He grew up in a world of white-collar professionals. But Lewis Fenno Moulton wanted something different.

His father, J. Tilden Moulton, had graduated from Harvard Law School and was practicing law in Chicago when Lewis was born in 1854. A brother, Irving, would come along three years later. But by the time Lewis turned 10, his parents decided to separate, and his mother, the former Charlotte Fenno, took the boys with her back to Boston, where her own family resided.

The older Moulton son had his heart set on making a living from land and livestock. So, with financial backing from an understanding uncle, 20-year-old Lewis Moulton boarded a steamship to the Isthmus of Panama, then another steamship for San Francisco.

A letter of recommendation to Southern California land baron James Irvine opened the door to Moulton’s employment at Irvine’s San Joaquin Ranch. Assigned to sheep herding under a ranch foreman, Moulton soon persuaded his immediate boss to form their own herding enterprise, then a few years later bought him out. In the meantime, Moulton had been purchasing various land parcels south of the San Joaquin. Eventually his Rancho Niguel would top out at more than 22,000 acres.

A few years later, the rancher met a Washington state schoolteacher, taking advantage of summer recess to visit her father, El Toro storekeeper John Gail. Despite an almost 25-year age difference, Lewis began wooing Nellie, and after five years of courtship, they married in 1908. Eventually Lewis and Nellie would have two daughters: Charlotte, born in 1910, and Louise, born in 1914.

Today one of south Orange County’s few remaining equestrian-zoned properties is named for the second Mrs. Moulton. But the fact is that Nellie – who was practical and modern – preferred driving a car.

Lewis remained happy up on a horse or, in his later years, behind the reins of his buggy. Years later his daughter Charlotte would recall that one of her most cherished memories was that of accompanying her father whenever he drove his mare, Lady, over to nearby El Toro to collect the mail.

Today the Oakbrook Village Shopping Center occupies the former site of the Moulton home. But Avenida de la Carlotta – which runs by the center and is named for Charlotte –lives on as a modern-day reminder of the many happy excursions taken by the fond dad and his young daughter.

Contact the writer: janet.whitcomb@gmail.com