The following article was first run in the Thursday, November 9, 1961 edition of “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS” (“ALL THE NEWS AND VIEWS of Oak View”) in the “B” section. It is reprinted here with their permission.
FORMER OAK VIEW BROOM MAKER LOOKS BACK FONDLY TO OLD DAYS By HANK PEARSON
With the influx of families in the Ojai valley increasing each year and with subdivisions sprouting up like mushrooms after a heavy rain, it’s a little difficult for many people to realize that it wasn’t too long ago that the valley was composed mainly of large fruit orchards and a comparatively small number of homes.
One person who can remember vividly what Ojai valley was like back at the turn of the century is Percy Watkins of Oak View. When he moved there with his parents in 1901 from Nebraska, and the existing home was erected on a level plateau east of the present business district, the only other place of any consequence in the area was a cider mill.
Watkins is frank, too, in drawing a comparison of that era with today.
“Frankly,” he says, “I prefer the old days when land sold for $125 per acre and there wasn’t the hustle and bustle there is today. My place today, “he added, ” is completely surrounded by subdivisions. This has more or less forced me to do the same thing with the land I have.”
Watkins admits however, that things weren’t exactly easy the first decade or so of the family’s existence in Oak View. His father, H. L. Watkins, established a broom factory in a barn on the property in an effort to bring in enough money to keep things on an even keel.
The broom factory was then one of the few on the Pacific coast and consisted of a press manufactured in an Ojai machine shop, a treadle and a few other appurtenances necessary to turn out a finished product. Broom corn, raised on the Watkins property, furnished the bristles for the brooms, but the wood for the handles had to be shipped in. The whole Watkins family, including two boys and six girls, pitched in to aid in the manufacture of the brooms.
Watkins recalls today how he set for hours on a box twisting and pulling on broom corn — an operation necessary to get the bristles in proper alignment for fastening to the handles.
It was also necessary to use stout string to bind the broom bristles together and in the early days this was accomplished by hand-sewing — a task Watkins says was extremely difficult on the hands even though a metal guard was used. A large homemade hand-press was used to crush the broom straw into a flattened aspect prior to sewing.
CALL ON HOMES
When enough brooms were manufactured, the next and most important step was to sell them. This was done in the early days by use of a horse and wagon and calling on homes. Watkins recalls that many days were spent from early dawn until dusk calling on homes as far away as Santa Barbara — a long distance in these days of slow transportation.
Brooms then sold for fifty cents each or if the customer wished a bargain, three for $1.25. “We didn’t get rich at it,” Watkins said, “but we managed to make a living.”
That business venture lasted until the early 1940s and then folded forever, with the death of Watkins’ father. Modern machine methods employed in factories and the emergence of grocery stores within easy driving distance of homes saw to that.
At one end of Watkin’s yard today mementos of days gone by are pretty well in evidence. Old model cars, trucks and outdated machinery items give mute testimony to the early days of the Ojai valley. Outside the yard in the large field where the subdivision will no doubt come into being one of these days, two sleek horses roam rather abjectly. Their days no doubt are numbered.
This article first appeared in the August 26, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is Ed Wenig.
Ojai was ‘torn apart and rebuilt’
(Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of articles by historian Ed Wenig on Civic Center Park and the man responsible for its gift “to the people of the Ojai Valley” — Edward Libbey).
On September 1, 1916, THE OJAI printed an editorial from the Ventura Free Press, written by Editor D. J. Reese, who had attended the Men’s League Banquet in March at the Foothills Hotel:
“Some morning, not far distant, the village of Nordhoff is going to wake up and find itself famous. The work being done in that section just now would make the man who has known Nordhoff of old rub his eyes in astonishment if he was brought into the place suddenly. Great things are in store no doubt. The town has been torn apart and several sections have been removed hither and yon. There has been a general clearing up of everything, and everybody has an expectant look as though wondering what will happen next. The main street has been piled full of terra cotta brick, and no one seems to know what is doing. Old landmarks like the Clark stables and the Ojai Inn have vanished as before a Kansas cyclone. Only the beautiful oaks, and here and there a substantial house like the bank or the clubhouse or the Nordhoff fountain and splendid Ojai atmosphere seem to be left. Something is surely doing. Ask what it is and the Nordhoffite will throw up his hands and mention the name of Libbey. You hear about Libbey every time you ask a question. Everywhere you go you note that somebody is working hard at something or other in digging ditches or burying water pipe or clearing underbrush or building massive and magnificent cobble walls. Why, it is to be another Montecito, you are told . . . “The people there are to be congratulated that they have a Libbey who has taken an interest in their affairs. It is to be hoped they will give him free rein.”
