Mountain Drive and Mr. Ferl

“The Mountain Drive is said by many travelers to be one of the grandest and most charming drives in this or any other country,” wrote E. M. Heath in his “Guide to Rides and Drives in Santa Barbara and Vicinity,” in 1904. “Many say it excels the world-famous drives of Switzerland.”

In 1897, recognizing that the higher elevations of Montecito and Santa Barbara afforded spectacular views of land and sea, a number of landowners started making plans to create a drive that would start at the Old Mission, traverse the crest of hills and finally join the mountain drive in Montecito. Sites for homes would thus be made accessible and tourists and residents alike would have a spectacular scenic road for outings. Owners of the land were asked to construct the section of road that passed through their properties for which they were to be compensated by subscription, or donations from the public.

One of the first to complete his section of the road was Frederick William Ferl (1835-1906) who had immigrated to California circa 1864 with his wife Anna R. Ferl and his brother Edward Ferl, a carpenter. Known by his middle name, William, Ferl homesteaded a quarter section of land (160 acres) in the upper area of today’s Coyote Road in 1869. Having become a citizen in 1871 and made the requisite improvements on his property, he received a patent on his claim in 1878 after paying $200 or $1.25 per acre.

Ferl’s Farm

Over the years, Ferl sold off portions of his land and purchased others. Hard work and perseverance made the farm profitable and sustained his family, which consisted of wife Anna, Frederick William, Jr. and daughter Anna. To prove the worth of his efforts, in September 1883, Ferl toted apples, lemons, grapes and corn into the Daily Press office. The reporter said Ferl valued his farm at $125 an acre and had planted a rocky hillside with vines from which he brought in a great crop of Muscats and Hamburgs, without the benefit of irrigation.

Water did flow to other portions of his farm, however, for in 1877 he had claimed riparian rights to 3 miners’ inches of water from Sycamore Creek for household, stock and irrigation purposes. Water being scarce, William saw his livelihood imperiled when the Santa Barbara Development Company tapped into Sycamore Creek for its own projects. In 1890, he won a suit against the company and secured his right to the water.

Nevertheless, as more people moved into Montecito, scarcity of water became a serious issue. In 1891, W.M. Eddy and Charles Frederick Eaton of Montecito investigated the potential of water tunnels, or horizontal wells, in the mountains around Los Angeles. What they saw was promising, and a period of water tunnel building began in Montecito.

William Ferl was at the vanguard of this movement when he joined with his near neighbors, Giovanni B. Parma, Charles E. Sherman, William Ealand, James L. Barker, and Vicente Parma’s estate, in forming a water company and constructing a tunnel. Ferl was entitled to two-ninths of the flow from the tunnel, which would become known as the Sherman & Ealand tunnel. Later, he acquired rights from a second tunnel in the same area.

Soon, Ferl’s farm was thriving. An article at the time credited him with redeeming 160 acres of chaparral and growing the finest grapes, oranges, lemons and limes. Olive trees and apple trees dotted his land, and his fields were lush with flax and corn and vegetables, all pollinated by his bee colony.

Beside a small ravine, Ferl found a section of his land that captured the hottest rays of the sun. Here he planted an acre of bananas. When Francesco Franceschi first arrived in Santa Barbara in 1893, Ferl was already active in the Santa Barbara Horticultural Society that had been formed in the late 1870s. In his book, Santa Barbara Exotic Flora, an investigation and compilation of previous attempts at naturalizing exotic plants in Santa Barbara, Franceschi mentioned Ferl’s bananas. He wrote, “Bananas must have been introduced here long ago – very likely from Mexico. They are most common in every garden, and ripen occasionally into some very good fruit, but it must be said that up to now they have been grown as ornamental rather than useful plants, with the exception perhaps of Mr. W. Ferl of West Montecito, who has a regular grove of about an acre of them.”

Mountain Nook’s Banana Farm

As Mountain Drive, which was to be known as Camino Alto, was nearing completion in October of 1897, the Board of Supervisors proudly gave the road to the public. They boasted that, “Santa Barbara now owns the finest scenic drive on the continent.” In November, Ferl complained about its unfinished condition, claiming he had to turn back 30 parties a day because the road was not complete. He also wanted to be compensated for the work he had done and asked for $200.

About this time, Ferl devised a plan to reap the tourist trade in addition to his farming enterprises. He built a small sandstone building capped with a mission-style bell tower on Mountain Drive just east of today’s Coyote Road. Calling it Mountain Nook Life Saving Station, Ferl started selling fruit from his farm, bananas, and soft drinks. Thirsty excursionists could visit his little tropical oasis and buy postcards and curios like rattlesnake skin canes. Advertising “Ice Cold Drinks,” Ferl sold strawberry, raspberry, orange, cream, and vanilla sodas along with such classics as sasparilla, root beer, apple cider, and lemonade.

Road Rage

Before Mountain Drive was completed, Ferl needed to have access to Sycamore Canyon Road for egress from his farm. In 1887, he purchased .74 acre of road rights from his southerly neighbor, Anastacio Flores. The Flores family retained the right to use the road, but Ferl built the bridges and culverts where they were needed. (This road became today’s Coyote Road.)

Anastacio died in 1891, and for some reason, his widow, Josefa Guevara de Flores, and her two sons, Teofolo and Carlos, started obstructing the road. They closed it by placing boards and barbed wire across it. They destroyed the bridges and assaulted William and beat him up when he tried to remove the obstructions and repair the road. As soon as a bridge was rebuilt, Teofolo and Carlos would burn it down.

William finally took the family to court and asked for a restraining order against their actions and the payment of damages. The court ruled in his favor in January, 1893.

All was not well with Mountain Drive either. Up through the early 1900s, the Drive ended at the Eaton place, Riso Rivo. From there, sightseers would turn down Palm Avenue (Cold Spring Road) to reach Sycamore Canyon Road and the valley of Montecito. Palm Avenue, however, was private property and Eaton, due to the public’s misuse of his land, kept closing it.

After Eaton closed the road again in January 1900, the Morning Press reported, “Now people must use Ferl’s old road. For over a mile this canyon road is the private property of William Ferl, who keeps it in order for the benefit of tourists. Recently he has had much trouble with some of those who, in their thoughtlessness have not considered the damage they do when they break down orange trees, pull green and ripe fruit from the branches, trample and pluck flowers and take general freedom with anything they see. Mr. Ferl has posted notices against trespassing and says that so long as people remain on the road, they may cross his place.”

The City, meanwhile, continued to work with Eaton, actually leasing the part of Mountain Drive that crossed his property and Eaton agreed to open Ashley Road, thereby lengthening the Drive. In 1906, still plagued by vandalous excursionists, Eaton closed Mountain Drive again when the three-year lease was up. The City had the final say, however, when they condemned the land of Palm Drive, and made it a public road in 1907.

In 1906, William Ferl contracted pneumonia and was advised by his doctor not to return to his ranch in Montecito. Days later he was found dead at Mountain Nook. He left everything to his daughter, the son having inherited from Ferl’s estranged wife in 1905. Anna Ferl Meyer sold the ranch to Herbert M. Orriss in January 1907. Mrs. Orriss kept Mountain Nook open for a period of time until the switch to automobiles no longer provided a steady stream of thirsty tourists.

(Other sources: contemporary news articles; Montecito and Santa Barbara by David Myrick.)