels of Modern Surgery.” He was a student who knew what he wanted to do and stuck with it. Tom Gibson is now a most successful surgeon in San Francisco. The Topa Topa was edited by Tom Gibson and dedicated to the principal.

In the fall of 1914, Alexander Barnes was added to the corps of teachers. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes made their influence felt in the school and community, especially in the field of music.

The play that fall was “Her Own Way,” by Clyde Fitch, starring Helen Baker and John Dunshee. It was cleverly done. Instead of the usual concert in the spring, Mr. Barnes put on a very successful minstrel show, using fifteen boys in the circle. This entertainment was followed in May by a play called “All of a Sudden, Peggy,” which was put on by the senior class.

In the spring of 1915, the school decided to accept the invitation of the Southern California High School Chemistry Society to compete along with other Southern California high schools in a written examination relating to chemistry. We sent Helen Baker and Ruth Garland to Los Angeles to represent us. In due course, we were notified that our team had won the coveted distinction of having the highest average and winning the cup. On October 22, 1915, at a luncheon at the University Club in Los Angeles, there were assembled the Garlands, the Bakers, the Principal, and Miss Forsyth, who taught the team and who came over from Pasadena to be present. In the presence of about one hundred scientists and science teachers, our girls were presented with the cup, and a proud day it was for the school.

The commencement exercises of the class of 1915 were rather unique. On the stage there was a demonstration of classroom work in Mathematics, chemistry, and botany. A lesson in trigonometry was given by Charlotte Busch, botany by Marguerite Mallory, geometry by Evelyn Herbert, and chemistry by Fred Sheldon and Ruth Kincher. This program constituted the first part of the evening exercises. The second part conformed to the usual type of commencement proceedings, in which Helen Baker was the Valedictorian.

Topa Topa that year was dedicated to Madame Thacher with the following lines:
Aged thou art,
But old thou never wert.
Gray Time is yet thy friend; aye more,
Thou dost so make God thy life.
That old Time hast had command
To spare thy soul to abide alert.
In years we measure by the score,

Aged thou art.
Thy temp’ral powers decline.
The Spirit is ever thy star; aye more,
Thou dost so make Love thy life,
That in this transient world of strife
There glows through thee spirit so divine.
To know thee is to love, adore.

Sixty-one students registered in the fall of 1915. Miss Alice Fowler took Miss Dorrance’s place in the faculty. Miss Forsyth gave place to Miss Hope Jordan. The fall play was “The Colonel’s Maid,” starring John Dunshee and Reba Taylor.

One Saturday in February, 1916, I was sitting in the Boyd Club, when Mr. Charles M. Pratt came in. As he approached me, I arose; and we passed some complimentary remarks, when he suddenly asked me, “What can I do for you?” For some months, I had been concerned about the inadequacy of our high school to meet the modern demand for training in the practical aspects of life and had fear and trembling about deciding to broach the subject to the trustees and ask for equipment to teach domestic science and art for the girls and boys. Crafts for the boys, also. I was so full of the subject that, when Mr. Pratt asked me that fateful question, I replied promptly. “Yes, Mr. Pratt. I wish our high school had the facilities to teach domestic science and the crafts.” We discussed the matter awhile, when he ended the conversation by saying, “I will come to see you some day soon.”

The day came, and we went over the whole subject on the grounds. He said finally, “You seem to know just what you want. Tell your trustees to get the same architect who planned your school and have him plan, construct, and equip one building for the boys and one for the girls and send the bill to me.” I am sure I walked on air the rest of the day. The trustees lost no time in getting the buildings up and the equipment put in place, so that they could be in use in the fall of 1916.

The week of May 15th was high school week at the Isis Theater [the town’s motion picture theater], a part of the proceeds to be given to the school by the proprietor for athletics and the Topa Topa. Owing to the illness of the English teacher, we did not have a play in the summer of 1916.
The class of 1916 was composed of Ruth Garland, Elmer Freeman, John Dunshee, Hazel Parmenter, and Harold Neville. At the commencement exercises, Ruth Garland was the Valedictorian, and Dr. Alter W. Palmer of Oakland was the speaker of the evening.

