16 February 2014

Tonner Canyon's Future and Past, Part Three

From the late 1870s, an expanded Rancho Los Nogales, including the original 1,000+ acre land grant of the 1840s and the additional of considerable sections of former public land with both combined to some 10,000 acres, was owned in a partnership between Los Angeles resident Charles M. Wright and Santa Cruz and Los Angeles lumber magnate Sedgwick J. Lynch and, after Lynch's 1881 death, his widow Jane.  A good portion of this enlarged property including much of Tonner Canyon.

While Jane Lynch remained an absentee owner at Santa Cruz, Wright was the on-site representative of the partnership and was something of a colorful figure in the Los Angeles region.  An 1889 history of Los Angeles County gave some background on Wright.  He was born in 1836 in Colchester, Chittenden County, Vermont, in the northwestern part of the state near Lake Champlain and the city of Burlington, and his father was a farmer.  But, in his early twenties, Wright migrated west by ship through Panama and then San Francisco, where he stayed briefly before moving down to Los Angeles.

Wright entered the employ of Tomlinson and Company, one of the main stagecoach companies servicing between the harbor at San Pedro and Los Angeles.  For a time, he left to try his hand at mining in San Bernardino County, but then went back to stage driving with Tomlinson.  By 1870, he formed his own stagecoaching firm with A.L. Seeley, but as the railroad began to make its imprint in southern California, it upstaged the use of the stage and Seeley retired to a ranch in San Diego County, while Wright obtained his interest in Los Nogales. 

In December 1911, just after Wright's death, a Los Angeles Times article titled "Famous Whips of the Past," devoted to famed stagecoach drivers of the Los Angeles region, featured a lengthy description by author Benjamin C. Truman (former publisher of the Los Angeles Star newspaper during the 1870s and author of a few noted books) of a journey he took in 1867 with Wright from Los Angeles to San Diego.

The 1889 Los Angeles County history noted that "the Nogales Ranch, [was] one of the finest properties in the beautiful San Jose Valley."  That name has long passed out of use, but it was denoted as the area spanning from Pomona towards La Puente in the corridor between the Chino Hills and the San Jose Hills in which the 60 and 57 freeways and the two railroad lines (formerly the Southern Pacific and the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake lines) now controlled by Union Pacific run. 

Continuing, the account stated that "the ranch contains 9,000 acres, partly fine valley lands and partly hill and valley interspersed, but all of fine quality."  As to the use of the ranch under the ownership of Lynch and Wright, "the property is mainly to sheep and wool growing, about 5,000 sheep being kept.  A few hundred each of cattle and hogs and about seventy-five head of horses help to make up the stock usually to be found on the ranch."  Some portion of the valley land of Los Nogales was also devoted to agriculture: "about 600 acres of land are kept for seeding to barley.  Alfalfa is grown. and a variety of fruit and grapes." 

Noting that "since Mr. Wright became interested in the ownership of the ranch, he has been the resident manager," the piece concluded by averring that "Nogales Ranch is known to be not only one of the largest, but one of the finesse grazing properties of southern California."  As to Wright being "resident manager," it turned out that he occupied the adobe built by Ricardo Vejar for his son, Ramon, as noted in the first entry on this subject last month. 

It appears that Wright moved into the adobe very soon after taking his ownership stake, as he appeared in the 1880 federal census in what was then the San Jose township.  In the household was Wright's younger brother, Mark, and nine other men.  Four of the men were French, including the supervisor and three sheep herders, with all likely being from the Haute Alps region, from where many sheep raisers and herders who came to Los Angeles County hailed.  There were two other sheep herders, including a Mexican and one known only as "Indian Charlie."  There were also an Irish cook, an American machinist, and tanner Stanley Bates, who later married one of Wright's sisters.

In the 1900 census (the 1890 enumeration was consumed in a fire), Wright was still at the Vejar adobe, but had a much smaller household, consisting of himself, a Maine-born farm worker, and a Chinese cook named Wong Ah Chow.  Sometime shortly afterward, however, Wright left for the big city and moved to Los Angeles, where he bought a property in the fashionable West Adams district, a short distance west of the University of Southern California.  There, remarried late in life and with a surviving son, he lived out his remaining days, dying in October 1911 at the age of 75.  In addition to his interests at Los Nogales, he and Jane Lynch invested in real estate in Los Angles, including some valuable property in the Spring Street financial district of downtown.  He survived his longtime Los Nogales co-owner Jane Lynch, by about a year.

Meantime, the two aging owners of the ranch had decided to sell it.  The new owner was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania dentist and coal and oil investor, Walter Fundenburg.  While he has been discussed here previously, some new information about Fundenburg's varied and rocky career as a southern California real estate investor, including his ownership of the Los Nogales Ranch and part of Tonner Canyon, will be featured next.

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