The Eagle Ranch was founded by Baron Henry von Schröder in 1882 and was named for a pair of eagles von Schröder found nesting on a steep cliff near the waterfall on the Ranch. For ten years following his original purchase, the Baron added additional adjoining parcels to create the 2,400-acre Eagle Ranch. While the Baron was not a major historical figure, much of the mystique that surrounds Eagle Ranch can be attributed to his eccentricities and idiosyncrasies.
The earliest use of the property was likely by Salinan Indians or Chumash Indians as part of their hunting grounds. The property is known to have had good hunting areas and good sources of water.
The first known permanent inhabitant of the property was a Mexican family named Siqueiro, who grazed cattle on the property and built a log cabin in the Portrero area. No remains of the cabin exist today. Maria Siqueiro sold a portion of the family property to Albert Frederick Benton, a German immigrant, who built a second house at the current headquarters area. That house stands today as the back part of the superintendent’s house, which is not currently in use. Mr. Benton’s attempts at raising livestock were complicated by poor range land and an abundant population of grizzly bears.
Baron John Henry von Schröder was a decorated German Baron from a German banking family that still exists today. He voyaged to San Francisco seeking fortune and adventure in America, meeting and eventually marrying Mary Ellen Donahue, the daughter of a wealthy railroad tycoon. The Baron is pictured with two of his children at Eagle Ranch in the photo above.
The Baron purchased the ranch in 1882 from the Bentons and the Siqueiros after becoming enamored of it during a hunting expedition on the property. He purchased the property intending it to be used primarily as a hunting preserve, but immediately began developing additional uses on it.
Von Schröder constructed an elaborate residence and gardens whose architectural designs reflect a European influence. He constructed a greenhouse, two barns, a granary and bunkhouse with a blacksmith and carpenter shop. The Baron planted vegetable gardens, orchards and walnut trees around the headquarters and an elaborate water system to irrigate them. He improved access to the waterfall to make it a picnic destination, developed a 150’ by 30’ pool for the propagation of carp, and built a reservoir for raising frogs. The Portrero area was used for a prune orchard and a drying operation for the fruit and a unique grotto was constructed on the property for employee picnics and parties.
The Baron was called back to Germany when World War I began. In his absence, on April 14, 1919, the Eagle Ranch property was seized under the Trading with Enemy Act. On July 8, 1919, the Alien Property Custodian sold the property back to Frederick Forrest Peabody.
The Ranch’s new owner, Frederick Forrest Peabody, was a Santa Barbara area native and a self-made man. He amassed a fortune through Cluet and Peabody, ultimately the parent company of Arrow Collars and Shirts (pictured right). He retired in 1919, the year he bought Eagle Ranch. About the same time, he married Kathleen Burke and the couple retired to the Ranch. Kathleen persuaded Frederick to decree the end of all hunting on the Eagle Ranch and instead retain it as a game preserve, a tradition which continues today.
In 1920, Peabody added to his property with the purchase of an additional 1,242 subdivided acres from the Colony Holding Company. The land was originally part of a Mexican Rancho land grant prior to the E.G. Lewis 1914 subdivision that created Atascadero.
According to his sales brochure, Peabody hoped to breed “the finest cattle to be found anywhere in the United States.” He developed a herd of 250 Aberdeen-Angus cattle with the help of his prize bull, Aberlour, who traveled to the ranch from Scotland (see photo). Peabody’s efforts were less than successful due to the ranch’s challenging topography and soil conditions.
During the Peabody era, the property developed into a stunning showcase. The house was remodeled, landscaping improved, a show barn built, a second silo and hay barn added and a fully stocked bass pond developed (see photos). When Peabody died in 1927, the property transferred to his wife Kathleen. She remarried Girard Hale in 1930, and during the 40s and 50s the Eagle Ranch operated at a deficit.
The property’s buildings and grounds fell into disrepair. When Kathleen Hale died in 1958, she left the Ranch to Francis Price, Jr., son of the attorney who had worked for their family but had little interest in the Ranch. Francis Price, Jr. sold the property in 1964 to Mrs. Fred W. Smith.
The Smith era began in 1964 when Mrs. Fred Smith purchased the Eagle Ranch from Francis Price and in turn gave it to her daughter, Helen M. Smith. The Smith-Hobson family’s six-generations of cattle ranching and agriculture operations began in 1885 in Ventura County and has grown to include ranch interest in other Central Coast areas. Over the years, additional Atascadero Colony lots surrounding Eagle Ranch were purchased by the Smith family in order to manage future residential development within and around the ranch borders. The family cooperated with the Forest Service in a trade for Eagle Peak, which prior to the agreement had never been part of the Ranch.
In 1972 the Smith family built the Eagle Ranch dam to create a reservoir for additional irrigated pastures. The family has continued the Peabody prohibition of hunting on the Ranch and has maintained the Ranch as a wildlife preserve. A 1983 lightning strike and subsequent fire destroyed the main residence built by the Baron. The adjacent Tower House is the only remaining original ranch structure. Other older unused buildings are still present on the property but are in poor condition and have no present-day use.
In 1996, Helen Smith placed the property in a trust for her four nieces and nephews, who received the property in 2000. The four siblings have now embarked on a new era for Eagle Ranch, one that envisions preservation of open space, adaptive reuse and restoration of buildings, continued viable agricultural operations and compatible residential development to ensure the future viability of the property.