Vast Land Holdings
At an Ojai Valley Men’s League banquet at the Foothills Hotel J. J. Burke, speaking of improvements, told of a well of Mr. Libbey’s which “will pump at least 65 inches, and if Mr. Libbey’s plans materialize he will spend $20,000 in getting the water to his ranch. . . . The old Ojai Inn and all but one of the Berry Villa buildings have been torn down or moved away, making room for more extensive improvements in the future. Through the generosity of Mr. Libbey, Signal Street was cut through and graded to the railroad.”
In the spring of 1916 Libbey was reported to be visiting his friend, H. T. Sinclair and discussing with Mr. Thacher, Colonel Wilson and W. W. Bristol “sundry matters of importance to the community.”
On June 9, 1916 it was announced that E. D. Libbey had bought 200 more acres to add to his previous 300-acre property. “Among the early improvements will be the laying of a water main from his well on the Gally tract to his large holdings. And that is not all, as the entire square upon which once stood the Ojai Inn, is to be improved in a manner that augurs well for the future of Nordhoff, which is good news to the entire community. Mr. H. T. Sinclair has been taken into Mr. Libbey’s confidence and will be the directing head during his absence. Let us be glad, as well as thankful for so generous a promoter as E. D. Libbey.”
On June 16, 1916, we are told that Mr. Libbey has bought the last parcel of privately owned land in what is now the Civic Park. In the local paper, “The plans Mr. Libbey is making to benefit both the town and the Valley has met with the highest approbation of the committee and the cooperation of the League in every way is assured.”
It was reported on June 30 that the Berry Villa, “an historical step-sister of the Ojai Inn, now a demolished antiquity,” had been torn down and the lumber hauled away.
By July 14, fifty men in one crew were working on the Libbey pay roll. Tom Clark destroyed his barn north of his livery stable and constructed a rock wall for a modern garage. This wall can still be seen as part of the Village Drug Store.
Early in November, Architect Requa, of the San Diego architectural firm of Mead and Requa, went to Toledo and got full approval of the plans for the renovation of the main street of Nordhoff. The local newspaper reported, “The post office tower, penetrating the lower heavens 65 feet is to be a reality. There are many features that we shall be delighted to prattle about when fully assured that the architect has removed the censorship.”
In March, 1917, representatives of the Men’s League met with Mr. Libbey. A corporation was formed under the name of THE OJAI CIVIC ASSOCIATION. The incorporators were E. D. Libbey, S. D. Thacher, J. J. Burke, Harrison Wilson, H. T. Sinclair, A. A. Garland, and H. R. Cole. Said the editor of the paper: “The initial purpose of the corporation is to assume title to the valuable property acquired by gift from Mr. Libbey . . . This beautiful park and the tennis courts, covering more than seven acres, is to become the property of the people of Nordhoff and the Ojai Valley.
Concurrent with the changes in the appearance of the town of Nordhoff came a popular move to change the name of the village to Ojai. A petition was circulated under the auspices of Supervisor Tom Clark requesting the name change, and received so many signatures that it was five feet long by the time H. D. Morse, manager of the Foothills Hotel, sent it to Washington D. C. In March, 1917, Senator James D. Phelan sent the following telegram: “You may announce the change of name from Nordhoff to Ojai.”
A rekindled interest in pottery activity around the Ojai Valley.
Story by Anca Colbert
In Ojai’s history and reputation of attracting artists and creatives of all kinds we know that potters and ceramic artists have long been drawn to live and work here, in this place, this small town nestled in a heavenly mountain valley.
Naturally, Beatrice Wood’s storied life and career first comes to mind. “Beato” lived here from 1947 (when she built her house and studio in the East End) until her death in 1998, at the ripe age of 105. For many, she put Ojai on the map. She did so for this then-young art lover, freshly arrived from Paris to Los Angeles, who first came to Ojai in 1973 invited to lunch by Beatrice, who at the time was just settling into her new home in the Upper Valley, next to the Happy Valley School. That home and studio, now transformed into The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, welcomes visitors on pilgrimage seeking a glimpse into the famed artist’s inner and outer landscapes.
