General Description

A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura, California


by Yda Addis Storke

Published in 1891 in Chicago by the Lewis Publishing Co.


(Pages 195-202)


Ventura County lies 800 miles southeast of San Francisco, and twenty-five miles northwest of Loa Angeles, It is bounded on the west by Santa Barbara County, on the north and east by Kern and Los Angeles counties, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. It also includes the islands of San Nicolas and Anacapa, lying respectively about eighty and eighteen miles from the mainland. These islands are resorts for seals, sea lions, otter, and aquatic birds. They are included in the total area of 1,296,000 acres, divisible into arable land, pasture land and mountain land. There are about 200,000 acres of very rich country, of which as yet little over 70,000 acres have been brought under cultivation.

This county contains various fertile valleys, the most important being the Santa Clara, Ojai, Simi, Conejo, and Sespe, besides some small mesa and mountain valleys. The soil is mainly a rich, dark brown, sandy loam, 10 to 150 feet deep. The surface is nearly level, or but enough diversified to add to the beauty of the situation.


Ventura County perhaps is the best watered county in Southern California. The Santa Clara River, which rises in the Soledad Mountains near the Mojave Desert, enters the county at the southeast corner, traverses its entire length, furnishes an abundant supply for a large portion of the Santa Clam Valley, and is a never failing stream. It flows in an easterly direction about sixty miles through the southeastern portion of the county, and empties into the ocean about six miles southeast of San Buenaventura.

The Santa Clara River takes its rise seventy miles inland, in the rugged canons of the Soledad Pass. Hence it flows west by south, swelled by several large tributaries, mostly coming from the northward. It passes through the Santa Barbara range at Santa Paula, some fifteen miles from the coast, and ends at the seaside in an estero or lagoon, which shows no communication with the sea, save when the winter floods tear away the intervening bar of sand. At Santa Paula this river receives the waters of the Santa Paula Creek, formerly called the Mupu; east of this, the Sespe empties, and near the boundary line, the Piru.

Tributary to the Santa Clara are the Santa Paula, Piru, Big and Little Sespe, which are fine, clear, living streams, furnishing an unfailing supply of water for all that portion of the county comprised within the original grants of Sespe. Santa Paula, Saticoy, and San Francisco ranchos. The Lockwood, Alamo, Hot Springs, and Pine are feeders of the Piru and the Sespe.

The Ventura River rises in the Santa Ynez Mountains, in the northern portion of the county, and flows in a southerly direction, and through the beautiful Ojai Valley to the sea at San Buenaventura, which city it supplies with pure water and excellent waterpower. Its tributaries are the Arroyo San Antonio, Canada Leon, Santa Ana, Canada Larga, and Los Coyotes, which water large portions of the Ojai, Canada Larga, and Santa Ana ranchos.

These rivers are fed by numerous springs and mountain streams which run into them from almost all the canons. The Ventura River alone furnishes water enough to irrigate, were it necessary, every acre of land in the valley through which it flows. This river furnishes the water-power to run the large flouring-mill at Ventura, which at need could be kept running day and night throughout the year.

In that section of country lying southeast of the Santa Clara River in the neighborhood of Hueneme, artesian water is obtained at from 50 to 100 feet, which is a constant flow of good, pure water. Besides these there are a great many small mountain streams in various portions of the county that never go dry. It is estimated that the water supply is sufficient to bring it on every part of farm land if it were necessary to do so, but from a comparison of the per cent. of farmers whom experience is given elsewhere in this paper, it will be seen that irrigation is not necessary except in case of a dry season, and excepting also for citrus fruits, which some think ought to be irrigated.

It is a peculiarity of this section that no irrigation is needed to raise the most abundant crops, of whatever nature. This may be due to the humidity derived from the sea. At all events, the fact accounts for the rarity of attempts to divert the abundant water into ditches, as is done in must other parts of Southern California.


