Olive residents: Charles Parkman Taft, Olive's award-winning horticulturist
The surname Taft in the City of Orange can be identified with a main road, an elementary school, and a public library branch. But for whom were these named? As a child I thought it was the former President of the United States, William Howard Taft, who was being honored.
Then Gordon McClelland shared old newspaper articles and biographical sketches from volumes in his collection about Charles Parkman Taft, a resident of Olive in the late 1890s to the late 1920s, and I quickly understood why he was recognized for his many significant contributions to horticulture.
Here in Orange County, growing up with an abundance of semi-tropical fruits, I never thought about how these fruits are grown, or how they came to Southern California. If it wasn't for Charles P. Taft, we would not have many of these varieties in our grocery markets.
As I researched his life and his work, I came to realize how great an honor it is to have become acquainted with a talented and fine individual as Mr. Taft. For most of his adult life, he humbly lived on his ranch, sharing his time and knowledge of horticulture; helping those whom he met, as well as those whom he would never meet, but would profoundly affect long after he left this earth.
For the extent of his experimentation and development of countless exotic fruit trees, and the promotion of their fruits, it is clear to see why early residents chose to honor his name.
A promising start out West
Charles Parkman Taft was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio on July 11, 1856 to Henry Cheney Taft and Hannah Sophia (Parkman) Taft of Massachusetts. Young Charles came from a respectable lineage with several members of the Taft and Parkman families making their mark in American history as prominent statesmen, scientists and scholars on the East Coast.
At the time of his graduation from Racine College of Racine, Wisconsin in 1877, the new Gilded Age had begun, ushering in a period of rapid growth and development in the northern and western states. After teaching school for two-and-a-half years, Charles headed to California where he and his parents lived on a ranch in the City of Duarte in Los Angeles County.
A year later in 1883, Charles settled in an area that would become a part of Olive. Here he purchased and developed 23 acres of land, and tended an adjoining farm, 52 acres in all. Charles had arrived before the Southern California land boom in 1887 and before Los Angeles County was divided in 1889 to create Orange County. The timeliness of these historical events gave him the opportunity to participate in elections pertaining to the formation of Orange County and its roads. When the neighboring tracts of Olive Heights and St. James were developed, though Charles' land was not in located either township, his precinct was listed as St. James since he lived in closer proximity to that town. After St. James went bust during the early 1900s, he was listed as a resident of Olive.
On July 17, 1888, Charles married Canadian native Miss Jane ("Jennie") MacMullan, then a resident of Oakland, who shared his philanthropic interests. The couple lived on the ranch in Charles' two-story home that stood on the northwestern corner of present day N. Tustin Street and E. Taft Avenue. As vital members of Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Orange—of which they were co-founders—Jane helped to organize fundraising activities, and Charles occasionally ministered to the congregation—along with Isaac Lea Collins, for whom Collins Avenue would be named. While pursuing these community activities, the unassuming Charles quietly engaged in his experimental work with horticulture.
At first he planted vines and deciduous trees, similar to other farmers of the time, and for many years enjoyed continued success with these crops. On July 2, 1893, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed: "C.P. Taft, one of the most extensive fruit-growers in this vicinity, has informed a press reporter that the crop of peaches on his place this season will be the largest and finest he has ever had. His apricot crop is fine, but the yield is not as heavy as upon some former years, while the blackberry crop is simply immense, the demand for this fruit being exceptionally good."
But over time, the fruits that brought Charles the most attention were from semi-tropical trees. He started planting these types of trees during the first year of his marriage to Jane. By June 21, 1914, the Times concluded Charles was "an unusual man with an unusual ranch, growing unusual fruits... all of which are successful money makers in his hands, for he has with infinite pains and patience propagated and developed improved varieties, which are all worth a premium as soon as placed on the market."
Charles defined "Semi-Tropical Fruits" in his article contributed to the 1915 publication Proceedings of the 45th Fruit Growers’ Convention of the State of California: "We call these semi-tropical because they have been transported from the tropics and induced to grow in our favored land [of California], which is not tropical nor yet strictly temperate, but a combination of the two. The fundamental reason for their success here is of course the favorable environment supplied by the soil and climate, but the land and brain of man supplements this and by continued crossbreeding and selection—mostly the latter—so far assists nature that there is produced in a few decades what she might alone fail to accomplish in a thousand years."
