Historical House History

The Historical House is significant in Fallbrook's history because of its association with two families: Pittengers and Davies (and in recent times, the Griffin family). The land on which the house is located has a history of its own, associated with the Picos and the Neffs.

This piece of land was owned by the United States government from the time of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (made in 1848, after the war with Mexico was over), until the late 1870's. It was owned by the Pico heirs, having been granted to them by the Mexican government fifteen years before the War. It was guaranteed to them by the U.S. under the terms of the Treaty, but the U.S. Land Commission had to survey and approve the boundaries. This process was completed in the 1870's, but the Pico's were not allowed all the land they claimed. When they moved the fence of the Santa Margarita Ranch back to the boundary allowed, a strip of land was opened to the public and could be claimed under the homestead laws. Young Millard Neff filed with the Land Office for eighty acres of this land on which the Historical House was later built.1

Millard had come from Yolo County (near Sacramento) with his parents in 1874. His father, a blacksmith, had filed a homestead claim on 160 acres of land in the "dry uplands" of the Fallbrook District (today's Grand Tradition is near the center of Mr. and Mrs. Neff's land). Millard's father built a house (and we have a drawing of it from an 1883 book about San Diego County). The family watered their orchard and garden from Los Jilgueros creek which crossed their land. For cash crops, they kept bees and raised grain. In addition to working on the farm, Millard attended school with children from the neighboring Magee homestead. School was taught by Mrs. Victoria Magee in their adobe home, and most of Millard's schoolmates were Magee children. Later, Millard's father helped build the first schoolhouse in Fallbrook District (where today's Reche Community Club is located.)2

Millard's father died before completing the homestead requirements, and Millard's mother, Matilda Neff, filed for the land in her own name. In 1880, Millard turned 18 and applied for eighty acres of the adjacent land which had become available due to the Santa Margarita boundary change. To speed the process, he filed under the Preemption Homestead Act, which reduced his residency from five years to six months plus payment of $1.25 per acre. He fulfilled the requirements of residence and cultivation, and gave notice to the Land Office that he would make final proof in September, 1883. There was as yet no newspaper in Fallbrook District (nor yet a town), so the public notice was published in the San Luis Rey Star. Millard's final title to his homestead land was signed by President Cleveland in 1885.3

The year 1885 was an eventful one for other Fallbrook residents. The town of Fallbrook was surveyed and laid off into town lots, a store and hotel were built, and Millard's older brother started Fallbrook's first newspaper. Both a church and a temperance lodge were organized, and Millard sold his homestead for $2,100 ($26.25 per acre), and got married.4

By 1887, Fallbrook was sharing in the Southern California economic boom created by the completion of the railroad and the subsequent rate war. A new forty room hotel and the Methodist Church were under construction, and the Fallbrook Water and Power Company was surveying and suing to obtain the rights to build an aqueduct and dam on the Santa Margarita River. Millard's former homestead land changed hands three times, with the last sale bringing $5,600 ($70 per acre). However, it was now only 70 acres, ten having been sold to G.F. Van Velzer, Fallbrook's third newspaper publisher.5

By 1890, when Reverend William Pittenger brought his family to Fallbrook, the boom had ended, and Pittenger purchased 20 acres of the former homestead for $60 per acre. On his new ranch, he built a country place for his family. They also had a home in town, located across Fig Street from the Methodist Church. (The house still exists as the Fallbrook Country Day School. Note the design similarities in the two houses.) Having a home in town was a necessity, for Pittenger served as pastor of the Methodist Church from 1893 to 1896, and from 1898 to 1900.6

Rev. Pittenger was interested in education. As a boy, he had trained himself in astronomy, he taught briefly in country schools in Ohio, and he had edited a children's magazine. After the Civil War, he wrote books on public speaking, and taught Shakespeare at a school of elocution in Philadelphia. But he was especially interested in Fallbrook schools because of his own children. In Fallbrook, in addition to an infant son, he and his wife, Winnie, had two daughters of an age to attend the elementary school which was located a block away from the church. They also had two teen-age daughters, and a son away at school, for Fallbrook had no high school. Pittenger helped organize the high school district, and served as president of the school board. A 1904 photograph of high school students on a picnic at Reche's Grove (Live Oak Park) shows son, Walter Pittenger, two of the Van Velzer boys, and two Neff children.7

Pittenger did not neglect his ranch. Soon after moving to Fallbrook he employed his neighbor, G.F. Van Velzer, to care for the 20 acres and additional land he had purchased. In an 1894 letter, while praising the virtues of Fallbrook, he described his ranch with these words: "On my own little ranch I have planted for profit (and all are doing well) walnuts, apricots, prunes and lemons, together with nearly every other kind of fruit for home use." The view he described looking east is similar to the one we have today, looking out the east windows of the Historical House: "On Palomar Mountain, twenty-five miles away there was a rainstorm with a rainbow arching over it; the rolling hills between showed....acres of emerald grain fields /and/ orchards...." In 1895, one of his daughters had married, and she and her husband (Harriett and L.O. Robinson) took over the care of the ranch. Another married daughter lived on a nearby ranch with her husband (Emma and John F.Durbin), and on their acreage was located Fallbrook's cemetery (where Pittenger was buried).8

Reverend Pittenger was among those who petitioned for an irrigation district, and he must have agonized with other residents during the 1890's, when suits contesting the legality of the District's activities reached the Supreme Court, and the Fallbrook Irrigation District was eventually declared void.9

