One of my favorite places to walk on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is near what I call the old homestead — a misnomer because it was not actually ever a homestead. On the local trails map it is located between the two parts of Creek to Ridge Trail that lead uphill from the Highway 1 bridge over Santa Rosa Creek.
Right away you can see a rock foundation still standing. This foundation is the remains of the Joseph Fiscalini home. There are also remnants of outbuildings from the dairy farm he established.
Immigrating from Leonza, in the Ticino area of Switzerland, in 1873 he made his way to California and down the coast to the Green Valley area. He bought the town ranch property in 1885 and began building a life here and starting the Fiscalini family ranching legacy.
I have often walked this area, wondering about the people who lived here and what kind of buildings the remaining foundations supported “back then.”
Recently I was lucky to walk the area with Louis Fiscalini, who reminisced about the family and the kind of life that took place here. Gloria, his daughter, Debbie Soto, a cousin and Chris Landgreen with the Historical Society joined us for the walk. We were all full of questions as Louie shared his memories with us.
Just inside the gate at Highway 1 was a windmill and water well, probably in the midst of all the eucalyptus that has grown up. Louis has no memory of that eucalyptus as a child; it must have come in later.
The rock foundation that I mentioned is left from the home that his grandfather Joseph built. It actually faced uphill, away from the creek, and the foundation that is accessible from the Santa Rosa Creek trail was a basement. A bunkhouse was attached to the family home. The trail that runs uphill was a road to the dairy barn that ran in front of a covered porch in front of the house.
As we followed that trail up the hill, Louis pointed out the few surviving pieces of a granary, which held seed grain and cow feed. He remembers when he was a kid they would pull up the tin siding so the quail would go in after the seed and the kids would then catch the quail.
Past the granary is the old cistern that is now covered over. During the time the dairy was in operation the road led down from the cistern to the first dairy barn in the county, built by Louis’ grandfather. Until then, all the milking was done in corrals. The road ran by the upper part of the barn so hay could be loaded there. The main opening to the barn was below, where there are two cement pads remaining today.
Other rock foundations, to the northwest, that are now covered in poison oak and berry vines were probably outbuildings for storing equipment and later on probably cars, as far as Louie remembers.
Dairy cows were raised for making butter. They wore bells so they could be more easily found and rounded up in the dark early morning hours. The cows were milked by hand in those times, the milk was left to settle in pans, the cream was churned in hand churns and later horse operated churns. The butter was shipped to San Francisco.
Not only dairy cows were raised on what is now the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve but also pigs. Oats, potatoes and pumpkins were grown on the property. A potato harvester, which is over a hundred years old, is still in the family. Louis says that you would have a hard time figuring out what it was if you were to look at it.
Now the Ranch is no longer used for agriculture, but is open for public use every day of the year. Wonderful things still grow there. Each spring wildflowers abound on the former grazing lands and in the forest. Just as with farming, each year is different. When do the wildflowers
bloom? The ingredients for a bloom include sun, rain and temperature. Each plant’s recipe is unique so you never know what you will see from year to year.
With all the wonderful blooms at Shell Creek and Carrizo Plains, it will be interesting to see what is available right here on our own coast. Take a walk on the Ranch and see what you can find! Or you can see a comprehensive representation of the coastal wildflowers at the 6th Annual Cambria Wildflower Show on Saturday, April 24, at noon until 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, at 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. There will be over 400 vases of labeled wildflowers all under one roof at the Cambria Veteran’s Building on Main Street at Cambria Drive. Please join us for the biggest bouquet on the coast!
Jo Ellen Butler is executive director of Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. RanchUpdate appears in The Cambrian monthly.