Ventura County is well supplied with forest timber of live-oak, cottonwood and other deciduous and evergreen trees, much of it being easily accessible to the various railway stations in the county. But the greatest and most valuable timber consists of the great pineries in the remote and almost unknown mountain regions in the northern part of the county. These extensive pine forests contain an immense quantity of valuable timber which some day will be reached by roadways and brought to market. When that day comes, as it surely will, a rich harvest awaits the lumberman's ax. It is now wild and inaccessible forest, inhabited only by the mountain goat and the fleet-footed deer, with a smart sprinkling of the more ferocious lion and grizzly bear. It is here that nature, in its wildest and most chaotic state, holds undisputed sway, but with an increased population in this county will be made to yield to the demands of civilization - the demand for lumber and other building material.

The following details are extracted from a paper by Dr. Stephen BOWERS, in the State Mineralogical Report:

"The county includes the islands of San Nicolas and Anacapa. The former is about eighty miles south of Ventura, and the latter eighteen miles. The area of the entire county is 1,869 square miles, or 1,196,000 acres.

"The valley of the Santa Clara extends along the seashore from San Buenaventura to Point Magu, a distance of over twenty miles, and extends in an easterly direction across the county, narrowing to two or three miles on the eastern border. A chain of mountains extends from Newhall in Los Angeles County westwardly to within about ten miles of the ocean, separating the upper portion of the Santa Clara from the Simi and Las Posas valleys. The chain is narrow and comes to a sharp ridge or comb at the top, averaging about 2,000 feet in height.

            "Thirteen miles north of San Buenaventura is the Ojai Valley, about ten by five miles in extend. It is divided into two valleys, upper and lower. The latter is 800 feet above the sea level, and the former about 1,700 feet. These valleys are surrounded by mountains, opening along the Ventura River to the south. On the eastern portion of the county is the Cornejo Plateau, which is several miles in extent and elevated 900 feet above the ocean. It is really a succession of hills and valleys. The rock exposures here are principally trappean and metamorphic. The remaining portions of the county are mainly mountainous, giving a diversity of soil and climate.

            "It is by far the best watered of all the southern counties. The Santa Clara River runs through the county in a westerly direction, reaching the ocean a few miles west of San Buenaventura. The Matilaja, San Antonio, and Coyote creeks unite and form the Ventura River, coming in from the north, and supplying the town of San Buenaventura with an abundance of water. The Santa Paula, Sespe, and Piru flow into the Santa Clara from the north and west, the Sespe having its rise in Santa Barbara County. The Lockwood flows into the Piru at the western base of the Almo mountain. The Cuyamo rises near Mount Almo, and runs westwardly to the county line, some fifteen miles distant. The Las Posas Creek waters the Las Posas and Simi valleys on the eastern side of the county. In addition to these rivers and streams, are numerous small creeks and springs scattered here and there throughout the county."

San Nicolas Island


            "San Nicolas Island belongs to Ventura County. It is nearly eighty miles south of Ventura, the southeastern end being in latitude 33° 14' north, and longitude 119° 25' west from Greenwich.

            "The area is about nine miles long and four miles wide, containing 32.2 square miles, or 20,608 acres. Its longer axis is northwest by west. What is known as Begg Rock is situated on the prolongation of the longer axis of the island, bearing northwest, and is seven miles distant. Soundings show that there is a submarine ridge connecting this rock with San Nicolas, and that it was probably once above the surface. Breakers extend for several miles to the westward, and also for nearly two miles on the eastern shore line of the island, indicating shallow water. Begg Rock is bold and precipitous, rising to the height of forty or more feet, and plainly visible from San Nicolas.

            "There is an abundance of water on the island, but it is slightly brackish; it is entirely destitute of timber, but evidently has not always been so. At the present time there is not even a bush growing on it except a stunted kind of thorn, scarcely two feet high, and a few species of the tree cactus.

"The surface is comparatively level, sufficiently so to till with little trouble. The cultivable land embraces about two-thirds of the island's area, and much of it is apparently rich and fertile. * * * Coral Harbor, located about three miles from the extreme western point, is reached by an opening in the rocks, some twenty feet wide. The water in this opening is sufficiently deep to admit a schooner of twenty tons' burden.

