Hunt Blacksmith Shop
The blacksmith was an indispensible member of any pioneer community. There was a blacksmith shop in almost every town—by 1891 the small community of Timberville that grew up around the Conejo Hotel had a blacksmith shop—and a smithy on most ranches and farms. Blacksmiths made and repaired tools used for building and farming, such as harrows, plows, scythes, and smaller hand tools. They fashioned house wares and cooking and laundry utensils, shod mules and horses (even oxen), repaired wagons, and some crafted buggies and carriages.
Richard Orville (known as “R.O.” Hunt) and Mary Jane Hunt moved to Santa Barbara in 1872, where R.O. set up shop as a blacksmith at “Hunt & Bates”, on Cota Street. By 1886, R.O., son Charles, and partner A.C. Schuster were manufacturing carriages and buggies. R.O. was still senior partner in the business, now “Hunt Son & Schuster”, in 1904. In 1876, R.O. purchased 950 acres east of the Conejo Hotel (later known as the Stage Coach Inn) from John Edwards. R.O. and Mary Jane named their Conejo ranch “The Salto” (Salto Creek ran through it) and moved there in 1888 with their three youngest children: Loren, Albert and Fred. Ventura County newspapers described the Hunt family as “…being one of the best known and influential families in the county…”.
R.O. and Mary Jane’s youngest son, Herbert Fred Hunt (1876-1956), learned the blacksmithing trade as a boy in his father’s carriage shop. When the Hunt family moved to the Salto Ranch, Fred worked as the ranch blacksmith. Fred built and repaired the equipment needed to keep the 950-acre ranch running. He was very particular about his blacksmith shop, which had horseshoes, organized by size, hanging on all the walls. After flying sparks put out a nephew’s eye, visitors were required to stand in a designated spot, out of harm’s way, while they watched Fred work.
Fred married Miss Lydia Bell at a ceremony inside the Conejo Hotel, and they settled for a short while on the Salto Ranch. After leaving the Salto, Fred and Lydia spent much of their married life on the move, living at several locations in Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties. Fred always found work as a blacksmith wherever he went. His second calling was as a farmer, tending apple orchards and raising such farm animals as goats and poultry.
After Lydia’s death in 1904, Fred and his three children moved to Pasadena where they lived above his carriage shop on Colorado Boulevard (with a bird’s eye view of the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day!). His granddaughter, Alice Thurman, remembers Fred as “…an artist at his anvil, yes he was a blacksmith, but more than just shoeing horses and mending broken wagon wheels; when he worked in Pasadena at the carriage facility he fashioned ornate pieces of work. This was a high-end place that specialized in custom carriages with an artistic flair, and Fred and his talent were in demand.”
Hunt family members donated many of Fred’s blacksmithing tools and equipment that we use in our demonstrations at the Stagecoach Inn Museum. You can see Fred’s forge and blower (manufactured by Champion Blower and Forge Co.), his anvil (made of Vanadium steel), his ladles to melt hot lead, and a poker. Fred fashioned his own metal tongs for handling the hot iron, and they’re still at work in our shop!
Most blacksmith shops contained a forge to heat the iron to the right temperature for smithing, an adjacent water tank or slack tub in which to cool and temper the metal, an anvil on which to form it, and a wide assortment of hammers and other tools. Early forges had an air pipe connected to a bellows that blew a steady flow of air up through the fire to keep it burning and to make the fire hotter. Fred’s came with a blower instead of a bellows. Most forges were sold with a hood, but blacksmiths often took them off to make room for different sizes of metal. Fred’s came to us sans hood, but the Museum added one to meet fire codes.
The anvil’s flat top was used as a solid base for hammering the heated iron into shape, or for incising decorative chisel marks into the hot iron. Iron was shaped into curves, such as horseshoes, on the end that looks like a pointed cone. The other end has square holes on top to hold tools.
The door of our blacksmith shop displays a collection of branding irons. Inside the shop is a tool cabinet housing antique tools that were used on ranches back in the day.
FRED HUNT WAS A DASHING, HANDSOME HUNK, six feet tall with blue eyes and brown hair, who played the guitar and loved to dance.
He and best buddy Andy Cawelti had fine horses and they would gallop by the Conejo Hotel to show off for the Bell sisters (whose father, James Hebron Bell, was the hotel proprietor). Lydia Bell and Fred, along with Minnie Bell and Andy, were married in a joint ceremony at the Hotel in 1897.
