The HISTORY of Rancho Ventura
The land that Rancho Ventura stewards is some of the longest occupied land in California history. The presence of the Chumash within the vicinity of Rancho Ventura has been documented from around 12,000 years before present on the Channel Islands with Chumash coastal villages appearing around 10,000 years ago on the Ventura county mainland.
Throughout their history the Chumash evolved from a primarily coastal and seafaring people to highly adept land stewards. Most of the coastal settlements we know today were locations of Chumash villages. The closest major village being Shisholop, located at what is now Figueroa Street adjacent to the Ventura County Fairgrounds (Galvin Preservation Associates, 2011). The Chumash around Ventura were both master seamen as well as land managers. Tis land provided a bounty of plants, acorns, seeds and wild game that supplemented their seafaring bounty.
The landing of the Cabrillo expedition on behalf of the Spanish Empire by Navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo marked the first time in that Europeans visited the area. The expedition arrived in Ventura County in October of 1542 and recorded the location of many Chumash villages along the coast (Wikipedia, 2016). The land was not colonized until much later. The Portola and De Anza Expeditions in 1769 and 1774 set the stage for the Spanish Period in Ventura. The expeditions noted the prolific natural resources of the area between the Santa Clara and Ventura Rivers as well as the prosperity and large size of the village while passing through (Portola et al., 1769; National Park Service).
On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782 Father Junipero Serra officially founded Mission San Buenaventura (the Trust’s namesake) as the 9th Mission in Alta California. The Mission would be constructed and managed throughout the Mission Period with the help of Chumash laborers and craftsmen from Mexico. Despite several natural and man-made disasters, the Mission became very prosperous and was especially notable for its prolific garden supported by an extensive seven-mile reservoir and aqueduct system (Galvin Preservation Associates, 2011).
The San Buenaventura Mission’s agricultural legacy is directly tied to Rancho Ventura through farming and ranching. The land entrusted to Rancho Ventura today was part of the original Rancho Ex-Mission San Buenaventura. It was a 48,823-acre (197.58 km2) Mexican land grant in present-day Ventura County, California given in 1846 by Governor Pio Pico to José de Arnaz (Arnas). The grant derives its name from the secularized Mission San Buenaventura, and was called ex-Mission because of a division made of the lands held in the name of the Mission — the Ventura Mission church retains the grounds immediately around, and all of the lands outside of this are called ex-Mission lands. The grant extended east from present day Ventura, excluding the Rancho San Miguel (Olivas) lands, inland up the Santa Clara River to Santa Paula, between the north bank of the River and Sulphur Mountain.
Mission San Buenaventura may have had the highest amount of cropland by area and the second most productive land per capita compared to other California Missions (Costello). From the years 1784-1834 the mission is recorded as harvesting an impressive amount of staple crops “191,291 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils, garbanzos (chickpeas) and habas [broad beans]” (Missionscalifornia.com). Ventura’s Mediterranean climate allowed for many, luxury or “exotic” crops were also noted to have been grown and were quite unusual for the time. These included apples, grapes, bananas, pears, plums, pomegranates, figs, olives, oranges and coconuts. (Wikipedia, 2016). The Mission land supported a very large heard of cattle on and around the hillsides and coastal plain. In 1816 the mission is recorded as having over “41,000 animals including 23,400 cattle, 12,144 sheep and 4,493 horses” (missionscalifornia.com; Wikipedia).
In 1848 following the events of the Mexican-American War, including a brief skirmish between Californio and US forces under John C. Fremont, California was ceded to the United States after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. An extreme drought from 1855-1859 caused the collapse of the rancho economy. In addition to the drought, The Land Act forced rancho owners to prove title to their land to the United States government. This costly process coupled with the drought forced many to sell off or subdivide their land. Rancho Ex-Mission Ventura was sold to Spanish Physician Manuel Antonio Rodriguez de Poli in 1850 and again in 1874 to the Ventura Commercial, Manufacturing and Mining Company.
The influx of pioneers to California following the gold rush and the establishment of a Stagecoach line in 1868 the Ventura Pier in 1872 and a Railroad in 1887 marked a period of exponential growth and development in Ventura (Ventura museum; Galvin Preservation Associates). The new accessibility, cheap price of land due to the division of the ranchos, passage of the Homestead Acts and excellent natural resources attracted many immigrants to the area from all over the world. A 1891 account of the area describes Rancho Ex Mission as:
“one of almost continuous settlements… The soil is exceedingly rich to the very crests of the hills, and the climate is unsurpassed. The lands are agricultural and grazing… 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”.
