Piru, an Incomplete History

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

The area we know as Piru has long been inhabited, first by the indigenous Chumash and later by European settlers. The purists agree that the correct pronunciation based on the Chumash name is Pee-Ru, not as it is now generally pronounced, Pye-Ru. It seems like this has been a controversy for decades as the July 24, 1930 Piru News captioned a story, “Piruveans want Contest with Owensmouth on Sunday,” regarding an anticipated baseball game. That name goes with Fillmoreans.

The first Europeans to see this valley were Spanish soldiers with the Gaspar de Portolá expedition of 1769, who found a Chumash community at present day Piru. The land was initially under the administration of the Mission system, but after Mexican independence, the land was apportioned out as ranchos to those favored by the Mexican government. The area around Piru was granted to the del Valle family who founded Rancho Camulos. From Rancho Camulos, families such as the Sequieros and Salazars moved into the surrounding area. After it came under United States rule, others soon came into the area such as the Warrings, Hoppers and Whittakers. Many who came from Indiana and Pennsylvania who were miners. They were following the stories of rich mineral deposits in the mountains around Piru as early as 1842. The “gold” that would make the valley prosperous would eventually be the citrus industry.

The Warring family came to the Piru area in 1869 from San Jose. They were encouraged to move to the area by a brother-in-law, Ari Hopper who already was living in the area. According to an interview with Hugh Warring in 1930, they came to own the Buckhorn ranch because the original owner, a man named Hitchcock, admired a revolver Hugh’s father, Benjamin, owned. Mr. Hitchcock got the revolver in exchange for the Buckhorn Ranch. The Ranch got its name from all the racks of deer horns that were displayed. The Ranch became a stopping place for travelers who gave the Ranch its name.

Before there was the town of PIru, the ranchers in the community built a school at Temescal. It was built around 1880 by Ben Reasoner and Henry Dunton. The site of the school is now covered by Lake Piru. A new school was built in 1930 and the original school was remodeled into a residence where initially the school teacher lived. Sept 18, 1930 Piru News

In 1881, Reginald del Valle of Ranch Camulos ran for Congress against Col Henry Harrison Markham, who was backed by the powerful Southern Pacific. Not surprisingly del Valle lost the election and found himself in debt. To clear his debts, he sold the Temescal Land Grant in 1887 to David Cook of Chicago.
Cook was a wealth publisher of religious tracts who, like so many Easterners, chose to come to California to improve their ill health. Cook came to the Santa Clara River Valley with the intention of creating a “Second Eden”. Land was planted with crops and orchards from the Old Testament. Purchasers of the land had to agree to various lifestyles such as not smoking and temperance. The story is told that one potential resident, R. A. Fremlin, was told “better not let Cook see that cigar in your pocket,” to which he is said to have replied, “I’m not going to sneak around for a a smoke.” He moved on and settled in Bardsdale.

With his plan for a Biblical paradise made, he laid out a city plan and promoted the new settlement. Work began in 1887 and continued energetically through 1888. Originally the town was to be sited on the south side of the mouth of the river in the Piru Canyon, but the Southern Pacific Railroad refused to run a spur up Piru Canyon. Cook changed the location to the current location. Because the Southern Pacific already had a depot at Rancho Camulos, they refused to build another at Piru. Cook built one at his own cost and paid the salary of the agent.

During the winter of 1887-8 a Methodist-Episcopal Church was erected. This was not the church that stand today but a wood structure that also served as a school. In 1890 the existing building was built and served as a social center of the town as well the Church for decades.

In June 1888, the post office was opened, with G.R. Walden as postmaster, succeeded in a few months by R. Sampson. C.J. French, who arrived May 29, was appointed assistant postmaster.

In the meantime, a general merchandise store had been opened, and in September 1889 was sold to James Parsons and C.J. French, who did business under the firm name of C.J. French Co. Other businesses soon followed.

What is now known as the Piru Mansion, was built by Mr. Cook about 1890. It went through several owners until the Newhalls purchased it. In 1981 they were in the process of restoring when a fire broke out, almost totally destroying the structure. The Newhalls undertook the challenge of again restoring the building.

The community prospered and Mr. Cook’s health improved. Cook sold out to the Piru Oil and Land Company in 1900 after being cured of his ailments and realizing a profit due to recent oil discoveries. He left behind a growing community.

Dr. Hart Wilson, Piru's new physician, August, 1930. Dr. Wilson is the third doctor to practice in Piru. The town’s first physician was Dr. Blackledge some twenty-five years ago (c 1905). A man well remembered by the oldest inhabitants. His hobby was collecting condor eggs in the high canyon walls north of Piru. according to R. O. Belty These eggs he sold to museums and zoos.