“They are all popular young people”, read one newspaper account of the wedding. Another commented, “I think Fred has been matrimonially inclined for some time as I have lately noticed in his demeanor a restlessness that was not characteristic.”
Fred and Lydia lived on the Salto Ranch as newlyweds, but Fred was the restless type and they soon moved to Upland. They enjoyed tent camping, with Lydia in her long skirts and an infant corralled in a wash bucket. Fred loved to hunt and fish.
Three children would be born, each in a different town, each an agricultural boomtown: Evelyn in Upland, son Jesse in Anaheim, and Alice in Redlands. When Lydia was pregnant with their fourth child, she contracted a severe case of Typhoid Fever and after a month-long illness, she succumbed in 1904.
Now a single father and working to support his family, Fred kept his children with him when he could, or sent Jesse and Alice to live on the Salto Ranch and Evelyn to live with Lydia’s parents. Fred was employed at Hunt Son & Schuster in Santa Barbara, then moved with his kids to Pasadena. Evelyn remembered boarding at “training schools” in Santa Barbara and Pasadena (She hated it and tried to escape down a rope made of bedclothes tied together). It was common for children to be sent to boarding schools to learn home economics, craft skills, and good behavior.
Around 1912 Fred moved his family to the hills above Escondido, another rich farming area. Here, at their Bear Mountain Apple Orchard, the entire household helped with the apple business. Their recipe for apple butter included apples, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, sugar and grape juice.
Traveling down the mountain in a buggy hitched to a pair of bays, the Hunt family would bring a load of apples, cider and apple butter to sell in Oceanside, and bring home supplies and groceries. A day at the beach was a well-earned, if short, vacation for Fred’s wife and children. Meanwhile, Fred earned extra income blacksmithing at nearby farms.
Fred would marry four more times. He was probably considered a "good catch" by the ladies: handsome, charming, and his family owned a mercantile store in Santa Barbara, a carriage shop in Santa Barbara, and a large ranch in the Conejo Valley. Plus his brother was the County Clerk. By 1920 he lived in an adobe home (built with bricks he made by hand) with his fourth wife Annie, on a small ranch they homesteaded in the Tepusquet Canyon near Santa Maria. Fred was the smithy for the Canyon community, fixing wagons, broken machinery and shoeing horses. His orchard and vineyard were remarkable—as Alice put it, “Grandpa was a genius at grafting fruit trees: plums, nectarines, pears, red and green apples, and the most delectable black mission figs you ever ate, he called me a fig bird!” The ranch was home to a hundred goats and poultry, including ring-necked mourning doves and mountain quail. He had a real green thumb, and his Tepusquet Canyon ranch bloomed from the seeds of wildflowers gathered when he and Lydia had been camping.
Fred’s children and grandchildren were devoted to him, remembering Fred as tender and loving, with a wonderful sense of humor. And a good cook! His biscuits cooked on the woodstove were legendary. According to Alice, “Grandpa seemed like an easy-going guy, but there was a time, a place, and a purpose for everything, and obedience was absolute! But when it was play time it was magical.” He was a father doing his best to raise his beloved children and make a living in southern California as it transformed from wild open space, to farm and ranchland, to large urban areas.
The Museum’s Hunt Blacksmith Shop was completed in 2013 and dedicated to Richard Orville and Mary Jane Hunt, in honor of H. Fred Hunt. It was built using 90-year-old barn wood from the Dos Vientos Ranch buildings in Newbury Park.**
Part of the original Salto Ranch holdings remained in the Hunt family until 1968. The Lynn family and the Janss corporation eventually purchased most of the ranch property. Fred’s beloved Tepusquet Canyon ranch was sold in 2009.
**These two large barns, built in 1930 and designated City of Thousand Oaks and Ventura County historic landmarks, were on the Dos Vientos Ranch, a portion of the 30,593-acre Rancho Guadalasca Mexican land grant made to Isabel Yorba in 1836. Joseph Lewis, a business partner of Adolfo Camarillo, farmed approximately 8,000 acres of Dos Vientos Ranch. He established the lima bean industry in Ventura County.
Many thanks to Alice Allyn Thurman, granddaughter of Herbert Fred Hunt and daughter of Evelyn Hunt Nadeau, for sharing her wonderful memories. This couldn’t have been written without her. © 2019 Kathleen E. Boone