Read the rest of the article in the Ojai Magazine.
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.
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.
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
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 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 following article was run in the January 28, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photo of George W. Mallory courtesy of the Ojai Valley News. Photo of Mallory – Dennison Store added by the Ojai Valley Museum.
Controversy in 1893 over postmaster
As a rule, local politics in a village the size of Ojai are of interest to its residents only. But the year of 1893 proved to be the exception to the rule. In that year an election was held in the Ojai Valley which received national attention.
It came as the result of the election of Grover Cleveland, Democrat, to replace President Benjamin Harrison, Republican, in the White House. According to time-honored custom, this signified a nation-wide shifting of all local postmasterships from the incumbent Republicans to “deserving Democrats.” In Nordhoff it meant that B. F. Spencer, Republican postmaster, would normally expect to relinquish his position to a Democrat nominated by the local Democratic Committee.
But the attitude toward the “Spoils System” was undergoing a change throughout the nation, and, in tune with the times, some citizens of Nordhoff, including several Democrats, decided that this procedure was not in the best interest of the Ojai Valley. They resolved to take positive action to remedy the situation. Accordingly, the Ojai Club, which was made up of prominent citizens of the valley and which was very influential in the affairs of the community, received the following petition:
“TO THE OJAI CLUB: We, the undersigned residents of the Ojai Valley, believing in and desiring to initiate the principle of election of postmasters by the people, request of the Ojai Club—a non-partisan association—to take the proper steps for the holding of a PUBLIC ELECTION IN NORDHOFF; the returns of which would indicate the choice of its people for postmaster…”
James Braken, Democrat
Joseph Hobart, Republican
H. J. Dennison, Populist
W. L. Hall, Republican
John Murray, Jr., Democrat
J. R. Bennett, Independent
K. P. Grant, Republican
After due consideration the Ojai Club complied with the request and arranged for two election boards. One was instructed to handle the ballots for all the men over 18 years of age who were served by the local postoffice. Another was instructed to tally the women’s vote — this in spite of the fact that woman suffrage had not yet been granted. There were no public nominations, each voter merely writing the name of his choice on the ballot. Thus many received only one vote. However, the men generally voted for the incumbent, B. G. Spencer, and the women split their vote between Spencer and G. W. Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee.
This novel election aroused widespread interest in the communities throughout the nation. The MORNING BULLETIN of Norwich, Connecticut gave a detailed account of the election in an article entitled, “A NORDHOFFIAN METHOD.” Its concluding sentence was, “It has not been announced yet whether Headman Maxwell, within whose jurisdiction the Nordhoff post office is, favored the people or the machine.”
In this case, the “machine” turned out to be the winner, and Mallory, the choice of the Democratic Committee, was duly appointed postmaster. After the election, but before Mallory’s appointment, the local editor commented, “The irregular election last Saturday to ascertain the choice of the people of Ojai for postmaster of Nordhoff was deemed a success by those most interested. It is not, and was not expected that the result of the election will have any immediate influence in Washington. It is designed as a reform measure, to secure a postmaster desired by the people who support the business, and should have a voice in the management of their own affairs. As G. W. Mallory is the choice of the Democratic Committee, he will probably receive the appointment, and he will be generally acceptable to the people.”
Mr. Mallory served as postmaster throughout the four years of the Cleveland administration, and in accordance with custom, was replaced by a Republican postmaster upon the election of the Republican William McKinley to the Presidency. Mallory regained his position in 1914 when the Democrats returned to power with the election of Woodrow Wilson. Thus he served the citizens of Nordhoff well as postmaster for a total of twelve years.
Mallory had come to the valley in 1886, establishing himself in a men’s furnishings store. He immediately began to devote much of his time and talent to the benefit of the community. During his 53 years in the valley he served the Presbyterian Church as elder and superintendent of the Sunday School; the Masonic Lodge as treasurer for nine years; the City Council, both as member and mayor; the Jack Boyd Club as director; and the elementary school district as clerk. His business activities included acting as director of the local bank and of the Ojai Power Company. After his retirement he became deputy assessor for Ventura County.
