A Brief History of the Congdon House

The Ecology Center offices are located in the Congdon House, which was built by none other than Joel Rathbone Congdon.

Joel Congdon was born in New York in 1838 and moved to California with his brother George in 1854. Some quick math tells us that he was a mere sixteen years of age. Needless to say, it was an arduous journey traveling by rail, boat, and even mule.

Joel was married to Mary A. Rouse in 1864 and farmed in the San Bernardino area for four years. Then in 1868 he, Mary, and his brother-in-law, J.P. Fuller, purchased 160 acres with the borders defined by Alipaz Road, Del Obispo, and El Camino Real (considerably larger than the 28.8 plot today). In 1876 Joel decided to build a home to accommodate his growing family of eight children.

With no Home Depot, the redwood lumber made its way by boat from San Francisco. The foundation was found closer to home: the sandstone slabs from the Mission, which were destroyed in the 1812 earthquake. While the house was under construction, Joel planted 35 acres of English walnuts, making him a pioneer in bringing walnuts to south county. It was believed that the house was completed in 1878.

In 1887 while California was in a “boom” period, Joel decided to sell his farm and house for $55,000 cash to a banker from Los Angeles named Major Bonebreak. The Congdons moved to Santa Ana and were no longer involved in farming.

During the ensuing years the Congdon Ranch (as it was then called) had several owners. It is unknown when and to whom Major Bonebreak sold the Congdon House and farm. However, records show that from 1928 until 1946 the owner was Mr. Maag, a wealthy rancher who owned several ranches in Orange County. Then in 1946 George Cobren bought the farm; he then sold it to Sanji Kinoshita in 1955.

The Kinoshita Family lived in the Congdon House until 1975 and farmed the property until 1990, when they sold it to the City of San Juan Capistrano. After acquiring the property, the house was extensively renovated. Today the property is zoned “permanent agricultural”. The Ecology Center is honored to be allowed to inhabit this 28.8 acres and to carry on the legacy of farming in Orange County.