Pittenger was also known nationally, having been awarded one of the first medals of Honor by Congress for having served with Andrews' raiders in the Civil War exploit known as "the great locomotive chase." He not only participated in the action, but he wrote books about it. Besides early editions published in 1863 and 1881, he continued gathering information and interviewing participants. In 1886, he and Mrs. Pittenger, Winnie, traveled to Washington D.C., where he researched original documents in the Library of Congress in preparation for a more complete account of the action. (At the time, the government was gathering all extant papers pertaining to the events of the conflict, both Union and Confederate. Already, 25 volumes had been published.) While living in Fallbrook in 1891, Pittenger traveled to the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee to deliver the closing prayer at the unveiling ceremony of a monument to the Andrews' Raiders. Pittenger's lectures on his new book drew large audiences in Fallbrook and elsewhere.10

Rev. Pittenger died in 1904, but Winnie lived in Fallbrook through the 1920's. She sold the ranch in 1910 and moved permanently to her residence near the church. She was especially active in the Fallbrook Women's Christian Temperance Union, and worked for women's voting rights. Fallbrook's 1911 meeting on woman suffrage (sponsored by the local WCTU) was the first in the California campaign. Winnie Pittenger was president of the Fallbrook WCTU in 1918, when the Union organized Red Cross and war relief activities.

Daughters Harriett Pittenger Robinson and Emma Pittenger Durbin were still living in Fallbrook, when Winnie's youngest daughter, Mary, married newspaper editor and real estate promoter, Raymond Wayman. The couple came back to Fallbrook in 1912, and Mary managed the Wayman Real Estate office when it was located in the Ellis Hotel. In the 1920's they developed the Winterwarm area, proposing a new town of South Fallbrook. Their son, Jim Wayman (now deceased), remembered hearing his mother and grandmother speak of happy hours spent in this house.11

In 1918, the ranch and the Historical House were purchased for $17,000 by Elizabeth F.Davies and her husband, B.C.Davies, a Los Angeles doctor. In the late 1920's, Dr. Davies served on the board of theFallbrook Irrigation District, and later helped organize the first Rotary Club in Fallbrook. He doctored many Fallbrook residents.12

In 1946, the Historical House was purchased by John and Marion Griffin, who developed the property as the Rocky Crest Ranch, and raised a family here. Their heirs sold it to the Fallbrook Historical Society in 1981.13


1. Township Plats. U.S.District Court, Case #447, Exhibit B. San Diego Historical Society (hereafter SDHS) Archives, Balboa Park.
2. Guinn, J.M., A History of California and an Extended History of its Southern Coast Counties; also containing Biographies, II (Los Angeles, Calif.:Historic Record Co., 1907), 1845-6. Fallbrook District Map (Fox's Map), Map Section, SDHS Archives. Wallace W. Elliott, History of San Diego and San Bernardino Counties, Reproduction (Riverside, Calif: Riverside Museum Press, 1883, 1965.). San Diego Union, Jn 1877, 30 Ja 1879, 2, 11 F 1879, Jl 1880.
3. San Diego Union, 1 Ja 1882. Record Group 49, Box 104, 107 Bur of Land Management, Homestead Records, Federal Archives, Laguna Niguel, California. Patent Book 6, p48, Recorders Office, San Diego County Administration Center.
4. SDHS Oral Interviews, Mrs. Ora Magee. San Diego Union, 24 F, 16 Ap, 7 Jn 1885. Patent Book 6, p48, Deed Book 52, p102, Recorders Office.
5. Dumke, Glenn S. The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California, (San Marino, Calif: Huntington Library Press, 1944), 9. West Fallbrook Review, 21 O 1887. San Diego Union, 2 S 1887, 23 N 1887. Deed Books 84, p159, 89 p494, 93 p299.
6. Deed Book 166 p163. Fallbrook Enterprise, 15 O 1981, 7 F 1974 (Wayman Column). Handwritten history of the Methodist Church, Collections of the Fallbrook Historical Society, Fallbrook, Calif.
7. Pittenger, William, The Great Locomotive Chase, Sixth Ed. (Philadelphia, Penn.: The Penn Publishing Co., 1893), 423, 447-9. 1900 High School Commencement Program, FHS Collections.
8. Manuscript, My Life History by Gilbert F. Van Velzer, 1860-1950, FHS Collections. F.C. Van Velzer, In the year 1900, A Nickel Bought a Lot, 1980, published by the author, 6-10. Fallbrook Enterprise, 14 Ap 1974 quoting Fallbrook Weekly Observer, 16 Mr 1894. Deed Books 165 p155, 265 p182.
9. Superior Court, Case #7603, SDHS Archives. Kay, Russell, The Fallbrook Irrigation Case, in The Journal of San Diego History, XXI:2 (Spring 1975):23-40.
10. Pittenger, The Great Locomotive Chase, Introduction to the Sixth Edition, 425. Fallbrook Observer, 27 D 1895.
11. Deed Book 494 p41. Fallbrook Enterprise, 8 Jl, 20 S 1911, 3 Ja 1913, 1 F 1918, 2 Ja 1920, 18 F 1928.
12. Deed Books 816 p 250, 1112 p 256, 1112 p 256-7, 2008 p 7.

Copyright © 1998 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 29 December 1998.