Mr. Mallory’s widow lives in Ojai, and his son, Bill Mallory, is a businessman in Ojai.
This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News on February 19, 1999. It is used here with their permission.
Evelyn Nordhoff is Returned
“The People of The Ojai can best show their appreciation of the generosity of the donors by keeping the fountain free from defacements, and by gradually developing around it village improvements of other kinds.” –The Ojai, Saturday, October 15, 1904
The journey to the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, was long and tiring.
The dusty road was hardly passable in many places and the fact that the buggies had to ford rivers at least a dozen times didn’t help. The wild berries hanging down from the low tree limbs seemed to cover the trail.
There was a sign of relief when the buggies made it to the small camping area, now Camp Comfort, to take a rest. The stream was always running with cool water and the towering trees provided a shady nook.
When travelers finally reached the small western town of Nordhoff, the first stop was the conveniently placed watering trough and drinking fountain in the center of town.
The fountain was a beautiful addition to the small community which had earlier lacked any architectural charm – it’s design would eventually become known as “Mission Revival” and it was one of the earliest examples.
The Ventura Free Press called it “one of the finest fountains in the state,” and described it in detail.
“On the side facing the middle of main street, we see the drinking place for horses, consisting of a stone trough about twelve feet long, two feet deep and two feet wide, always full of running water supplied from a pipe running out of the lion’s mouth.
“A division, the centerpiece of the fountain, runs lengthwise directly back of the horse trough, and is made prettier by having the stone cut into mouldings at either end. This piece is about fourteen feet long and fully eight feet high in the middle, and is rounding at the top. At each end of this, only a few inches above the ground, the poor thirsty dogs find drinking places.
“The drinking place for humanity is found on the side next to the Ojai Inn, and consists of a large bowl hollowed out of a piece of stone, into which runs a tiny stream of water from a small lion’s mouth.
“The donor has not forgotten the tired traveler, but has built a broad resting place for him on a big slab of stone. The Ojai newspaper refers to as ‘an ornament we should be proud of.'”
The fountain, built in memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff in 1904, was indeed an improvement to the downtown block. The community of Nordhoff, the principal settlement in the Ojai Valley, had been established in 1874 and was still in its early stages of development. Evelyn Nordhoff was the daughter of Charles Nordhoff, the well-known author for whom the town was named.
Evelyn Nordhoff’s early life was spent at the family home on the New Jersey palisades, in an area which would eventually become known as “Millionaire’s Row.”
As a young woman, Evelyn enrolled at Smith College, located in west-central Massachusetts and founded in 1871 for the education of women. Her schooling was cut short after one year, with the reason given that “she was needed at home.”
Evelyn learned to etch copper and gained notice by producing decorative, printed calendars. She also created artistically-worked leather pieces.
According to researcher Richard Hoye, “An opportunity opened for Evelyn to visit England when her brother Walter was posted there as a newspaper correspondent.”
In 1888, the first Arts and Crafts exhibition was staged in London, and a co-founder of the exhibition society, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, presented four lectures on bookbinding. Evelyn’s attendance at these lectures piqued her interest in that line of work.
When she eventually returned to America, the Nordhoff family made a touring visit to California. The Ventura County newspaper reported that the Nordhoffs passed through the seaside town and went directly to the Ojai Valley.
Returning to New York City, Evelyn obtained work with a bindery to pursue her interest in the art of bookbinding. There she learned to sew pages and to mend old books. This was the first level of the craft. Evelyn would learn the business from many teachers before she became proficient in the skill of bookbinding.
Evelyn opened her own workroom in Greenwich Village across from the New York University. Her artistry in the work of bookbinding began to gain attention for the young Evelyn as a woman and an artist. She possessed the Nordhoff sense of independence, and the initiative in pursing against the odds.
Training in a craft from which women had previously been excluded reflects a high degree of personal determination and she was a good example of a confident and talented woman, the first woman in the United States to take up the vocation of artistic bookbinding.
Evelyn Nordhoff spent her summer months in California with her parents, who, by this time, made their home in Coronado. In late summer of 1889, when Evelyn would again have departed from Coronado after a summer’s visit, her parents did not realize that this would be their last parting with their daughter, for in November they received word she had died.
She had suffered an attack of appendicitis, was operated on, and failed to recover.
