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Bardsdale – Promise and Change in the Santa Clara River Valley
1890 Bardsdale Oil Well

This fertile valley had been home to indigenous peoples since long before Portola traversed the valley in 1768 and named it for St. Clare.  Spanish control brought the construction of the missions and the subjugation of the indigenous people.   The Mexicans living under Spanish rule rebelled in 1821 and took control of California until 1848.  This was the time of the great Ranchos such as Rancho Sespe.  During this period and into the period when California became independent and then a state, there was continuous westward movement of Americans many of whom settled in the Santa Clara River Valley.

During the Spanish period, the area of the Santa Clara River Valley which would become Bardsdale and Fillmore was primarily owned and controlled by Don Juan Carlos Antonio Carrillo from his headquarters in Santa Barbara.  The Rancho was given to him as a reward for his service to the Mexican government.  It extended from Santa Paula Creek on the west to Piru Creek on the east and from mountain top to mountain top.

In 1853 after Carrillo’s death the ranch was sold to Thomas More and his brothers.  While the More family controlled the ranch, they were unable to control the increasing arrival of settlers from the eastern regions of the United States who were looking for land to homestead.  The arrival of these settlers caused great tension which culminated in the murder of Thomas More in 1877. (See “Sespe Gunsmoke” written by Charles Outland.)

With More’s murder, his children inherited the property and began to sell off tracts of land to pay debts.  The Town of Fillmore would be developed on the tract purchase by Sespe Land and Water Company in 1882.

Also in 1882, the tract which would become Bardsdale was purchased by Thomas Bard from More’s daughter Mattie Mae More Storke.

Bardsdale School, 1900

In 1887, Royce Surdam purchased 1500 acres of the land from his partner, Thomas Bard.  To honor his partner, Surdam named the soon to be developed city, Bardsdale.  In 1887 the town was platted and approved by Ventura County.  As part of the plan, lots were designated to be homes, schools, and   churches.  Streets will sound familiar to those of you who travel south on Hwy 23 over Grimes Canyon.  They are Pasadena Ave., Riverside St, Bardsdale Ave, Ojai St, Simi St, Santa Paula St., Chambersburg, Las Posas, Gerberding, Surdam, Blanche, Berle. What?  What are those last five names?  They are names for streets that were never built.  Unfortunately for the developer, the railroad laid its tracks on the north side of the river and the town of Bardsdale died on the vine along with all those undeveloped streets and lots that were never sold for housing. 

Yes, there are houses there now but many of them were built by the farmers who bought larger tracts of land to produce at first, beans, alfalfa, potatoes, cattle and sheep.  Surdam sold the land in 5, 10, 20, 40 and larger acres to farmers who moved here for the fertile soil and mild weather.

1905 Bardsdale Methodist Church

Some of the earliest families to move to Bardsdale immigrated from Germany.  Their names included Haase, Baldeswieler and Bartels.   There were no stores built, but a school was built to educate the farmers’ children.  The first school was on Ventura St between Bardsdale Ave and Pasadena St.  Soon the school needed more space and a new school was built on the same site. This school operated until the mid-1960s when it was determined to be unsafe in an earthquake and the children were bussed to Fillmore schools. The school still stands but today is a private home.

Religion was a priority for these families so in 1882 they built the first church on the south side of the river on land donated by Thomas Bard.  On Sundays they walked to the simple building on what would become Owen St.  This was the German Evangelical Church.    

In a short time more farmers purchased land and built homes.  They also used the little simple church.  Services were in German in the morning and in English in the afternoon. By 1898 the membership had grown enough that a larger church needed to be built.  This church, still stands today, also on land donated by Bard, on the corner of Bardsdale Ave and Ventura St.  Originally it was known as the Bardsdale Methodist Episcopal Church.  Today it is the Bardsdale Methodist Church.  Services are held every Sunday at 10 a.m. in English and Spanish.  The church is “carpenter gothic” in design and is registered Ventura County landmark #50.

Bardsdale Methodist Church, 1912

Today Bardsdale is still agricultural.  Over the decades the dryland crops transitioned to walnuts and apricots.  These gave way to citrus, both oranges and lemons.  Today the crops are primarily avocados, lemons, oranges and vegetable crops. 

The Bardsdale hillsides are dotted with oil derricks. Oil was discovered in 1890 and is still a major industry today.

For many in our larger community, Bardsdale is the final stop in their life. Perched on a hillside just off of South Mountain Road is the Bardsdale Cemetery.  The Cemetery is the final resting place for residents of the entire area of Fillmore, Bardsdale and Sespe and Piru. It has the most beautiful view of the mountains to the north of any location in this valley.

In the early days before TV and all the activities which fill our time, families would pile into the family car and drive through Bardsdale to enjoy its serenity, its scenic views and the smell of orange blossoms in the spring. It is currently spring.  Give it a try.

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