Tucker’s Grove County Park, located at the intersection of Turnpike and Cathedral Oaks roads, is named after the man who owned the property in the late 1800s, Reason Penelope Tucker. Tucker arrived in the Goleta Valley in 1872 after a lifetime of wandering.
Born in Virginia in 1806, Tucker was in his early twenties when, as a young husband and father, he moved to Ohio. Then, in 1837, he took his family to Illinois. His wife died soon after, and he remarried in 1840. His family continued to grow, with three more children added to the four from his first marriage. In 1846, he determined to move everyone to Oregon. His wife refused to go, so Tucker struck out with his three oldest sons. Their trek was beset with accidents, illnesses, and Indian attacks. With winter rapidly approaching, the Tuckers diverted to California and crossed the Sierra Nevada range just in front of the first snowfall.
The group following, the Donner party, became snowed in. In early February 1847, a group led by Tucker set out to the rescue. He and his men overcame incredible hardships in bringing out 19 members of the Donner party. Tucker played lesser roles in two later rescue attempts.
After gold mining in the late 1840s, Tucker settled to farming in the Napa Valley. He married again, and it appeared that Napa would be his home for good. It was not to be. In 1865, another settler went to court claiming ownership of Tucker’s land. After seven years of litigation, the state Supreme Court found against Tucker. He lost everything, without compensation. He even had to pay court costs.
Estranged from his wife (she died in 1875), he again moved on, this time to the Goleta Valley. Here he bought two parcels, one of which included Tucker’s Grove, and married one last time. Tucker died in 1888. His son from his last marriage, Charles, inherited half of his father’s land, including the grove. Weighing almost 300 pounds, he was known for his prodigious strength; he reportedly could bend horseshoes in his bare hands.
The Tuckers never developed the grove, and it became a popular spot for community picnics and other gatherings, with the family’s blessing. Charles died suddenly and intestate in 1911, and it appeared the grove would be sold at auction. The Goleta Woman’s Club led a drive to save the grove for the public. The group enlisted the aid of Santa Barbara Superior Court judge Samuel E. Crow, who persuaded prospective bidders to stand down. This allowed George Edwards, president of the area Commercial Bank, to make the lone bid of $3,000 for the 18 acres.
Edwards immediately offered the grove to the county at this rock-bottom price. County officials turned him down, pleading that even this price was too much for the public coffers. Edwards nevertheless proceeded to deed the property over to the county for use as a park.
In 1912, a huge barbecue was staged to celebrate the county’s newest park. Judge Crow was the keynote speaker. One hundred years later, Tucker’s Grove is one of the most popular parks in the county, annually enjoyed by thousands.
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Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.