The only animals found on San Nicolas are, a small fox, a kangaroo mouse, and a diminutive sand lizard. The fox is little more than half as large as the gray or silver fox of the mainland. As far as I have been able to learn, the species is confined to the Channel Islands. Several species of land birds are found. Amongst them may be mentioned the bald eagle, ground owl, raven, crow, and plover. Water fowl are abundant, and among them gulls, pelicans, cormorants, sea-pigeons and others. Beetles, crickets, spiders, butterflies, house and other flies are met with, but no poisonous or noxious animals or insects. * * * San Nicolas Island must have once supported a large population. In whatever direction one turns, he comes in contact with human skeletons, broken mortars, pestles, ollas, bone implements, etc., and shell heaps. * * * I judge that the natives of this island were physically and intellectually superior to those inhabiting the other islands and the mainland, where, in previous explorations, I have exhumed several thousands of skeletons. Many of the skulls on San Nicolas closely resemble those of the Caucasian type."


The following account of the geological formations of Ventura is by a writer whose name the present editor has been unable to learn:

Ventura County exhibits many interesting geological features. On the eastern side is volcanic uplift extending westwardly under the ocean forming the island of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. This uplift may be traced eastwardly through Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, with an outcrop near Yuma, and probably extending far into Mexico. In Ventura County it is composed largely of rhyolite, trachyre and vesicular basalt. The mountains here have been lifted to a height of nearly or quite 4,000 feet, their serrated summits presenting a rugged outline against the sky.

Another trappean uplift occurs in the northwestern corner of the county running parallel with the first described, leaving a space of over fifty miles between them. It is most likely the two are synchronous. One of the characteristic rocks of the latter is amygdaloid filled with zeolites of quartz, chalcedony, agate, opal, calcite, natrolite, etc., and inspissated bitumen.

The mountains on the northern portion of the county are composed principally of granite rocks, while the characteristic rocks on the southern side, as we approach toward the mean, are largely sandstone.

There are no large areas of horizontal rock strata in the county. Formerly tilted, folded and plicated rocks of this section bear evidence of sudden upheaval. But it is evident that the lateral pressure that has raised the mountains of Ventura County from 2,000 to over 9,000 feet above the sea level has probably done its work so gradually as not to "disturb the flight of an insect," apart from the volcanic disturbances above mentioned. The uplift is still going on, but so gradually and silently as to be imperceptible to the casual observer. Along the seashore, and indeed all over the county where the older rocks are exposed they are found tilted, shoved and heaved at every conceivable angle of inclination, with alternating anticlinal and synclinal folds.

The Santa Clara River enters the county on the eastern side and traverses it in a westerly direction to the sea. Three or four streams flow into it from the north which will be described in due time. One of these, the Sespe, heads not far from the Santa Barbara line and runs in an eastwardly direction for some distance, gradually bending southward through the center of the county. This stream seems to mark the division between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary periods. At least some of the fossils which the writer found north of the stream he must refer to the Cretaceous, while all south of it belong to the Miocene and Pliocene epochs. It is probable that all the northern portion of the county was lifted from a Cretaceous sea, and what now forms the northern boundary of the Sespe was for ages the shore line against whose rocky ribs the waves of the Pacific Ocean expended their fury. The strata south of this are at an entirely different angle and to some extent different in composition, and seem to have been raised independently, leaving a fissure between the two formations and along which the stream has cut its gorge.

The Fire Creek, running in a parallel direction, but several miles north of the Sespe, has cut its way through mountains of granite, slate and diorite. In some places the walls are nearly or quite a half mile high and perpendicular, the tortuous bed of the stream appearing as a ribbon far below.

In the southern portion of the county are vast beds of Pliocene fossils. They are found in the foot-hills skirting the sea shore from the extreme southern corner of the county to the county-seat, and on the north side of the Santa Clara to the Sespe, on the south side of the Santa Paula mountains, in the Las Posas and Simi valleys, and elsewhere. Joining the town of Ventura the remains of the fossil elephant, llama and other animals are found. Near Santa Paula the remains of an extinct horse (Equus oecidentalis) have been found.

