PICTURED: Ruth Maulhardt (center) with sons Lynn (left) and Dean, 2021. Photo by Tim Pompey; all other photos courtesy of Jeffrey Maulhardt
by Tim Pompey
When the first of the Maulhardts arrived in Ventura County more than 150 years ago, they could not foresee how their farms would spread across the region, slowly contract and ultimately result in the sale of 52 acres of their original family farm to the Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD) in early 2020.
That’s a lot of history, a lot of farmland, and a lot of family members that would eventually gather near the corner of Rose and Camino Del Sol in February 2020 to break ground for the new Del Sol High School.
Something else those early progenitors could not have foreseen was the major crisis that would hit the country just after the groundbreaking: COVID-19.
One year and one pandemic later, what is clear is that the family has survived just about every catastrophe you can imagine: the St. Francis Dam disaster, earthquakes, floods, droughts, insect infestations, windstorms, disease, financial crisis, unexpected family deaths, and all the usual challenges that go with farming.
For the family of Richard and Ruth Maulhardt, whose land was purchased by the OUHSD, it’s a legacy worth remembering and a moment worth reflecting on.
An American saga begins
“The acreage has been farmed continuously for 153 years,” said Lynn Maulhardt, son of Richard and Ruth, just after the 2020 gathering. “This is a huge transition for us.”
From one family of Maulhardt siblings in the 1870s to today, there is indeed a change in the forecast. But there is also a local American saga worth remembering.
Jeffrey Maulhardt, the son of Bill (Richard’s great nephew) and Jean Maulhardt, has written extensively on the family history. In his book Legendary Locals of Oxnard, he chronicles the immigration of the Maulhardts from Germany to California and, later, Ventura County in the years after the end of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. Youngest brother Anton Maulhardt was the first to arrive in the area. The rest of the brothers soon followed and partnered with another Ventura County legend, Christian Borchard, to start their farming and business enterprises.
In addition to Anton, there were brothers Gottfried and his wife Sophie, and Jacob and his wife Doretta. The Maulhardt family of today is descended from Jacob and Doretta.
Together with Christian Borchard, the Maulhardt brothers rented land from Juan Camarillo Jr. (younger brother of Adolfo) on the Colonia Rancho. In December 1872, they bought 1,243 acres for $10 an acre. The land stretched from present-day Rice Avenue to Juanita Avenue east/west and north/south from Camino Del Sol to the 101 freeway. Other properties included 72 acres north of Palm Drive; 200 acres across the street from the Home Ranch and the west side of Camino Del Sol; 476 acres off Hueneme Road; 540 acres off Santa Rosa Road; and another 1,000 acres in Camarillo Heights.
Memories of a matriarch
Ruth Maulhardt is the current matriarch of the family. At 100 years old, she has seen a lot of family history. Her folks owned a flower shop in the original Ventura Theater. Being a family business, Ruth would help tend flowers for various events. Sometimes, on her breaks, she would watch movies from the theater’s balcony. She has fond memories of swimming in the pool at the end of California Street and attending Ventura High School barn dances sponsored by the school’s music teacher on Friday nights.
She and Richard Maulhardt, who was from Oxnard, met while she was attending Ventura College. Later, while she attended the University of California at Berkeley and he studied surveying at the University of California Davis Extension, they started dating. When they returned to Ventura County, they married in December 1945 and had five children: Richard, Lynn, Dean, Donna and Alan.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Maulhardt family grew lima beans and citrus. Richard and his four siblings owned approximately 100 acres apiece. In addition to his family farm, Richard farmed three other family properties. Ruth and Richard also owned another 500 acres, primarily citrus and avocado, in the Santa Rosa Valley in Camarillo. They moved to their current house in Oxnard in 1952.
Jeffrey Maulhardt: family historian
For Jeff Maulhardt, tracing all this family history is enjoyable. Jeff, the founder of the Oxnard Historic Farm Park Foundation (www.oxnardfarmpark.org) located at 1251 Gottfried Place in Oxnard, has collected numerous family photos as well as antique farming equipment. He and his volunteers tend to some of the original family crops such as sugar beets and lima beans, as well as a small vineyard with vines that date back to the 1880s. His goal is to invite visitors to browse around and understand a little about the agricultural history of the Oxnard Plain. The park also hosts community and private events.
“The fun part is that when you grow up in this area and being fifth generation, you get to hear all the different things the family members have been a part of and also the different people connected to them,” said Jeff. “For instance, when my wife got a job at Haydock Elementary School, my grandmother said, ‘Oh yeah, I knew him.’”
Jeff reviewed the evolution of the Borchard and Maulhardt family farms in Ventura County from the late 1800s to the 1970s. The first initial crops planted by Borchard were barley and wheat. The barley thrived, largely because it could be grown as a drier crop with less water than wheat. The success of Borchard’s farm encouraged the Maulhardts to work their way through Central California until they were able to partner with him in Ventura County.
