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Sespe Land and Water Company

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

Joseph McNab

We know where the name Fillmore came from but why was the city located as it is between Pole Creek and the Sespe? Why was it not on Adams Hill east of Fillmore where the railroad wanted to place a depot?

After the murder of Thomas Wallace More in 1877, Rancho Sespe was divided among his heirs. The youngest son, Alexander’s, portion eventually became the property of Morton Hull of Chicago and was the Rancho Sespe that people in the area knew until the 1980s. The portions inherited by two other sons, Thomas and Wallace, were purchased by Royce Surdam and Thomas Bard and became Bardsdale. The final part was inherited by More’s eldest child, Martha (Mattie) More Storke, who sold her portion, about 3,300 acreas, to the Sespe Land and Water Company. This final portion became Fillmore.

The Sespe Land and Water Company was incorporated in April of 1886 as a subsidiary of the Ventura Water and Improvement Company. The stockholders of both companies were W. H. Perry, F. C. Howes, S. H. Mott, W. H. Goucher, M. Dodsworth, L. W. Dennis, Dr. C. E. Glacius, H. J. Crow, Francis Bates and J. D. McNab. According to the Los Angeles Herald, this was a “syndicate, comprising some of Los Angeles’ heaviest capitalists.” Only one name will be familiar to local folks, Joseph McNab. Some of the readers may live on or near McNab Court in the Los Serenos Tract.

Joseph McNab was born in Nova Scotia to a seafaring family. He immigrated to Chicago, eventually moving to Riverside, California where he became involved in farming and land speculation – quite successfully.

Soon after purchasing the property, the Sespe Land and Water Company gave the Southern Pacific right of way through it and sold them property for their depot. Southern Pacific had wanted to put the depot just east of the current location, but the landowner, Rush Ealy, refused to sell the property.

Sespe Land and Water also, according to Judge C. C. Elkin’s history, bought water rights from one Joe Dye. Judge Elkins is quoted as saying, “Joe Dye had killed Herman Haines a short time before I came to Fillmore in 1877, and was in jail in Ventura waiting his second or third trial.” (Dye was eventually acquitted, but that’s another story).

A few businesses had been built along the Southern Pacific right of way on what became Main Street, but in August of 1888, the Sespe Land and Water Company filed a town plan with the County of Ventura covering 66 acres. On the plan familiar names appear like Central, Sespe, Santa Clara, Fillmore, Saratoga and Mountain View.

Sespe Land and Water Company soon was advertising property for sale. As early as September, 1887, “The Sespe Land and Water Company will offer, at private sale, Town Lots in Fillmore City, and 3000 acres of the finest Fruit Land in Southern California” ran in the Los Angeles Herald. The advertisement touted that it was on the Southern Pacific Railroad line and that the depot was already built. Potential purchasers could arrange free railroad transportation, arriving from Los Angeles at 11:30 am and returning at 1:00 pm.

The next month the Herald’s readers were told that in Fillmore they could “Raise Fruit and be Happy, The most independent people in the state are the fruit growers. Their incomes are steady and reliable.”

A later advertisement indicated land was being offered in 5, 10, and 20 acre lots “with water rights. Pipes already laid.” Some of the pipes brought water from the Sespe River where William Mulholland built a dam for the company. In return he received 20 acres of land.

Not all lots sold. Sespe Land and Water Company would continue to be a major land owner in Fillmore, building and renting both commercial and residential buildings. The Company’s headquarters was on Sespe, where the MacNab Building currently sits.

Sespe Land and Water Company

Joseph McNab eventually bought out the other stockholders’ interests and moved to Fillmore, building two homes, one at 616 Sespe and the other at 411 First Street. The house on First Street was built on Catalina Island and brought by barge to the mainland. The second home became the home to Joseph’s son John Boak McNab and his wife, Blanche Guiberson McNab. When not running the Sespe Land and Water Company, Joseph McNab was considered a pioneer in Ventura County in drying apricots. By 1890 he had a large drying facility and bought almost all the apricots grown in the County, thus controlling the market.

John B. McNab attended University of California at Berkeley. After graduation he returned to Fillmore and became secretary of the company. After Joseph’s death in 1903, John B. McNab took over the company. A member of the Fillmore Club, he was also one of the organizers and a director in the Ventura County Cooperative Association which had stores in Sespe, Fillmore and Piru and a director of Farmers and Merchants Bank in Fillmore (it was located on the southeast corner of Sespe and Central and still stands).

John B. McNab ran the Sespe Land and Water Company until his death in November of 1939. The company continued on until it was eventually dissolved in 1974.

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