The Nordhoff fountain was given to the community of Nordhoff by sisters Olivia and Caroline Stokes in Evelyn’s memory. The Stokes sisters had inherited wealth from banking, real estate and other interests in the New York City area. They were lifetime companions, never married, especially devout and well-known philanthropists. Their gifts were numerous and worldwide.
The Stokes sisters visited the Ojai Valley in 1903, staying at the Hughes home on Thacher Road, and were probably influenced by Sherman Thacher, founder of a nearby boys’ school, to build the fountain as a lasting memorial to this talented young lady.
Richard Hoye suggests that, “There may also have been a temperance motive. The banning of liquor was strongly supported in the community and by the Stokes sisters. A drinking fountain closely located to a horse trough would remove an excuse that stage drivers and their passengers might have had to resort to alcohol to slacken their thirst after a dusty trip from Ventura to the mountain town.”
In 1917, when Edward D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, began his transformation of the small town, he had the fountain moved back four feet to widen the roadway.
Libbey removed the Ojai Inn and built a beautiful, wisteria-covered, arched and walled pergola. With the fountain as the center focal point, an attractive entrance was created into the Civic Center Park, now Libbey Park.
In the 1960s, the whole structure began to shown signs of age and suffered major damage from vandalism. In the turmoil of this period, the entrance arch was damaged by explosives and by 1971 the pergola and fountain were removed.
The bronze plaque on the fountain that was inscribed, “In memory of Evelyn Hunter Nordhoff, this fountain is given to the people of Nordhoff, 1904” was returned to members of the Nordhoff family.
With the restoration of this landmark – the pergola and the Nordhoff fountain – the bronze plaque has been returned to the people of the Ojai Valley. The plaque will once again be placed on this beautiful fountain which will be rebuilt in memory of Evelyn’s aspirations and accomplishments – a spirit which has prevailed in the history of the Ojai Valley, in its schools and its artistic culture.
The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the March 28, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald used the same title for many of his articles. So the Ojai Valley Museum added “(No. 4)” to distinguish this particular article.
Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 4)
In 1898 the Santa Barbara National Forest (now Los Padres) was created with the headquarters in Nordhoff. Willis M. Slosson was sent out from the east as supervisor. The boundaries extended from Castaic up into San Luis Obispo county and north into Kern county.
Men were recruited from all parts of “back country,” and they were largely homesteaders, cowboys, miners and such. Their pay was $60 per month. They had to own at least two horses and maintain them. Generally the ranger (they were all rangers then) had to provide his own quarters. There were no fringe benefits.
With Nordhoff the national forest headquarters, and since the only means of getting about was via saddle and pack horses, there was a great deal of forestry activity in the valley, that is, mountain men coming and going. A more rugged, hardy, self-sufficient, picturesque group of men would be hard to imagine. Though as a whole they were rather short on formal education, they accomplished a prodigious amount in the way of trail building, and maintaining, investigating mines and homesteads, issuing grazing permits and performing fire suppression.
They were deputy and game commissioners.
Of course there were no telephones at first, no lookout stations, no airplanes or helicopters, or radios, and but few trails. Sometimes a ranger would ride a day or more to get to a fire. The nearest ranger to a fire might recruit a few men – homesteaders, cattlemen or miners, and with just a few simple tools attack the fire.
One wonders now how they accomplished so much with so few men and little equipment, when one hears of the hundreds of men, bombers, fire engines and other sophisticated equipment that is employed to suppress the same fires today -–and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Among some of the more colorful men of that period was Jacinto Reyes, who to this day is a legend among people in the back country, not only for his fire fighting but also for his horsemanship, endurance, rescue work and ability to settle sometimes violent disputes among homesteaders, cattlemen or miners. Then there were his brother Geraldo Reyes, Fred Ortega (father of ex-Ventura postmaster Melito Ortega) and Fred de la Riva. There were what we called in that day “California Spanish.” They were great horsemen and very capable.
My father, George Bald, became one of them in 1903 and until the mid-twenties was chief ranger of this area. Trever Isenberg, Jerome Larmer, Bob Clark, Bob Miller, Bill Herbert, the Leiber brothers, Tom Dunsmore, Gene Johnson were among others of that day I remember. They were what one might call, at that time, “real westerners.”
