Olive Through the Ages

Olive residents: The Dankers, pioneer ranchers in Olive

Citizens and their homes | Biographies | Memories

I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Oldewage at an Orange Community Historical Society meeting, having been introduced to her by Orange County historian and author Phil Brigandi. Phil was kind to make the introduction for us, knowing I have been working on this Web site and wanting to speak with members of the Olive community or with those who have had a connection to Olive. He introduced Barbara to me as a member of the Dankers, one of the pioneer families in the Olive area. Barbara was gracious to honor my request, providing me the text for a speech she had presented in recent years about her memories of Olive, Orange, and the surrounding area, and the changes she had witnessed over time.

In my recent research at the Orange Public Library History Room, I was also fortunate to have encountered some articles mentioning Barbara's late uncle Ernest L. Danker who was born in Olive before the turn of the 20th century. These articles contain brief interviews with Ernest about his recollections of Olive in his childhood years.

Barbara and Ernest's stories depict the period when Olive was a rural community. Their memories help us see the town that used to exist on the small hill overlooking miles of groves that stretched down from the Santa Ana River.

NOTE: Barbara's original speech, which includes references to local areas outside of Olive, has been edited for this Web page to primarily focus on the Olive community. Click/tap the thumbnail images or links in the narrative below to view large images in a separate browser window or tab.

- Daralee, December 10, 2009


Barbara Oldewage recalls her family's connection to Olive and orange groves

Barbara Danker in 1948  
Barbara at a "Y" meeting at OUHS about 1948  
Barbara Danker in 1947  
Barbara on a float in the 1947 Orange Harvest Festival parade  

I was born and raised in the Santa Ana Canyon. We had an Anaheim address, RR3 Box 256, and an Orange phone number, 872-J-5. Now I can’t swear that there aren’t areas in this country that still have that kind of address, but the telephone system is now organized into area codes, and I haven’t heard of any rural addresses like that in this county. Can you imagine waiting till the fifth ring to know the call is for your household?

The nearest place to us with a name was Olive. My paternal grandparents moved to Olive about 1893, joining the influx of other German settlers. They were first in charge of the post office—my Uncle Ernest liked to say he came by mail; my dad was born in a house on what is now Lincoln Avenue, just east of the Santa Ana River. They ended up at the Beckman place on Jefferson Street, now Tustin Avenue. There my grandfather grew oranges from the Santa Ana Canyon Road up to the River on the west side, and about 20 acres on the east side.

At that time, Olive could boast of the Olive Mill, built in 1882, the Olive Hotel, built in 1887, and the Schorn home on what is now Oceanview and Bixby with its block of olive trees. Only that house, with just a few trees remaining, still stands.

The mill produced corn meal, graham flour, rolled barley, and shelled corn. It was the busiest mill in the area, located first in what is now Eisenhower Park and, after burning down in 1889, was rebuilt on what is now Oceanview and Lincoln; both were close to the reservoir where S.A.V.I. water was stored which was needed to operate the mill. The mill ceased to exist in 1932, served as a juice plant for several years, and is now the site of Lakeside Professional Building.

The hotel was an apartment house in my day; my dad delivered milk to some of the residents, but the building was eventually torn down.

My early years in Olive saw a brick yard—now a commercial site by that name—roughly where the first mill had been; Olive Heights Citrus Association (Sunkist) packing house, and the Mutual Orange Distributors (an independent house); Lee McClelland’s drug store with its collection of WWI armament and a poker or pinochle game in the back room; a volunteer fire department, pool hall, blacksmith, market, railway station, Bank of America, and post office; Ame’s Garage; a little café; two service stations; the Olive Garage and, I could swear old Burruel Point overlooked the baseball diamond where the farmers played the merchants. The Bank of America left during the Depression, the Olive Garage is still there, and the rest are gone.

There was also a public school which—after moves, rebuilding, remodeling and being leased out to a private school for a period of time—still exists although it has been incorporated into Orange. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and school are now on Canal Street, which is also in Orange. That original little church has been various things in the years since, and is now part of the North Orange Christian Church.

