Ventura County History


Early Settlement Of Ventura County, California

Although quite a number of Americans, being traders, sailors, or adventurers, had settled in various parts of the territory now known as Santa Barbara County, none of them had located permanently at San Buena­ventura up to the time of American military occupation, since Santa Barbara, the more important town, had superior attractions for them. When Stevenson's regiment arrived in Southern California, Isaac Callahan and W. A. Streeter were put in charge of the mission at San Buenaventura. A few years later Russel Heath, in connection with Don Jose Arnaz and one Morris, established the first store within the present county limits. In 1850 carne C. C. Rynerson and wife from the Mississippi Valley, camping at first at the mouth of the river San Buenaventura; they afterward moved northward. The first American farmer was A. Colombo, and Mr. Ware was the first blacksmith. Even as late as 1857 there were in the whole district but two houses of entertainment. One of these was a tent on the Sespe Rancho, and the other a little hostelry established in rooms in the east wing of the ex-mission buildings. It is worth while to note here a tribute to the cli­mate of Ventura County, paid by John Carr and wife, who kept this little inn or tavern.

They had lived together for twelve years in childlessness, but within two years of their arrival in San Buenaventura they had presented their country with no less than five children, products, so they declared, of the matchless climate!

The first lumber-yard was kept by Thomas Dennis, but the date of his arrival is not given. Very early in the '50's T. Wallace More obtained a title to an immense tract of the richest land in the region; he claimed over thirty miles along the Santa Clara and in other districts, possessions about as enormous, over which grazed 10,000 head of cat­tle. These lands were valued at ten to fifty cents the acre. During this period the whole Colonia Rancho was sold for $5,000, and this price the purchaser finally concluded was exorbitant. About 1854 W. D. Hobson removed to the Sespe, where he built a house and there lived in 1859. In 1858, the Amer­icans resident in San Buenaventura were: A. M. Cameron, Griffin Robbins, W. T. Nash, W. Williams, James Beebe, -- Park, W. D. Hobson, -- McLaughlin and one other, name unknown. As late as 1860 there were but nine American voters in the precinct. Chaffee & Robbins, and afterward Chaffee & Gilbert, kept the only store in the town for many years. In 1860 the Fourth of July was celebrated here with a regular program of exercises, and much enthusiasm was displayed. About this time the American population was augmented by the arrival of John Hill, V. A. Simpson, Albert Martin, G. S. Briggs, G. S. Gilbert, W. S. Chaffee, W. A. Norway, H. P. Flint, the Barnetts and Messrs. Burbank, Hankerson, Crane and Harrington.

In 1861 a postoffice was established at San Buenaventura, and V. A. Simpson be­came postmaster. The mail matter received, apparently, was not extensive, for it is related that on its arrival the postmaster was in the habit of depositing it in his hat, and then walking around among the citizens to deliver the letters. "This," says a previous historian, "may be regarded as the first introduction of the system of letter-carriers in Cali­fornia." This year the first brick house in town was built by W. D. Hobson, who moved hither from the Sespe.

During the winter of 1861–'62, there was an excessive amount of wet weather; rain fell for sixty consecutive days; all the land to a great depth was saturated and reeking; live stock was reduced almost to starvation, the animals dying in, great numbers. Landslides were very frequent, half of the soil in certain localities being moved to a greater or less distance. The soil would often be dis­placed in patches of an acre or more. In the town various houses were submerged, or car­ried away bodily. The only life lost was that of Mr. Hewitt, a resident of Santa Barbara, who was drowned while on a prospecting tour up the Pim Creek. Travel was rendered almost impossible for twenty days. In 1862 Messrs. Waterman, Vassault & Co., owning the lands of the ex-mission, laid out a town there. This enterprise had been projected as early as 1848, when Don Jose Arnaz laid out here a town site, and advertised the advan­tages of the spot in Eastern journals, offering lots to those who would make improvements upon them. This offer had not elicited re­sponse, and the subject had not been revived until the project above mentioned. The sur­vey made in this instance was rejected by the board of trustees after the town was incorporated, and another was substituted. The first attempt to incorporate was in 1863, when a number of citizens met and drew up a petition addressed to the Legislature, ask­ing for incorporation. Ramon J. Hill, at that time a member from Santa Barbara County, opposed the proposition, and the sub­ject was dropped for the time.

