By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 25, 2009
This week we return again to the intersection of Mountain Drive, Mission Canyon Road and technically, Los Olivos, to visit a large stack of sandstone boulders. These are usually observed as a blur of yellowish red as our in-a-hurry society flies by or perhaps missed altogether due to DWS (Dirty Windshield Syndrome). They sort of look as though they are part of the 1891 Mission Creek Bridge stonework, but they were a later addition and how they got here is a story that begins with “Once upon a time, many years ago, in a place halfway around the world from here.”
The place in question is the Azores Islands, about 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, 2,200 miles from the east coast of the United States and 4,700 miles from Santa Barbara. Members of the Dabney family, originally from Massachusetts, had been here since the early 1800s when John Bass Dabney was appointed the American Consul by President Thomas Jefferson. The family prospered through shipping and trading and upon John’s death, his son Charles become the Consul and following his death, his son Samuel was Consul.
George Stuart Johannot Oliver was brought into the family when he married Frances Alsop Dabney in 1867. Born in Boston in 1831, the Harvard educated 6’4″ Oliver was intellectually and physically a stand out in any crowd. Coincidentally and somewhat confusing (though thrilling to genealogists), George’s classmate at Harvard was Francis Oliver Dabney, the brother of Frances. The new Mrs. Oliver’s middle name, Alsop was her mother’s middle name and also the maiden name of George’s father’s first wife (George’s mother was the second wife). So I suspect the Olivers and Dabneys may have been related though in George’s case not by blood.
George worked in the Dabney family shipping and trading business. Keeping his in-laws company in political matters, tradition states he was served as American vice-Consul though records indicate he was “Consul for the German Empire” for the Azores.
Oliver retired around 1880, and being in somewhat poor health he sought a more suitable climate for his convalescence. He found it in Santa Barbara, a quiet, small town of 3,400 souls that was gaining a reputation as a health resort.
View of the Oliver’s property from Mountain Drive
The Oliver’s bought nine acres in Mission Canyon strewn with sandstone boulders and dotted with oak trees. They established a nice home with lovely gardens and pathways which soon became a popular stopping place for friends, family and even tourists. The Olivers were one of the five Mission Canyon residents that paid for the Mission Canon Bridge as mentioned in last weeks story.
George Oliver died in 1904 and six years after his death, his widow hired stone mason George Robson to build a memorial to her husband. Robson moved three large boulders from the Oliver property to the entrance to Mission Canyon.
One boulder was hallowed out to serve as a horse trough – although it made a great pollywog nursery when I was a kid.
To the left another boulder had a small bowl carved into it with a water spigot (long gone) in the center for two-legged critters and the overflow filled the bowl for the birds and other furry woodland creatures.
The third boulder was behind the horse trough and in the center of the rock face Mrs. Oliver placed this plaque: “In Memory of George Stuart Johannot Oliver – who loved this Canyon – 1910.”
Francis Dabney Oliver passed away in 1926 at the ripe old age of 92. Following her death a group of friends bought her property for $27,000 with the intention of donating it to the county as park. At the time, the papers referred to it as “Oliver Park,” but it ended up with the name that the Olivers gave the property back in 1882 when they bought it – “Rocky Nook.”
Strolling through Rocky Nook Park today you will find a boulder with a plaque “Rocky Nook given to the County by Friends of Frances Dabney Oliver who lived here from 1882 to 1927.” Nearly 70 years later, another plaque was installed to honor the formerly nameless “friends” – former County Supervisor Sam and Carol Stanwood.
Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection