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OUTINGS: Ventura County

Looking Back

A Victorian home and a historic train depot are highlights of trip to Goleta.


Everyone goes to Santa Barbara, but its tiny neighbor to the north, Goleta, is often overlooked.

Yet just seven miles north of the Goleta turnoff, at Lake Los Carneros Park, you can enjoy an afternoon of pleasures--from touring a Victorian house and gardens to viewing exhibits on early California as well as visiting a restored train depot.

The Goleta Depot operated from 1901 to 1973 for Southern Pacific, one of many passenger and freight stations that once dotted the central coastline. Inside the bright yellow two-story building, a waiting room replicates a pre-World War II freight office, with such hands-on exhibits as an old telegraph machine where you can send a "Depot Gram," and a model train with a vintage steamer.

Weekends, the Gandy Dancer Theater shows train and travel documentaries. There's also a miniature train, which takes visitors one-third of a mile around the grounds.

Just across the tracks, set on three beautifully landscaped acres with a view of the ocean, sits the Gothic Revival-style Stow House, the onetime ranchero of a leading California family.

It was built in 1873 by William Whitney Stow, a prominent San Francisco lawyer (and commissioner of Golden Gate Park), for his son, Sherman, who lived there with his wife, Ida, and six children (one of whom became California's first state assemblyman). The family lived there for three generations, until l967, when the Goleta Valley Historic Society took over.

"The Stows didn't leave much behind, but it didn't take long for local families to refurnish it with pieces from those eras," said acting curator Beverly Schwartzberg. "In some ways, the house represents all aspects of the community."

A 45-minute tour gives you a glimpse into typical ranch life in the 1880s. Wallpapered rooms are lushly appointed with velvet drapes and hand-hooked rugs. An oak dining room table was built to extend through double glass doors onto the porch for summer evening suppers.

Interestingly, the carved desk in a downstairs master bedroom was manufactured by the Eastman Co.

"In the late 19th century, machine-made furniture was considered far more sophisticated and upper class than hand-carved, which was thought to be primitive," said Schwartzberg.

Upstairs, a girl's room is a young Victorian lady's dream, with a hope chest, a Victrola, and a round table set for tea party guests. A delicate lawn dress is displayed--one of many outfits that rotate seasonally. ("Some people come back just to see the costume changes," said Schwartzberg).

Of particular delight is a nursery filled with such charming period toys as a wicker carriage carrying a china doll, old-fashioned building blocks and toy soldiers--even a miniature Ferris wheel and a 1920s slide "stereoptican."

Only the kitchen reflects the 1950s post-domestic era, with linoleum flooring replacing the old soapstone, which was a cleaning chore for servants. (One daughter, said Schwartzberg, remembered sliding on the sudsed-up soapstone from the butlers pantry all the way out the back door).

Just east of the house, past the old Chinese servants' bunkhouse, you step into a garden filled with 100-year-old trees from around the world, among them, a cluster of Norfolk Island Pines, a Chinese bamboo, a New Zealand Bunya Bunya, and a Sequoia, given to Ida in a coffee can by Sherman on their anniversary.

"Many of the trees we now consider common were new here at the time. It was a showplace garden, a way of bringing the exotic into the California landscape," said Schwartzberg.

The ranch also had the first commercial lemon grove in California.

In a ranch outbuilding, the Horace A. Sexton Museum features lemon exhibits and other interesting facets of Goleta history. Of interest to schoolchildren will be a display with a desk, primers and a 1908 picture of the class that used them.

A maritime exhibit features five 18th century iron cannons found off the Goleta shore in 1981--thought to be from the shipwrecked vessel, Dorotea.

Outside, a barnyard full of antique farm implements includes a Maier walnut huller, an antique thresher and a Ditcher.

Next door is a working blacksmith shop where weekend smithies like Mike Lopez show kids how to make everything from nails to lamps, using traditional forging methods. You can even order a horseshoe with your name on it.

At the Country Gift Shop, you can buy hand-wrought iron bookends as well as T-shirts, tin toys, antique clothes and china, and local history books.

A nice ending to the day might be a stroll half a mile down the road to Lake Carneros, which draws bird watchers, picnickers and bicyclists.

"You can see these ranches were almost villages into themselves," Schwartzberg said. "It's rare to see a historic house in a setting that remains undeveloped. It's a special look into a secluded past."


South Coast Railroad Museum, 300 N. Los Carneros Road. Wednesday through Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Free miniature train rides Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (805) 964-3540.

Stow House and Gardens, 304 N. Los Carneros Road. Includes Goleta Museum and maritime display. (805) 964-4407 Free tours 1-4 p.m. Sat-Sun. Self-guided tour of gardens.

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