0901 outdoor 2 Photo by: Alex Wilson
Johannes Borchard working the land in 1901.

Roots of National Recreation Area to be uncovered by Thousand Oaks lecture

By Alex Wilson 09/01/2011

The cultural history of a former ranch that’s now part of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area will be explored during a lecture by a historian whose ancestors owned the scenic property.

Jeff Maulhardt has written about a dozen books on local history, and will share his knowledge about land that includes Rancho Sierra Vista near Newbury Park.

His great-great-grandfather Johannes Borchard bought it during the late 1800s and used it for barley, wheat and livestock. Borchard first leased land near Oxnard after his arrival from Germany, and later bought the rugged property extending all the way to Boney Mountain looming high above the Oxnard Plain. “That property became available after a major drought up there in the 1860s and ’70s, where a lot of Conejo farmers lost the sheep they were grazing,” says Maulhardt.

Borchard hired family members and other immigrants to help with the significant challenges that farming there posed.

“You can’t get it done all at one time, and they were grateful for all the help they could get,” says Maulhardt. “They would work for him for a while before they had a chance to farm on their own.”

Borchard helped develop the community in other ways, such as donating land and $20,000 for St. John’s Hospital around 1914. Maulhardt says Borchard was never pretentious about the wealth he accumulated.

“He wasn’t the type of person who lived extravagantly, cordoned off the land, built a mansion and hid away from people. I think when you can find examples of people in history who do a lot, and then they can give back, then we have something to strive for and look up to who are good examples,” says Maulhardt. “Too often, we look to the media for that, but we can probably go back and find people in our own families.”

Maulhardt is happy the land is now a park everyone can enjoy. “I think you can really put yourself back in time.

Whether it was the Native American time or the pioneer times,” says Maulhardt. “You can see how you had to be creative to live off the land. You get a sense of what it was like back in time when you get lost in there, and [don’t] see any signs of current civilization.”

National Park Superintendent Woody Smeck says their lectures provide information that makes visits more meaningful. “Because the reality is that these parks belong to all of us, and we have a responsibility to hand them on to the next generation,” says Smeck. “That starts with making sure we have sound education as to what the values are.”

Smeck says they’re fortunate to hear from someone with deep knowledge of park history. “It’s always exciting to have a descendant of the original families that ranched and settled the land share the personal stories and reflections.

It’s a firsthand knowledge that you don’t always get a chance to hear, and a lot of these stories are very personal and inspiring and exciting,” says Smeck. “I know visitors always appreciate hearing all those first-person accounts of history. It’s great in terms of our educational mission.”

Maulhardt’s talk will cover the evolution of the property from Chumash times through its inclusion as part of the Rancho El Conejo Spanish land grant, and the Beal and Danielson families that followed in his ancestor’s footsteps and eventually sold the property to the National Park Service. It will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Park Service Visitor Center at 2 p.m.   

outdoors@vcreporter.com

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