By Jan Siegel
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a three-part series. The first part was published in the Nov. 8 edition.
Rodolphus Cook was ranch manager for the Congdons. He married the eldest daughter, Harriet, and it was their son, Congdon Russell Cook, who married Margaret Day. Remember, she was one of the three women who started the Presbyterian Sunday School back in 1916. And it was C. Russell Cook who donated the property on which the church stands today.
When the Rotarians in town changed their meeting time from noon to the evening so that farmers could attend, Cook joined the group and remained a member for 37 years. He was also part of starting the Chamber of Commerce and became Chair of the Planning Commission after the City’s incorporation.
Frederica and William Stroschein were farmers from Anaheim who wanted to move to San Juan Capistrano. However, the land that they wanted belonged to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and they were not about to sell to a Protestant, much less a Lutheran. But when William told the rector of the Anaheim Church, the priest offered to buy the land with Stroschein money and give it back to him. And that is how in 1887 the Stroscheins moved to San Juan Capistrano. They had 10 children, three of whom became charter members of the Community Presbyterian Church, as did Frederica. She was left a widow in 1915, with five young children still at home. Sons Fred and Carl built Spanish Colonial Revival homes in the Mission Hills area and the house at 31682 Camino Real, known as the “The Little Yellow House.” It was the home of Carl and his wife, Ruth Nieblas. Carl was the last elected Constable of San Juan Township; 1932-1953. He also formed a Civilian Defense Council in town during WWII with four other residents. They converted an old water tower into an observation post and taught classes in first aid and bomb disarmament. “The Little Yellow House” is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The youngest son, Herbert, is the father of Gretchen Stroscher Thomson, a third-generation church member. When William came to America, his last name was Stroscher, but the immigration service misspelled it. The youngest son, Herbert, legally changed it back to Stroscher.
The Williams name was another very influential family in San Juan Capistrano. Wendell (Guy) Williams married Catherine C. Bathgate and his brothers, Judge Roger. (R.Y.) and William, gave him a parcel of land in San Juan Capistrano. He built a house at 29931 Camino Capistrano on the northern portion of land the Williams family had purchased from Judge Richard Egan in 1913. The house was a two-story Craftsman house and today is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Judge R. Y. Williams also built a two-story Craftsman house. Upon his death, the house was inherited by his sister’s children, the Swanners. This house, known as the Swanner house, is also on the National Registry. The three brothers started by growing walnuts, but Roger and Guy began growing citrus and tomatoes along with other farm products along with Guy’s brothers-in-law Will and Sim Bathgate. Guy planted the first commercial orange groves in San Juan Capistrano in 1914. Guy was one of the first Trustees for the Capistrano Union High School District. Catherine Williams, with 15 other women, organized the Capistrano Social Club in 1921, which became the San Juan Capistrano Women’s Club.
Related by marriage, Will and Sim Bathgate purchased property from their brother-in-law R.Y. Williams. The two brothers grew walnuts. In 1938, during a devastating flood in Southern Orange County, Sim tried to protect an irrigation pipe from storm damage along with another friend. Water came rushing down the creek and both men drowned. Their bodies were never found. Will continued to farm the property but switched to raising Valencia oranges and avocados after a pest infestation wiped out the walnut crop.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.