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Impact OC: How Moulton Museum is Keeping Orange County’s History and Ranching Era Alive

by in Press

Moulton Museum is proud to serve a community who values its history and the lessons we can learn from those who paved the way before us. We believe connecting with our local community and business partners is an essential part of creating a brighter future.

The Moulton Company CEO, Jared Mathis, is the great-great-grandson of Lewis Fenno Moulton and Nellie Gail Moulton—two pioneers who played a significant role in building the legacy of the Moulton Family, Moulton Ranch, and overall ranching era of Orange County. Today, the 22,000 acre Moulton Ranch property encompasses much of Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Laguna Hills, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, and Aliso Viejo.

During our recent interview with OC Talk Radio Public Affairs Director Dawn Kamber, Jared had the opportunity to share some of our local history and current initiatives at Moulton Museum that focus on keeping Orange County’s history and ranching era alive. Artifacts from the late 1800s have been collected and preserved by the Moulton family to help tell valuable stories of Orange County’s history, allowing the ranching era to live on and positively influence our community today and in the future.

Honoring the Pioneer Spirit
Lewis Moulton and Nellie Gail had a pioneering spirit about them and never stopped dreaming. Through various trials and tribulations, their courage, determination, hard work, and perseverance built a foundation of success that created a family legacy we are proud to recognize and share to this day.

Interesting Fact:
Lewis Moulton’s father, a Harvard educated lawyer, was a classmate of Abraham Lincoln. Abe would frequently visit the Moulton household before he became the 16th president of the United States in 1861.
Lewis’ story is an interesting one! Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1854, Lewis Moulton grew up in a well-established family who lived quite comfortably. After President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Lewis Moulton’s parents soon split. Lewis went with his mom to live in Boston where her relatives, the Fenno family, were already well-known and secured in society.

Rather than staying put in Boston, Lewis traveled on the Pacific Mail steamer to California at the age of 20 where he became a shepherd on the Irvine Ranch. What inspired him to make this decision, we’re still unsure! It took him 20 years before he acquired the vision for what later became the Moulton Ranch.

Interesting Fact:
When Nellie was 6 months old, she was picked up by a pair of tornados that tore through her town (Irving, Kansas), destroying her house and most of the town. Legend would have it that those twin tornados became the inspiration for the opening scene in The Wizard of Oz!
Nellie Gail was born in Irving, Kansas in 1878. She later moved to Nebraska where she spent most of her childhood years. In 1994 at the age of 16, Nellie moved to California for a brief period of time to attend Citrus (Union) High School for two years, located in what is now known as the city of Glendora.

Nellie’s father ran the El Toro general store where she spent her summers helping out—and eventually met Lewis. It wasn’t until 1908 when the paths of Nellie (29) and Lewis (54) crossed once again and they were married.

Want to learn more about Lewis and Nellie? Check out this timeline.

Keeping History Alive
Picture this—you get a phone call from your cousin asking if you would like any of your great aunt’s belongings he found in an old horse tack room, including a mysterious tube that won’t open. He’s putting together a burn pile and wants to get rid of any unwanted items. Seems harmless, right?

Thankfully, his intuition paid off. As luck would have it, this very situation happened to Jared Mathis. His great aunt Louise was the last to leave the Moulton Ranch in the early 1970s. At 99 years old, she had acquired quite a few artifacts and memorabilia that sat perfectly preserved, untouched for decades.

After driving to her home in Santa Barbara to relieve his cousin from this unwanted mysterious tube, Jared brought it back home to Orange County. With a pair of pliers and some good elbow grease, he was able to successfully pry off the lid.

Would you believe it!? Inside the tube was the original spanish land grant assigned to Juan Avila from Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s with the original wax stamp from congress, in pristine condition, of course.

It was at this moment Jared knew he had something worth preserving. After graduating college and spending over a decade working in Washington DC, Jared moved back to California in 2013 and began piecing together the rich heritage of his family.

Interesting Fact: If you are a resident of Orange County, you are a part of the Moulton Ranch history! Come visit us to see the property overview map to learn if you live on the original 22,000 acres of Moulton Ranch.

Moulton Museum Program Offerings
Through our conversations with the Moulton Family and researching the various artifacts we’ve discovered over the years, it is clear that Lewis and Nellie cared deeply about the folks in their community. We strive to keep our community at the forefront of everything we do.

We are currently collaborating with local teachers and administrators to develop an educational field trip program that serves students across Orange County. Right now, we are focusing on the Saddleback and Capistrano school districts and are eager to expand beyond that!

Our museum is currently open to the public, for FREE, on Tuesdays. You can also make an appointment to schedule an event or private tours. If you want to learn more about the Moulton Family and how Moulton Museum is keeping Orange County’s history and ranching era alive, you won’t want to miss our current exhibition – 1874: Into the West.