Western Portion of Ventura County

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 226-228)



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 them thereabouts, as well as California lions, wild cats, etc. Lion Ca�on 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' 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.