Love Blooms on the Conejo
Welcome to the Grand Union Hotel! In 1876, John Hamell built this hotel, now known as the Stagecoach Inn Museum, as a stop on the stagecoach route between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. It achieved moderate success as the first commercial building in the Conejo Valley. Since then, the building has served as a meeting place for the Red Cross during WWI and housed a military school, steak and chicken restaurant, gift shop, apartments and now a museum that is also a popular venue for weddings. We invite you to experience a romantic version of Conejo Valley history, and explore some surprising wedding traditions.
A honeymoon is the traditional holiday taken by a newly-married couple to celebrate their marriage in intimacy and seclusion. The term has its roots in the ancient Norse word “hjunottsmanathr” (“honey month”) which involved a period of “hiding” by the bride and groom (presumably from the bride’s family, if it was not an arranged marriage). During this time of hiding, the newlywed couple often drank mead, a sweet wine made from fermented honey — to bring good luck. Mead was first concocted by monks for medicinal purposes, but it was soon discovered that the drink’s potent effect on the imbiber encouraged conjugal bliss.
Today, the honeymoon is a vacation for the new couple. It’s a way to relax from the efforts of wedding planning and a chance for the new couple to spend time with each other in private. The honeymoon also symbolically begins the change from the couples’ old life as individuals to their new life as a married couple.
With the mild climate and access to outdoors year around The Grand Union Hotel would have made an excellent honeymoon destination.
Newbury Park is the city named for Frances Kellogg (Born: November 30, 1848 in White Pigeon, Michigan) and Egbert Starr Newbury (Born: September 8, 1843 in Allegan, Michigan).
At the request of a friend (or his father), Egbert traveled from Michigan to San Francisco in 1872 for the sole purpose of meeting Frances who was teaching at Mills College. It must have gone well, because they married in 1873. Egbert’s betrothal gift to Frances was a horse and they loved to go riding together. Two years before the hotel opened (1874), they moved to the Conejo Valley.
The Stagecoach Inn Museum is fortunate to have a number of Egbert’s letters including one he wrote to his sister after the wedding.
“Fannie was dressed in a very handsome suit and we each wore lavender gloves of the same tint. Fannie wore real orange blossoms in her hair which was handsomely dressed. I wore my black dress coat after I had it remodeled, white vest, blue beaver pants, and white embroidered necktie. I put the plain ring Fannie gave me when I went into the Army on Fannie’s finger and we were no longer two but one.”[i]
It’s called their city because of the post office. Egbert did not like to travel to Ventura to get his mail so he petitioned with the U.S. Government to open a branch at his home. When asked what he would call the post office, he said his last name was Newbury and Frances thought they lived in a park. The name stuck when the post office was moved further north. A replica of their home is in our Tri-Village and you can see a painting by Fannie of their original house with the post office.
Frances and Egbert had four children including Katherine, whose daughter, Mary Jane Manierre, wore this wedding gown in 1942 when she married Peter C. Foote. Both Mary Jane and Peter were born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they were married.
Mary Jane made the gown herself on her kitchen floor. Their daughter Suzy wore it when she married Christopher Hanks in 1969. Pictures of both brides are on the reed organ; Mary Jane is on the right and Suzy on the left. Suzy donated the gown to the Conejo Valley Historical Society, along with a large collection of Newbury artifacts, including a wedding quilt, two lovely bone china soup bowls used by the Newbury’s, and the Kellogg Family Bible.
Egbert Starr Newbury, Jr. married Alma Beerstetcher on March 14, 1907 in Belgrade, Montana.
Egbert Sr. apparently was a consumptive/tuberculosis victim (contracted during the harsh winters in Michigan after the Civil War), who wrote that the Conejo Valley climate had cured him, but when Egbert and Frances lost everything (as so many did during the drought), they moved back to Michigan where in 1880, he died after only 8 years of marriage, thus bringing this love story to a tragic end.
Through wedding and other photos, there are four Conejo Valley families celebrated in the Parlor.
Caspar Borchard, Sr. from a well-to-do family, and his wife Theresa settled here in 1874. Caspar owned over 4,000 acres of farmland here plus 2,000 goats, and was very well-respected in the area as a mover and a shaker. Theresa was his second wife and the mother of 8 children. No wonder they were founders of the Timber School District and were instrumental in the building of Timber School!
Coincidently, Casper’s first wife was also named Theresa; she died after three years of marriage and no children.
Casper, Jr. was born in 1881 and married Ida Ayala in 1910 (their wedding photo is on the piano).
When Lars Berge left Norway with his sister in 1885, he asked Karn Gjerde to marry him and join him in the journey to America. She thought it was best if he went without her and decided if he liked the new country. If Lars did, he could return for her. Lars did return three years later and Karn became his bride.
They settled in the Santa Barbara area along with other Norwegian immigrants. Five couples determined to own their own land found affordable property in the Conejo Valley. They purchased 650 acres in a remote corner of Ventura County which they had surveyed and divided as closely as possible into five even parcels. They numbered the lots and drew out numbers to determine who owned which lot.
Perhaps accomplishing the feat of purchasing land in the new country encouraged them to Americanize their names. Thus Lars and Karn Berge became Lars and Karen Pederson.
During the building of the Norwegian Grade that connects Thousand Oaks and Moorpark, Lars became ill from an epidemic of an unknown disease. He was only thirty-six years old; Karen lived until the age of ninety-two.
Their son, Richard donated 130 acres for the establishment of California Lutheran University, who subsequently bought more property from the Pederson’s. One of the Pederson’s homes sits on the campus.
