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Fergus "Ted" Fairbanks

Fergus "Ted" Fairbanks

Ted Fairbanks with his siblings: Standing: Winifred Fairbanks. Left to Right: Fergus Fairbanks, Ellen Nellie Fairbanks, Charles Fairbanks, Louis Fairbanks c 1885

In 1907, Judge Felix Ewing, president of the two-year-old Fillmore State Bank, offered the job of cashier to a man from Hueneme (pronounced Wy-neh-meh). The bank’s cashier would be in charge of most of the day-to-day operation of the bank. Ewing told the prospective cashier that, “We want you to go out there and take charge of the bank and wake that town up because it's absolutely dead." Fergus “Ted” Fairbanks, who had been cashier at the Bank of Hueneme, was not so sure he wanted the job. “I told him that I wouldn't go and undertake to do anything with the place unless they would back me up in getting a newspaper. Because a place of that size was really not in shape to grow [without a newspaper].” Judge Ewing agreed and on August 1, 1907, Fergus Fairbanks began work at the bank. Significantly, by December of 1907, the Fillmore Herald began under the management of H. G. Comfort. The town was beginning to be woken up.

Fergus Fairbanks was born in Table Rock Nebraska in 1876 to Elijah and Martha Linn Fairbanks. At the age of four months, he moved with his parents and older brother, Charles, to Ventura where some Linn relatives had already settled. His father held many jobs in the first few years including driving a wagon to Newhall to pick up supplies for the residents of Ventura. For about a year he worked for the More brothers on Santa Rosa Island overseeing a crew of men building a wharf on the island.

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Fergus "Ted" Fairbanks at the time of his high school graduation

In 1881, Elijah Fairbanks was hired by A. J. Salisbury to manage the wharf at Hueneme, a position he held for 25 years. A year later, young Fergus, or Ted as he was known, started school in Hueneme. In 1891, he entered Ventura High School, living with his grandmother during the school year, graduating in 1894. Much to his surprise he received a scholarship to Occidental College and was able to attend for one year. He then received a letter offering him a position with the Bank of Hueneme which had been founded in 1889. In 1901 he was promoted to cashier who in those days was in charge of much of the day-to-day operation of the bank.

In 1898, Fairbanks married Lula Hooper, a high school classmate. Unfortunately, in 1901, Lula died while giving birth to their daughter, Constance. In 1903 Ted Fairbanks and Helen Murphey were married. This marriage would have seven children, six of whom grew to adulthood.

Fifty years later, Fairbanks described what Fillmore was like when he first settled there, “You can judge the size of Fillmore, when I tell you that there were two teachers in the elementary school and no High School. The only cement sidewalk was on the two streets adjoining the bank and on the bank property. From the present location of the Bank of America (Central and Main St.) to the intersection of Sespe and Central Streets, the sidewalk, when there was one, was of boards. There were three stores, two which had general merchandise as well as groceries. The town site proper was one block wide on each side of the railroad. Other than that, there were not two dozen houses in town, most of them the residences of the owners of the orchards which surrounded them.”

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Ted Fairbanks c 1910

One of the first initiatives Fairbanks became involved in was the formation of the Board of Trade, the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce. Fairbanks was president of the Board of Trade when late in 1908, the Board decided Fillmore should have its own high school. At that time, any student wishing to go past grammar school had to travel to Santa Paula to go to high school. After some legal issue were resolved so Fillmore could secede from the Santa Paula Unified High School, and then a bond election was held. The bond passed with only three votes opposed. The first High School board consisted of George King as President, Ted Fairbanks as secretary, William Shiells and E. A. Case. While with the Bank of Hueneme, Fairbanks had been appointed Chairman of the Oxnard Union High School for three years so he was not unfamiliar with running a high school. George King and Fairbanks worked with an architect on the plans for a high school building. When the plans were submitted to the County Superintendent of Schools, James E. Reynolds, he refused to approve them saying it was too large and wouldn’t be filled in twenty years. Finding the Fillmore board to be very determined he allowed the building was built as first proposed. By 1924 a larger building was needed. The first class consisting of 4 students, three women and one man, graduated in 1911.


Ted Fairbanks c 1920

By 1912 incorporation had been a point of dissension in the community for more than 2 years. Letters had been sent to the cities of San Fernando and Bishop asking about their experiences with incorporation. Those cities hailed the positive results.