Rancho Ventura is committed to preserving the legacy of the Lloyd family. The Lloyd Family generously donated 860 of the total 1612 acres that make up the Rancho Ventura Conservation Trust. The Lloyd Family have been long time donors and supporters to the community of Ventura. Two of their larger contributions are long-time well-known community gathering centers. The Lloyds donated the land and help fund what is now the Poinsettia Pavilion and Women’s Center. The Lloyd Family also donated land to the City of Ventura which is now Arroyo Verde Park. Rancho Ventura co-founders Richard and Bonnie Atmore, along with their fellow all-volunteer Trustees are deeply grateful to the Lloyd Family for their tremendous gift and will continue to keep the Lloyd Legacy alive through its mission, programs, projects and event experiences.
Their Lloyd Family story is one of the most classic examples of a pioneer family achieving success through their will, smarts and a little bit of luck. Lewis Marshall Lloyd who moved his family from Missouri to Ventura during the 1880’s. The former Confederate officer purchased 12,000 acres in the Ventura hillsides in order to start a ranching operation under the name Ventura Land and Water Company in 1887 (West County, 2000). Although the Lloyds were expert land stewards, the initial operation was not profitable. The Lloyd family’s luck would change dramatically as what lied underneath the land led to their financial success.
Oil was known to exist in Ventura County for thousands of years. The Chumash had used it to seal their canoes. The Portola expedition took note of the natural seeps that welled up when they passed through (Portola). The mid 1800’s marked a time of oil exploration in the area and by the 1880’s there was an oil rush in the area. The Ojai Valley and neighboring Sulfur Mountain were home to the first successful oil well and commercial oil operations in the state. George “Shootbridge” Gilbert drilled the first wells at neighboring Sulfur Mountain in 1861 and used home-made stills refine 300-400 gallons of oil per week (Ventura County General Plan). In 1865 Thomas Bard exceedingly important figure in Ventura County history and oil pioneer, discovered the first continuingly producing “gusher” oil well in the upper Ojai Valley (GeoCraig, 2008).
Lewis M. Lloyd partnered with oilfield Investor Joseph B. Dabney in an attempt to drill for oil in the Simi Valley Area. The venture was not successful. In 1903, Lewis Lloyd sold off a 4,500 acre portion of the land to a local sheep rancher. Little did he know it, but Lewis may have accidentally discovered the presence of oil under his own property years prior. According to legend:
Lloyd spotted a brush fire on his land. As he approached, he noticed a torch of fire billowing out of a fissure in the ground. While marveling at this strange sight the wind suddenly shifted and the flames from the surrounding grass roared menacingly at him at him at a speed neither he nor his horse could outrun. His horse was killed instantly with Lloyd barely escaping a similar fate by quickly leaping down a precipice into an adjoining canyon. It was as clear indication that oil lay under the ground of the Lloyd ranch (Vaught, 2012).
Although today, we recognize natural gas as a clear sign of the presence of hydrocarbons this was not common knowledge at the time and was ignored. Luckily his son Ralph B. Lloyd, who is considered “The Father of the Ventura Oil Field” had surveyed and discovered what he thought was a very large amount of oil under the family ranch. Fortunately for the Lloyds, Ralph persuaded his father to retain the mineral rights of the property before it was sold to a sheep rancher in 1903.
That good fortune and Ralph’s geologic knowledge would turn out to be the discovery of the “Ventura anticline” (Schmitt et al, 2002).” This feature was a large 16-mile ridge shaped bulge that crested right under the area where the Ventura Oilfield now sits and extended eastward to the area that the Lloyd Ranch occupied. Ralph Lloyd took over his father’s company in 1911 and shifted its focus to oil exploration. From 1911 to 1914 Ralph Lloyd partnered once more with oil man Joseph Dabney and leased property on both sides of the Ventura Avenue area and most of the Ventura Foothills.