The annual was edited by John Dunshee and dedicated to Charles M. Pratt with these words:
To the man out of the East
Who bears choice gifts
To bless us and those who follow,
Gifts of gold, but also
Gifts of character and the spirit
Of plain democracy,
More enduring
We dedicate this, our annual.

The school opened in September, 1916, with great expectations. The two new buildings were ready and splendidly equipped. Seventy-two pupils were registered. We began the year with the following new teachers: Lucetta Kenneberger, Margaret Alltucker, Francis Mowry, and Kenneth Rich. Alexander Barnes held over. Miss Mowry had the domestic science and art departments and Mr. Rich the manual training.

A Spanish Club of twenty-eight was organized. In February, 1917, Miss Kellenbarger ambitiously put on Sheridan’s “The Rivals,” starring Eldred Miller and Doliver Church. Mrs. Wilda Wilson Church helped with the play and other times gave us readings and interesting talks.

The new buildings were dedicated in March [1917]. The speakers were Dr. Scherer of the California Polytechnic [Institute] in Pasadena; Mr. Pratt; Sherman D. Thacher, the president of the board of trustees; Felton Taylor, president of the student body; and the principal.

We did not compete for the chemistry cup in 1916, for the reason that chemistry was given out every other year. But in the spring of 1917, we prepared to enter the competition again, with Miss Alltucker as instructor. The team we sent to Los Angeles was composed of Cecil Crowe, Reba Taylor, and Eldred Miller.

The senior play was given on June 5th. It was staged out of doors and coached by Miss Kellenbarger, who, by the way, was an exceptional English teacher. The play was “Hiawatha.” Felton Taylor was Hiawatha, and Esther Waite was Nokomis. William Mallory made his debut as an actor in the part of the child Hiawatha.

On Saturday, June 9th, there descended upon the Ojai Valley the disastrous fire of 1917. I had been at a meeting of the County Board of Education that day and drove home about two o’clock. Esther [his eleven-year-old daughter] was with me, and we spoke about the smoke rising over the range toward the north, but did not consider it serious. John Timms and I patrolled the school grounds; but when the hot wind swept the flames along the tops of the oaks toward the school property, we were helpless. The tennis court saved the domestic science building and the main buildings, but the manual training building was burned to the ground and the expensive equipment ruined. Mr. Pratt wired to have the building rebuilt at his expense.

Those were sad, trying days. We had no lights in the auditorium, so simple commencement exercises were held in the old Presbyterian church. The class was Cecil Crowe, who entered high school at eleven years of age and was one of the brainiest boys I knew; Felton Taylor; Florence Schurman; Dewitt Menefee; George Jackson; Esther Waite, and Bennie Houk. Cecil Crowe was Valedictorian. DeWitt Menefee edited the Topa Topa.

The great fire destroyed our home and all there was in it, also, Mrs. Bristol’s School building and equipment. Mr. Ladd telegraphed from Portland, Oregon, that we could have his house for the summer, which we gratefully accepted. My wife and I were at the crossroads. What should we do? Seated on the east veranda one afternoon, we discussed the situation. Mrs. Bristol had made a success of her [private] school and loved it; but rebuilding would be a trial and expensive, especially if she took a few girls to board, which she importuned to do. I was inclined to take advantage of the break and try for another school.

It was the lowest point in our depression; for, turning to some unopened mail on a table nearby, I read a letter from the Southern California Chemical Society saying that our team had again won the contest in chemistry. That settled it. I couldn’t desert a school that had won an intelligence test in competition with twenty-two schools and eighty-four students. In October, 1917, the presentation took place at the University Club in Los Angeles. Reba Taylor received the cup for the school, which this time was ours to keep.