Early years of loquat-growing in Olive
The first semi-tropical fruit tree Charles cultivated was the loquat which is a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) family that originated in southeastern China and had been cultivated for more than 1000 years in Japan. The fruit resembles an apricot in size, color and taste, combined with the flavor of apple and pear—all three which are its cousins—as well as a hint of cherry, plum and grape.
He planted loquat seeds 24 feet apart, 78 to the acre, in gravelly loam and adobe soil on his ranch. When a loquat tree seedling produced a fine quality of fruit—based on size, flavor, color, and shipping quality—he grafted buds from that tree to a loquat root. Starting with 50 loquat trees, Charles had 1500 trees on his ranch 18 years later, as noted by the Times on February 25, 1906. His experimentation with numerous varieties of loquats progressed over many years until he determined a chosen variety was satisfactory.
The white-fleshed Advance, which Charles introduced in 1897, was his first propagated variety. The May 19, 1897 edition of the Times declared the largest of these loquats measured three inches in length and two inches in diameter. Some other varieties Charles perfected were the Premier and the Victor which he originated in 1899; the Champagne which he introduced into cultivation about 1908—regarded as the best of these varieties—and the Early Red which he originated in 1909.
Once his loquat orchards with the selected varieties were established, at harvest time Charles was well-compensated for his labor. The Times reported on June 21, 1914: "One afternoon during the last days of May, Mr. Taft was found beside his barn, alongside of which stood a large motor truck, to haul to market Taft loquats, of which the last picking was then under way. As the truckload of loquats left the yard, Mr. Taft pocketed the cash they had sold for an action, which certainly looked good to the fellow orchardist from another county, who had been in the habit of first shipping his fruit and later receiving the money for it. For it demonstrated that the Taft loquat is sought after and has assured market that the demand is always present for the best…. The fact that the Taft loquat brings four and five times as much on the market as the ordinary varieties, is proof positive of its excellence."
The loquat fruit reached the height of its popularity and profitability in the region during the 1920s. In Samuel Armor’s History of Orange County, California with Biographical Sketches published in 1921, Charles confidently stated in the article he contributed: "The loquat is in a way the most characteristic fruit of Orange County, for it is here that it has been most highly developed, and so far as yet ascertained, has reached a perfection unknown elsewhere, not only in California, but in the world. At any rate, as a result of new varieties originated here, Orange County has the largest and best loquat orchards. Approximately from one hundred to one hundred fifty tons are marketed annually. Relatively this is not a large amount, to be sure, but it is the most and best of any." The Santa Ana Register echoed this sentiment in the banner headline of a 1924 newspaper edition that announced growers predicted loquats would rival oranges.
Though the loquat never reached the status of the orange in its popularity with the general public, many of the varieties that exist in the United States today are the result of the extensive, experimental work conducted by Charles P. Taft.
Experimentation with persimmons
The persimmon was another fruit tree that captured Charles' attention in the early years on his ranch at Olive. A number of varieties had already been imported from Japan and Charles began experimenting with them to identify the best ones to grow in California. He planted persimmons commercially on a few acres and perhaps was the first to use rootstock from lotus or wild persimmon for persimmons grown in California. Charles found the Tanenashi from a nursery in Georgia to be very good, but the Hachiya soon proved to be superior to all varieties.
In his article from Armor’s book of 1921, Charles wrote: "Persimmons, especially the Hachiya, a Japanese variety, here attain a perfection unsurpassed anywhere. While the market does not as yet absorb a very large quantity, the demand is increasing and from ten to twenty tons are marketed from Orange County each season, at good prices….
"The persimmon has advanced considerably in the estimation of the public, which now takes all that are offered it at very good prices. There has been and is a good demand for trees, more than exhausting the entire available supply of nursery stock, of which there bids fair to be a shortage for several years. In Orange County the Hachiya, which is the best commercial variety, has rarely been known to fail after the trees have reached the full-bearing age, which is about eight years from planting. On the oldest trees the production amounts to 400 pounds or more annually."
