Historic Background of the John Montgomery House
John Montgomery arrived in San Buenaventura from Santa Barbara during the summer of 1874 in search of a healthier environment for his ailing wife, Jacobita.
“Grander than any map painting was stamped on nature’s great canvas, the dense oak forest; the perpetual play of sunshine through the foliage; the towering mountains; guardians of the rustic beauty below; and above all the balmy breath of life soothing the tender tissue of throat and lung.” He went on to say that after arriving in the Ojai Valley, his wife never had another attack of asthma. He would often say, “The Ojai Valley is the Best Place in the World.”
In December of 1874, Montgomery procured 1,300 acres of land. Ancient Oaks spread their branches above it, the nesting place of hundreds of birds who filled the air with their songs.
In front was an acre of orchard – a casual orchard with a dozen kinds of fruit and with gnarled old olive trees along the fence. The front walk, traversing the orchard area, was bordered rather austerely by enormous eucalyptus. These trees had been planted in the early 1870’s, at the time when the house was built, soon after settlers had begun to find their way into the Ojai area. Previous to that period, the Valley had ben a Mexican land grant. It had been used then only for grazing, and was known as Rancho Ojai. West of the house was an acre of vineyard. On the east, an oval driveway, circling a flower garden, gave access to the house by way of the side entrance.
There were berry and vegetable patches, the chicken yard and corral. A random assortment of buildings included woodshed, a laundry, a work shed for carpentry, a barn with carriage house attached, and, of course, an outdoor privy.
When it was purchased by the Baker family, Helen Baker Reynolds went on to say “to my infant mind, our home was enchanting, especially out of doors. Something exciting and wonderful always was going on — currying the horses, gathering eggs, cutting alfalfa with the scythe, storing persimmons or pears in the cellar, stacking hay in the barn. Best and most exciting of all was irrigating the orchard. What a thrill of delight to hear the engine in the windmill house come to life with coughing and wheezing, a sign that soon water would be feeding its way down the ditches between the orchard trees, making streams delightful for wading!”