The opening of school in 1917 was quite depressing. The enrollment had decreased considerably. The shadow of the great fire was till over the community. The war spirit [World War I] was such that the boys wanted military drill, which to a limited extent was allowed them. We had in the school that fall a Jewish boy, whose family came here for the winter. He had some training in military tactics and undertook to command the boys under general direction of Mr. Rich. Miss Rosina Caldwell took Mr. Barnes place in the faculty. The reconstructed manual training building was ready for the opening of school.

There was a move to organize a Y. M. C. A. in Ojai. The school gave a play written by Kate Douglas Wiggins entitled “The Birds”. . . . It was given in the old Presbyterian church. Early in 1918, automobile sheds were constructed by the boys of the Manual Training Department. The winter play was “Green Stockings,” starring Florence Thompson and George Busch. The spring play, coached by Miss Kellenbarger, was “In Cleon’s Garden,” a Greek play. It was given out of doors. Arthur Waite and Eldred Miller had prominent parts. A turtle and parrot were in the cast. Special lighting effects were devised by the students, and tiers of raised seats were provided for the audience.

Topa Topa that year was edited by Reba Taylor and dedicated to Edward Drummond Libbey. The dedication lines follow:

A man whose practical idealism,
Whose love of the beautiful,
Whose vision of altruistic service,
Has inspired and brought to pass
A great work in the Ojai Valley –
An esthetic endowment of such wondrous value
That no man can contemplate it without
Spiritual uplift.

The class of 1918 consisted of Faith Van Curen, Eldred Miller, Reba Taylor, Ruth Parmenter, Charles Parsons, Dwight Van Fleet, Winifred Gibson and George Busch. Reba Taylor was the Valedictorian. On account of the high cost of materials, Topa Topa was not published that year.

At the opening of the school in 1918, Miss Ruth Garner of Lodi took Miss Alltucker’s place; and A. W. Muse took Mr. Rich’s work. Both of these were remarkably fine persons and teachers, and we hated to lose them. Miss Elizabeth Taff, now Mrs. Harry Dennison, took Miss Mowry’s work in the Domestic Science Department.

We had just got well-started with the work of the year, when the Spanish Flu struck the town; and the school was closed for seven weeks. The Manual Training Department put on a play in April, 1919, called “Under the Laurels,” under the direction of Mr. Muse; which, as I remember it now, was not up to our usual standard of plays.

The class of 1919 graduated on the evening of June 20, and [was] comprised [of] the following students: Elsie Gibson, Dorothy Yant, Harriet Semro, Margaret Macleod, Jessie Drown, Margaret Hunt, Melba Miller, Fern Watkins, and Arthur Waite. Dorothy Yant was the Valedictorian.

Athletics

Very early in our history, the teachers and students agreed that in athletics we would undertake only such sports as we could with credit to ourselves. Consequently, we left out track and football and concentrated on tennis, baseball, and basketball. In 1917, we were first in the county in tennis, second in baseball, and second in basketball. I shall never forget the pennant game of baseball played with Fillmore on our field in the spring of 1917. Bennie Houk, reputed to be the best pitcher in the county, pitched a fine game through eight innings; and our school was ahead. In the ninth, he let in enough runs to beat us. The excitement was too much for him, perhaps. We were good losers, nonetheless. The nostalgic effect of the game was felt in the school for some time. I remember Mrs. Drown gave the school a scoreboard, and Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Houk gave us a handsome blue and gold megaphone.

In the years 1912 and 1919, inclusive, we graduated sixty pupils. Of these, 35 went to higher schools. Eighty-two children, so far as we have been able to learn, have been born to these graduates, some of whom have also graduated from the local school.

With this report of the first decade of the Nordhoff Union High School, I bring to a close what seems to me to be romantic years.

Discord Comes to the Ojai Valley in 1880

Discord Comes to the Ojai Valley by John Montgomery

[Note: John Montgomery was one of Ojai’s first settlers. He arrived in Ojai in 1874. He lived in the large, two-story wooden house that still stands on Matilija Street, next to Theater 150. Montgomery Street is named after him.]