Commercial success for the avocado
While Charles is widely recognized for his work developing the loquat and persimmon—among other semi-tropical fruits—the fruit with which he is most associated is the avocado.
William McPherson, a rancher, scholar, collector, and fellow member of the California Avocado Association (which became the California Avocado Society in 1941) wrote about Charles' early observations of—and work with—the avocado in his article "C.P. Taft, an Avocado Pioneer" published in the California Avocado Association 1931 Yearbook:
"Having seen the avocado displayed, it was characteristic of Mr. Taft that he should want to try it. In 1899 he bought two fruits of the well-known old-time firm of Ludwig & Matthews at the Mott Market on Main Street in Los Angeles and planted the seed from them. These were Mexican type fruits. One of the seedlings he kept. It turned out to be a rather poor bottle-necked fruit. The other seedling tree went to Mrs. J. H. Northrop of Newport Road, northeast of Tustin, and we are quite sure it became the parent tree of the Northrop variety. The next year Mr. Taft planted more seed from fruit obtained at the Mott Market. Some of these fruits were thick-skinned. The Taft variety resulted from one of these seedlings….
"Within a few years Mr. Taft had trees bearing and he began to raise nursery stock, budding from some that were the better ones. If Mr. Taft was not the first man to bud avocado trees in California, he was certainly among the very first. The first budded tree he ever sold was the Carey Smith tree, which was planted by Mr. Smith on North Main Street, Santa Ana. Another early budded tree was one that he named the Champion…."
In his article "Some Semitropical Fruits" which was published by Pacific Rural Press on September 28, 1901, Charles wrote about the avocado for the University Farmers' Institute at Villa Park:
"This fruit is variously called "ahuacate," "alligator pear," "midshipman's butter," etc. Botanically it is Persea gratissima. I am sure it will do well with us, and I wish to draw your attention to it particularly, for from what I have read and seen I believe that it will succeed at least as well as the cherimoya. Descriptions of this fruit by Prof. Wickson, Dr. Franceschi and Prof. Van Deman all agree in stating that it is most luxurious. From them I gather the following facts: two trees were introduced into Santa Barbara in 1870. One has borne regularly and as many as 500 specimens at a time and the other not at all. This indicates that, as with other seedlings, there will be a great variation, and the remedy is, of course, grafting or budding to the best variety. The following, by Prof. Van Deman, is the latest description I have found. He is alluding to fruit on exhibition at the Pan American Exposition from Florida:
"'This fruit, although frequently called the alligator pear, has no relation whatever to the pear family, nor does it belong to the alligator family either. It is grown upon trees fully as large as our pear or apple trees, and many of the varieties are about the shape of ordinary pears and vary in color from light green to pinkish, dull red and purple, some of them being almost as dark as to be called black. There is a large seed inside which is surrounded by a pulp or flesh which is about the consistency of ordinary butter and when slightly salted has a most delicious taste. Without salt it is a little insipid. It is commonly used for making salads in the tropics, and I know of nothing which is more enjoyable among the tropical fruits.'
"The tree is an evergreen. A few weeks ago I was directed to a yard in Los Angeles where there are as many as twenty trees, bearing considerable fruit. They are doing very well, considering that they are among the oil wells and what I should judge to be not very good soil. Like the cherimoya, the fruit is already pretty well known in the markets of the large cities, where they are said to be worth $3 or $4 a dozen for the larger kinds. In Los Angeles they retail for 40 to 50 cents each."
On February 25, 1906, the Times reported on the last six years of Charles' work with the avocado: "His trees number twenty, from two to six years old. An avocado begins to bear when five years old, and bears heavily at fifteen years of age."
Regarding Charles’ speculation on the demand for the avocado, McPherson wrote in his article: "At a Farmers' Institute in Tustin in 1906 or 1907 he read his first paper on the avocado (or "alligator pear" as it was then called) which seems to have been the first time that the avocado appeared on a program at a California meeting. In the first yearbook of the California Avocado Association there was an article by Mr. Taft, in which he refers to that Institute Meeting at Tustin and what he had to say there.... At this meeting he urged the commercial possibilities of the avocado and prophesied an important future for it, ending with the words, "Will the next horticultural craze be over the alligator pear?" Well, it certainly was….
