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American Latino Heritage
Perhaps no other historic site helped inspire the myth and romance of Spanish California like Rancho Camulos. A National Historic Landmark, Rancho Camulos is a Santa Clarita Valley ranch and farm that the prominent Hispanic del Valle family owned and operated between 1839 and 1924. Rancho Camulos is perhaps best known as the “Home of Ramona,” because of its influence on Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, a best-selling novel set in post-colonial California. The ranch is privately owned, but the historic museum grounds are open to visitors most weekends and the property hosts tour groups, private parties, and public festivals.
The Rancho Period in California followed the Mexican Revolution. In the 1820s, Spanish priests, along with all other Spanish-born immigrants, were expelled from independent Mexico. The Mexican government claimed land in the southwest previously owned by Spain, including California, and gave large grants of land to individuals who had proven their loyalty to Mexico. Antonio del Valle, an administrator at Mission San Fernando who served in the Mexican army, petitioned for old mission land in California and received 48,612 acres called Rancho San Francisco. He became the legal owner of the land in 1839. After Antonio’s death in 1841, his son Ygnacio del Valle inherited a portion of the original grant, which he called “Rancho Camulos” because it included Kamulus, a Tataviam village.
After inheriting Rancho Camulos, Ygnacio built a cattle corral on the property and a 4-room adobe house for his foreman. Construction at Camulos began in 1853. Ygnacio remained in Los Angeles, where he was an elected member of the City Council and the California Assembly, until 1861. After Ygnacio retired from government, he moved with his second wife, Ysabel, to the ranch. They lived in the adobe house, expanding it to accommodate the growing del Valle family. By 1870, Ysabel had given birth to 12 del Valle children, half of whom lived to adulthood. Ygnacio initially planted a large citrus orchard on the land. By the time of his death in 1880, the ranch also produced wine, almonds, grain, and other produce. In addition to the del Valle family, Camulos supported nearly 200 Mexican and Native American ranch workers.
In the 1880s, the isolated ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley became part of the national culture when Helen Hunt Jackson published her novel, Ramona, about a young Californian woman of mixed Native American and Scottish descent. Jackson was a white advocate for Native American rights and hoped her writing would open Americans’ eyes to the mismanagement of natives by the American government. Though some of Jackson’s writing influenced policy, Ramona’s legacy was its contribution to romanticizing southern California in the American consciousness. Jackson stayed at Rancho Camulos while she toured the region researching rancho culture for her book, and the descriptions of Ramona’s fictional Morena Ranch match the real Camulos. Charles Lummis, a journalist and friend of the del Valle family, published The Home of Ramona: Photographs of Camulos, the fine old Spanish Estate Described by Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson as the Home of "Ramona” in 1888. Tourists flocked to southern California and Rancho Camulos. The del Valles capitalized on Ramona’s popularity and sold their wine with a “Home of Ramona” label. In 1910, D.W. Griffiths directed a silent film adaptation of the novel. The movie, which starred Mary Pickford as the titular character, was filmed at Rancho Camulos.
As the romance of Ramona gripped the imaginations of its readers, the del Valle family’s hold on the property loosened. Ysabel managed the ranch after her husband’s death, but retired to Los Angeles in 1900. After their mother left, the remaining del Valle children took over operations. However, in-fighting and the deaths of several family members forced the del Valles to sell the ranch in 1924. The buyer was August Rübel, a Swiss American immigrant. He and his wife, Mary Colgate McIsaac Rübel, moved to the ranch the following year. August served the United States in the two world wars and was killed in Tunisia in 1943. Mary Rübel remarried in 1946 and her second husband, Edwin Burger, managed the ranch until 1994. Today, the property is administered by a board of directors presided over by August Rübel’s daughter, Shirley Rübel Lorenz. Under the board of directors, the citrus operation continued and a museum opened for visitors to learn about Rancho Camulos’ rich history.
There are four historic buildings on the property and three further contributing historic features. The first of the buildings is the Ygnacio del Valle Adobe, originally built in 1853 and later expanded. Two additions to the adobe were made in 1861, including three rooms adjacent to the western end of the house and a wine cellar underneath them. The second addition at the time was a freestanding kitchen building constructed just north of the adobe main house. In the 1870s, a full western wing was added on perpendicular to the original adobe structure with an open breezeway between this wing and the kitchen, creating a “U” shape around a central garden.
The historic Del Valle Winery building dates back to 1867. This rectangular stone building with a wood-shingled roof was where the ranch aged its Home of Ramona wine and later August Rübel kept a museum for tourists on the second floor. The other two contributing buildings are the Roman Catholic Chapel and the Southern Pacific Railroad Section House. The wooden chapel dates from 1867. The enclosed portion of the chapel is 14’x20’, but a large double door opens up to the chapel’s 30’ long porch to form an open chapel for large congregations. The section house was built in 1887, when the railroad first cut through the Santa Clarita Valley.
The fountain, bell structure, and railroad right-of-way also contribute to the national significance of Rancho Camulos. The date of the fountain’s construction is unknown, but could be as early as 1853 because it appears in Ygnacio’s original plans for the ranch. The bell structure is a simple wooden frame dating back to at least the 1870s. Two of three original large metal bells still hang from the frame: one from the San Fernando Mission and another that was cast in Kodiak, Alaska in 1796. The historic right-of-way is a dirt road that leads north-east to the section house.
Visitors to the Santa Clarita Valley can walk the 40-acre Rancho Camulos Museum grounds with a museum docent and see the “House of Ramona” firsthand. In addition to the nationally significant buildings and features, the museum portion of the 1,800 acre working ranch includes the Rübel family schoolhouse, workers’ bunkhouse, barn, gas and oil house, and the Nachito Valley Adobe. Weekend afternoon tours are available for walk-ins from February until the end of November. By appointment, school and other groups are welcome. Tours are free, but a donation of $5 for adults and $3 is suggested. A gift shop and produce stand are on the grounds. In addition to weekend tours and activities, Rancho Camulos hosts the annual Ramona Days festival. This Ramona-inspired celebration of California’s rancho heritage offers live music, dancing, living history, arts and crafts venders, children’s activities, and presentations of the Ramona Play scenes and D.W. Griffith’s Ramona.