The Mountain View Inn, or Shepard’s Inn as it became widely known, was surely the biggest tourist attraction that the Carpinteria Valley had to offer at the turn of the 20th century. It was established circa 1890, but its roots go back to 1878.
James E. Shepard, and his wife, Belle, purchased a 140-acre ranch in 1876 only a couple of hundred yards away from where the Casitas Pass mountain road would open two years later. The road was embraced as a surer path through Carpinteria. Prior to the grading of the road, the only way through Carpinteria was along the El Rincon coastline.
The El Rincon stretch from Ventura to Carpinteria depended on ocean tides for passage. Travelers could wait for hours for the tide to recede before crossing. The Shepards, abutted to the new mountain road, saw a golden opportunity at their front door and took advantage of it.
The stagecoach line from Los Angeles to San Francisco quickly started using the Shepard’s Ranch as a rest stop. The horses were freshened there, and the stagecoach drivers and their passengers were afforded something to eat. Luckily for all, Belle Wyant Shepard loved to cook and was good at it. Before long, the Shepards transformed their ranch from a rest stop to a resort spot. They added cottages for overnight stays. They built a huge kitchen and a large dining hall that could seat 100. Reportedly, up to 12 turkeys could be prepared at a time in a French wood-burning range.
The Shepards also carved out a large swimming hole area for guests, scheduled guided excursions on horseback and for hiking. There were play areas for swings, horseshoe pits and other outdoor games. For large fetes, mariachi bands provided entertainment harking back to the old Spanish days. These were outdoor barbeque events with up to 150 guests.
Practically everything prepared in the Shepard’s Inn kitchen was homegrown. All of the vegetables and fruit, of course, but this also included dairy products—milk, cream and butter—trout from Rincon Creek, and beef and poultry from the livestock they kept. Wild quail, too.
Mrs. Shepard was particularly good at preparing desserts, so a dining experience at the ranch was not complete without fruity delights including pies and cobblers, particularly from strawberries. Michael Redmon, the curator of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, wrote in the Santa Barbara Independent (2011), that it was the baked oranges that were the top delicacy at Shepard’s Inn. To quote Redmon, “Reportedly, guests often devoured these, rind and all. Visitors, especially those from the cold climes of the eastern U. S., delighted in picking their own oranges from the nearby orchard for this culinary delight.” And, speaking of visitors…
The surviving registers from the inn list a who’s who of the most famous figures of the era. Visitors included the Vanderbilts, Captain and Lady Astor, Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. Also, entertainment figures like Sara Bernhardt, Theda Bara, Mary Pickford, and Enrico Caruso.
But, back to the topic of the baked oranges…Belle Wyant Shepard’s recipe for them was printed on a postcard and in a cookbook that she shared with the outside world. Also, the enticement of a baked orange may have been advertised on a Shepard’s Ranch citrus label circa 1890. The label, meant to be affixed to an orange fruit box, had no brand title. It simply said, “Santa Barbara and Ventura County” for its oranges. Because Rincon Creek ran directly through Shepard’s Ranch, the product was aptly named. The creek was the dividing line between counties and the ranch was situated in both. Ventura County was annexed from Santa Barbara County in 1873.
The good times at Shepard’s Inn came to an abrupt halt in 1914 when a fire ravaged the ranch. The resort limped along for another seven years, but its luster was gone. The Shepards sold the ranch in 1921 to Attala Bailard, Joe and Marie Schweizer, and Marie’s son, Manny Solari. The inn survived for another year, then closed permanently in April 1922. For about a 25 year period, however, it was the happening place to be in the Carpinteria Valley.