Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Around Town: Thursday Club founder describes 'wilds of La Cañada'

La Cañada Thursday Club member Joani Bartoli Porto mentioned that she is researching the Club’s origins. She said that her friend, John Knight, had given her the “book.”

What book? I asked.

Joani showed me a copy of Mrs. Knight’s 1927 autobiography titled “Meanderings of 83 Years.”

The autobiography, published in 1927, was written 15 years after Mrs. Knight founded the La Cañada Thursday Club.

Elizabeth Knight’s voice is fresh and compelling. The book is dedicated to her grandchildren and in it, sheexplains how she and her husband, Jesse Knight, left Missouri to head west in a covered wagon with their children.

The Knights initially settled in Pasadena. In 1886, she writes, Los Angeles was just a town and Pasadena a mere village with no paved streets or cement walks, only one dry goods store and two grocery stores.

Times were tough. “There was great excitement in real estate activity at that time, though it didn’t last long till it came to an awful crash. Everything was so flat that there was nothing selling and many were out of work.”

The Knights sold some of their land. “We felt the pressure of hard times as we had never before,” she explains.

Her husband’s solution? Ranching in the wilds of La Cañada!

Elizabeth initially refused. She told her husband, “No, Mr. Knight, I was brought up in a backward country and I don’t want to bring up my boys in any undeveloped country place.”

"But," she wrote, “He prevailed on getting me out on a ranch in La Cañada, which was then almost a wilderness.”

The Knights purchased a 100-acre tract, part of what known then as the Haskell ranch.

“We moved to La Cañada in 1887 and found nothing much but sage brush…Digging out grease roots for fuel seemed to be the main industry for a livelihood at that time.”

The Knights began growing oranges and lemons, and they eventuallyorganized the California Fruit Growers Association. The years passed and the Lanterman Corporation sunk wells. With water, the valley (and the economy) began to blossom.

There were other benefits, she writes. “We were surrounded with the great outdoors with all its beauties of nature.”

By the mid 1920s, La Cañada began to change. Frank Putnam Flint “bought a tract of land back upon the hills of South La Cañada, which we thought was hardly fit for stock pasture, but now since the automobile has come into use it is all dotted over with beautiful residences.”

Mrs. Knight recalled, “It hasn’t been so long…since we had to trudge along those dusty roads with horse drawn vehicles until we would be so covered with dust that when we got to our place of destination we would hardly know ourselves.”

In commemoration of the Thursday Club’s 100th anniversary in 2012, a Centennial Garden Committee was formed to define and create a lasting remembrance of this milestone. In October, the ladies of the La Cañada Thursday Club will dedicate a Centennial Garden to mark the beginning of the club’s centennial year.

Descendants of Elizabeth Knight will attend.

As she once noted, “This world is beautiful, the Lord made it almost a paradise for us, and if we live up to the standard of our privileges we may live very happily.”

For more information, contact the La Cañada Thursday Club at P.O. Box 282, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91012; (818) 790-1166.

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