The Goleta Valley Historical Society is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. Founded by a dedicated and passionate group of volunteers, many of them old-time Goletans, the Society has been the steward of the historic Stow House and La Patera Rancho since 1967. As a fairly recent member of its board of directors, I am awed by the amount of work that has been done over the years to preserve this historic landmark for the community. This band of volunteers and local history buffs has assembled an in-depth archival collection of photos and writings about old Goleta and early ranching days. In addition, they have furnished the Stow House in the style of the late 19th through the early 20th century. A year ago, for the first time, two part time staff were hired, but volunteers are still responsible for much of the work and the direction of the programs.
Many people become acquainted with the site during the Fourth of July celebration with its house tours, hayrides, blacksmith demonstrations, farm machinery displays, all enhanced by music and food; or through the Holiday Open House in December with Santa Claus and cookie-baking as big attractions. Last summer, a series of summer concerts in the park drew several hundred families to the grounds, which are an example of late 19th-century “picturesque” landscaping. The trees, many planted by the Stows 100 years ago, are magnificent specimens and worthy of a visit in themselves.
The Society a few years ago embarked on an ambitious campaign to rehabilitate the buildings and move the museum exhibits and education programs to a higher level. The bunk house, a two story building which housed Chinese laborers on the ranch, has been refurbished as an administrative office, together with a climate-controlled climate storage room for the Society’s collections. A visitor center, with exhibits and an introductory video will be open to the public in the near future. The barn and outbuildings are also being renovated and will become a major museum area for visitors as well as a center for community meetings and activities. The inside of the main door to the barn still has a stencil of the La Patera Rancho S.P. Stow Company logo on it and this will be preserved even as other areas receive new paint.
The Society is now working with consultants to develop a Master Interpretive Plan to bring to life the early era of Goleta ranching, and in particular the history of Rancho La Patera. Sherman Stow came to Goleta in 1873 and first planted almonds and walnuts. A year later he planted a lemon grove, and so initiated an industry that became a major component of Goleta’s farming economy. His son, Edgar Stow, experimented with different varieties of lemons, to develop ones that were disease resistant. He built a lab, the foundations of which are visible by the drive way up to the Stow House, and which the Historical Society hopes to restore some day. His grandfather, W.W. Stow, after a battle over water rights, diverted water to Lake Los Carneros, then known as Stow Lake, and put in place the first irrigation project in the area.
For many years, the Historical Society, working with the Goleta Union School District, has presented educational programs to third-graders as part of their local history curriculum. The new interpretive plan will expand and enhance this experience with hands on activities: for example, sitting down to a snack and learning early table manners, being taught the three Rs in a 19th-century classroom with old fashioned discipline, playing old time children’s games such hop scotch, marbles and jump rope (all still current on the playground even in the age of Game Boys), as well as teaching them about farm activities and daily life on the ranch.
It has and will take a lot of work by a dedicated group of volunteers to bring this to fruition. The Society depends for funds on ground rentals for weddings and events such as the Old Time Fiddlers Convention, membership dues, and grants. To find out more about this great organization and how to help preserve the early history of Goleta please go to its web site at www.goletahistory.org.