Historic farmhouse highlights Orange County’s agricultural past

A view of The Congdon House today. Photo: Courtesy of The Ecology Center
A view of The Congdon House today. Photo: Courtesy of The Ecology Center


By Rhonda deHaan

The Congdon House was built around 1877 by Joel Congdon, who harvested his first crop of walnuts on the land that same year. Photo: Courtesy of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society
The Congdon House was built around 1877 by Joel Congdon, who harvested his first crop of walnuts on the land that same year. Photo: Courtesy of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society

Tucked away off the beaten path, but still not too far out of the way, is a picturesque little farm where you can go to buy fresh fruits and vegetables every day. In its 20th year of growing organic produce, this family farm continues a tradition that started more than 145 years ago.

In the middle of this land sits an old farmhouse built by Joel Congdon around 1877. This quaint building is the oldest wood frame home in San Juan Capistrano and reflects charming architectural features of the Victorian-era style. The structure sits well back from the street, nestled among lush foliage that has grown under the devoted care of its current occupant, The Ecology Center.

The remaining 29 acres are a fraction of the original 160 acres Congdon purchased in 1868. When he decided to grow walnuts in 1870, the locals are said to have considered it a risky proposition at best. However, proving them wrong, Congdon harvested his first crop in 1877. This was the first 6,000 pounds of what would become a major walnut industry.

The Congdon House and surrounding farmland have weathered the passing of time and provide visitors a glimpse of Orange County’s agricultural past. It reminds us of a quieter time before drive-thru’s and freeways, when food was harvested locally and families came together for fresh home-cooked meals.

The current stewards of this rich heritage are South Coast Farms and The Ecology Center. At South Coast Farms, it is their mission to provide “delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables.” They are dedicated to bringing “whole food picked fresh, grown without chemicals” to the community every day at their farm stand.

Next door, The Ecology Center is also open daily and gives visitors an immersive experience in which to learn and be inspired about living well and using environmentally responsible practices. The offices and general store of this nonprofit occupy the historic Congdon House, which they lovingly maintain with respect to its unique past.

The Congdon House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

This is a wonderful time of year to visit this beautiful property located at the corner of Camino Del Avion and Alipaz Street. Take the family and enjoy the warm sunshine as you peruse the fresh harvests at the farm stand and take a self-guided tour at the educational center.

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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