"Mr. Taft originated quite a number of avocado varieties, as you may see by looking in the check list. The best one is the one bearing his own name. It first bore in 1909, when it had a crop of six fruits. Then it skipped a year, and afterwards bore rather regularly. It was a surpassingly fine fruit and Mr. Taft budded from it extensively…."
The Times reported on May 16, 1913 that the avocado industry was gaining momentum in Southern California: "The first avocados of the season arrived on the market yesterday in a slug box from the ranch of C.P. Taft, the horticulturist and importer, near Orange. The fruit resembled the Mexican avocado which is received in quantities during the fall, and was offered at $9 a dozen, although it was uncertain whether or not this price would be obtained." E.M. Wolcott who received the shipment was quoted as saying: "'More avocados were received on the market last year than ever before, and the little industry is spreading out. There are plantations around Orange, in the foothills near Altadena and elsewhere…. The avocado is considered profitable to raise because of the high prices obtained. The industry has not expanded as much as might be expected in view of this fact, probably because of the cost of the young trees.'"
The 1914 Times article described the avocado orchards on Charles' ranch: "Near the house were several avocado trees of varying sizes and ages. One, a magnificent specimen with vari-tinted foliage and wide spreading branches, proved to be the parent Taft avocado, which is proving itself one of the best varieties so far introduced into the State. On it were pointed out a number of fruits—and these were quite hard to see, high up in the tree. For them $10 a dozen had already been offered and accepted from Los Angeles. Of avocados Mr. Taft has twelve acres planted, over 600 trees, and it was interesting to note the variation in the foliage, more particularly in color and tints, of trees even grown from fruits obtained from the same tree. Mr. Taft is yet looking for his ideal fruit, and has planted many seedlings with that idea in view. Here two rows of older trees, all seedlings of widely differing growth and foliage, in another spot several acres of budded trees, and still further from the house, the last unplanted land on the ranch, to be set this year to avocados and loquats."
By this time, Charles had already become widely respected and recognized for his work with semi-tropical fruits and helping fellow ranchers. On May 15, 1915 when a group of avocado growers formed the California Avocado Association—a Southern California-based, non-profit organization which gave growers access to information on growing and marketing their avocados—Charles was among the nine volunteer directors named to the board. McPherson's article mentioned Charles' early contributions to the Association: "In the first two yearbooks you will find papers by him—the one in the first book is of great importance in considering the history of the present [avocado] industry."
Charles shared some observations on growing avocados in his "Semi-Tropical Fruits" article of 1915: "The avocado and the loquat are the semi-tropical fruits which it seems to me today offer the highest inducements to the plant breeder…. The present types [of avocados] which now grow wild in these their native habitats are descendants of kinds which were then highly cultivated and possess all their characteristics in latent potential state. By hybridizing and raising sufficient seedlings properly selected, and under favorable conditions, we will find new ones of the greatest variety and value. It is sixteen years since I planted my first Avocado seed…. I have twenty or more seedlings of the thick skinned type in bearing, and of these at least ten are of considerable value. No two are exactly alike. They vary in color, shape, flavor, size of seed, texture of skin and in other ways. They doubtless vary also in chemical composition which is rather obvious from the taste and from the fact that the flesh of the majority will turn black when exposed for a few hours, but some, and these the best, do not discolor, showing that there is something in one which is lacking in the other…. I have fruited also, perhaps a hundred of the thin skinned type and these show similar variations, but are uniformly, of smaller, average size. The most interesting of these, perhaps, is one which bears fruit, ninety-nine out of one hundred of which are seedless. They are purple, or nearly black in color and very much elongated. They vary from one to four inches in length and from ¼ to 1 inch in diameter…."