The following is given as an accurate list of the foreign, [not Spanish or Mexican] citizens resident in San Buenaventura in 1862: Baptiste Ysoardy, who came in 1858; Agustin Solari, in 1857; Victor Ususaus­tegui, in 1852; Ysidro Obiols, in 1853; An­tonio Sciappapietra in 1862; John Thomp­89 II, in 1862; Oscar Wells, George V. Whit man, Albert and Frank Martin, in 1859; Myron Warner, in 1863; William Pratt, 1866; William Whitney, 1864; Thomas R. Bard, in 1865; Henry Cohn, in 1866; Joseph Wolfson, 1867; -- Clements, 1868; Thomas Williams, 1866; A. T. Herring, 1863; Henry Spears, 1865; Walter S. Chaffee, Volney A. Simpson, John T. Stow, Griffin Robbins, William S. Riley, William T. Nash, Jefferson Crane, John Hill, Henry Clifton, Marshall Routh, George S. Gilbert, James Beebe, William H. Leighton, Samuel Barnett, Sr., Samuel Barnett, Jr., William Barnett, W. D. Hobson, Alex. Cameron, Mel­vin Beardsley, George Dodge, George S. Briggs, Albert de Chateauneuf and Henry Dubbers.


In 1864 the question of incorporation was renewed and accomplished, but it was not until thirteen years later that the patents to the town site were received from the Govern­ment. This was the year of the disastrous ""dry season;" the rains of the preceding sea­son had not wet the ground deeper than three inches, and the feed was therefore a failure. From this cause two-thirds of all the stock in Ventura famished.

The beginning of growth and development in Ventura is agreed to date back to the sub­division into small tracts of the large ranchos, thus inducing immigration and settlement by small farmers and fruit-raisers. In 1866, the Briggs tract was cut up and put on the market, and two years later began a general influx of Americans, from which directly re­sulted an epoch of prosperity which became assured with the breaking up and selling to actual settlers of the great ranchos of Santa Paula y Saticoy and Colonia or Santa Clara.

The first cultivation of grain in Ventura County was by Christian Borchard and his son, J. A. Borchard, on the Colonia Rancho in 1867. Thirty acres each of wheat and barley were sown. The rust destroyed the wheat crop, but the barley yielded eighteen centals or hundreds per acre.

The first Protestant church (Congregational) was organized in San Buenaventura in 1867.
Again in 1867 was San Buenaventura visited by devastating waters. On Christ­mas Day of that year the Ventura River overflowed, and the water rose to a depth of three feet in Main Street. The lower part of the town was submerged, and the safety of the inhabitants was endangered. The land from the Santa Clara House to the river was flooded, and forty-seven women, gathered from the imperiled houses, were assembled in one small adobe shanty. Some of these had been brought from their flooded homes on horse­back, and others had been carried on the shoulders of men. This episode gave rise to various feats of real gallantry, courage, and daring. The immediate cause of the freshet was supposed to be the melting of heavy deposits of snows about the river's source, through the agency of warm rains falling upon them.

In 1868 came hither Dr. Cephas L. Bard, the first American physician in San Buenaventura.

In September, 1870, San Buenaventura and Santa Barbara were placed in telegraphic communication.
Anticipating the needs and opportunities to result from the creation of the new county, in immediate prospective, John H. Bradley in April, 1871, started the Ventura Signal at the proposed new county-seat. Mr. Bradley was a good and practical business man, and an editor of some experience; and so, avoiding the political issues not properly within the province of a country newspaper, he devoted his attention to the production and publication of matter relative to the recommendations and resources of the section; such as would contribute to the advancement and advertisement of the region and its merits.

Contemporaneously with the formation of the county, work was begun to provide canals to supply water for domestic and irrigating purposes. The old Mission waterworks, which brought a supply from six miles up the Ventura River, was overhauled and re­paired, portions of the aqueduct having been destroyed by the excessive rains of 1861–'62.

Owing to the difficulties attending the disembarkation of freight and passengers by means of lighters to transport them between the vessels and the shore; it became evident that a wharf was an absolute necessity to the public. Accordingly, in January, 1871, a franchise was procured, and work was begun upon the structure, by Joseph Wolfson. The beginning of operations was signalized by formal ceremonies. In August of this year the right to construct a wharf at Hueneme was granted to Thos. R. Bard, C. L. Bard and R. G. Surdam.
By February, 18721 the Ventura wharf was so far completed as to obviate further necessity for lightening steamers now discharging directly upon it. Rates of toll were instituted, and an instrument of great public utility was firmly established.

In May, 1871, was formed the Santa Clara Irrigating Company, designed to water the fertile lands of the Colonia Rancho from the Santa Clara River. The canal therefor was twelve miles long, twelve feet wide, and two feet deep, with branches of smaller dimensions. In 1871 also surveys were made for " The Farmers' Canal and Water Ditch," taking water from the Santa Paula Creek, and con­veying it some eight and a half miles down the valley.
In December, 1871, Ysabel Yorba sold to Dickenson & Funk the Guadalasca Rancho, comprising 22,000 acres, for $28,500.

