Ag history in the spotlight
Fifth generation farming family focuses on new Oxnard farm park
By Chris O'Neal 06/26/2014
In the late 1800s, the city now known as Oxnard was nothing more than a vast, open plain as far as the eye could see. Farmers the world over, seeing potential in the rugged land, settled on the plain in hopes of making a living for themselves and their families. They managed to survive as a community. They were the first agricultural settlers in Oxnard, and their history is being told at the Oxnard Historic Farm Park Museum.
The Oxnard Historic Farm Park Museum was an idea of a descendant of one of the original Oxnard families, Jeff Maulhardt. Maulhardt, a fifth-generation native of Oxnard, traveled to Germany to study the history of his family in 1997 in order to better understand his ancestry and other German families that settled the area.
In 2004, the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board approved the Gottfried Maulhardt/Albert Pfeiler Farm Site as a Ventura County Landmark, number 165.
After Maulhardt realized that some of the original buildings still stood on the site, he approached the developer who had control of the land about building a museum using the old structures. After receiving approval, Maulhardt went to work turning the site into a working museum in order to bring the rich cultural history to the current people of Oxnard.
“We needed a home for Oxnard history and Oxnard hasn’t had one,” said Maulhardt. “It’s becoming a place where people can bring their stories and their pictures.”
The museum consists of several original buildings, the oldest of which is a building that might seem odd considering its location: a winery. The Maulhardt storehouse is believed to be one of the oldest brick structures remaining on the Oxnard plain and was used to store wine. Built by Gottfried Maulhardt, the winery was used by several original families, including the congregation at Santa Clara Chapel, one of the first churches south of the river.
Gary Blum, who sits on the board of directors of the museum, says that one of the goals of the museum is to restore that building to its original state.
“Sometimes the historic significance isn’t always packaged in a more elaborate building,” said Blum of the somewhat nondescript winery.
When the Maulhardt home was developed, there wasn’t much going on in the area outside of a few cattle herds and dry plain farming, says Blum. The challenge in raising awareness of the site comes from what Blum says is a lack of connection to the historical significance of the area.
“A lot of people identify with history that they experienced or their parents experienced, and the challenge here is that this predates most people’s recollections of Oxnard’s history,” said Blum. “This farm was there before the city was even called Oxnard.”
One way in which Maulhardt and the board of directors are trying to bring people to the museum is by offering new activities such as the recently launched organic farmers market on Saturdays. At the launch of the market, McGrath Family Farms owner Tim McGrath brought a saddle older than 100 years and that was part of his ranch for display at the museum.
Though Oxnard cuvée is mostly unheard of, Maulhardt is trying to change that by planting several varietals of grapes from vines first planted in the late 1880s. Maulhardt transported vine clippings from Santa Cruz Island and had them planted on the same site where grapes were once grown when the storehouse was first constructed, in hopes of making wine in the future.
Currently under development is what Maulhardt calls a “Migratory Wall,” featuring photographs and other images of migrants who settled in Oxnard from the late 1800s to the 1950s, donated by area residents.
For Maulhardt, getting people to the museum is the most difficult part due to a lack of awareness, but when people realize that the history on display at the museum is their own, they will come, says Maulhardt.
“This site was always hidden from the public,” says Maulhardt. “Anyone who has grown up in the area might not know that this place is here. We’re hoping that now people will put two and two together and come out.”
The Oxnard Historic Farm Park Museum is located at 1251 Gottfried Place, Oxnard. For more information, visit www.oxnardfarmpark.org.