The biggest issues were taxes! Taxes were being assessed by the county in the unincorporated areas. But the benefits were not being returned to those areas. The representatives of San Fernando presented the benefits of incorporation which included improved fire protection. That city now had an organized fire dept with “two high class chemical engines” and a hook and ladder company with five ladders. It gave that community a “feeling of security never before felt.” Fillmore still had a volunteer fire extinguisher and bucket brigade.

Street lighting was also an issue. Fillmore had only a few lights which had been installed by local merchants. The question, of course, was whether the merchants on Central would pay for lighting on their own or whether the entire citizenry would pay through taxation to benefit the entire community.
The essence of the anti-incorporation argument was that matters of this import to the city should be left in the hands of the pioneer founders of the city and not in the hands of the “floaters who are here today and gone tomorrow.” The antis were primarily early pioneers such as C.C. Elkins and his son, John McNab, of Sespe Land and Water Co., George Tighe, J. W. Baldeschweiler, and A. C. Wilcox.
By 1914 Fillmore had been a township for 27 years and had a population of about 1000. On May 8, 1914, a delegation from Fillmore Township presented the Board of Supervisors with a petition to call for an election to vote on the question of incorporation. The petition appeared in the Herald with the names of signers; Fergus Fairbanks, J K L Schwartz, Louis Antonio Carillo, and 65 others including the publishers of the Herald.

The election was held on June 29, 1914, there were 417 votes cast (one ballot was not voted for or against and 15 were thrown out for irregularity – they had marked the box with a pencil instead of a pen. Of the 15 irregulars, 12 were for and 3 against). Fillmore became a city of the 6th class by just 15 votes - 208 for and 193 against. Fillmore had definitely woken up.

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The Fairbanks Family: Back row: Richard, Helen Murphey Fairbanks holding William, Elizabeth
Front row: Constance, Fergus "Ted" Fairbanks holding John, Helen, Katherine, Robert

Ted Fairbanks had not planned on a career in banking. He, with his childhood friend, Charles Blackstock, had always planned to open a law practice together. Blackstock was already a lawyer and encouraged his friend to go into law. Fairbanks resigned from the Fillmore State Bank in the fall of 1919 and began to prepare to take the bar examination. He rented a room upstairs in the Bank’s new building on the corner of Central and Main, adjoining the office of John A. Galvin, the city attorney, He was admitted to practice after taking the examination on the 20th day of September 1920.

For many years there were only three attorneys in Fillmore, John Galvin, Ted Fairbanks and Art Taylor, all of whom had offices in the same building. They often found themselves on opposite sides of cases, but generally had cordial relationships. All three of them were early members of the Fillmore Rotary Club with Fairbanks being its first president.

March of 1928 presented Fairbanks with one of the most complex cases he had yet to encounter. On the night of March 12/13, the St. Francis Dam failed killing more than 400 people and devastating the farmland of the Santa Clara River Valley. One of Fairbank’s clients was the Perry Ranch Company whose property was located at the mouth of the Sespe on the Santa Clara River. The Perry Ranch was owned by a group of Japanese and was named after Commodore Matthew Perry who had opened Japan to the west. They had formed to company and purchased the land in 1910 before the Alien Exclusion act had been enacted which banned Japanese from purchasing land. One worker from the ranch had been killed in the flood and much of the orchards had been destroyed with large holes being left. Because the owners of the Perry Ranch were Japanese, there were several hurdles to clear before payment was finally made, but eventually the owners did receive a cash settlement from the City of Los Angeles.

Fairbanks continued to represent the Perry Ranch through the 1930s and into the 1940s. After Pearl Harbor, all people of Japanese descent on the west coast were subject to relocation. Foreseeing this, the Perry Ranch Company gave Ted Fairbanks power of attorney to operate the ranch. With the assistance of Carlos Alamillo, who became the ranch manager, the Perry Ranch was not only maintained but actually prospered during the war years. After the war, the Perry Ranch stockholders returned to their ranch.
Fairbank’s connection with the ranch continued until his retirement in 1963 at which time his son, Robert, took over as the ranch’s attorney.

After retirement in 1963, Ted Fairbanks remained active in the Rotary as well as the Ventura County Historical society writing several articles. He had served on the school board for 27 years. He was dedicated to his adopted home town of Fillmore and shaped it in many ways.
Ted Fairbanks passed away in 1971 at the age of 95.

Much of this article is based on over fifteen hours of interviews done by Carl Wolf with Ted Fairbanks in 1965 and 1966. The tapes of these interviews were given to the Museum by Anita Fairbanks Palmberg, granddaughter of Ted Fairbanks. The booklet, “Perry Ranch 1910 to 1995,” was another resource for this article.

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