24 May 2016

The Buzz on the History of the Binder Beekeeping Ranch of Soquel Canyon

Soquel Canyon, Carbon Canyon's southern neighbor, is, compared to others in the area, relatively undisturbed.  There are remnants of structures in Hidden Valley, the area where the Chino Ranch Ride (covered here in a recent post) took place for decades from the late 1930s.  On the eastern end, the Aerojet munitions testing facility has certainly left a mark below ground level, though much of the physical presence above ground is absent.  Much of the canyon is held as private property, but development of any kind is going to be problematic given the difficulty of access.

This situation is not for a lack of trying, however.  As early as the mid-1920s, a proposal, noted here previously, to build a road through Soquel from Brea to Chino was floated and the idea remained in the minds of regional and local planners and others (and may still for some).  In the late 1960s, traffic studies, noting that the 91, 60 and soon-to-be opened 57 freeways and Carbon Canyon Road (Grand Avenue was years from being pushed through to Chino Hills) were the only east-west corridors between the Inland Empire and Orange County, advocated fora 6-lane highway through Soquel that would have destroyed it.  Finally, not that many years ago, the highway concept was dropped, though no one should be surprised if an attempt to reintroduce the idea will come once again.

In its early days, uses of Soquel Canyon were few.  The eastern portion falls within the boundaries of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and was used for grazing cattle and other animals on the property.  To the west, a section of Soquel was within public lands that were common areas for owners of ranchos, such as Chino, to use when their properties were over-grazed or threatened to become so.

With the gradual demise of the rancho system, though, public lands were made available for sale, starting in the later 1860s.  It appears that one of the first persons to take the opportunity to acquire property in the public portion of Soquel Canyon was Charles Binder.

Binder was born in 1840 in Copenhagen, Denmark and immigrated to the United States, where he worked as a carpenter and then joined the Army at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in June 1872.  By the end of the year, though, Binder decided the military wasn't for him and, in what was a common act at the time, deserted his unit.  It appears that, not long after, he drifted westward.

Charles Binder's voter registration record from 1879, showing his naturalization the previous fall in Los Angeles and identifying him as a beekeeper in the Anaheim township--specifically at Soquel Canyon.
By the late 1870s, he was in the Los Angeles area, where he was naturalized in November 1878.  The following summer, in July 1879, he registered to vote as a resident of Anaheim Township and was listed as a 39-year old bee rancher.  Though it was not stated, Binder had established himself in Soquel Canyon to do his work, though it appears that he did not keep his residence at the ranch, but lived elsewhere in the area.

At the end of June 1880, enumerator J.W. Anderson made his way through the Orange-Santa Ana Township of Los Angeles County as part of the undertaking of the federal census.  After leaving Santa Ana Canyon and the home of Marcos Yorba, son of prominent ranchero Bernardo Yorba, in what is now Yorba Linda, Anderson headed northwest.

Charles Binder's 1880 census listing showing him as an apiarist in Soquel Canyon within the Orange Santa Ana Township.  He also appears to have been bee-keeping near modern Claremont at the same time.
He came across two 40-year old Danes, Christian Christensen and Binder, both of whom were listed as being an "apariast," the proprietor of a bee-keeping enterprise.  Binder had a German-Mexican employee, Anton Smith, as an employee.  Two households down was Alfred Patten, a 26-year old native of Arkansas, who also was practicing the apiary trade.  Then, the next two households featured Claus Grim, a 35-year old German, and 27-year old Frank M. Davis, also from Arkansas, both of whom were listed as working with "Cattle & Bees."

This stereoscopic photograph of a San Gabriel Valley apiary, or bee keeping ranch, was taken by A. C. Varela about 1878, which is roughly when Charles Binder began his bee-keeping work at Soquel Canyon.  Photo courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
There was, in fact, in the 1870s and 1880s, a bit of a bee-keeping craze in the greater Los Angeles area, with apiarists setting up their facilities in the San Gabriel Valley and, apparently, in what later became northeastern Orange County.

On the same 1880 census, but in the San Jose township, north of Pomona, there was a listing by census taker Frank Ellis, for 40-year old Charles Binder, "apiarian" and a 30-year old man, known only as "John Doe."  Though Binder was listed here as hailing from Germany, it seems certain that he had two separate bee-keeping facilities--one at Soquel Canyon and the other probably in the vicinity of San Antonio Canyon near what is now Claremont, given that his near neighbor was the Reverend Charles F. Loop, co-owner of the Loop and Meserve Tract that encompased the area.

Charles Binder's listing as an apiarian in the San Jose & Azusa township, specifically near San Antonio Canyon in modern Claremont, 1880 Federal Census.
In 1882, Binder was listed in a newspaper public notice as having "possession, interest and claim to 160 acres, being southeast quarter of section 31 township 2 south range 9 west."  This looks to be an area up near Brea Canyon, which might be an indication of his trying to expand his land-holding interests. Two years later, Binder was listed as a bee-keeper in the Anaheim section of the Los Angeles City and County Directory.

