Posted by: James Wapotich | December 19, 2016

Trail Quest: Montecito’s Olive Mill Grove

Along Olive Mill Road in Montecito is an oak grove rich in local history. The site was once the estate of George Huntington Gould, and one can still find a small stand of olive trees there that may have been part of Montecito’s short-lived olive processing industry.

A short trail leads through the grove and is open to the public. The trail is known as Peter Bakewell Trail, is less than a mile in length, and can be used to make loop hike through the site.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south to the Olive Mill Road exit. Turn left onto Olive Mill Road, and continue north towards the intersection with Hot Springs Road. The trailhead is on the right, just before the intersection and Casa Dorinda retirement community. Parking is found in the pullouts along side the road.

olive mill road trees oak grove Gould Casa Dorinda Peter Bakewell Trail hike Montecito

Olive trees from the Gould estate are seen from Peter Bakewell Trail

At the trailhead is a stone gateway, the original entrance to the Gould estate. From the trailhead, Peter Bakewell Trail follows a somewhat weathered asphalt path, which soon crosses Montecito Creek by way of a bridge. The path is wheelchair accessible.

Just across the bridge the trail branches. The asphalt path continues to the left and improves dramatically in condition. To the right, a footpath continues around the edge of the property. About halfway around the perimeter, the footpath rejoins the asphalt path, which can be used for the return hike.

Continuing along the footpath, the trail leads through a scenic grove of coast live oak. Interspersed amongst the oaks, in the understory, is the occasional chaparral plant. In fact, the distribution of these plants and their location directly under the branches of the oaks suggests that they may have started from seeds dispersed by birds. Amongst the oaks, one can find elderberry, toyon, lemonade berry, and holly-leaf cherry. Some of the birds that can be observed at the site include acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers, scrub jays, morning doves, house finches, and black phoebes.

As the trail reaches the eastern edge of the site it turns north, and continues past a double row of olive trees, which were part of the original Gould estate. Past the olive trees the trail rejoins the asphalt path for the return hike back.

In 1886, George Gould purchased 40-acres of land, including this site, from John P. Neal. He built a modestly-sized house, located near where the olive trees are located. Around his house, he had an expansive lawn and garden, but left the balance of the property in its natural state, which is the oak woodland still seen today.

In 1893, William P. Gould, who may have been a distant cousin of George Gould, purchased land just south of George Gould’s property and built an olive mill, which is what gives Olive Mill Road its name.

Olives were first introduced to California in the 1700s by Franciscan padres through the mission system. The tree does well in our Mediterranean climate and was cultivated for its fruit and oil.

In the 1870s, Ellwood Cooper began a large scale operation of growing and processing olives in Goleta. Inspired by Cooper’s success, William Gould started his own mill in Montecito, but never quite saw the same level of return and, in 1905, closed the mill. The property was later sold and the mill converted into a residence, which at one time was owned by actress and singer Lena Horne.

It’s not clear if the olive trees on George Gould’s estate were for ornamental purposes or agricultural. However, George Gould did own other properties in Montecito where he grew olives that would’ve been processed at the mill south of his home. George Gould passed away in 1926, and the property was sold. Gould also owned property in Cold Spring Canyon; after his passing that land was donated to the city of Santa Barbara by his brother. The undeveloped land is now known as Gould Park.

The property just north of the Gould estate was owned by Isaac Rieman Baxley, who had purchased it from Gould in 1886. Baxley called his estate Everdene. In 1916, Baxley sold the property to William Henry and Anna Dorinda Bliss, who built an 80-room residence on the property to serve as their winter home. The estate gardens were designed by Peter Riedel, who also designed the gardens for the Gould estate, as well as other estates including that of George Owen Knapp.

In 1946, the Bliss estate was sold to by Dr. Homer F. Barnes, who opened Montecito School for Girls. Barnes also purchased the land that was formerly the Gould estate, combining the two pieces of land into a single property. The school closed in 1956, and the property was sold.

In 1971, the land was purchased by Casa Dorinda Associates, which redesigned the school and former Bliss estate into a retirement community. At some point, the buildings from the Gould Estate were removed, but the olive trees and oak grove were left unchanged.

In 1973, Montecito Trails Foundation, working with Casa Dorinda and the county, secured a trail easement through the undeveloped oak grove. The trail was later named Peter Bakewell Trail.

Bakewell was a past president and one of the original founders of Montecito Trails Foundation. He helped secure many of the easements that make up the network of community trails in Montecito and Summerland, maintained by Montecito Trails Foundation.

Founded in 1964 by a group of equestrians and hikers, the local non-profit organization actively works with private property owners and the county to secure and protect easements for public use.

The organization also maintains the front country trails between Gibraltar Road and Franklin Trail, from East Camino Cielo down to the beach. Many of these trails are within in the National Forest or on county-owned land, but receive maintenance from Montecito Trails Foundation.

The work of Montecito Trails Foundation is supported through fundraising and membership donations. Individual membership is $35 and includes a trail map that shows the trails between Gibraltar Road and Franklin Trail. The map is unique in that it shows community trails such as Peter Bakewell Trail that are not shown on other maps. For more information about the organization go to, http://www.montecitotrailsfoundation.info.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to visit some of Montecito’s local history.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the December 19th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.


Responses

  1. Hi. I’m wondering if you could help point me in the right direction to find more information on the Jay Gould summer home on Olive Mill Rd. I know it’s been demolished, but we used to live there in the 1960’s and I’m curious now to learn more about it. Anything you can help with? Thank you.

    • Hey Tracy, perhaps the best resource regarding the history of the different estates in Montecito is David F. Myrick’s two books,
      Montecito and Santa Barbara, Vol. 1: From Farms to Estates, and Montecito and Santa Barbara, Vol. 2: The Days of the Great Estates (both available at the library, as well as Chaucer’s).

      The Santa Barbara Historical Museum’s Gledhill Library is also a great resource for delving into specific topics.


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