Version 2012 Jul 16
ADOBES, BUNGALOWS, AND MANSIONS OF RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA REVISITED
By Esther H. Klotz and Joan H. Hall
Highgrove Press, Riverside, California, 2005
CHAPTER 1 [pages 1-8]
THE ROBIDOUX ADOBE
No history of homes in this area would be complete without the story of the pioneer adobe built by Benjamin D. Wilson and Louis Robidoux. [1. Louis Robidoux always signed his name thus which follows the spelling of the original family in St. Louis.] The house was the center of activity for the Robidoux Rancho, which in its early years included 6,750 acres of land lying on both sides of the Santa Ana River near the present city of Riverside. The house, overlooking the river from its site on the west bank, was allowed to disintegrate after 1897. No trace of it remains.
Adobe, Bordwell Photo, 1897
Much has been written about Louis Robidoux, but little about the history of the Robidoux home. Robert Hornbeck published a book in 1913 entitled, Robidoux’s Ranch in the 70s; however, his dissatisfaction with the publication induced him in 1914 to search for additional material. With Frank Daley, a nephew of Moses Daley who had owned the Robidoux house for many years, Hornbeck sought information from 84-year-old Pablo Velarde, who then lived in San Bernardino. A native of Mexico, Velarde came to California in 1843 with his parents. The old man knew the house well, having lived most of his life near the Robidoux Rancho.
According to Velarde, Benjamin D. Wilson, in 1842, built the north wing, the oldest section of the house, later called “the winery.” It had a strong stone cellar for the storage of wine and brandy that Wilson made from the grapes of the vineyard. There he also had a “bodega,” a roadside saloon. Pablo Velarde remembered, “Robidoux built the two-storied, east wing soon after he bought the property. The rafters of the Robidoux wing were made of cottonwood poles cut nearby, and the roof was tile tied on with rawhide thongs. Many years later, when Moses Daley owned the house, he roofed it with wooden shingles.”
Robidoux enlarged the vineyard and built an irrigation ditch. The head of the ditch was a mile or so north of the house, advantage being taken of a slope to put up a small mill for grinding wheat raised on the ranch. The mill had but one run of stones which was turned by a turbine wheel. [2. Riverside Daily Press, April 14, 1914.] This information, gathered by Hornbeck but never published except in the newspaper, reveals how and when Wilson and Robidoux built the historic house.
Benjamin D. Wilson, born in Tennessee in 1811, was a western trader and trapper, who, from 1833 to 1841, lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When business conditions there became difficult for Americans, he joined the Rowland-Workman Party and, in November 1841, moved to California. In 1843, Wilson bought, from Juan Bandini, the northern part of the Jurupa Rancho that consisted of a league-and-a-half of land (6,750 acres). Wilson built a house there which later became a wing of the Robidoux house. He stocked the ranch with 500 head of cattle and about a hundred horses. When he left the Jurupa Rancho in 1847, he had about 2,000 head of cattle. [3. Deposition of B.D. Wilson as witness for Louis Robidoux, U.S. Land Commission, Case 463, 1852.]
Wilson built his 72x22-foot adobe house with a large, deep cellar and barred windows, providing him a degree of protection. He stocked his ranch with livestock, planted crops, and helped fight the Mojave Indians and mountain bears. Wilson has been described by historian Robert Cleland in The Cattle on a Thousand Hills as “a man of brave and adventurous spirit who walked uprightly throughout the entire course of his romantic and richly varied life and who was loved by all.”
In 1844, Wilson married Ramona Yorba, the 16-year-old daughter of Don Bernardo Yorba, owner of the Yorba Ranch southwest of the Jurupa Rancho. Wilson, as Alcalde of the District, was an honest and fair administrator of the New Mexican settlers, the Indians, and others who affectionately called him “Don Benito.” [4. “The Narrative of Benjamin D. Wilson,” 1877, Pathfinders by Robert G. Cleland (Los Angeles 1929).]
Soon after Wilson moved onto his land, he sold the southern half to James (Santiago) Johnson. Johnson was an English trader who came to California in 1833 after having spent eight years in Guymas speculating in cattle. In 1843, Johnson was made grantee of the San Jacinto y San Gorgonio Rancho. He was described as a large, stout man of variable temperament who was often financially embarrassed. [5. H.H. Bancroft, History of California, Vol. XXI, page 693.]
On March 16, 1844, according to the deed, Johnson sold his former Jurupa property to Louis Robidoux for $1,500. The sale included about 3,375 acres of land with a large field of wheat, a corral, an adobe house built by Johnson, and one league of land (4,439 acres) in San Gorgonio. [6. San Bernardino County Recorder’s Records.] Johnson died three years after selling his land.