Sarah McMullen was a nurse who came to take care of Loring Farnum, a semi-invalid who bought our Rinconada ranch (J.D. Reyes and I gave it that name), later the Orchid Ranch, which is now owned by Camp Ramah. She always began the story with: “The worst fright I ever had was being confronted at Mr. Farnum’s front door by three of the awfullest looking men I ever had laid eyes on!” Then there would be a detailed description of the three. “Two were huge, very dark complexioned men with high cheek bones and dark, piercing eyes. The third man was short with a sandy complexion and legs like a pair of ice tongs….”
The refrain would be: “And that was your father….They wore broad brimmed, low crowned hats and red bandanas, and, of course, were unshaven. They curtly asked to see Mr. Farnum. I was trembling so, ” said Sarah, “I could hardly speak when I went back to Mr. Farnum’s room and said there are three of the most terrible men I ever saw who said they want to see you. Mr. Farnum said, “Well, show them in!”
As I pictured the scene, Jacinto and Gerald Reyes and my dad were returning from a week camping in the mountains. They were tired, dusty and, of course, thirsty, and they knew that Mr. Farnum was always generous with the drinks.
The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the December 20, 1972 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photos have been added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald titled his many articles with the same title. So, this article has “(No. 2)” added by the Ojai Valley Museum.
Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 2)
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 Shepard’s Inn via Casitas Pass and sometimes onto Santa Barbara. Shepard’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 a team and wagon. I did it only on a 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 inside 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 Mavor Smith and me matched together. We were fairly evenly matched and things were going smoothly until Mavor 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 Mavor’s jaw. Mavor considered that unfair tactics and retaliated with all he had. The riot was quelled by Sam (Mavor’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 board walk, 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 end of the board walk. (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 now 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 happened 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 and Loop’s restaurant now stand.
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 a 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 the 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.
The following article is from the book “Portrait of a Community –– Ojai: Yesterdays and Todays” by Ellen Malino James. It is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher, Ojai Valley News.
THE SPANISH SETTLERS
By Ellen Malino James
For services performed in the Buenaventura Mission, Fernando Tico obtained Rancho Ojay in 1837 as a land grant from the Mexican government which had only a few years before secularized the missions and all the lands held by the church. Tico was born in San Francisco where his father, a native Catalonia, had come as a volunteer soldier for the King of Spain. In 1853, shortly after California was admitted to the Union, Tico sold his entire holdings in Ojai, some 18,000 acres, to speculators for a few thousand dollars.
The Spanish, who first came to this coast in the sixteenth century, discovered in Alta California a climate much like that of the Mediterranean, the land heavy with the grapevine and other fruit, flowers, and honey. Even after Mexico established a separate republic from Spain in the 1820s, the Spanish at Ventura continued to identify with the Californio, not the Mexico, experience. With Tico’s arrival in Ojai, this valley became a Spanish town, part of the California regional expression of rancho life. When the United States acquired California by war with Mexico in 1848, the Spanish character of the region remained unchanged until several years after the American Civil War in the 1860s when the first Anglo-Americans began to arrive in the territory in search of oil, land and other riches. Only then did the peoples who lived here for centuries before, find themselves cast as a minority.
Rancho Ojay took its name from a Chumash village which, if it can be translated into English at all, probably means month or lunar cycle, according to Ojai Art Center Director Cary Sterling who has studied Indian lore. Berkeley scholar James D. Hart, in A Companion to California (1978) accepts the view of virtually all experts that Ojai to the Chumash meant “moon.” Arthur E. Woolman in The Ojai Valley: Gateway to Health and Happiness (1956) calls Ojai the “Valley of the Moon,” but then suggests that Ojai means “nest.” Travel writers, boosters, and the town’s newspaper continued to use the words “moon” and “nest” interchangeably but, as time went on, preferred the metaphor of the nest. Commenting on this controversy, which never fails to arouse the interest of old-timers, departing school superintendent Albert Marley and his wife Jacque said recently: “Regardless of what the historians and other scholars may say about the meaning of the word ‘Ojai,’ we still like the notion that it means ‘Nest.’ We feel safe in ‘the nest’.”
Spanish settlers reported a pink glow lighting the surrounding mountains to the east. This “pink moment” is a reflection of the setting sun and remains one of the valley’s prime attractions.