In 1876, James Shepard and his wife, Belle, settled into their new home on 140 acres in Rincon Canyon just west of the Ventura County line. Here, they built a redwood clapboard house on a knoll overlooking Rincon Creek. Such was the modest start of an inn that came to enjoy national renown.
In 1878, a new road over Casitas Pass opened. This road was a great improvement for the stagecoaches traveling between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The old road had run along the beach near Rincon Point, and was often dangerous or completely impassable during periods of high tides or storms.
The Shepards found themselves within 200 feet of this new route and, at the suggestion of the stagecoach company, agreed to make their ranch a stop where fresh horses could be picked up and travel-worn passengers could refresh themselves and grab a bite to eat. When an ill passenger spent a few days at the ranch, the Shepards realized they had yet another source of possibly lucrative income—a hotel.
The Shepards expanded their kitchen, installing an oven that could hold up to 12 turkeys, and enlarged their dining room to seat some 100 patrons. They also added a number of small cottages and a larger building with single rooms for overnight guests. The Shepards named their establishment the Mountain View Inn, but it commonly became known as Shepard’s Inn.
What really made the reputation of the inn were the wonderful home-cooked meals, made with farm-fresh ingredients. All fruits and vegetables came from the ranch’s fields. The Shepards’ son, Frank, fished Rincon Creek to supply the dining tables with trout. Beef and poultry were also raised right there on the premises. The fresh strawberries and cantaloupes were always popular, but the absolute favorite dish was Belle Shepard’s incomparable baked oranges. Reportedly, guests often devoured these, rind and all. Visitors, especially those from the cold climes of the eastern U.S., delighted in picking their own oranges from the nearby orchard for this culinary delight.
Hotels in Santa Barbara often arranged day trips to the inn for their guests to sample the cuisine. The register was filled with familiar names such as Swift and Armour of the meat-packing fortunes, Vanderbilt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. Entertainment figures such as actresses Sarah Bernhardt, Theda Bara, and Mary Pickford, as well as world-renowned tenor Enrico Caruso, all visited. The inn soon boasted a national reputation.
An undated postcard shows the humorous side of life at the inn. The card lists 12 regulations for proper dining behavior. The first cautions, “All gents with shooting irons or other weapons must check them before entering the dining room. Waiters are too scarce to be killed.” Another offered this tongue-in-cheek warning: “Biscuits found riveted together can be opened with a chisel supplied by a waiter. The use of dynamite is strictly prohibited.”
In 1921, the Shepards sold their ranch and moved to Carpinteria. The new owners continued to operate the inn until the following year and then, in 1934, tore down the Shepard home to use the lumber to build a new residence. In 1963, the Native Sons of the Golden West dedicated a plaque at the site of the old inn. The plaque was stolen in 1975, but the memories of Shepard’s Inn linger on. Baked oranges, anyone?