Situated in the picturesque Santa Clara River Valley along Highway 126, just 10 miles from busy Interstate 5, is one of the historic gems of Southern California. Rancho Camulos, a prime surviving example of an adobe hacienda from California’s rancho period in the 1850s, served as the home of the Del Valle family – the first owners of the Santa Clarita Valley – and was the purported real-life “Home of Ramona” upon which Helen Hunt Jackson’s legendary 1884 novel “Ramona” was based.
The Ramona phenomenon swept the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, resulting in a massive wave of tourism and immigration to Southern California.
On Saturday, Oct. 18, Judy Triem, chairman of the board of the nonprofit Rancho Camulos Museum and founder of San Buenaventura Research Associates will give a presentation on “Rancho Camulos: Then and Now.”
Hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, the presentation will include 19th- and 20th-century images created by known photographers and artists and will compare them with today’s images of the iconic rancho. The event will start at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Newhall Library, 24500 Main St.
More About Rancho Camulos
Although Rancho Camulos became well known among Californians for the accomplishments of three generations of Del Valles in both the political and agricultural history of the state, it is best recognized as the “Home of Ramona.” When Helen Hunt Jackson published her best-selling novel “Ramona” in 1884, it was her intention to supply the general reader with an appreciation of the California Indians’ plight as illustrated by the trials and tribulations of the fictional Indian girl, Ramona. Disappointed that “A Century of Dishonor,” her earlier nonfiction book reciting past injustices toward Native Americans, received so little notice, she wrote Ramona as a fictional tale in hopes of eliciting popular support for the Indians, much as her acquaintance Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for African Americans with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Jackson’s novel was serialized in the Christian Union and quickly became a best-seller and an American classic. It inspired four motion pictures and a pageant performed annually since 1923 in Hemet. D.W. Griffith’s silent motion-picture version of “Ramona,” starring Mary Pickford, was filmed at Camulos and the nearby town of Piru during a two-day shoot on April 1 and 2, 1910. At the time this one-reeler was made, it was billed as the Biograph Co.’s “most elaborate and artistic movie yet filmed.” It is also the first film known to have been shot in the Santa Clarita Valley. The chapel and Rancho Camulos, the adobe and patio, and the nearby mountains were all used as backdrops.
Railroad promoters, writers and photographers were drawn into the burgeoning Ramona craze, publishing hundreds of articles in books, magazines and newspapers touting the Ramona connection. The book ultimately had an entirely unanticipated but profound cultural effect. Its publication in 1884 and subsequent popularity almost perfectly coincided with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Ventura County in 1887. The romantic story of Spanish California coupled with the vivid descriptions of the setting brought literally thousands of curiosity seekers looking for the “Home of Ramona” and the fictional heroine.
Ramona became so phenomenally popular that schools, streets and even towns were named in the protagonist’s honor. With tourists and settlers flooding into California during the 1880s and 1890s on the newly established railroads, many communities claimed Ramona for their own in order to profit from the vast tourism bandwagon.
As one of the most widely recognized settings for Jackson’s novel, Rancho Camulos became not only a tourist destination in and of itself, but also was emblematic of California’s colonial past in both reality and in fiction. It is a tribute to the power and influence of Jackson’s novel that her popular fiction achieved a capacity to fire the collective imagination of the American public to an extent that the more prosaic reality of colonial California might never have equaled. It was in large part this brand of fictionalization and romantic invention that induced Americans to move in vast numbers from east to west, with expectations of discovering the fabled land of Ramona.
About Judy Triem
Judy Triem founded San Buenaventura Research Associates in 1980. She received her master’s degree in public history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1980. She completed her bachelor’s degree in 1962 at the University of Arizona, Tucson, with a major in Spanish and a minor in history.
Triem is an author and lecturer whose book, “Ventura County: Land of Good Fortune,” was published in 1985 and has been reprinted twice. She also authored the history, “The Limoneira Company: One Hundred Years of Growing,” published in 1993 for the citrus company. Her most recent publication on the Santa Clara Valley in Ventura County was published by the Easton Gallery in 2002.
Triem serves as an advisor to the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board, on the Design Assistance Committee for the City of Santa Paula, and on the Blanchard Library Endowment Board. She is also the chairman of the Rancho Camulos Museum.
The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society is pleased to present “Rancho Camulos, Then and Now” at the Old Town Newhall Library. The public is welcome. Admission is free. For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the SCV Historical Society, call Dr. Alan Pollack at 661-254-1275 or visit www.scvhs.org.