Miocene fossils are found in the Ojai ValIey, Conejo plateau, along the south side of the Sespe from its source to its month, in the mountains east of Santa Paula and other places. Among these may be mentioned the remains of whales, seals, sharks, etc. Indeed the entire county, apart from the volcanic uplifts referred to and the granitic formations on the northern portion, abounds in most interesting remains, including hundreds of species of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, many of which are extinct, while others are still found in the ocean. This county is a paradise for the geologist and paleontologist, much of which has never been subjected to a thorough scientific investigation.

In this connection we may add that the botanist, zoologist, ichthyologist and entomologist will find an ample field for investigation and study in their respective departments in this county.


The climate of Ventura County is difficult to overestimate. Near the coast the mercury seldom falls below 43° or rises above 83°; but in some places back from the ocean, in the mountains and valleys, it is somewhat warmer in summer and cooler in winter.

Taking it altogether, the evenness of the climate is unexcelled. Thermometrical observations, extending over a series of years, indicate an average temperature of about 58°. By careful study of the various places in Southern California the reader will perceive that Ventura County is not excelled in point of climate. Near the coast frost is seldom or never seen; but several miles back from the ocean a little frost occurs in winter, yet not sufficiently severe to injure orange trees or the most tender vegetation, except in rare instances. Large banana trees may be seen growing a dozen or fifteen miles from the coast. The same kind of clothing is worn winter and summer. While nearly all kinds of northern and semi-tropical fruits flourish here, roses, fuchsias, geraniums and many other flowers bloom constantly, and strawberries may be procured nearly any day in the year. The days are warm but not sultry; hence sunstroke is unknown in this county. The nights are cool and induce refreshing sleep. For invalids, and especially for persons disposed to pulmonary troubles this county offers superior inducements. It is seldom that lightning is seen or thunder heard, and no tornadoes, cyclones or other disturbances of the forces of nature exist here. The islands south of Ventura County deflect the warm ocean currents from the equator, turning them to the very shore line and giving a higher temperature than is realized some hundreds of miles south, and thus securing good bathing the entire year.

For Santa Paula the average temperature for winter is about 45° and for summer is about 85°. The highest given is 100° and the lowest 30°. For Saticoy the average for winter 55° and for summer 85°; the lowest given is 40° and the highest 100°. The variations at Camulos are from 25° to 100° and at Nordhoff is 30° to 100°. The average at Hueneme is, for winter, about 50° and for summer 75°; the highest given is 85° and the lowest 38° and for New Jerusalem it is about the same.

The following is a table showing the average rainfall at San Buenaventura, California, for the past eighteen years. And it should be remembered that what is called the "rainy season" generally includes the following months: October, November, December, January, February, March and April. During the remainder of the year there is usually no rain at all.



























































The county is well supplied with churches. The Catholics have, besides the old Mission at San Buenaventura, which was founded more than century ago, a good church house at New Jerusalem. Each of these churches have regular pastors.

The Baptists have organizations in Santa Paula, Hueneme and Springville. At the latter place there is a house of worship owned by an Independent Baptist organization.

The Methodists have houses of worship at San Buenaventura, Hueneme, Santa Paula, Sespe and Piru. They also have organizations at Cienega, Saticoy, Springville, Conejo, Fillmore and other places.

The Presbyterians have houses of worship at Ventura, Nordhoff, Saticoy, Santa Paula and Fillmore.

The Universalists have a parish at Santa Paula and services at Ventura.

The Congregationalists have a house of worship in San Buenaventura and Nordhoff; an academy at Santa Paula.

The Episcopalians have a church organization and edifice at Ventura.

The Swedenborgians have a church organization and edifice at Ventura.

In addition to the above there are two or three union or independent churches in the county. All of the churches named above are supplied with regular pastors.


            The school system of Ventura County is much like that of other counties of the State, but quite unlike that of most of the other and old States east of the Rocky Mountains.