In 1872 many property owners refused to pay taxes, owing to the abeyance of financial settlement between Ventura and Santa Bar­bara counties.

In July, 1872, the first gold was taken to Santa Barbara from, the Sespe mines.
On September 16, 1872, the corner-stone of the high school building at San Buena­ventura was laid. This building was the first 'public building erected in the county. The total number of school children in the .county at that time was 800.

A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, California
Mrs Yda Addis Storke, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1891: Pages 183-186
Transcribed: 19 July 2006 by Martha A Crosley Graham


The country drained by the San Buenaventura River is mostly comprised within the limits of the following ranchos: - The Canada San Miguelito and a part of the ex-Mission, both bordering on the ocean; the Canada Largo or Canada Verde, and the Ojai on the left bank, and the Santa Ana on the right bank.

The vast domain of the ex-Mission Rancho was granted as six leagues to Jose Arnaz, by Governor Pio Pico, June 8, 1816. Arnaz sold it to M. A. R. Poli in 1850. The claim was confirmed May 15, 1855, by the Land Commissioner, and finally, on April 1, 1861, by the United States District Court. In August, 1874, a patent was issued to the grantees for 48,822.91 acres. Poli sold the property to the San Buenaventura Manufacturing and Mining Company. He afterward died insolvent. This rancho derives its name from the fact that a division was made of the lands held in the name of the old Mission, the church retaining the old orchard and 36 27/100 acres contiguous, all lands outside these are called ex-Mission lands. At the sale of lands for delinquent taxes, February 16, 1874, the ex-Mission lands were offered for sale without a buyer, the taxes amounting to $3,163, drawing interest at two per cent per month. This region is one of almost continuous settlements, with easy outlets. The soil is exceedingly rich to the very crests of the hills, and the climate is unsurpassed. The lands are agricultural and grazing. This territory is luxuriantly covered wild oats, wild burr-clover, and alfilaria. A short distance back from the sea are forests of oaks, not readily seen save from close at hand. The bee pasturage is rich and extensive. The oil belt underlies a portion of this rancho.


This is next northwest of the ex-Mission Rancho. It has about three miles of coast line. This grant of 8,877.04 acres was confirmed to J.F. Rodriguez and others. This rancho consists almost wholly of rich pasture lands, raising great numbers of sheep. Very little timber is found here. The ocean road from San Buenaventura to Santa Barbara passes along the beach here. On Government land close by this rancho is a mine of so-called rock soap, being an infusorial earth resembling marl. It has been exported for polishing silverware, and for use by jewelers for burnishing purposes.


was granted to J. Alvarado, who pushed the claim to confirmation. It contains about 2,220 acres, of which all is grazing land but about 1,000 acres, which are well cultivated, and upon which are found fine orchards and handsome homes.


This is a wedge-shaped tract which was granted to Fernando Tico, April 6,1837, and afterward confirmed to him; acreage 17,792.70. In 1864 this rancho was bought by the California Petroleum Company. It was then a very wild place; a dozen or more grizzly bears were killed in Ojai Valley in one winter, and hundreds teem thereabouts, as well as California lions, wild cats, etc. Lion Caňon was so named from the great number of these panthers that it harbored. Dr. Chauncey Isbell lived here as early as 1866, and in October, 1868, Robert Ayers removed thither his family, the first American household in the valley, where a few Spanish Californian families were living. In 1870 but two houses, one frame, one adobe, were in the Upper Ojai. In 1872 this rancho produced about 16,200 bushels of wheat, averaging thirty to forty bushels to the acre. A grange was organized here in 1874, and, in 1875, there were two school districts, the Ojai and the Nordhoff. The settlement of this section has been most rapid; within four years from the time when the inhabitants were less than half a dozen it had nearly 100, forming an enterprising and intelligent community. The fertility of this soil is hardly surpassed in California; here the wheat crop reaches its maximum as to quality and quantity. No irrigation is used for the small grain crops. Artesian water is obtained at Nordhoff, but it rises little above the surface. On the hills all the usual northern farm crops thrive remarkably well, as also many fruits, etc. considered semi-tropical in character.


Almost in a straight line due north from San Buenaventura, from which town it is fourteen miles distant, lies the valley of the Ojai, shut in by high mountains, that determine the amphitheater-like shape whence it takes its name (a nest).

The mountains on the north side take a snowy covering in winter, in sharp contrast with the slopes of sulphur mountain, covered with live-oaks on the south side. Overlooking the others rises Mount Topotopa, between 5,000 and 6,000 feet high, also snow-mantled in the winter.

