The Early History of Our Area
Prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1887, this area was sheep and cattle country. There had been people in the valley for hundreds of years. The area was first occupied by the Chumash whose villages dotted the valley from the Sespe River and Piru Creek.
The first Europeans to see this valley were Spanish soldiers with the Gaspar de Portolá expedition of 1769, who found a Chumash village named Sespe. The soldiers entered the valley on the name day of Saint Clare and named the valley Santa Clara after the saint. The valley became part of the territory administered by the Franciscan friars from the Ventura Mission.
In May of 1833, after Mexican Independence, Rancho Sespe to the east and west of the Sespe River, was granted to Carlos Antonio Carrillo by the Mexican Governor of California.
In 1854 the More brothers purchased Rancho Sespe at auction for $18,000.00. Later T. Wallace More purchased his brothers’ interests in the ranch and became sole owner. He believed that he had purchased the area along the river and from ridge top to ridge top. Very soon settlers moved into the territory and disputed his claim both to the extent of the land and the use of water. In 1877 he was brutally murdered by members of the Sespe Settlers’ League. His wife died two years later and the property was inherited by his children.
In 1882, his daughter Martha “Mattie” Mae More Storke inherited Lot 1 (3,379 acres) which eventually she sold to Sespe Land and Water Co. Lot 3, tract 2 (2,224 acres) went to Alexander More and in 1888 the property was sold to Morton Hull of Chicago. Finally, the 2,200 acre property was inherited by his daughter, Eudora and her twin brother, Morton Hull. Eudora Huyll Spalding bought her brother’s share of the ranch. This property was the Rancho Sespe which operated into the 1980s producing citrus, walnuts and Aberdeen Angus cattle.
When Eudora died in 1945, the ranch was left in trust to the California Institute of Technology with her husband, Keith Spalding, as trustee. With his death in 1956, the ranch was operated by Cal Tech. It was finally sold to Rivcom and in 1988 broken into 40 acre parcels and resold.
Rancho Camulos on the east end of the valley was part of the 48,612 acre Rancho San Francisco which had been granted to Antonio del Valle in 1839. After his death, his widow (and 3rd wife) and his children became claimants and in 1875 were awarded a patent of Rancho San Francisco.
In 1853 Ignacio, his son, built an adobe near the Santa Clara River which was named Camulos (Kamulus) for a local Alliklik Indian village. The adobe was finished in 1861. The rancho is now best known as the setting for the novel “Ramona” by Helen Hunt Jackson and is a nationally recognized historic site and museum.
The area south of the Santa Clara River and west of Grimes Canyon was purchased by Thomas Bard from the heirs of the murdered Thomas More. He sold the property to his partner Royce Surdam, who laid out the plat plan for a new town to be known a Bardsdale in 1887. Once the lots were laid out, he donated land for a church and school. Both were built but their dreams were dashed when the Southern Pacific railroad tracks were laid on the north side of the river. They continued to try to sell their lots going so far as to meet the train and tour people through the area, but it never grew. Thomas Bard went on to become the first Senator from the State of California. The church is still in operation over 100 years later. The school has been closed and the children go to school in Fillmore. The town lots were sold in larger parcels and became agricultural land with houses scattered throughout.
On the north side of the river, Joseph McNab and partners had purchased property along both sides of Sespe Creek from Mattie More Storke. In 1887 they formed the Sespe Land and Water Company (first known as the Los Angeles Land and Water Co.).
In 1886 and 1887, as the railroad worked its way toward the Sespe River, railroad representatives were attempting to purchase rights of way and locations for depots. Their first choice for a location for a depot was the Cienega area east of town, but the owner, Rush Ealy, refused to sell. However, Joseph McNab of Sespe Land and Water Co. was interested in developing the property they had just purchased at the confluence of the Sespe and Santa Clara Rivers. Thus the depot was placed on the railroad line just west of where it now stands. Sespe Land and Water Co. and the Southern Pacific Railroad joined together to publicize and develop what soon became known as Fillmore.
Fillmore was named for a Southern Pacific Railroad General Superintendent, Jerome Fillmore.
By 1900, Fillmore had a population of about150 people. Main Street was then the actual "main" street of the town. Businesses along it included a rooming house, general store, pool hall, fruit stand, barbershop, saloon and lumber yard. In 1903, a fire destroyed much of Main Street and eventually, Central Avenue became the "main" street of Fillmore.
Between 1907 and 1911 Central Avenue grew considerably. Street lights were installed in 1911 and in 1917 the street was paved. By 1920 the population had reached almost 1600 people.
The town of Fillmore was incorporated in 1914 with George Tighe as the first mayor. Mr. Tighe was not only the stationmaster, but also ran Tighe's General Store on Central Avenue and was president of the Fillmore State Bank.