From the year 1873 to 1879 we were a harmonious and model community, living in peace and good fellowship, with no offensive inequalities of fortune or education. Upper and Lower Valley, East End and West End mingled on equal footing at our picnics, May Day parties, and Christmas trees. Our population continued increasing, and the newcomers were welcomed to our festivities. Those were happy days for our children who knew no strifes but a generous emulation at school; many of them are now fathers and mothers residing in the valley, some have left to return, and a few have gone never to visit us again.

The brick schoolhouse served as Nordhoff's church until 1882.

Our little brick school house sheltered on Sundays members of all churches and creed, and many were ignorant and indifferent as to the pastor’s sect or denomination, enough that he preached good will and the golden rule to all men. The stentorian voice of our village blacksmith led the choir at service, and, admitting that he did sing out of tune a half note on either side of the scale was a trifle in those days to the neighborly ear of charity, and was compensated by the fervor of his good intentions.

For years we were content to ride in our farm and spring wagons, and our cottage organs were the pride of the parlor and had the choice location among the furniture.

But this Arcadian felicity was not to last forever, and the demon of discord was biding his time to entrap us. First, a top buggy came into the Valley and the wagon fell fifty points. Then Mrs. _____ introduced with her two accomplished daughters, a seven octave Steinway grand, and the organ trade disorganized to a collapse. Later, a reading club was got up in the village, having a clause to avoid crowding, that members must reside in Nordhoff. This was equal to slamming the door in people’s faces, and the epithets “stuck up” and “high-toned,” were hurled back in retributive ejaculations.

The fact is, people were soured. The year 1877 was a dry one, and 1875 was the disastrous “rust” year, and two bad years in succession made people “long” on expense and “short” on resources. The hotels were crowded with stylish eastern tourists who introduced new and expensive notions, sneered at our music and church service, and reproached us on our want of a decent church. The two hotels, though miles apart, glared at each other in envious rivalry. [The Nordhoff Hotel was located where the Libbey fountain is now; Oak Glen Cottages were located on the corner of Ojai Avenue and Gridley.] The guests and others at the Nordhoff Hotel raised a subscription to build a church, and the whole Valley joined in the contribution; trustees were chosen and the association incorporated, and all went harmoniously till the question of the church site came up. Then the storm burst. Nordhoff people insisted on having the church in their town, while the outsiders were equally determined to have it up their way, and complete rupture took place between Nordhoff and its opponents; and the village, strong in the justice of its course, put on its war trappings and defied the world.

The Upper Valley to a man joined the eastern seceeders. The two hotels were the

Ojai Presbyterian Church (1882) by J. Cleveland Cady

nucleus of the hostile forces. The good pastor was drawn into the vortex of dissension, and losing his equilibrium, recklessly declared for the Wild West, and was thrown overboard by the “Orientals” as a second Jonah. Then suddenly somebody discovered that the minister was not a Baptist, and another that he was not a Methodist; while some of the older members had their doubts that he ever was sound on Calvanism. But the difficulty deciding on a church site had to be overcome one way or another; and the trustees, amid the din of battle, resolved, four to one, that the proper place for the Presbyterian church was where it now stands, in the center of the community and accessible to all [where Ojai fire station is now located]. Nordhoff was furious, the more so that one of its trustees had gone back on it, voting with the majority; and this culprit has survived the crisis to indite to The

The two churches united.

Recurrent these “Annals of the ‘parish’.” But the plucky town kept its back up, and when Mr. S.S. Smith of San Francisco, generously contributed $500 toward building a chapel, Nordhoff immediately made up the difference and never rested till the last coat of paint was on the walls and a sonorous bell in the steeple [this second church was built where the Ojai Library is now located in downtown Ojai].

After this little blizzard the social atmosphere cleared up; Christian charity that for a time had not a leg to stand on, now threw away its crutches, and asserted its supremacy, softening men’s hearts and extending the right hand of fellowship. But never again will the valley enjoy the primitive simplicity of its earlier years, when it was a model community, realizing the dream of a Roussen or a Tolsten.

Note: When Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nordhoff visited the Ojai Valley in 1881, Mrs.

