Friday, May 13, 2011

Simiopolis – Simi’s First Tract Home Neighborhood

Written by Cindy Nunn

During the 1800’s there were three distinct areas in what is now known as Simi Valley, with ranches dotted throughout the area from one end of the valley to the next. The land near the hills to the north, in what is now the Tapo Canyon and Tapo Street areas was called Rancho Tapo, the south east area was called Santa Susana and the rest of the valley was known as El Rancho Simi, Simi Valley or simply ‘The Simi.’

In the year 1888 a group of land investors, called the California Mutual Benefit Colony of Chicago, was formed with the intention of bringing new settlers to Rancho Simi from Illinois. These investors bought land in Simi for the town site, as well as acreage for farming. The area was advertised as a place for those seeking a more healthful environment, even going so far as to portray a paddle-wheel boat in the arroyo, making the small body of water appear far larger than it was. Soon, about one-hundred brave and hardy souls signed on to become the new settlers of what became known as Simiopolis, a name which lasted for no more than six months before reverting back to the more simple Simi.

Twelve ready-made homes, none of which came with in-door plumbing, were purchased from the T.W. Harvey Lumber Company of Chicago, who also specialized in cottage style house plans, which could be chosen from a small catalog of designs and sold for about $300. These houses were partially assembled in Chicago and sent by rail to Saticoy, California, where they were then picked up and hauled to Simiopolis by horse and wagon. In November 1888 the first group of new settlers left Chicago and arrived in Simi Valley on 15 November. However, the houses had not arrived yet, forcing them to camp out in tents at the Simi Hotel. They were no doubt shocked and surprised to find that they had come to a settlement that had neither church nor school, or much of anything else in the way of amenities for that matter!

Soon, the homes were up and the new “Simi Colony” came to life. This area, bounded between current-day First and Fifth Streets and Los Angeles and Ventura Avenues, became Simi Valley’s first tract housing neighborhood. Sadly, only two of the original homes exist, one of which is located at the Strathern Historical Park. The other, however, remains in the same location at which it was first erected, at 2nd Street and Pacific Avenue, and is owned by Larry Powell, who has been lovingly restoring this Lovely Lady of Simi Valley for well over twenty years.

Before Mr. Powell purchased the property it was owned by Rose Arabella ROWE Printz, and then by her daughter, Bessie Printz. Ownership of the home pre-Printz is not positive, but I believe it may have been the William H. and Mary Gardner family.

Rose Arabella was born Sept. 1861 in Fayette County, Ohio, where her parents, Levi ROWE and Eliza DAVIS owned at farm at Sugar Land. On census records for 1870 and 1880 Rose was actually enumerated as Arabella R. Rowe. Her siblings were Oliver, Martha ( aka Mattie) and Wesley. On 9 June 1886 Rose married Charles Albert Printz in Fayette County, Ohio. Charles was born in Miamisburg, Montgomery County, Ohio in the year 1860.

Soon after, this newlywed couple moved to Cook County, Illinois, settling in Hyde Park. Charles was a wholesale grocer at this time. In 1888 they were living at Jefferson Avenue and 57th Street, where daughter Anna Francis Printz was born on 27 May 1888 at in the evening. It was in this year that the partially assembled houses for the Simi Colony were being loaded on the trains at Chicago for their trip to California and daughter Bessie recalled that her parents talked about watching these houses being loaded on to the train cars.

Apparently Charles was a land agent in Los Angeles for the Simi Land and Water Company for a short time. He must have had itchy feet because by 1890 we find him living in Pleasant Valley (current day Camarillo), Ventura County, California, where he became a Registered Voter on 19 July 1890. He lists his occupation as farmer. Then, in September 1891 it was reported that he was almost finished building “a comfortable little house on his ranch,” which was located in Simi Valley. This is where daughter Gertrude Lillian was born in December 1891. Daughter Bessie was born in October 1893, probably in San Jacinto, Riverside County, where the family were living at the time of Charles’ death on 3 October 1894. Land records show that Charles and Rose granted land to the Simi Land & Water Company on 17 January 1892, quite possibly where they had built their little house.

In 1900 we find ‘A. Rose PRINTZ’ and daughters living in Fairfield, Highland County, Ohio, according to the census for that year. Sometime after 1901 Rose and her daughters returned to Simi Valley, where they lived in one of the Colony Houses from 1903 to 1905. At this time Rosa was the postmistress of Simi Valley. In 1905 the family home caught on fire and burned to the ground, forcing a move to the house next door, which is the one still standing at 2nd and Pacific. From here, Rosa not only retained her position as postmistress, a job she held from 1903 until 1941, but she also ran the telephone exchange for Simi from this house. After many years of moving from one state to another, and than from town to town, Rose finally returned to Simi and stayed, forever immortalizing the part she played in the history of the little Simi Colony. Later, daughter Bessie took over the position of postmistress and the eveidence is still there. If you happen to stop by to see this beautiful little house, don’t forget to take note of the respectful tribute paid on the mailbox by current owner Larry Powell, which still reads “B.M. Printz.”

Please note: Research into the history of this colony house will continue as new information comes to light.

1 comment:

  1. Good information and very interesting history of our not so little town anymore.


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