Wedding bells actually chimed in the inn known as the Conejo Hotel in 1897 when the daughters of proprietor James Bell were married in a double wedding ceremony held in the parlor. Minnie married Andrew E. Cawelti (photo on piano); their daughter donated her mother’s dress to the museum; it was tragically lost in the 1970 fire. Lydia married H. Fred Hunt, the youngest of the seven Hunt sons: Walter Leroy, Charles, Daniel Frank, Hamblet Richard, Eugene Loren, Albert and of course, Herbert Fred .
Fred’s brother, Albert Hunt, married Jessie Thomson, a teacher at the Timber School in Newbury Park. Jessie Hill Thomson taught for the Timber School district in 1900. As was the custom for single teachers, she was offered room and board with a local family. Of course, we’ve all seen the movies where a young girl boards with a family and a friendship with a son develops into romance. In this case, it was the home of Richard Orville Hunt’s family. And the son was Albert.
The wedding venue was planned for the Hunt ranch, but because Albert and Jessie bought the marriage license in Los Angeles County they had to be married in that county. They were married at the Russell Ranch (now in Westlake Village) instead, in 1903.
Walter Hunt, who was Albert’s brother and an owner of “Show and Hunt,” a china store in Santa Barbara, presented the couple with the lovely Haviland Limoges St. Lazare china that you see set for dinner on the dining room table, as a wedding present.
Tragically, Albert died in 1911 at age 37, leaving Jessie a widow with 5 daughters. She eventually returned to teaching and became the Principal of Columbus Street School in Glendale.
All we know about the wedding of English-born Cecil and Cecelie Haigh, third owners of the inn, is that they were married in New York in February of 1892. Whether he’d returned from England to the States with Cecelie or met her in New York is unknown. They were first cousins. This is a story of a woman of social status leaving the manor house for a rather primitive life in the Conejo Valley. Since the move to California involved four of Ceclie’s six siblings and her older cousin, it looks like a story of immigration as well as a romance. Their daughter, Ethel, was born in the hotel in 1892.
With the San Fernando Valley becoming too crowded in the 1890s, Susan Ida Knowlton Hays moved to the Conejo Valley with her two young sons, Washington and Simon. In 1902, Simon purchased land from Cecil Haigh and a romance began between Simon and Ethel Haigh. Upon returning from service in WW I, Simon and Ethel were married May 19, 1919.
According to their friend, Gertrude Murk, Simon proposed in this manner:
“Ethel was raking hay with a team of horses when Simon appeared and said, ‘Ethel, let’s get married.’ So she left the hay drying in the field, put up the horses and went into the house for a bath and to clean up. Shortly thereafter, they drove to Ventura and were married in the courthouse.[ii]
Simon Hayes and Ethel Haigh purchased the inn and surrounding land from Cecelie after Cecil’s death. It is their daughter, Reba, and son, Allen, that were instrumental in saving this landmark from destruction.
As with most old buildings there are stories of ghosts; the Stagecoach Inn Museum is no different. Pierre Duvon (or Duval), apparently a French or Basque sheepherder was supposedly shot and murdered while asleep in the inn back in the 1880s, but we don’t know why. It is possible that Pierre was shot by his soon to be bride because he was unfaithful.
One night, in the early years of Goebel’s Lion Farm, Louis was confronted by a resolute young woman who lived down the road. Kathleen Parks was frustrated that Goebel’s lions’ roars kept her cows up at night and she intended to speak her mind.
“Well, Goebel takes one look at (Kathleen) and says ‘you’re beautiful,’” laughs Bruce Hamilton, curator of the Jungleland exhibit. “Three months later (in 1928) the two were married and that solved that.”[iii]
Louis and Kathleen Goebel began traveling the world in search of exotic animals to sell to other zoos around the country. The two were soon running an exotic animal import-export business at the park. They helped to put Thousand Oaks on the map.
One of Jungleland’s stars provides us with a mystery about weddings and marriage. Mabel Stark loved big animals, especially tigers; she also loved big stories. She has said she was an only child and one of 7 children; that her parents died in the same month or two years apart and that she was 11, 13 or 17 at the time of the tragedies. Depending on which source you read or choose to believe she was married 4 or 5 times.
Her possible first husband was supposedly a “rich Texan.” Second (or possibly first) was Louis Roth (1915-1920), an animal trainer who taught her the humane method training animals. Albert Ewing (1921-1923), an accountant for Ringling Brothers who embezzled funds from them followed Roth. Mabel’s last two husbands Arthur Rooney (1924-1927) and Edward Trees (1942-1954) were menagerie (big animal) keepers.
She divorced the first two and the last two died. After settling in Thousand Oaks in 1957, she became a full-time tiger trainer at Jungleland. Her death at her own hand followed a series of disappointments surrounding Jungleland and the treatment of the animals.
During your visit to the Stagecoach Inn Museum, you will see eleven wedding dresses dating from the 1880s to the 1970s. The exhibit is not just fashion or just history. Instead it is a combination that allows for various anecdotes about brides and weddings to be told (by Docents and Guests). When it is all said and done, you realize that the dresses are not just changing their shape because some designer decided that “today skirts are wide; tomorrow they are skinny.” There is always a reason behind it: economics, politics, war, education, family and societal expectations--they all combine to influence that young lady’s choice on her wedding day.
[i] Sprankling, Miriam, and Ruthanne Begun. Ladies of the Conejo. Newbury Park, CA: Conejo Valley Historical Society, 2009. 16. Print.
[ii] Sprankling, Miriam, and Ruthanne Begun. Ladies of the Conejo. Newbury Park, CA: Conejo Valley Historical Society, 2009. 66. Print.
[iii] Mitchell, John. "Pride in Legacy." Ventura County Star [Thousand Oaks] 6 Nov. 2004: B1. Print.