The Coast News Group
The 10-acre Bumann Ranch is one of the few – if not the only – preserved homestead ranches in San Diego county. The land was settled in 1886 under the Homestead Act, which granted western-moving migrants 160 acres of land if they were to settle and improve it. Photo by Lexy Brodt

Encinitas homestead ranch awaits national historical recognition

ENCINITAS — Rustic, spacious barns housing century-old plows and threshers, a crooked but lovable shanty, and a blacksmith shop still lined with slow-rusting tools and piles of leather.

These structures are among the treasures found at the Bumann Ranch — a 10-acre property in Olivenhain that may soon find its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Essentially frozen in time, The Bumann property is the last remaining piece of a late 19th-century homestead ranch, once a self-sustaining property that encompassed as many as 480 acres. It is likely among the few — if not the only — intact homesteads left in San Diego county.

Step on the ranch and you’ll feel transported back to 1886, to a largely undeveloped Olivenhain with ranches and farmland as far as the eye can see.

Richard Bumann demonstrates one of the Bumann Ranch’s many old farming implements, used to separate the grains of a crop from the straw. Photo by Lexy Brodt

“When I was younger, there was a lot of these ranches around,” said Richard Bumann, who maintains the ranch with his wife, Adeline. “But one by one, development, fires or whatever would destroy them … and it just so happened that this one here kind of survived.”

Richard’s grandfather was the original owner of the homestead, which has now witnessed and been cared for by three generations of Bumanns.

The property was designated a state landmark in early November by California’s Historical Resources Commission. Richard expects there is a high chance it will gain the same label on a national level in the near future.

Richard has been an avid recorder of the property’s historical assets for decades — collecting stories from family members and harnessing his own early memories of working the ranch as a youngster, during crop harvest. But it was only a couple of years ago that he and Adeline began the process of submitting a nomination application to the national register.

Richard, 75, said the move will offer the property “considerable protection” from potential development interests down the road.

“I wanted to make sure this place was going to be preserved,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to die, and then in a few years they bring a bulldozer in here, knock all of this down and build condominiums or something on it.”

Richard and Adeline connected with Jennifer Mermilliod, a historian out of Riverside, to help draft the nomination application. Mermilliod spent almost two years researching and writing up the application with the Bumanns, “rounding out the story” of the Bumann Ranch and sending it off to the State Historic Resources Commission.

Now, with the commission’s recommendation of approval secured, the Bumanns await an outcome with the National Register’s keeper. Mermilliod anticipates a final determination will be in by early 2020.

Mermilliod, who specializes in these kinds of applications, said the Bumann Ranch is like “no other property I have listed in the national register.”

“This is a property that really throws you back in time,” Mermilliod said. “There’s a quality of integrity (in historic preservation) that is really hard to find — the integrity of feeling. And when you’re standing in the middle of the ranch yard, you feel like you’re on an 1880’s homestead ranch … it absolutely embodies that integrity of feeling.”

The piece of land traces its roots back to the arrival of German immigrants in Encinitas, who formed the colony of Olivenhain — now the city’s easternmost neighborhood.

Among those early colonists was one by the name of Herman Friedrich Wilhelm Bumann. Bumann, like many of his contemporaries, opted to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 to stake his claim in a quickly developing region.

Under the Homestead Act — a marker of manifest destiny — Americans could acquire a 160-acre parcel of government-owned land and be granted a patent on the land within five years if they could “prove that (they’d) work and improve it,” in the words of Richard.

“Once you get a patent, then you own it,” Richard said. “You can sell it the next day if you wanted to … but in fact (Herman) didn’t.”

After pitching his shanty — the first building on the property — and building its first barn, Herman Friedrich dedicated his life to the ranch, where he raised his family and made income through a variety of means.

Activity on the ranch was plentiful, but most of the income came from the livestock — cattle, poultry and pork. Herman Friedrich also planted a vineyard of Grenache grapes, and started a small beekeeping business, though beekeeping at the Bumann Ranch wasn’t particularly successful until his sons Emil and George (Richard’s father) took over the beekeeping in the 1920s. The property was expanded twice in the early 20th century, as the Bumanns opted to acquire the surrounding homesteads.

When Herman Friedrich’s wife, Emma, passed away in 1936, the then 480-acre ranch was split up amongst their 12 children. One of those children, Herman Charles, took over the ranch portion of the land and dedicated himself to its upkeep. Aside from his travels and service during World War II, Herman Charles lived almost his whole life on the ranch, even as his siblings scattered and left the area.

Herman Charles — Richard’s uncle — relied on old-school methods to till the land, using horses to pull the farming equipment long after it was fashionable.

“My uncle kind of got into the 1930s and stayed there,” said Richard. “He farmed with horses and continued to farm with horses, he would not buy a tractor.”

And because of this, as well as Herman Charles’ and Richard’s maintenance and preservation efforts, a collection of equipment that was commonplace in the 19th and early 20th century still resides in the ranch’s two barns in good condition — plows, seed drills, threshing machines, you name it.

According to a pamphlet Richard wrote on the ranch’s history, Herman Charles sold most of the property from the late 1950s on, until only 10 acres remained in 1971.

According to the nomination application, “Large-scale” ranch activities had already come to a halt at that point, with the death of the ranch’s second to last horse, Mollie, in the 1960s. With only one horse, Herman Charles could no longer use many of the farming implements needed to plant crops.

Although its days of self-sustaining production are a thing of the past, Richard and Adeline still work with constancy to preserve those remaining 10 acres. The pair moved to the ranch in 1985 to accompany Herman Charles in his final years and become the new, de facto caretakers of the property.

The pair still use the old equipment — pulled by a tractor these days, rather than horses — to raise oat hay on the farm. They use the hay to feed their steer, Tex, and any other animals they might bring around from time to time, such as pigs. They also care for about 15 chickens and keep a few boxes of bees for their own use.

Richard said he spends about 15 to 20 hours a week tending to the ranch. He is currently in the process of documenting and drawing the ranch’s buildings, so that in the event of a fire or any damage, he might be able to rebuild it just as it was.

Although the ranch isn’t open to the public, the Bumanns occasionally welcome tours hosted by the Encinitas Preservation Association, as well as local artist groups looking for inspiration in the picturesque landscape.

Current ranch activities may not generate any surplus income for the Bumanns, but their work helps to maintain the spirit of the ranch, which is still very much alive. And according to Richard, the ranch has continued to be a place of discovery, even in its old age.

“The funny thing is, the deeper you dig, the older it gets,” said Richard.