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History of Stephens Store

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

The northwest corner of Main and Central, now the location of the new Segovia’s Fillmore Market (2020 - Estrella’s), is one of Fillmore’s most historic sites.

Before the city was recorded in Ventura in 1888, one of the oldest of its few buildings stood on this corner, a large two-story rooming house operated by E. Bailey Turner. Since Turner was Fillmore’s first postmaster his building also housed the first post office, a front bedroom in the rooming house.

By 1898, Turner’s two-story building had been replaced by a one-story tin structure where Richard Stephens operated a general merchandise store. He soon purchased the entire corner property and in 1910 constructed a new building which still stands. Since that time, a period of 78 years, this building has been in continuous operation as a general store or a combination grocery and meat market.

Richard Stephens was one of Fillmore’s leading pioneers and an outstanding citizen. Born in Glasgow, Scotland on August 31, 1870, he left his native land in his early 20’s. After a year on a ranch near Hollywood, he came to Fillmore on April 6, 1895. His first job was that of a clerk in the general merchandise store of a fellow countryman, James Duncan, who conducted business at the northeast corner of Main and Central in the store built by C. C. Elkins in 1888. Popular with customers from the start Stephens soon acquired an interest in the business, becoming a partner in 1898. When Duncan died on November 17 of that year, Stephens became sole owner of the business. He was also appointed Fillmore’s sixth postmaster, ironically on the same day that Duncan died.

About this time, C. C. Elkins sold his store to C. A. Harmonson (2020 note – C. A.’s name was either Columbus Arizona or Columbus Augustus, little wonder he went by his initials). Duncan and Stephens moved across the street to the northwest corner, taking the post office with them. After Duncan’s death, the store was known as “Richard Stephens – The Post Office Store.” Just north on Central Avenue there was a large packing house. Stephens had long recognized that Fillmore needed a hall in which to hold meetings and entertainment, so he took over the packing house in the evenings. Stephens’ Hall, as it became to be called, used rows of packing boxes as seats. There was a stage about three feet high with a corner walled off at each side for dressing rooms. One popular early-day entertainer was Charles Heatherly who gave serious, humorous, and dialect recitations, with music by Arthur Sallee, pianist. Admission was 25 cents, with children 15 cents and reserved seats 35 cents. Dances were held frequently on Saturday nights – admission $1. When a traveling theatrical company came from a one-night stand in Santa Paul, the Fillmore Herald declared with obvious sincerity: “Fillmore is becoming more like New York City every day.”

History of Stephens Store

In the years before Stephen built his new store, the old-time lock boxes for the patrons of the post office were located on the outside of the building. The arrival of the mail was an exciting event. Rain or shine, everyone gathered outside the store to get their mail and exchange the latest news with their neighbors. On September27, 1907, the big topic of discussion was the electric light Stephens had strung across Central Avenue from his store to the store of Harmonson and Rood. This was Fillmore’s very first street lighting. Stephens’ new building, which opened on March 12, 1910, was a one-story structure of stucco over brick, designed mission-style and built by contractor J. C. Blair. The post office was separate from the store with its own entrance as well as an entrance from the store. Over the outside entrance to the post office, a flagpole was erected. This flagpole remains in place today (1988), though it is no longer in use. In addition to the post office, this modern store offered general merchandise, a meat market, a public telephone, and a small jewelry store run by John Lawton. A six-foot cement sidewalk, one of the first in downtown Fillmore, was put in at the new building. At the store’s corner entrance, which faced both Main and Central, the sidewalk at the threshold featured the owner’s name set in green and white tiles. The tiled name remains in place to this day (2022 - the owners have removed the tiles).

Like most of the early businessmen of Fillmore, Richard Stephens was deeply involved in the affairs of the community. He was one of the organizers and a director of the Fillmore State Bank until 1913 when, with others, he organized the Fillmore Branch of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Santa Paula. After that institution was consolidated with the Pacific-Southwest Trust and Savings, Stephens became vice president of the Fillmore branch. In addition to many other interests, he owned several extensive citrus ranches He and his wife Stella, whom he married in San Diego on Christmas Day in 1903, were members of a group instrumental in bringing the Trinity Episcopal Church building from the Bard Estate in Port Hueneme in 1933, to land donated by Stephens.

Perhaps because they had no children of their own, Richard and Stella Stephens were most generous to the children of Fillmore. Each Halloween they opened their lovely home at 554 Central Avenue to the children of the community. Each Christmas they were hosts to all the children at a special picture show at the local theatre where the small guests were given treats and gifts.

……. (I)t is appropriate to call attention to Fillmore’s past. Much of that past is vanished now, remembered only by words and pictures. But some of the past is still with us today, a part of our everyday lives. Nowhere is there a better example of this blending of past and present than the Fillmore Market (2020 Estella’s Market), Richard Stephen’s old store, still serving the people of Fillmore as it has since 1910. Next time you pass that historic northwest corner of Main and Central, look down to see the green and white tiles spelling out the name “Stephens”. Part of Fillmore’s past is still part of Fillmore’s present.

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