In his article in Armor's book of 1921, Charles commented on the outlook of the local avocado industry: "Excellent and prolific varieties have been established and orchards of budded trees are making their appearance. There is every reason for believing, that by proper selection of varieties, the avocado may be made to mature fruit every month of the year and be a constant source of income and gratification. If it is so desired, the grower may confine his attention to varieties ripening at such a time as he may regard the most profitable and market his entire crop in a few months…. Attention has been especially called to prove that this superb and fascinating fruit can be grown in many portions of Orange County with great success. It is not unlikely that there will soon be extensive development of this industry, rivalling the orange it may be, in value and acreage."
McPherson's article from the Association's 1931 yearbook credited Charles' efforts for much of the avocado industry's success: "The California avocado industry has now grown important. Ten thousand acres are now planted. That was not in the dream of the most enthusiastic twenty years ago. What the industry has become and its increasing greatness in years to come, it owes to a great extent to the pioneers of years ago... such as Mr. Taft…. Perhaps Mr. Taft's greatest contribution to the avocado industry was that he seems to have been the first to recognize the commercial possibilities of the new fruit. At first the avocado was a fruit for the yards of amateurs. Mr. Taft, having tried it, believed that here was an important fruit that California could raise in quantity, and he recommended its commercial production."
National recognition for horticultural work
On October 26, 1924, the Times announced Charles had received the prestigious "Frank Meyer Memorial medal for outstanding contributions to the development of new fruits" from the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. The article cited Charles as being: "...the originator of the Taft avocado, now very popular on the market. He also originated a number of other varieties of this fruit in his extensive planting of seedling trees. He was identified with the early introduction and establishment of the Japanese persimmon as a commercial crop in California. His ranch near Orange has long been a Mecca for students of horticulture.
"The medal which has been provided for from a fund left by the veteran agricultural explorer of the United States Department of Agriculture, Frank Meyer, is awarded each year to someone who has achieved outstanding results in the introduction of new fruits and this is the first time that a Californian has received the honor. The medal will be presented at a banquet during the Citrus Extension School at Whittier, November 1, according to Knowles Ryerson, Los Angeles County Farm Adviser, who has charge of the arrangements. An effort is being made to have [President] Herbert Hoover present the medal to Mr. Taft on behalf of the Federal Department."
Ryerson honored Charles in his article "Southland Orchardist Signally Honored: Veteran Orange County Plant Enthusiast Awarded Frank Meyer Memorial Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Horticultural Progress—Work With Semi-Tropicals Recognized in Many Lands" published in the Times on December 14, 1924. He started by saying: "...for years [he] has been striving in a quiet way in behalf of horticultural advancement. While Mr. Taft's ranch in Orange County has long been the mecca of students of subtropical fruit culture, both amateur and professional, the public as a whole has been ignorant of his contributions to horticultural knowledge, although these have enriched not only our own orchard industry but that of countries bordering the seven seas. His interest has extended to practically all of the fruits of semitropical countries, and growing on his home place may be found avocado, loquats, Japanese persimmons, guavas, feijoas, cherimoyas, white sapotes, the Carissa or Natal plum and other fruiting plants of lesser importance, in the introduction, of all of which to Southern California he has played an important part. The avocado and the loquat have occupied most of his time and it is for contributions in the way of new varieties of these fruits that he is best known…."
He described the Taft avocado as being "of a medium shade of dark green color, pear-shaped, and ripens from April to September, according to locality and season. At Orange, it is at its best in May. It weighs about a pound and is unusually fine in quality, being one of the very best fruits on the market today."
Of the loquat, he wrote: "The work which Mr. Taft did with the fruit was not limited to seedling selection, some time being spent also in hybridizing different varieties to combine desirable qualities."
The article further discussed Charles' experimentation with other semi-tropical fruits: "...Because of the success of the early plantings of Japanese persimmons, of which the Taft orchard was one of the most prominent, interest in the industry has steadily increased until at the present time several hundred acres in Southern California are devoted to the production of this fruit. Recently there has been a renewed enthusiasm in persimmon culture and additional acreage has been set out.