Daddy took care of grandpa’s grove and, when he and mother married, they moved into a little house on the property. Our own orange grove was where Anaheim Lake is today. Smudge pots were used when it got below freezing, which left high school boys with traces of soot behind their ears when they came to school the next day and their mothers lamenting the oily stuff on their curtains. The pots were later replaced with wind machines; much cleaner. A large amount of equipment was needed for the intensive type of care given: Tractors for pulling plows, disks for working the mustard cover crop into the soil, cultivators, and the like. We even had a pair of mules that came in handy in certain circumstances. I might add here that after planting the orange nursery stock, some growers grew a cash crop between the trees such as sweet potatoes, chili peppers, and peanuts in order to have some income until the orange trees produced in about seven years.

When I started at Orange Union High School, I was fortunate to have made friends with Barbara Anderson at Camp Osceola, a Y-Camp near Barton Flats in the San Bernardino National Forest. She introduced me to gals that I still count as my very good friends. That campus is now Chapman University on Glassell Street.

We used to hang out at Watson's Drug Store after school, which was on the corner of Chapman Avenue and Orange Street where World Travel is now, and I developed a real taste for cherry cokes. Watson’s has moved next door to itself and is now the only drugstore in Old Towne Orange. The Woman’s Club on Center Street, established in 1924, was the location of some of our school dances, as was the American Legion Hall on South Lemon Street; both are still intact.

When I got married, a good deal of the furniture in our house came from Higgin’s Furniture and my china came from Orange Hardware which were both located on South Glassell Street. On Main Street, St. Joseph Hospital has grown from the little building with two towers where a lot of us had our kids, to one of the outstanding medical facilities in the county.

So, things have changed a lot over the years. Orange has incorporated north and Anaheim, east, totally encompassing Olive, the little area on the hill which chooses to remain unincorporated.

The biggest change I've seen in my generation has been an almost total disappearance of the orange groves. The Robert D. Hoyt Municipal Orange Grove in Hart Park has kind of taking a beating right now by the widening of the 22 Freeway, and the Irvine Ranch has a few groves, but I think that’s about it. There are those who long for the old days but, be honest, would you really be happier?

Source: Barbara Oldewage's memories of Orange, Olive, and the surrounding area, from a speech she presented in recent years. This narrative has been edited to highlight her recollections of the Olive community.


Ernest Danker, the Olive native who arrived by mail

Ernest L. Danker was born on October 19, 1895 in the post office of a store beside the Olive mill. He began attending Olive Grammar School in 1901 and graduated about 1907 before going on to St. Paul's Lutheran School.

At a ceremony for the closure of Olive Elementary School in June 1984, Ernest, then 88, told an interviewer: "I remember being at Olive School. We had no telephones, no electricity and no running water. We had to go to [the well at] a neighbor's house down the hill to get water that we carried up in a bucket. They separated the boys and the girls. They had four grades in each room with one teacher. I couldn't speak one word of English when I came to school. I only knew German."

He added: "I remember seeing Indians hunting on the land that we now call State College Blvd. I was about five or six years old at the time. They hunted rabbits, quail and doves. It took them two weeks to catch enough game. Then they went home to Hot Springs." Ernest also recalled the Chinese workers who dug irrigation tunnels through the hills for the S.A.V.I. Company in 1900. The project was a major undertaking and furnished water to the Santa Ana Valley region and to power the Olive flour mill.

Reminiscing about the time he and some friends stole beers from the back of a buggy parked outside the town's dance hall, Ernest laughed: "We were just kids."

A resident of Yorba Linda for many years, and a lifelong rancher, Ernest Danker passed away on November 9, 1987 at the age of 92.

Sources: "Olive Celebrates 100th Anniversary," by Jack Boettner, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1978; "School's Days Are Over, but Not the Memories," by Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1984; "After 106 years, Olive closes door on history of Orange and its citizens," by Mary-Ann Unland, Orange City News, June 20, 1984; Rootsweb.com.


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