Louis Robidoux was a member of the famous French Canadian fur trapping family that founded the city of St. Louis. He was born in 1796 and his early life was spent as a fur trapper. He lived for a number of years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was highly regarded as a shrewd merchant. Then he became a Mexican citizen, married Guadalupe García, and amassed considerable wealth.
Robidoux first came to California in 1842 on a trip with fur traders and then made another trip in March 1844, when he purchased Johnson’s land. That same year, he went back to Santa Fe, settled his affairs, and returned to California, bringing with him his family, a large stock of goods, and much gold coin. [7. San Bernardino Guardian, October 10, 1869, Obituary.] He moved into the Johnson house with his wife and four children: Catalina, 9; Luís, 6; Pasqual, 4; and Carmen, 2. These four children had been born in New Mexico. Adelaide, their fifth child, was born in 1844, soon after the family had arrived in California. Benigna, in 1849, and Abundo, in 1852, were born in the Robidoux house. [8. United States Census, 1850.] Mariano, an eighth child, is believed to have died on the way to California.
In 1847, Benjamin Wilson sold the other half of his Jurupa property to Isaac Williams of Rancho del Chino and later settled in Los Angeles. Wilson served in 1851 as the second mayor of Los Angeles. He laid out the trail to Mount Wilson and that peak was subsequently named for him. Wilson became a state senator and an Indian agent. He acquired property and retired wealthy.
In 1847, Wilson left the Jurupa Rancho. Robidoux and his family moved into the Wilson home and began construction of the large two-storied adobe addition which became the Robidoux house. On December 3, 1849, Robidoux purchased from Isaac Williams the other half of the Jurupa land for $3,000 and 200 flanegas of grain. Williams, however, “reserved the right to cut wood, burn lime, and dig requesquite (an alkaline earth so-called here) only for consumption on his Rancho del Chino.” [9. San Bernardino County Recorder’s Records.] This purchase gave Robidoux a total of 6,750 acres of land that became known as “The Robidoux Rancho.”
Louis Robidoux took an active part in the life of the area. He succeeded Wilson as Justice of the Peace and, in 1853, became one of San Bernardino County’s first three supervisors. The other two were Mormons. Robidoux was an educated man with a good library who spoke English, Spanish, French, and the Cahuilla Indian language. [10. H.H. Bancroft, History of California, Vol. XXII, pages 625, 626, and 698. See also L.A. Ingersoll, Century Annals of San Bernardino County (Los Angeles 1904, pages 99 and 100)] Horace Bell, in his book Reminiscences of a Ranger, relates that Robidoux loved to reminisce about his early life as a trapper and Indian fighter.
San Bernardino County’s old deed records show that Robidoux was probably the first land subdivider in the Riverside area. In the mid-1850s, he began to sell off small parcels of land, each usually less than 100 acres. Early buyers were Charles Hill, W. Baldwin, James Tolles, Isaac Smith, and Rafael Velarde.
The 1860 census shows that Robidoux was a wealthy man with land worth $50,000 and personal property valued at $20,000. The census also reveals that his children were in school, and that a cook, a gardener, and a herder worked on the ranch. Of greatest financial importance were his stock of wine and brandy and the cattle that roamed the Jurupa Rancho. This was the period of Robidoux’s greatest prosperity.
In 1862, a flood roared down the Santa Ana River destroying the nearby settlement of Agua Mansa, a colony of New Mexicans. Robidoux lost his cottonwood forest, the gardens, some pastureland, and some livestock. His gristmill and ditch were washed out, and for days his home was surrounded by water.
Early in 1863, a smallpox epidemic spread from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, depopulating whole Indian villages that had supplied laborers to the ranchos. Most of Robidoux’s vaqueros and sheepherders, however, came from Agua Mansa and were little affected. The historic drought of 1863-64 demoralized the once rich cattle industry. The grass burned in the fields, waterholes dried up, and the bleached bones of thousands of animals lay on the hills and valleys. It was the end of the southern California cattle ranches. [11. Robert G Cleland, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, San Marino, 1951.]
During this period, Robidoux had trouble with squatters on his land and with disputes over water rights while he waited for the United States courts to confirm ownership of his property. In 1871, after Robidoux’s death, the courts finally validated his deed.
According to Pablo Velarde, Robidoux broke his right hip when he fell off a wagon and spent the last four years of his life in bed. At the time, Arthur Parks, and Englishman who had settled in San Bernardino in 1854 and became a lawyer and Justice of the Peace, assisted him. [12. L.A. Ingersoll, Century Annals of San Bernardino County.]