Ojai Historic Landmark #1 - Ojai's First Church

Nordhoff decided the community should have a proper church. She sent plans for a church along with the money to build it. It was constructed on the Soule property, where the fire station now stands. Those living in the town of Nordhoff defected and built their own Congregational Church where the Ojai Library is located. In 1900 the two congregations reunited and their churches were moved to the same lot-the parking lot in front of Jersey Mike’s. The original Presbyterian Church served as the church, and the Congregational Church was used for Sunday school classes and offices. When the current Presbyterian Church was built on Foothill Road, the old Presbyterian Church was sold to the Nazarenes and moved to the corner of Montgomery Street and Aliso Street. It is now a center for author Byron Katie and is Ojai Historic Landmark #1.]

Early Stories of Ojai, Part I

Early Ojai Stories, Part One by Howard Bald

Note: Howard Bald was an early Ojai resident.  His reminiscences were written in the early 1970s.

The Ojai Valley in those days was a popular winter resort for wealthy eastern people who would come out for the winter.

Other than playing tennis and cards, about the only entertainment was horseback riding, and for the elder people, a team and surrey with a driver would trot them about the valley, up Matilija Canyon (the road ended at Wheeler’s Hot Springs) up through the Upper Ojai valley and onto Sulphur mountain, or over to Shepherds Inn via Casitas Pass and sometimes on to Santa Barbara. Shepherd’s Inn, situated on the line between Santa Barbara and Ventura County was a popular, rustic inn frequented by both Santa Barbara and Ojai tourists.

The Casitas Pass was approached only via what is now Foster Park, and the road followed along the foot of the north side of Red mountain. But the east and west passes were virtually the same as of today. One popular ride was to follow the beach from the Rincon to Ventura when the tide was low. I believe it was sometimes done with team and wagon. I did it only on saddle horse.

The livery stable was not only the site of horse trading and training, but also some lively prize fights were held there, sometimes right out on the street and sometimes in the stable. When held inside buggies would be crammed into a corner to make room for the spectators. Some of the younger fry had their first lessons in boxing there.

I well remember one time when the men had Mayor Smith and me matched together. We were fairly evenly matched and things were going smoothly until Mayor glanced over his shoulder to see how near he was to a horse’s heels in a nearby stall. At that instant I uncorked a left to Mayor’s jaw. Mayor considered that unfair tactics and retaliated with all he had. The riot was quelled by Sam (Mayor’s father) dragging him across the street to their home back of the post office.

Occasionally the village quietness was broken by a local hoodlum riding his horse down the boardwalk, and if a Chinaman happened to be within reach, wrapping the end of his cue around the pommel of his saddle and galloping to the the end of the boardwalk. (The Chinese all wore a long single braid down their back. I’ll mention them in particular later.)

One smart alec rode into Clyde Stewart’s grocery store and roped a fellow and dragged him over the counter. But that episode is getting into the second decade and I am trying to confine myself to the first decade. And besides, that smart alec (notice I don’t use the term hoodlum) was myself.

One November night the village stillness was suddenly shattered by a series of pistol shots accompanied by unearthly yells. It turned out to be only Johnny Joshlin celebrating the beginning of the fall rains. After emptying two six-shooters, he returned to Lagomarsino’s saloon and all was quiet again. Now I wonder how Johnny happed to have two six-shooters, for he was not a gunman.

The only law enforcement officer the valley had was constable Andy Van Curren. He was a familiar sight with his flowing gray beard, riding about the valley on an iron gray horse.

His home and the jail (they were separate buildings) occupied the area where the new Security Pacific Bank [Bank of America] and Loops restaurant [Cattywampus and Beacon Coffee] now stand.  [See Ojai’s First Jail, by Ed Wenig]

I don’t remember there ever being anything in the jail but spare coffins, for Andy sometimes acted as undertaker. I am sure that on such occasions he substituted the gray saddle horse for a team and spring wagon. (I have recently learned, though, that Mrs. Van Curren would prepare meals, and one of the small daughters would carry them over to the inmates.)

