Sespe, the Town That Wasn't
After the murder of T. Wallace More in 1877, the property that was Rancho Sespe was inherited by T. Wallace More’s surviving children: Mattie Mae More Storke, Thomas R. More, Wallace More and Alexander More. Mattie Mae Storke sold 3,379 acres to Sespe Land and Water Company headed by Jacob McNab and this became the town of Fillmore. Two of the brothers, Thomas and Wallace, jointly sold their 2,313 acres to Thomas Bard. Royce Surdam bought 1500 acres from Bard and began to develop Bardsdale.
In July of 1887, Alexander More sold about 220 acres to Pacific Improvement Company, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He also sold 50’ on either side to the proposed railroad track to Southern Pacific.
In 1889 Pacific Improvement Co. sold land to the Santa Paula Methodist Episcopal Church for land for a church in the town of Sespe. They also sold property for a school to the San Cayetano School District.
Alexander More died in late May 1889 while on a fishing trip to Santa Ynez Valley and his remaining portion of Rancho Sespe was sold at auction to settle his estate.
On September 11, 1891, the property was sold to James L. High at auction for $75,000. On November 26, 1892, High sold it for $85,000 to Morton D. Hull.
On May 9, 1893, a plan was filed for the Town of Sespe with Ventura County. It would be built around the Southern Pacific Depot which would be located between Sixth and Seventh Streets with the streets running from Fifth to Eighth, with six avenues, Ventura, More, Main, Walnut, Olive and Orange. Today only Fifth and Seventh Streets can be found on maps. This was on the land owned by Pacific Improvement Company.
In August 1893, a prospectus was prepared for the Hull Subdivision of Sespe Ranch six miles east of Santa Paula with the Southern Pacific railroad running through it. 1,600 acres were offered in 10, 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-acre parcels. Buyers would also be able to access sufficient water for orchards because “Sespe Water Company has developed ample water to irrigate the entire tract, have wells capable of producing about 3,500,000 gallons of water per diem of 24 hours. This Company has just installed a thoroughly modern steam pumping plant …. (and) has laid several miles of large iron mains and a 14-inch line leads the water to their million-gallon reservoir.”
So far research has not found any evidence that these parcels were advertised for sale like those in Fillmore and Bardsdale. Other than laying out the plan and apparently installing water lines, little of this town of Sespe was ever realized.
As E. M. Sheridan wrote in 1928, “…it was hoped that this station of Sespe might really become the chief town of the valley. But by the time of the finish of the railroad in about 1886-7, the new town of Fillmore suddenly dawned on the horizon, with the railroad people given everything they wanted in the way of depot grounds and room for sidings, and first thing known Sespe was forgotten…”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Sespe Community.
Ventura County was separated from Santa Barbara County in 1873. “Sespe” existed as a recognized voting district as early as 1876. The voting district took in everything from Santa Paula, east to the county line with Los Angeles County.
It was an active community. The July 19, 1873, Ventura Signal reported on a well-attended July 4th celebration at Hercynian Grove near “Spraguesville” (at the mouth of the Sespe on the Santa Clara River). Mrs. Guiberson, Messrs. Haskins and Marple sang the Star-Spangled Banner. F. A. Sprague read the Declaration of Independence and later gave an oration “to the perfect satisfaction of all present.”
In 1874 Frederick Sprague and his 13-year-old daughter, Iva, and 14-year-old son, Hartley, traveled by wagon to Ventura to purchase wood for the building of a school. The school he built was located on the north side of the Santa Clara River near the current north approach of the Bardsdale Bridge. It was 20’ X 30’ and, depending on teacher’s estimates, either 11’, 12’, or 16’ high. This was probably near where the 1873 4th of July Celebration was held.
A few years later in 1880, the Sespe July 4th celebration was again going to be at Hercynian Grove with music by “…the Sespe songsters accompanied the vocal band of surrounding denizens; oration by Dr. S. P. Guiberson of San Buenaventura; prayer by Ari Hopper of the mountains, with “Hail Columbia” in the background; to finish with a grand prelude of “Hurrah for Horace and the Sespe.” Horace referred to newspaper man and sometime presidential candidate, Horace Greeley. Frederick Sprague was not in attendance as by this date he was in jail for the murder of T. Wallace More.
A directory from 1898 lists over seventy households in Sespe. “Farmer” was given most frequently for occupation, but there were also “oilman”, “stone cutter”, “oil pumper”, “harness maker”, and “teacher”.
The Methodist Church was built on the property near the Sespe Southern Pacific Depot which had been deeded them by the Pacific Improvement Company. In 1904, it was relocated to near the corner of Muir and Grand Avenue leaving only the depot at the original town site.
In 1894 the Sespe Post Office was established, but not within the limits laid out by the Pacific Improvement Company. Instead, it was established, “at the (railroad) switch just west of the bridge,” and would serve approximately fifty families. This would be far to the east of the planned town. The post office moved with each new postmaster and there were seven between its inception and 1908 when Lee Phillips was appointed moving the Post Office to his store. Phillips would be postmaster until 1932 when the post office was consolidated into the Fillmore Post Office.
Phillips ran the Sespe Store Sespe Avenue, later renamed Grand Avenue. His was not the first store to serve Sespe. The Sespe Cash Store, I. B. Martin, dealer in Fancy and Staple Groceries was in business in Sespe around 1902. The Ventura County Co-Operative, which also had stores in Piru and Fillmore was in business there in 1912. The store and post office would serve the farmers and ranchers in the area but also those working in the oilfields and at the brownstone quarry.
Sespe may never have grown to be the town its promoters hoped to have, but it was a community that many called home.