"Of the other subtropical fruits how occupying the attention of Mr. Taft, the feijoa to his mind offers the most promise. A much hardier shrub than the more strictly warm-region plants, it may be grown over the entire state. It is a member of the guava family and closely related to the guavas. The fruit is about the size and somewhat the shape of a hen's egg. The soft, melting pulp is highly perfumed and aromatic in flavor. The fruit is handicapped with a dull green exterior, and because most people buy with their eyes, it suffers by comparison with other fruits. Some seedlings have a dull maroon cheek when ripe and others have a yellowish caste. Mr. Taft hopes by selection and hybridizing to secure a feijoa with a red cheek and perhaps a yellowish rather than a green color that will be much more appealing to the fruit buyer, and he is actively at work on this problem at the present time. Because of the close relationship between the guava and the feijoa, it may he possible to clone the ordinary ruddy strawberry guava with the feijoa and add color this way.
"Mr. Taft has the first feijoa plant that came into Orange County. This was received from the late Dr. Fenzi of Santa Barbara, who was responsible for its introduction into this state. With both the guava and feijoa, satisfactory methods of propagation have had to be worked out. Mr. Taft was one of the first in Southern California to successfully bud the guava and graft the feijoa, thus insuring the perpetuation of the better varieties….
"While the white sapote may never become a commercial fruit, it has a place in the home garden and it is relished by many. A seedless variety which originated near Orange is being propagated on the Taft place. The fruit smaller than that of seeded varieties, but the quality is fine and the fruit is borne in abundance.
"A casual tour around the grounds of the Taft home place will introduce the visitor to other unusual ornamental fruiting plants unknown to the average person. Some of the largest Kaffir plum tree (Harpephyllum caffrum) in the southern part of the state are to be found on this place. A twenty-five-year-old Natal plum (Carissa grandiflora) blooms almost continuously, its waxy, white, jasmine-scented flowers sharply contrasted with the dark green foliage and deep red plum-like, fragrance. The behavior of these and other fruits on this ranch has encouraged many other growers throughout Southern California to try them with the result the many gardens are now enriched by these exotic contributions.
"The award of the Frank Meyer medal is a fitting tribute to the work of Mr. Taft. The history behind the medal is as colorful and romantic as any fictitious story of adventure could be. As an agricultural explorer of the United States Department of Agriculture Director, Mr. Meyer has left his record permanently written throughout the length and breadth of this country in living linen of ornamental and orchard trees and shrubs, the products of his years of lonely travel. On foot, this intrepid scientist covered thousands of miles in the remote provinces of China, Turkestan, Manchuria, Korea and Japan, seeking trees and plants, both economic and ornamental, that might add food for the family table to beauty and artistry the gardens and parks of the country. His untimely death in China several years ago while he was pursuing his work removed one of the most picturesque figures in the history of the governmental service.
"In his will Mr. Meyer made a bequest to his co-workers in the office of the foreign seed and plant introduction, and very fittingly these funds were turned into a memorial fund, the proceeds going into a medal to be awarded each year to someone making outstanding contributions to horticultural progress through the Introduction of now plants….
"The addition of the name of C.P. Taft to this list is for him a well merited mark of distinction, and is a credit to the state and the community in which he his worked. In the field of agriculture all too frequently those who have contributed much are unsung and unknown. The Meyer award is an indication that at last achievement in this field of endeavor is to be acknowledged, and that contributions to human happiness resulting from such achievements are to be received."
On February 13, 1925, California Avocado Association members unanimously elected Charles "to honorary membership in the Association in recognition of his contributions to the avocado industry," the Times reported on March 15 that year. The article added: "Mr. Taft was the originator of the famous Taft variety, which was so widely planted some ten years ago, and which at the present time represents a greater proportion of the fruit on the market than does any other variety."
An end during the Great Depression
Charles was 73 years old before the start of the Great Depression in 1929 and had sold his ranch in 1926 to Roy Kokx who later partnered with his brother Lawrence to own the largest loquat orchard in California. (See Lawrence Kokx: Hard work, teamwork, frugality were key to his success.)
Times were tough for many Olive townsfolk, including the Tafts. The couple moved to 864 East Chapman Avenue in Orange where Charles continued pursuing his experimentation in horticulture on a smaller scale in his new backyard. He continued working with the avocado and also the feijoa. A Brazilian who had visited the Taft ranch sent him a jaboticaba tree which produced a valuable fruit in his home country, and Charles began working with that variety.