There was story of one of the valley’s most notorious rowdies (I will not mention his name, as it might offend highly respected present day descendents). His appearances before justice of the peace McKee were becoming rather frequent, and each time the fine would be a little higher. Finally, the judge fined him $10. The fellow blinked and with characteristic oath said, “Judge, ain’t that pretty steep for a regular customer?”

Another time Constable Van Curren called at his home to make an arrest. His mother met Van Curren at the front door and parlayed with him while the intended arrestee skipped out the kitchen door, saddled and mounted a horse, and rode off to the Upper Ojai.

“Reminiscences of Early Ojai” by Howard Bald, 1973

Ojai’s First Jail

Ojai’s First Jail by Ed Wenig

Andy Van Curen's Jail

For those who needed to be incarcerated for some time, Andy Van Curen, long time constable in the Ojai Valley, provided lodging in a very small, home-made jail he had built himself on his own property. According to Edna Van Curen Miner, his daughter, the jail was built of 4 inch boards, one inch thick that were laid flat, one on top of the other, and then nailed through with iron spikes an inch apart. Says she: “It was a veritable fortress from which none could escape.”

There were two adjoining cells with an iron door for each, one cell capacity was 4, the other 7. A six inch square hole in each door provided a convenient opening for air and for providing a space for passing in small dishes of food. The jail was situated first close to Ojai Avenue, in front of what is now Loops Restaurant [now Carrow’s Restaurant]. Then it was moved under a tree back of the rear parking lot of the Security Pacific Bank building [now, Bank of America].

Andy Van Curen was Nordhoff’s constable for many years. In his later life, there was a movement among some of the citizens of Ojai to elect a younger and more active man to replace him as constable. Commenting on this situation in her memoirs of the period, Helen Baker Reynolds writes: “Andy was hurt and incensed. He let it be known that if he were replaced no one else could use his jail. The movement for replacement promptly collapsed.”

Years after its use was ended, the little jail was twice offered to the City with the suggestion that it be placed in the Civic Park, but the city was not interested.

Clara Koch who had become in possession of the Van Curen property gave the jail to Audrey Ovington of Santa Barbara, who engaged William J. Brakey, the famed “moving man” from Ventura to move it. Mr Brakey took it on a flatbed truck over the Casitas Pass, and deposited it at Cold Spring Tavern. There it stands today and may be seen by anyone interested.

Ed Wenig, Ojai’s home-made jail was escape-proof, Ojai Valley News, Nov. 19, 1969.

Charles Nordhoff Visits the Ojai Valley

Charles Nordhoff Visits the Ojai Valley by Richard Hoye

The City of Ojai was first established as a village in 1874 and given the name Nordhoff. The village retained this name for 43 years, until it was changed to Ojai in 1917. Its original name was derived from the author, editor and journalist Charles Nordhoff, who lived from 1830 to 1901.

His name is still retained in the name of the high school, Nordhoff High School, and the name of the highest point on the ridge which forms the northern wall of the Ojai Valley, Nordhoff Peak. There is also a fountain at the center of the city which commemorates his daughter, Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff.

Charles Nordhoff is frequently confused with his grandson Charles Bernard Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty; but they are of different generations. Charles Nordhoff was a well-established author in his own right. He wrote about a dozen books. His first books were about his early life as a seaman, and his Man-of-War Life (1855) was used at Annapolis as a standard reference for naval cadets. His most famous book was California for Health, Pleasure and Residence, published in June 1872. He was a deeply religious man, and one of his books was titled, God and the Future Life (1883). His Politics for Young Americans (1875) was used in public schools as a civics text.

Charles Nordhoff was a “correspondent” in Washington, D.C., for the New York Herald newspaper from 1874 until his retirement in 1890. The New York Herald was the foremost newspaper in the nation, comparable to the New York Times today. This was at a time when there was no Internet, no television and no radio. Newspapers were the principal method of mass communication. As a “correspondent” (we might say reporter/commentator) at the nation’s capital for the nation’s foremost newspaper, he was at the top of his profession and was well-known nationwide.