Dr. Blackledge was succeed by Dr Sogard. who gained reputation during the influenza epidemic of never having patient by the disease. He was known to give patients a large dose of castor oil immediately upon the first symptom.

Piru oranges were first packed by the Piru Land and Water company in the old frame packing shed owned by Hugh Warring. At that time there was only fifty acres in the organization. In 1930, there were 1551 acres in the local association, which includes all oranges grow in the Piru district. The water company was packing for oranges grown on its own property, Camulos ranch at that time did its own packing. Originally many Piru growers were members of the Fillmore Citrus Association, but in 1914, they broke away to present form the Piru Citrus Association with David Felsenthal as the first president. The first unit of the Piru packing plant was built in 1917 and the second half in 1928 when the association had out- grown its quarters. In 1930, there were 1551 acres in the local association, which includes all oranges grow in the Piru district.

“These pioneers subsisted largely by hunting, (game was everywhere. deer could be secured any morning before breakfast. In later years young Hugh made a business of killing quail and shipping them to the San Francisco market. There was no market for anything in Los Angeles then. The quails were sent by stage to Saugus after the railroad was built in 1877. “Our clothing was made of buckskin and we wore moccasins when we didn’t go barefoot,” Mr. Warring said. “We 'raise el our own corn and wheat and too them to the mill. “The only people living here the was Mr. Salazar who resided south of Piru, my uncle, and the Del Valles and several Mexican families on the Camulos Ranch.” October 1930

Piru, an Incomplete History

1930 Piru News, Oct 9. “Sketch of the history of the Piru school was given as follows by L. B. Mayfield, former member of the school board: School was first taught in store building owned by Mrs. Center streets where the brick Delia Trotter now stands (sic). This building later became the community church edifice. The structure now known as the Hugh Warring warehouse near the railroad tracks was built as two-room school house in 1898 and served that purpose until 1914. 'This building stood at Center and Orchard streets on the corner now occupied by the Stewart residence. A. N. Davidson traded the present school grounds to the trustees for the Stewart corner and new stucco building was erected in 191 I. This structure was used until July 1922 when it was destroyed by fire of unknown origin. Pupils were moved back to the warehouse building for year while a new school house was built on exactly the same plans and foundations as those of the destroyed building. The new structure is the present school building. There is at present an enrollment of 127 pupils. In addition to Mrs. Fine, the principal, there are three other teachers. They are Mrs. Bernice Hoffman. second and third grades; Miss Edith Whipple, first grade and art; Miss Lois Spanks, teacher of what she calls “the noisy fourth and fifth”. Mrs. Fine teaches the sixth, seventh and eighth. “

Dec 4, 1930 Piru News: Telephone service “ The first telephone equipment was placed in service here on December 31, 1899, and has undergone numerous changes since. Today Piru is using one of the 18 small dial exchanges which recently have been installed in Southern California, popular type of dial system which was designed especially to bring dependable 24-hour service, comparable to that of the largest city, to community like Piru, The system here was one of the first of the small dial telephone exchanges to be installed and was placed in service on March 1, 1928. The Initial installation of equipment provided facilities for 111 telephones. The central office, a onestory frame and stucco building situated on the east side of Main street, between Center and Third streets, was designed so that future addition can be made when the growth of the telephone system requires it. The capacity of the present building is sufficient to serve approximately 300 telephones. The system was established at an expenditure of approximately $22,300.”

“Less than two weeks after the cutover to the dial system, the St. Francis Dam disaster occurred, testing the new Piru telephone equipment and methods to the utmost. The exchange functions ordinarily without the aid of anyone except the long distance and special operators and occasional attention by maintenance men. The large storage batteries are charged automatically when they need it. Despite these facts representatives were dispatched to Piru to attend the equipment in case it failed, due to the heavy traffic at the time of the disaster. During the three days following the dam break, the traffic broke all records. Slight fluctuations in power made it necessary to charge the batteries often, but at no time were they in any danger of becoming exhausted or losing their reserve. The equipment functioned perfectly alone, proving that small dial offices can handle enormous amounts of telephone traffic for a community such as Piru. even when cut off from outside cities by disaster.”

Business in 1930, “Piru has a bank, drugstore, our grocery stores, six gasoline filling stations, and garages, furniture store, general store selling almost every article in common use. gents furnishings and notions store, three combined barbershop and pool rooms, two restaurants and other smaller businesses.”

Piru, c 1906

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