The drive to the lower Ojai follows an easily grade along a beautiful clear stream where trout sport and twinkle. The Upper Ojai, to the eastward of the main valley, is reached by a steep grade up an oak-covered ridge leading out of the lower valley. The soil here is rich and fertile, and plentifully watered, and its crops never fail.

Attention was first called to this valley by Charles Nordhoff, who visited it in 1872, and soon after, in his book on California, gave an enthusiastic description of it.

The lower valley is five miles long, and 800 feet above sea-level; the upper is small with an elevation of about 1,200 feet. This basin is well-timbered, and its soil is very productive, giving the largest yield in the county of wheat per acre. It is also well adapted for raising the finest varieties of citrus fruits. Mr. Elwood Cooper, the famous olive-grower, says that the Ojai is also the best olive-growing district in California.

The scenery here is truly wonderful; the softy and balmy air, the park-like groves of oaks, their mistletoe, the vines and mosses, the bird voices within their leafage, the grandeur of the surrounding mountains, the cloud effects - all combine to give an indescribable charm to the Ojai Valley.

But there is another advantage; the delightful climate is of great benefit to sufferers from affections of the throat and lungs, and the famous Ojai Hot Springs in the Matilija Canon are possessed of strong curative properties.

The Ojai Hot Sulphur Springs are beautifully situated in Waterfall Canon, about five miles from Nordhoff and fifteen from Ventura. The altitude at the springs is about 1,000 feet. The flow is about 50,000 gallons per hour, and the temperature ranges from 60° F. to 74° and 101° F. Several of the springs are carbonated and others are sulphureted. The Ojai waters contain: sodium, potassium and magnesium carbonates and sulphates, calcium and ferrous carbonates, silicates, carbonic anhydride and sulphurated hydrogen. The waters have a reputation for whitening and softening the skin, and proving the complexion. These springs are the resort of many people afflicted with stiff joints, rheumatism, gout and skin diseases.

Almost in the center of this lovely valley, and nearly 900 feet above the sea, 4 the village of Nordhoff, so named in recognition of Charles Nordhoff's offices in heralding to the outside world the merits of this quarter.

Mr. R. G. Surdam, if not the first, was one of the prime movers in starting this flourishing little town, he having bought sixty acres, which he laid off in blocks and lots in 1874. He gave a one-third interest to A. M. Blumberg, on condition that he build a hotel. That structure, which at first was made of light scantling covered with cloth, has developed and grown into quite a sightly hostelry, the nucleus of a thrifty little village. Nordhoff contains some 300 inhabitants, many of whom are recuperated invalids from nearly every State in the Union. There are here two hotels, nestled under the splendid oaks, two churches, two schoolhouses, two general merchandise stores, two blacksmiths, a builder, contractor and lumber-dealer, and a butcher-shop. There is a weekly newspaper and a postoffice with daily mail.


Westward from the Ojai are a number of broad mesas and thickly-populated uplands, which constitute the Santa Ana Valley, on whose well-cultivated farms and orchards are raised as fine fruits as any Ventura County produces. This is all a fine grain country, where wheat reaches its maximum as to height, quantity and quality. This valley is a twin sister to the Ojai in its climate, soil and resources, and also probably with quite as much water and timber, but this valley contains less arable land than the Ojai.

Here is a region of forests; timber of majestic size, and an undergrowth of wild oats, wild grasses, wild gooseberries, rhododendron and honeysuckle, while wild grapes clamber over the trees along the creeks and the river.

A portion of this territory has as great an altitude as the Ojai, but it is much lower where it approaches the San Buenaventura Valley. Above this section the Ventura River descends rapidly, passing by cascades over highlands, but it flows more tranquilly when it reaches the table-like lands of the Ojai and Santa Ana ranchos. Here it gathers volume from the water of the San Antonio and Coyote creeks, the former flowing from the east, the other from the west; and hence forward to the sea it flows with gentle current. All three of these are fine trout streams.


This tract of 21,522.04 acres was, in April, 1837, granted to Crisogono Ayala and others, and to them confirmed. This lies but two miles from the Santa Barbara line, and it is the most northerly rancho in Ventura County. The Coyote Creek crosses this forest-hooded rancho, of which nearly 10,000 acres would be good arable land, if cleared of its timber, In May, 1875, this rancho was surveyed in lots, which were to be sold on terms similar to those of the Lompoc colony lands. The capital stock of the company was fixed at $60,000, in shares of $100 each. Among the estimated resources were 6,000 acres of arable land, other 6,000 tillable with side-hill plows, and 75,000 cords of wood. The temperance principle was to be a leading feature of this settlement. The project was never carried to fulfillment.

A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, California
Mrs Yda Addis Storke, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1891: Pages 226-228
Transcribed: 14 January  2006 by Martha A Crosley Graham


This page was last updated October 22, 2009.