The following statement was included in an obituary written just after his death, which occurred in San Francisco on July 14, 1901:

“The town of Nordhoff was named for Charles Nordhoff, in appreciation of the good words spoken of the Ojai Valley as a health resort, both as a writer and in personal talks with friends.”

This is the common understanding as to how the village came to be named for the author, and it is an explanation that has been repeated many times over. Nonetheless, it is incorrect.

“Persons seeking to learn what Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley pick up his California for Health, Pleasure and Residence from a local library and search the book intensively only to discover that there is nothing in the work about the valley! This leads to perplexity and confusion! The book was published in 1872, and the village was named Nordhoff in 1874. . . . but, he had not written about it.”

The key to understanding what actually occurred rests in the fact that there was a subsequent edition of the work, published in 1882. The title page of the second edition stated that it was a “New Edition, Thoroughly Revised.” It is in the 1882 edition that information about the Ojai Valley is to be found. Unfortunately, it is also an edition that is less commonly shelved in public libraries.

Charles Nordhoff wrote about the Ojai Valley eight years after the village was given his name. So, it wasn’t his writing about the Valley that led to the use of his name. The suggestion for naming the village is attributed to Catherine Blumberg, wife of the man who constructed the first hotel in the center of the hamlet. She thought the use of Nordhoff’s name would be a good idea (better than the Topa Topa first considered). Nordhoff’s famous book about California had been published a couple of years earlier, and tourists were carrying it about as a reliable guide to the state.

Main Street, Nordhoff, California in 1890

A two-volume biography of Thomas Bard was written by the author W.H. Hutchinson (Oil, Land and Politics: The California Career of Thomas Robert Bard) and published in 1965. Bard was the Valley’s first real estate agent; and he later became a member of the U.S. Senate, representing the State of California. Hutchinson included the following statement in his book:

“Without visiting the Ojai, he [Charles Nordhoff] penned some glowing prose about its salubrious climate and other advantages, and it is believed that he gleaned his material from Bard and Roys Surdam. His other periodical press articles and a book about his travels first gave national publicity to the southern coast and especially to Santa Barbara.”

If complete information had been available to Hutchinson, he would have reached a different conclusion.

Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley for a quick, weekend turnaround on October 22-23, 1881. Here is part of a report from a Santa Barbara newspaper:

NORDHOFF AT NORDHOFF

The Ventura “Signal” says:  “For the first time, on last Saturday, in company with D.W. Thompson and wife of Col. Hollister, of Santa Barbara. Charles Nordhoff, the celebrated newspaper correspondent, and the man to whom more than anyone else Southern California owes the greater portion of her population, visited Nordhoff and the Ojai Valley. Of course, he went into ecstacies over the beautiful valley.”

— Santa Barbara, The Daily Press, Oct. 31, 1881, p. 2:1.

Charles Nordhoff doesn’t seem to have been a man who would have been lost to “ecstacies”, even though the Valley does have this effect upon some. The visit was a momentous event. Here was William Hollister, owner of the Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara, and Dixie Thompson, manager of the hotel, escorting Charles Nordhoff on his first visit to the valley. Hollister was a man of considerable wealth, after whom the town of Hollister was named in northern California. So, both Hollister and Nordhoff had towns named after them.

“Dixie Thompson was owner of a Ventura ranch which in time would be described as the largest lima-bean ranch in the world. His name is found today in Thompson Boulevard in Ventura. The news account omits the fact that Mrs. Charles Nordhoff was also a member of the party.”

We see, then, that Charles Nordhoff first visited the Ojai Valley in October 1881. The second edition of his book on California, and the edition with information about the Ojai Valley, was published in 1882. He saw the valley before he wrote about it, and Hutchinson was wrong in this particular.

Charles Nordhoff’s interest in the valley was friendly and supportive. He visited again in 1889 and 1894. He was a member of the building committee for his community church in Alpine, New Jersey; and when a decision was made to construct that church in stone rather than wood, the architectural design for the wooden church was sent to the Ojai Valley and used for the design and construction of the Valley’s Presbyterian church (which still stands). He (a Methodist) donated money for construction of the Presbyterian church and provided books for its “Sabbath School” (we would say Sunday School).

