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Festival Celebrates Arrival of Rails : Re-Creation of 1887 Pier to Anchor Observance of Centennial

October 08, 1987|ELIZABETH TURNER | Times Staff Writer

For nine months, state park Ranger Wes Chapin has scrounged through wharf and warehouse but has found no horse-drawn hearse.

On the other hand, he has secured two tall ships, six wooden wagon wheels fresh from the wheelwright, a six-ton anchor and a host of other Victorian gewgaws for this weekend's centennial celebration of the Southern Pacific railroad's arrival in Ventura.

He hasn't worked alone. County groups ranging from oil-field suppliers to the Daughters of the Golden West have contributed originals and replicas of 100-year-old vehicles, farm implements, furniture, clothing and coffins for the celebration.

On Saturday, they plan to re-create the bustle of a working wharf by populating the pier with 1887 role-players and stocking it with goods of the era. At 9:30 a.m., dockworkers will unload a cargo of facsimiles of 1887 imports from the Swift of Ipswich, a replica of a Revolutionary War schooner, and load it onto a freight wagon bound for the site of the old depot, at 980 E. Front St.

Santa Paula, Fillmore Stops

Bands, banners and proclamations will meet the cargo about 10 a.m., and Mayor John Sullard will mark the occasion with a bombastic, 1887-style speech. The cargo will be transferred to a flatcar headed for two points east--Santa Paula and Fillmore.

The train is scheduled to arrive in Santa Paula at 11:57 a.m. and in Fillmore at 1:37 p.m. Both communities have planned their own centennial celebrations that include bands, speeches, re-enactments and plenty of food.

The train will return with lima beans, citrus fruits, flour and other products typical of the region in the late 19th Century. The cargo will be transferred to the Californian, the official state tall ship, at 2 p.m.

At 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m., visitors can step into any of several re-enactments on the wharf. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they can browse through a Victorian crafts market on the promenade and listen to sea chanteys or brass bands while munching treats of the day, such as barley candy and hot gingerbread.

The City of Ventura Parks and Recreation Department will offer hourly historical tours of downtown from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. The walks will originate at the Albinger Museum, 113 E. Main St. The Olivas Adobe, 4200 Olivas Park Drive, will present a program of early Californian music from 2 to 4 p.m. and a dinner theater presentation of "Two Years Before the Mast" at 6 p.m.

Information on related activities is available at the California State Department of Parks and Recreation, 24 E. Main St. in Ventura, or by calling 654-4611.

No record exists of celebrations marking the railroad's arrival in 1887, said Judith Triem, a Santa Paula historian who has written a history of Ventura County. In fact, detractors popped up shortly after the trains hit town. In newspaper articles, the railroad was accused of turning sedate Ventura into "a little Cheyenne," rife with rowdy saloons and pimps. The editor of the Ventura Free Press complained of noise and dust raised by the trains, and Front Street businessmen, angered by the sudden plummeting of their property values, clamored for compensation.

But, grumblers aside, the railroad brought flush times to Ventura and the rest of the county. The town's population grew and real estate values generally soared, Triem said.

"It's not as if large numbers of people came and Ventura grew like Topsy," she said. The railroad had a greater effect on major industries. "It was a real boon to farmers, and still is today."

Before the railroad, Ventura was accessible only by slow freight steamers or tortuous land routes. In an 1887 letter, a passenger hailed the "neat and commodious" cars of the Southern Pacific that carried her from Santa Paula to Newhall in 90 minutes, eliminating the need to "get up at midnight and crawl into an old, rickety stage without cushions . . . not swept out and dusted in a month, spend 12 hours on the road, often without breakfast and paying 10 cents a mile for the privilege."

The railroad made life easier for Venturans, providing easier access to necessities such as barbed wire, nails and furniture, and luxuries such as china, fabric and books.

Abbreviated Name

Even county names bear testimony to the early influence of the railroad. History buffs say San Buenaventura was first abbreviated to Ventura to fit railroad schedules and signs. Fillmore, which owes its existence to the railroad, was named for Southern Pacific official J. P. Fillmore.

This weekend's festivity is the second San Buenaventura Historic Celebration organized by the state Department of Parks and Recreation. Two years ago, rangers began searching for ideas to promote their district, which is composed largely of beaches. They were striving for an appreciation of the parklands, said Chief Ranger Jeff Price.

"Other parks have nature walks and things like that, but there are no tide pools, redwood forests or desert landscapes here," Price said wistfully. "This is a strictly recreational state park."

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