“The Maulhardts came to work for Christian Borchard,” said Jeff. “They started in the Contra Costa County area. Jacob worked as a butcher on the ship he came over on. Gottfried most likely came down the coast with Christian and his son, John Edward, and settled in what became Ventura County.”
Jeff asserts that they were not just farmers, but also tradespeople: “Like most Germans, they farmed in the summer months and did another skill in the winter months.”
This would explain in part why Maulhardt business and farming interests expanded concurrently, from brick laying to sheep herding and later to other ventures such as selling farm equipment and automobiles.
From barley to beets and beyond
The typical Borchard and Maulhardt family farms included a large plot of barley, a smaller crop dedicated to fruit trees and corn, and some acreage devoted to pigs.
The next crop to show promise was lima beans. An experiment up in Carpinteria proved that lima beans could be grown successfully in the region with very little maintenance.
In the 1890s sugar beets began with an experiment by J.E. Borchard. When the Maulhardt family crossed paths with the Oxnards out in Chino, an agreement was reached to grow a special strain of sugar beet on the Oxnard Plain. The initial plots of sugar beets were overseen by Albert Maulhardt. The success of Albert’s farm experiment, in conjunction with the Oxnard family’s interest in expanding its sugar beet business, helped launch the sugar beet industry in Oxnard.
In addition to sugar beets, lemons were also introduced out in Santa Paula during the same period. Then, after World War II, row crops became popular. These included string beans and tomatoes. In the 1970s, strawberries were introduced.
500 acres to roam
Jeff remembers fondly his days spent on his family’s ranch. “When I grew up, my grandpa still had his ranch, so we would work weekends and in the summer.”
“I thought it was special,” he recalled of his time working on the family ranch. “We grew up in a residential neighborhood in Hueneme. I thought it was special that we could go out there on the weekends and summers. My grandpa had a horse that we could ride. We could drive a tractor. We could shoot our rifles. We could go up in the eucalyptus trees to make a fort. It was a magical place.”
Lynn Maulhardt described his family farm at the time he was growing up: “There were no houses surrounding us. There were only two-lane roads around the property. Oxnard was a mile and a quarter from us. The hospital was in downtown Oxnard. There was nothing around us other than other farmers operating, and as kids, we had 500 acres to roam anywhere we wanted.”
Farming required hard work, lots of land, and a little luck to make a go of it. The lifestyle was not for everyone. As is true with many farming enterprises, an increasing number of family members would inherit the land, and face greater pressures to sell off pieces to developing cities and other business interests.
“A lot of farming families, they made money when they sold the land,” Jeff stated. “As the city grows, the property becomes more valuable and you have to decide how you want to go ahead and pay the bills.”
For Lynn and brother Dean, the sale of 52 acres of the original Maulhardt property is a sad thought, but they have dealt with it and accepted the sale as inevitable. Both emphasized that there was no bitterness about the decision from either their family or Oxnard Union High School District.
“It’s a good relationship,” Dean acknowledged. “They needed some property and per the way the rules and the laws are, we happen to be one of the last remaining parcels in the city.”
Lynn concurred. “I think we worked well with the school and the school worked well with us.”
The choice was difficult. But in the manner of good farm folk, the Maulhardts went with the flow.
“Did we want to sell?” Dean asked. “Probably not, but times have changed and you can see, we’re surrounded now and the inevitable was going to happen.”
“The process we went through with the school,” said Lynn, “I think we knew we all had to go through that process. The city has grown. The world has changed. The ability to make productive use of the ground has changed. The difference for us now is that we’re surrounded on all four corners by city. We were an island within the city.”
As for Ruth, she is happy that she married and became a farmer’s wife. “I know I don’t have that much longer to be here, but I’ve loved living on the ranch,” she said.
In light of the Maulhardts’ rich legacy in Ventura County, what impact will the family have in the future? Hard to say, but the list of past Maulhardts include a county supervisor, a city council member and a water district representative, as well as teachers, fitness trainers, and numerous sports coaches. Their occupations included engineering, computers, aviation, nursing, insurance and, of course, farming.
And with the support of the current Maulhardts and the Oxnard Historic Farm Park Foundation, no doubt there will be a Maulhardt agricultural voice in the county for many years to come.
Jeffrey Maulhardt discusses the area’s history during the Museum of Ventura County’s Local History Happy Hour on Tuesday, May 18, 5-6 p.m. via Zoom. Admission is free with registration: venturamuseum.org/event/local-history-happy-hour-with-jeffrey-maulhardt/. For more on the region’s agricultural history, visit Oxnard Historic Farm Park at www.oxnardfarmpark.org.