Charles Nordhoff also established an enduring friendship with Sherman Thacher, founder of the Thacher School in the Ojai Valley. Thacher hosted a reception in the Valley for Nordhoff in 1894. There is a record that Thacher later visited Nordhoff at Coronado, California, where Nordhoff had retired. Thacher was also among the last persons outside the immediate family who visited with Nordhoff in San Francisco shortly before Nordhoff’s death.

Sharp & Savvy: Royce Gaylord Surdam

Sharp & Savvy: Royce Gaylord Surdam (1835-1891)
by David Mason

Royce Gaylord Surdam

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.

 

JUNE 30 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Postcard: Nordhoff High School (1910)



Nordhoff Union High School
. In 1910, Norman F. Marsh designed this bungalow style building (above) to house the new Nordhoff High School. Marsh designed it so that, “every window will extend to the floor and will swing open their entire length. The pupils will in ordinary weather practically work out of doors.” At the time, this was a revolutionary concept in school architecture. Charles M. Pratt, a wealthy Eastern oil tycoon who owned a home in Ojai, hired Marsh to design a separate manual training and domestic arts building at the school. Marsh was a successful Los Angeles architect who also designed Venice Beach, the University of Redlands, and the Parkhurst Building in Santa Monica. The new Nordhoff High School campus opened in October of 1911 with forty students.


The above is an excerpt from Ojai: A Postcard History, by Richard Hoye, Tom Moore, Craig Walker, and available at Ojai Valley Museum or at Amazon.com.

Nordhoff’s Rangers Symbolized the Wild West

The Nordhoff Rangers By Ed Wenig, published in the Ojai Valley News on June 10, 1970

The term “Nordhoff Rangers” today evokes thoughts of high school football teams and athletic events in the minds of Ojai residents. But in the early days of the valley, the original Nordhoff Rangers were an integral part of the adult life of the community, ringing security and, at the same time, a sort of excitement to the lives of the townsfolk. To visiting easterners at the turn of the century the Nordhoff Rangers seemed the last remaining vestige of the Old West.

It was necessary for a Ranger to have two horses in order to carry on his work. One was for riding, while the other carried provisions and fire-fighting gear. In those days shovels, machetes, and barley sacks for beating out the flames in grass fires were standard equipment.

Days or weeks later the horses and their mounts would return, dead tired, for a brief respite from their duties. On occasion the one-block-long main street of the village would be filled with Rangers and their horses preparing to leave for the vast area north of the Ojai, or coming home from the forest.

A report to the government by Ranger James Larmer describes a somewhat typical event in a forest ranger’s life thus: “April 7, 1899. Went to Wheeler’s Hot Springs in the north fork of Matilija Canyon. While there received a message from Supervisor Slosson that fire was burning in Cozy Dell Canyon. Went there with four men. Put out fire by 8 a.m. on 8th. Worked all night. Rode 40 miles.”

Among the more famous of Nordhoff’s forest rangers was Jacinto Reyes, who was with the forest service for 31 years. As forest policeman Jacinto Reyes conscripted homesteaders to pout out forest fires, settled quarrels between cattle and sheep men, and packed out bodies of men who had perished in the mountains.

Sol Sheridan, Ventura County historian, wrote, “Jacinto Reyes is known as one of the most efficient Rangers in the service, a man whose fame has traveled far-fearlessly shirking no responsibility and stopping at nothing to protect the farmer of the valley by his intelligent devotion to the conservation of the forest growth of the mountains.”

In 1901 Jacinto Reyes was honored by being part of the escort for President McKinley’s carriage in Ventura. However, “J.D.”, as Jacinto was affectionately called, received his biggest thrill in 1905 in Santa Barbara, when President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to ride on the right side of his carriage.

(Shortly after Nordhoff High School opened in 1909, the students adopted the Nordhoff Ranger as their school mascot.)