In February 1867, Parks bought 60 acres of the Robidoux Rancho from Robidoux for $500 and built an adobe house near the Robidoux home. There, Parks reared a family of seven children and, in 1882, added a $500 frame cottage to the front of his adobe. Until 1974, when the Parks’ house was torn down, it was a landmark located at 5560-34th Street in the Jurupa area. Neighbors, who saw the old house removed, bought the square nails and the 12x6x4-inch adobe bricks which were still in good condition. Arthur Parks died in 1894 and his name appears on many old legal papers. He had been an able lawyer noted for his skill and honesty.
When Robidoux died on September 24, 1868, his estate was probated in San Bernardino, with Parks serving as administrator. Robidoux died intestate, leaving property valued at over $10,000. This consisted of 4,200 acres of land valued at $4,000, other lands valued at $3,000, two promissory notes for $1,000 each due from A.I. Singleton, one buggy valued at $25, commercial wheat at $100, nine horses at $220, two cows at $50, three plows at $72, household goods at $50, one still at $60, and 2,000 gallons of new wine valued at $500. Robidoux did not die a poor man as some authors have assumed. The cattle were gone, but winemaking was still important. Velarde said that Robidoux, in his later years, was his own best customer in the wine cellar.
When the estate was settled in March 1871, the court awarded the widow one half of the estate including the house and 120 acres of land. The other half was divided equally among the seven children, of whom only Abundo was a minor. Before this settlement was made, however, Señora de Robidoux and her children jointly sold, on December 27, 1869, for $3,600, four thousand acres of the Robidoux Rancho to Thomas W. Cover, an agent for the Southern California Silk Company. Not included in the sale were the Robidoux house and 120 acres belonging to the widow, 60 acres owned by Carmen Robidoux de Estudillo, and 20 acres owned by Pasqual Robidoux. [13. San Bernardino County Recorder’s Records.]
After the sale, the widow continued to live in her home, and the 1870 census lists her, aged 60, as keeping house. Only Benigna, aged 20, and Abundo, aged 18, lived with her. Pasqual and his wife and their five children lived in San Bernardino. Other married children lived in Riverside and San Jacinto.
Great changes came to the area with the founding of the settlement of Riverside in 1870 and with the completion of the first railroad to Colton in 1875. The Robidoux Rancho also changed. In March 1880, the widow, Guadalupe Robidoux, sold the Robidoux home and its winery and 120 acres of land with valuable water rights to Moses Daley for $4,000 in gold. According to the deed description, 30 acres of this land was a vineyard. This sale marked the end of the Robidoux rancho.
Riverside’s first census in 1880 showed that the widow lived in not-yet-incorporated Riverside with her daughter Benigna, who was married to Juan Trujillo. The widow’s last years were spent in San Jacinto, where she lived for years at the home of her daughter Adelaide and son-in-law, Jose Estudillo. Also living in San Jacinto were her sons Luís and Abundo and their families. In 1892, Señora de Robidoux died at the age of 80. [14. Riverside Daily Press, January 31, 1926 and the Riverside County Directory, 1893.]
From 1880 to 1897, Moses Daley, his wife, and seven children occupied the Robidoux house. Widow Daley sold it to J.H. Miller, a West Riverside rancher, who apparently never lived there and allowed it to stand vacant.
In 1898, a Riverside High School girl named Lizzy Price wrote a graduation essay about the Robidoux house that was published in the local newspaper. She described the old home as empty except for birds and bats. The building had three sections that enclosed a courtyard. The south wing had fallen away leaving the main house with the attached north wing winery standing with their three-foot thick adobe walls. The old stairway leading from the courtyard to the second floor had broken down, providing no access to the upper floor.
Lizzy reported that she felt the desolation of the house, but found the surrounding garden still attractive with its immense blooming rose trees whose petals were once used to make rose water. A few scattered orange trees and broken rows of peach and apricot trees indicated a once fine orchard. “In the front,” she wrote, “a gigantic lone pepper tree stood as sentinel over all.” [15. Riverside Press and Horticulturist, July 2, 1898.]
Ruins of the Robidoux Adobe, Bordwell
A 1910 photograph of the Robidoux house shows the winery intact, but the roof and second floor of the main building are gone and parts of the first floor walls are broken down. Plainly seen are the three large rooms of the main floor. A newspaper article of the period reported that neighbors lugged away many adobe bricks to build fireplaces or coolers. Since the large wing built by Robidoux measured 68x20.6 feet, it should have supplied many bricks for local residents. Attempts were made in 1914, 1936, and 1956 to save some remnants of this historic home. All were unsuccessful.
The most important house of the Rancho period once stood on the northeast corner of Mission and Rubidoux boulevards in Rubidoux, formerly known as West Riverside. It was occupied by a family of an educated man who once enjoyed a lusty and successful life filled with adventure. The frequent occurrence of his name in the area reflects the influence of Louis Robidoux.
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Note [LPM]: The 1897 photo in this chapter
(right), and another photo of the same house (left),
or go to “meiszen.net”: Meissner Family Web Site