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Fillmore from Foothill, c 1895

I went shopping in Ventura the other day.   The trip wasn’t at all inconvenient. It was a 35 minute jaunt each way in a comfortable car.  On the road, I started thinking about my grandparents and great grandparents and how they met their needs for food, clothing and everyday items. 

The early settlers grew their own fruits and vegetables.  They hunted for deer and fished the Santa Clara and Sespe Rivers for Steelhead trout.  Most had a cow for milk and cattle, pigs or chickens for meat and eggs.  Being self-sufficient was a necessity of life.  To purchase what they could not produce themselves they would travel by horse or wagon to Ventura or later to Santa Paula, each journey out and back taking most of the day.   At times, when the need arose for a large purchase such as a wagon or large farming tool, the trip had to be made to Los Angeles.  The trip could take several days given that no rivers or streams had bridges and weather could be inclement in the winter. 

One of the earliest merchants in our area was Norman Kellogg.  He arrived in 1876 and settled on the east side of what is today, the Pole Creek channel.  (At the time, Yellow Creek, as it was called, crossed from the canyon on the east to Sespe Creek.  It would be decades before the creek was named for Pole Canyon and its channel moved to flow south into the Santa Clara River.) Kellogg built a home with a small store.  Most of his sales, however, were done from his traveling grocery and supply wagon.  The area he served was from a few miles east of Santa Paula to the Castaic area.  He kept this business going until the arrival of the railroad in 1887. 

The arrival of the railroad changed this way of life completely.  Santa Paula and Ventura were just a short train ride away and a trip out and back to Los Angeles could be accomplished in a day. By the late 1890s the Sears, Roebuck catalogue made mail order a common method of purchasing everything from nails to clothing to houses or even a dairy silo.

In 1887, just before the arrival of the railroad, Elbert Bailey Turner had built and was the proprietor of Fillmore’s first rooming house, the Cottage Inn.  C.C. Elkins spent his first night in Fillmore, with his family in Turners’ Inn.  They had traveled 3 days by wagon from Compton and arrived in Fillmore on Christmas Day.  The inn was on the northwest corner of Main and Central, very near the new tracks and depot. 

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E. B. Turner's Cottage Inn

The railroad’s arrival in Fillmore in 1887, quickly encouraged development of the local community now named Fillmore after a vice president of the Southern Pacific. The first stores were built north of the tracks and close to the Inn along the railroad right of way.  These first businesses included a lumber yard, the rooming house,  a general store built in 1888 by C.C. Elkins, a  pool hall,  fruit stand and, of course, a saloon.  The general area became Main Street.   By 1895 there were about 150 people living in and around Fillmore. 

In April, 1933, Mrs. E. B. Turner wrote in a letter to the editor of the Fillmore Herald about access to food in the 1890s.  She explained that there were “no stores or vegetable wagon every day at your door.  Our meat was shipped from Ventura by the Hobson Brothers.  Easly of Santa Paula furnished most of our vegetables.  E. B. Turner butchered a hog now and then and Alfred Stone killed deer.  He sold the best parts to us.  I pickled beef and sides of pork to help out.  We had a pen of fat chickens, paid 5 cents for a five or six pound young rooster so you can see it was not a fool’s job to take care of our little business.”

Much of the business developing in Fillmore catered not only to those residing in Fillmore but to the many farmers and cattlemen living in the outlying areas. In 1911 the Bungalow Inn was built to cater to train passengers.  It had 20 guest rooms and an excellent dining room.  The dining room not only served travelers, it also served as a meeting place for civic groups and local families. 

Bungalow Inn, 1911

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As the town grew, more businesses were started.  Saturday afternoons were busy as the farmers and their wives came to town to do the weekly shopping.  Those long trips by wagon to Santa Paula and Ventura were less necessary.  And when need or desire required a shopping trip to the “big city”, Los Angeles, the train made the trip quicker and easier.

In a very short time Fillmore became self-sufficient.  Locals could purchase food, clothing, farming supplies and equipment locally.  One of the first general merchandise stores in town was built in early 1888 by C.C. Elkins.  It was on the northeast corner of what would become Central and Main Street.  It was a two story wooden building with the store on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor.  The first shipment of groceries for the store arrived in late January, 1888. According to C.C., he gave credit to many of the locals during the year since they didn’t received payment for their crops but once a year.  He was quoted as saying, “I never lost any money to amount to anything.” The store was also the location of the post office and a voting place for many years

There were, however, occasional setbacks to orderly development.  According to C.C. Elkins, dry weather and east windy conditions in 1903 combined with kerosene lamps, caused a major fire which started in the local saloon and burned down nearly every business on Main St. including the saloon, the shoe shop, the barber shop and the top of the store building built by C.C. Elkins and then owned by C. A.  Harmonson.  After this disaster merchants rebuilding their businesses made the move to Central Ave.  With the rebuilding came stronger and more diverse buildings and businesses.

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Stephens' and Harmonson's Stores about  1895

Richard Stephens built one of the first permanent structures, a grocery store, north of the railroad tracks on the corner of Main and Central Ave. It was finished in 1911 and remains in its original location on the northwest corner of Central Ave. and Main St.  Today it is known as La Estrella Market.  As you enter, look down and you will see the Stephens name in tile.  Stephens had built a large warehouse behind his first store in the 1890s and eventually turned it into one of the first theaters in Fillmore.  It was located right behind his grocery store and was a popular venue for traveling vaudeville entertainers.  The theater building was there until about the mid-1950s when it was torn down.  Today, in 2021, the Treasure Station is located in front of what was that theater. 

Grand Opening of Stephens' Store, 1911

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Former Fillmore State Bank Building c. 1920

The Fillmore State Bank, Fillmore’s first bank building was built in 1905 on the southeast corner of Santa Clara and Central.  Construction was of brick with a facing layer of Sespe brownstone.  The Fillmore library was on the second floor and for many years the local Masonic Lodge met in a large upstairs room.  When the bank built a larger building in 1917 on the corner of Main and Central, the old bank building was used for many different purposes including a restaurant, a liquor store and the current realty office.  The library also moved to the second floor of the new bank building.  This bank became the Bank of Italy in 1927, then Bank of America, Bank of A. Levy and today, 2021, an empty shell used as a movie set. The upstairs area of the old building on Central and Santa Clara was modified into apartments and the façade of Sespe brownstone removed.  The brownstone is now a wall in Bardsdale.  

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Second Home of the Fillmore State Bank, later the Bank of Italy, c 1927

In the decade between 1910 and 1920 there was a building boom on Central Ave. as wood framing, concrete and brick replaced the simpler wooden structures.  In 1919 the Farmers and Merchants Bank was built on the corner of Sespe and Central.  Eventually it became the Security Pacific National Bank and today, is a dental office.

The three-story Fillmore Masonic Temple building on the corner of Sespe Ave. and Central Ave. was also built in 1919.  The ground floor was home to a grocery store on the corner, a variety of other businesses along Sespe and Central and a new post office building on the corner of Sespe and the alley between Central and Fillmore Streets.  The 1994 earthquake brought the building down and the site is now vacant. 

Over time research at the museum has identified more than 900 businesses in Fillmore, Sespe and Piru.  In future stories we will be highlighting these businesses and their contributions to their communities.

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