In 1915 Lloyd and Dabney formed State Consolidated Oil Company and drilled several wells. The first well “Lloyd No. 1” stuck oil at a depth of 2558 ft but blew out and was destroyed due to very high gas pressures (VC Planning). An account of the Ventura oil field described it as exceedingly difficult to drill with extremely rough terrain with rapid changes in elevation; in 1928 it was considered to have the deepest commercial oil well in the world at 2,210 ft (AA PG, 1928). The oil was also very hot due to the depth. Because of these difficulties, Dabney and Lloyd turned to Royal Dutch Shell, and later Associated Oil Company because they had the both the financial resources and technical capability to safely drill the Ventura Avenue Field (Schmitt et al., 2002).
Over time an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil have been pumped out of the field. At its height in the mid-1950s, it ranked as the 12th most productive in the nation and seventh largest in California (California Oil and Gas Statistics, 2007). Over time the oilfields created thousands of new jobs. One source claims that five families a day were relocating to Ventura during the mid-1920’s (Galvin Preservation Associates, 2011). The once sleepy farming town turned into a prosperous and vibrant city almost overnight, with a large amount of credit going to Ralph B. Lloyd. The Ventura Oilfield, including the active fields just north of the Trust remains productive to this day.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Ventura is Two Trees located on the Rancho Ventura Conservation Trust. Theirs is a story of survival, recognition and now preservation. They also represent a symbol of our love our hillsides, an undeniably iconic landmark that will now be protected and enjoyed by all in perpetuity.
The story begins with one of the former land stewards and early pioneers Joseph Sexton. Sexton was a renowned horticulturist who, with his brother, William, purchased the land where Two Trees now sits in the late 1800’s. Sexton is famous for introducing many of the fruit, nuts and ornamental trees that are now iconic to the area and extremely important for Ventura County agriculture. In 1898 Sexton hired is neighbor Owen Marron to plant and painstakingly water thirteen Blue Gum trees, also known as Eucalyptus on the summit of the most prominent hill above Ventura. Water was transported to the trees each morning by donkey. Marron’s perseverance payed off as the twelve trees thrived above the bustling coastal pioneer town.
There is still speculation as to why Sexton had the trees planted. On story is that the trees were planted as a visible navigational landmark for ships. Another was simply, because it was his aesthetic prerogative and had them planted because he believed them to be beautiful and wanted his exotic trees to be visible for all to see. The third theory is whimsical in nature and contends that he simply had them planted just because he wanted to.
Shortly after the trees were planted, the first tragedy struck. Several years after they were planted Wildfire burnt down all but five of the thirteen trees. “Five Trees” would be its namesake for some time and, in fact, still is within the Ventura County Registry of Historical Landmarks. The second tragedy occurred just after World War 2. Vandals cut down two of the five trees as a Halloween prank in 1940 and two more original trees were cut down in 1956. Two efforts were made to restore the number of trees to five; the first taking place right after the first incident by local citizens and the second in 1966 by the Ventura Junior Women’s Club. One original and one replacement tree stand to this day. Five Trees would eventually go on to become the more commonly known moniker- Two Trees. Subsequent disasters were avoided as fires scorched Ventura foothills in 1970 and 2005, thanks to firefighters and a lot of luck.
The trees still exist above Ventura as familiar sentinels and as a prominent landmark. Their positive aesthetic and cultural impacts within the immediate area are significant. The citizens of Ventura revere their beauty and uniqueness of the landmark and pridefully refer to it as “theirs” much like Parisians would refer to the Eiffel Tower as theirs. The landmark also is reflected in the identity of the town. One quick web search will show over 15 businesses and organizations that have adopted the same moniker in some fashion.
Sadly, the landmark is still under threat from environmental and man-made pressure. One of the trees, thought to be the last original had died due to old age, years of drought and vandalism. On Earth Day, April 22, 2017 a dedication ceremony took place and a new tree was planted as a replacement. The other tree while still standing will eventually fall over. A second “Two Tree” was planted in the first part of 2019. Rancho Ventura staff and volunteers will always care for the trees assuring their viability as a local loved landmark.
On October 9th, 2017, our beloved Two Trees experienced abnormally strong winds with gusts reaching up to 60 mph. As a result, our beloved landmark, the last of the original two trees has faltered. Reports from the Ventura County Star have stated that wind gusts in the county reached up to 79 mph in some areas that day.