On 20 August 1888, two notable events happened for Binder. First, he re-registered to vote, once again listing himself as a beekeeper in Anaheim.  The second is that the 48-year old was married in East Los Angeles (now the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles) to Celia Clarkston, also of Anaheim and also 48-years old.

From the Los Angeles Herald of 28 July 1889 is a brief description of a wildfire that burned Charles Binder's apiary--this may be the first documented Carbon Canyon area wildfire.
Tragedy struck just under a year later.  In what may be the earliest documented wildfire in the Carbon Canyon area, the Los Angeles Herald of 27 July 1889 had a brief article reporting that,
Fire on the Olinda Ranch, north of Anaheim, last evening swept over a vast amount of territory, destroying Charles Binder's bee ranch, windmill, barn and other property.  The fire started from brush burning, which got beyond control.  Loss several thousand dollars.
As chronicled here before, the Shanklin Ranch, which covered several thousand acres of the area, mainly became the property of W.H. Bailey, a native of Maui, Hawaii, who renamed his property Olinda after his family's plantation on the Hawaiian island.  Whether Binder's ranch was actually on the ranch and had been purchased or leased by him is not clear.

Another major issue was the state of the local economy.  The well-known "Boom of the Eighties" which peaked in 1887-88 and which, at Olinda Ranch, led to grand plans like the town of Carlton and a proposed railroad from Chino, went bust about the time of the fire that destroyed Binder's apiary.

The 1890s was a decade in which the Los Angeles region was frequently in drought conditions and the nation was hit by a debilitating depression in 1893.  Still, Binder persevered with his bee-keeping enterprise.  In the 5 November 1893 issue of the Herald it was reported that "Charles Binder of Anaheim has purchased the cottage of W.T. Smith and moved his family out to Mr. Binder's foothill ranch."  This "foothill ranch" is almost certainly his apiary at Soquel Canyon.

Binder's stay at the "foothill ranch" appears to have been limited, however.  Whereas in 1892 he registered to vote out of the Yorba precinct with an Anaheim post office address, four years later, he registered out of Fullerton and gave his occupation as a farmer.

This appears to correspond with his purchase of three lots in the town in March 1895 from the Pacific Land Improvement Company, which was a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, the line of which passed along the south edge of the town and whose president was George H. Fullerton, its namesake.  Pacific Land was also the founder of Claremont, another town along a Santa Fe line and owned the land on behalf of the Santa Fe in the Olinda oil field, where the railroad's Petroleum Development Company operated the earliest wells.

The "Death Record" listings from the Los Angeles Times, 22 May 1899, including one for the death of Charles Binder the prior day at his Fullerton home.
On 21 May 1899, Binder died at his Fullerton home at the age of 59 or 60 and his widow, Celia, continued to reside there.  In 1900, she leased out the Binder Ranch to the newly formed Soquel Canyon Oil Company.  A July 1900 issue of the Los Angeles-based magazine The Capital featured an article on local oil companies, including the Carbon Canyon Oil Company (covered here previously) and Soquel Canyon Oil, described as having 190 acres under its ownership just east of Olinda.

While it would be expected that articles like this would play up the potential of oil-bearing lands like that of Soquel Canyon oil, it is also not surprising that, far more often than not, small players like the firm quickly revealed the risky nature of the business.

The first well proved to be dry of oil, if not of water and, as reported in the Herald twice in mid-March 1901, it was abandoned.  Another well was sited, but proved to be problematic, as well.  A year later, the company pulled out its rigging and transferred to a well it was working on in the Los Angeles field near downtown.

A Herald piece from 1 May also observed that there were many rumors of gold in the Soquel Canyon area, with one canyon going by the name of "Robbers' Roost Canyon."  While stating that there were indications of quartz and iron in the hills, there was also reference to the allegations that "a few years ago there was some excitement over the alleged discovery of coal on the Binder ranch, but this fund did not prove profitable.  As early as 1877, maps showed a number of coal mining claims in the area, which is almost certainly how Carbon Canyon got its name.

Speaking of maps, the Soquel Canyon Oil Company had its two wells in the area where Soquel and Carbon canyons meet, right at the location of today's Olinda Village and Hollydale Mobile Home Estates.  It may be that the Binder ranch was situated on land that later was partially or completely purchased by Edward Gaines and which became the "Flying Cow Ranch".

Several years ago, apiaries were noticed at the west end of the La Vida Mineral Springs property, though that material was soon removed.  Other boxes for bee keeping have been spotted on hilltops between Carbon and Soquel canyons and some are still there, though inactive.  It is almost certainly unlikely that these modern apiarians were aware of the history of bee keeping in our local canyons dating back to the 1870s.  Given the severe threat to bees now, apparently due to pesticides, it may be that a new era of apiaries is long overdue. 

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