            The public schools of Ventura County are of three kinds or grades: primary, grammar and high school; the first being found in the sparsely settled portions of the county; the second in the more thickly settled, and the third or high school only in San Buenaventura. In the primary school instruction is given in reading, orthography, practical and mental arithmetic, geography, United States history, physiology, penmanship, elements of book-keeping, industrial drawing, vocal music, practical entomology, and the rudiments of technical English grammar. Grammar schools are established in those parts of the county, in the country towns, where there are a number of children who desire to pursue, in addition to the studies of the primary grade, such branches as algebra, natural philosophy, natural history, and when, owing to the increased number of children attending school, there are funds enough to admit of paying a higher salary to the teacher in return for a greater and more advanced work. It is proper to remark here, however, that in every one of the primary schools of the county the teacher is competent to teach algebra and such other grammar-grade studies, so that no pupil is debarred from pursuing each study if desirable.

            The high school in California or the grammar school course - which is a course in advance of the grammar school as given above - is intended to prepare the pupils who graduate from the public schools, having finished the work of the grammar grade for entrance into the State University.  This adds to the grammar school such branches as rhetoric, chemistry and mineralogy. But this course can be pursued only in such localities as have a representation of pupils sufficient to supply a number of teachers, since no one person could do the work required in a school with all grades from primary to and including the grammar school course; and in general the grade of a school depends upon the number of children in it.

            By a provision of the State law, all pupils who finish the course of study laid out for the grammar grade and pass a satisfactory examination therein upon questions prepared by the County Board of Education, are entitled to a diploma of graduation from the grammar school. This admits them to the lowest class in the State Normal School, or to the high school or grammar course. Completion of the studies in the course, upon satisfactory examination, admits the graduate to the University of California at Berkeley.

            As another prominent feature of the schools it may be observed that each district in Ventura draws from the public funds annually from $30 to $50, to be expended only for school apparatus or library books.

            Accordingly we have in this county schools which possess valuable libraries, having in the course of the past few years accumulated a set of cyclopaedias, all requisite books of reference, besides complete sets of the poets and standards novelists, and comprising many works on history, biography and travel.

           As an index of the growth and development of the county, as represented by the growth of the schools, there follows a comparative statement of the condition of the public schools in each alternative year since 1884.

            In 1884 Ventura had twenty-four school districts, and school property worth $33,417, as follows: buildings, $30,113; libraries, $1,932; apparatus, $1,366. There were 1,667 census children, of whom 1,270 were enrolled, with an average attendance of 743. The total receipts for school purposes were $34,429; total expenditures, $30,677.

            In 1886 there were in Ventura County 1,889 census children; enrolled were 1,439; the average attendance was 911. The value of school buildings was $50,800; of school libraries, $1,610; of apparatus, $1,500; total value of school property, $53,910. The total expenditures for schools were $23,399, and the total of revenues for school purposes $28,328.

            In 1888 there were 2,284 census children in Ventura County, which had gained ten school districts in two years; 1,889 were enrolled in the public schools, and the average daily attendance was 1,069. There were now school buildings to the value of $64,900; libraries, $1,825, and apparatus, $1,410; total, $69,035.

            There are now in Ventura County forty-three schools districts, employing fifty-seven teachers. The number of census children is 2,703; number enrolled, 2,244; the average attendance is 1,339.  The amount received from county school tax for 1889 was $11,366; from all sources for 1889-'90, $65,791.42. The total expenditures were $51,457.31. Of the teachers in the county, twenty are graduates of the State Normal School, and three are from Eastern high schools. The average monthly salary of men teachers if $75; of women, $63.  The total value of school buildings in the county is $102,050; of school libraries, $2,850; of apparatus, $2,955; total, $105,855. During the eight years that C.T. MEREDITH has been county superintendent of schools, there have been built new school-houses in thirty-two districts. San Buenaventura has school-houses worth perhaps $35,000; the Avenue building another worth $6,000; those at Santa Paula cost $10,000; at Hueneme, $9,000; the Montalvo building cost $5,000, to which must be added another $1,000 for grounds, improvements, etc., and the Saticoy school-house cost $1,500.

It is rather a remarkable feature that there is a small attendance of the Spanish element in the schools of this county.