In 1933, Jane passed away in their home on Thanksgiving Day. Less than six months later, on May 10, 1934, Charles died at home nearly a week following a stroke at the age of 77. Though his life had ended before the Great Depression would come to a close in 1939, he would live in the fond memories of those whom he helped in his daily life; his work in horticulture would survive him throughout the world, in generations to come.
The Times wrote about Charles on May 27, 1934: "For his work with [avocados, loquats and other semi-tropical fruits] he will probably be best remembered, but many will like to think of him as the young man who was so thrilled by the possibilities of a sunny new clime that he wanted to give his life to experimentation with strange crops not known to the staid old agriculture of the East...."
In the 1936 California Avocado Association yearbook, member Wilson Popenoe provided his own reminiscences: "During 1909, 1910 and 1911, I spent much of my time on the hunt for local seedlings which might be worth propagation. C.P. Taft was an inspiration. Always willing to give his time, and to answer questions to the very best of his ability, he helped and guided not only ourselves [in the California Avocado Association] but everyone else who was interested in the young industry. Cash was pretty scarce with all of us, and automobiles were still a great luxury. Nor were the roads what they are today. I used to go to Santa Ana on the Pacific Electric, then over to Orange on the "dummy," then hire a bicycle and ride several miles out to Mr. Taft's place through the dust."
Charles P. Taft’s name lives on near his ranch
Decades after his passing, Charles P. Taft's name lives on near his former ranch, despite significant developments in the City of Orange during the 1960s, including a proposal to change the name "Taft Avenue" to "Ball Road." The name "Taft Avenue" first appeared in phone directories about the mid-1910s as being the name of the road that ran in front of the Taft home on the ranch and perpendicular to Tustin Street.
In 1962, Taft Elementary School was built on Cambridge Street, just around the block from the Taft ranch. When it first opened, the school was located in the Township of Olive, but soon after that parcel was annexed to the City of Orange. The school celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 attended by the first school Principal, Ken Neisess, then 90 years old. In April 2016, the school was honored under the Gold Ribbon Schools Awards Program by the California Department of Education for preparing its students for 21st Century college and careers.
Another fixture in the community is the Taft Branch Public Library, located down the street from the school on the southwestern corner of Cambridge and Taft Avenue. Named for Charles P. Taft, the library has been a valuable resource to the public since its opening in 1969. While the library has had its hours shortened over the years as many other county libraries, its collections and services remain highly regarded by the local community.
As for the Tafts' former residence on the northwestern corner of E. Taft and N. Tustin, the home was razed shortly after 1963 to make way for a shopping center and gas station. About that time, the few remaining orchards on the lot were also removed.
An article about loquats in the May 5, 1999 Times edition mentioned Charles and his ranch: "All that is left of Taft's holding is a single avocado tree in [81-year-old neighbor Wesley] Marquart's yard—perhaps the last surviving tree of the Taft variety, a gift from the great horticulturist to Marquart's father."
Wesley Marquart was quoted as saying about Charles: "He used to drive an electric car, the only one I ever saw. It had a steering stick instead of a wheel and the seats faced each other sideways."
Local historian Phil Brigandi offered these details about Charles' electric car and his latter years in Orange County Chronicles published in 2013: "Old-timers remember him driving slowly into town in what must have been about the last electric car in Orange. You'd see him get out, one said, and pull a dining room chair or some other small piece of furniture out of the back of the car. He'd take it into a secondhand shop and come out a few minutes later empty-handed. Then he would go into one of the markets and come out with a little bag of groceries, get in his car and drive slowly back to his lonely home. That's how he lived his last days, selling off his household goods one by one."
The Marquart home on E. Taft Avenue, built in 1913, still stands in 2016. The Taft avocado tree, a gift from Charles P. Taft to his neighbor, likely remains on the family property as the sole survivor of the many semi-tropical fruit trees that once grew in the southernmost part of the Township of Olive.
- Daralee, October 29, 2016
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