From Christmas trees to firewood, Henry Rosenbaum brought warmth to town

Henry George Rosenbaum moved to San Juan Capistrano in 1869 and became one of the area’s ranch owners. Photo: Courtesy of San Juan Capistrano Historical Society
Henry George Rosenbaum moved to San Juan Capistrano in 1869 and became one of the area’s ranch owners. Photo: Courtesy of San Juan Capistrano Historical Society

By Rhonda deHaan

Christmas trees have been popping up in some stores for more than two months now. Tree lighting ceremonies have begun, and San Juan Capistrano’s own celebration will soon take place on Dec. 3. Perhaps the most iconic symbol of the holidays, you can’t avoid seeing a Christmas tree at this time of year.

The history of California is known for strong Native American, Spanish and Mexican influences, but the Christmas tree is not recognized as being part of any of these cultures. So how did the Christmas tree come to California? Beloved local historian Don Tryon shared the story with me, and I am happy to be able to share it with you.

Born in Germany, Henry George Rosenbaum sailed to America at a young age with high hopes and big dreams. Joining the rush to California, he arrived in San Francisco in 1851. Like many others, Rosenbaum sought his fortune, not in gold, but in other opportunities the Gold Rush had created. Among his endeavors, he began selling Christmas trees for $6 each, sharing a cherished German tradition to help fellow immigrants feel less homesick.

Henry’s great-grandson, Melvin Rosenbaum, ran Rosenbaum Ranch for more than five decades. Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Rosenbaum
Henry’s great-grandson, Melvin Rosenbaum, ran Rosenbaum Ranch for more than five decades. Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum moved to San Juan Capistrano in the late 1860s and became one of the area’s ranch owners. He and his wife Jane had nine children, and the family has maintained a presence here through the years. In fact, many a cozy fire has been fueled by firewood purchased from Rosenbaum Ranch, which was run by Henry’s great-grandson, Melvin Rosenbaum, for more than 40 years. Sadly, Melvin passed away last month at the age of 92, but his children Carolyn and George continue tending the ranch and farming the land with enduring dedication and pride.

So when you sit in the warm glow of a roaring fire this season, next to a festively trimmed holiday tree, you might think of the Rosenbaums, especially Henry and how he brought a little bit of home to those miners so long ago.

Rhonda deHaan has lived in San Juan Capistrano only 10 years but has quickly embraced the town. She is a proud mother of two, a freelance writer, an SJC Friends of the Library board director, and is currently serving her sixth year on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

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