Elkins' Olive Oil Factory by Ellen Finley, 1988
This is the second article in a series about people, places and events from Fillmore’s past. Today’s article tells of the olive oil factory designed and operated in the early 1900’s by one of Fillmore’ earliest and most respected pioneers, Judge Caswell Carl Elkins, Sr.
Some people may not be aware that an early industry in Fillmore was the manufacture of olive oil. The Fillmore Herald of January 3, 1908 contains this brief announcement: “The Elkins Olive Oil Company will commence the manufacture of olive oil this coming week.” And the Herald’s Christmas Edition of December 17, 1909 carries a large ad stating, “Your Christmas dinner isn’t properly prepared if it isn’t prepared with Elkins’ Pure California Olive Oil, made in Fillmore and sold at all the Stores C. C. Elkins, Jr., manufacturer.” Apparently Carl Jr. ran the factory after his father got it started.
The Elkins Olive was located on main street at the foot of Fillmore Street, about where the parking lot of Dewey’s Garden Center is now (was in 1988, it burned in XXXXX). A map of Fillmore in 1905, drawn by Mr. Morris King, shows the olive oil factory at that site. Exactly when it was built is not known, though some evidence points to 1903. Edith Jarrett mentions in her book, Old Timers’ Tales of Fillmore, that, about 1904 Judge Elkins used the pressed, dried pulp from the olives instead of coke as fuel in his citrus orchard smudge-pots. Also, Charlie Brown of Fillmore who worked in the factory beginning in 1908 recalled that Judge Elkins won first prize for his olive oil at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
There is some confusion as to the appearance of the olive oil factory. Charlie Brown, who could recall every detail of the manufacturing process, could not remember exactly what the factory looked like from the outside. He did say that, to the best of his memory the building was about a story and a half high with sliding doors and a dirt ramp in front, Hoses would pull a wagon up the ramp so the olives could be unloaded. The olives, grown locally in Fillmore and Piru, were in small wooden boxes of 20-30 pounds.
Mr. Floyd Spangler, who came to Fillmore in 1906, used to play in the factory which he remembers as a long low narrow shack of faded boards, not well constructed. He and his friends used to pry up the sliding doors and sneak in, running up and down the stairs and all around the machinery. He recalls that the place, both inside and out, smelled awful! Mr. Raymond Martinez, who still lives in that area of Main Street, agrees with Mr. Spangler in his remembrance of the factory’s appearance.
However, Mr. Morris King, long-time Fillmore resident who now lives in Piru, remembers the olive oil factory as a sturdy, well-constructed building of galvanized iron with sliding doors and dirt ramp, Mr. King and his family picked olives and took them to the factory to be made into oil, a percentage of oil going to Judge Elkins for payment. The Kings took the oil home in a five-gallon can so it lasted for a long time. Mr. King still remembers how good potatoes taste when his mother fried them in the olive oil. He also tells of a kind of olive-picker invented by his father, a two by four with a handle and a row of 3-inch rods which would “rake” the olives from the branches. Mr. King’s memory of the factory’s appearance is backed-up by a picture of Fillmore in 1907. This picture, in the Fillmore Museum, shows a well-constructed building behind the depot. Mr. King has identified this building as the Elkin’s Olive Oil Factory.
Just how long the olive oil factory continued in operation is not known, nor is it definitely known what became of the building. A railroad map of Fillmore in 1913 shows a C. C. Elkins Warehouse on the site of the olive oil factory. The warehouse may or may not be the old factory, now used as a place for storage. Mr. King seems to recall that the building was moved to serve as a warehouse for the Cash Commercial Company which was on the west corner of Main and Central. A picture of this corner taken about 1915 shows a building in the alley behind the store; this building bears a resemblance to the possible factory shown in the 1907 picture of Fillmore.
Though there is some confusion about the factory’s appearance and no definite knowledge of the dates of its operation there follows a thorough and accurate account of the entire process of making olive oil as it was done in the Elkins Olive Oil Factory. Charlie Brown, long-time Fillmore resident, work with C. C. Elkins, Jr in the actual manufacture of the oil. He used to say he was the only person left in Fillmore who knew this process. His account follows, as told to me, as written by me, and as approved by Charlie Brown on March 9, 1986. He passed away on December, 1986, just ten days before his 93rd birthday.