Louis John Melville

Article: Louis Melville

Submitted by Doris Melville Duncon in 1985

My father, Louis Melville was born January 4, 1884 in Gunderson, Indiana. His father, Edward Lee Melville, a carpenter by trade, brought the family to Chula Vista, and in 1902, bought a lemon ranch. My Dad helped on the ranch and also made boxes in which to pack the lemons.

My mother, Bernice Mary Lee was born in Nebraska in1886, and at the age of 8 her family moved to Chula Vista.

The two met, fell in love, and on December 1, 1903, they eloped, riding their bicycles from Chula Vista to San Diego and were married. They returned to Chula Vista, each to their own homes. The next day the newspaper announced their marriage to the world. This union was to last 66 years. The first two children, Volois and Verna, were born in Chula Vista.

Bernice and Louis Melville
Bernice and Louis Melville

When Dad was in his teens, he and a friend had made a trip to Imperial Valley, returning through Eagle Peak and the valley known as El Monte. It was then he thought he would like to live in such a place. In May of 1908, Dad and Grandpa Melville came to Lakeside by horse and buggy and he bought 25 acres of land from El Cajon Valley Land Company for the price of $3,600.

They spent the night at Knox Hotel in El Cajon before returning to Chula Vista. Lumber was ordered from San Diego and sent to Lakeside by railroad. Dad, his father and Volois camped in a tent while building a small house on the north side of El Monte Road. In September, the house was finished, and Mother and Verna traveled by train to Lakeside to make their home. They started their ranch with one cow, six calves, 12 chickens, and a team of horses. They raised their own vegetables, and occasionally shot a rabbit to eat. They churned their owned butter, and traded it along with eggs at the local store for flour, beans, and other staples. As they acquired more cows, they separated the milk and sold cream.

I was born in 1910, Norma in 1912, and Glen in 1915. Dr. Knox was the physician, and Mrs. Kuhner his assistant.

In 1916 the flood came. The cows were moved to the top of the hill, but the water kept rising. The barn and milk house washed down the river, mother stood at the kitchen window watching a windmill float by like matchsticks in the big river. The water became so high around the house that Dad had to put a plank out of the window to get the family to safe ground. Our neighbors, the Leffers, who had three children of their own, took us in. We five kids really made a full house – a total of 12 people – but that’s the way neighbors helped each other in those days.

Our house washed through a fence, and mudded into the hill and filled with mud to the window sills. Luckily my Mother had set drawers up high so that some of the things were saved. Some of the pieces of furniture were dug out, cleaned up and re-used. Mother cleaned up her old sewing machine with kerosene, and used it for many years after that.

During this terrible rain, another neighbor, Mr. and Mrs. Drew Die decided to leave while they could; they took the train to San Diego, just ahead of the track washout. They had given my Dad permission to move into their house while my parents built another house. He also gave Dad a barn-full of hay which helped feed what stock we had left.

Dad and Mother started out again and bought three acres on the hillside on the south side of the road next to Helix Pumping Station. They built another house and barn with the help of Grandpa Melville and two car Denters from Chula Vista. He started the dairy on this site with the 14 cows he had saved from the flood. He joined the creamery and hauled milk in cans to the railroad station by horse and buggy. He shipped to Qualitee Dairy [until] about 1957. Volois, Verna and I walked two miles to Clarence Foster’s living room to go to school.

Later a little red school house was built by John Wilkinson’s place and Volois and Verna graduated there. Later this school was consolidated with the Lakeside Union School, which the rest of us attended. Verna was married in 1924 and a year later died during child birth. Mother and Dad adopted Ronald George and raised him as their son. Early days on the ranch were slow and quiet. An occasional Indian from Capitan Grande Reservation or someone traveling in a horse and buggy were about all they ever saw.

The land was covered with sage brush and the cattle roamed freely. Times were hard but we enjoyed living. I’m sure our parents had many worries and disappointments but there were never any family arguments. In l921 we got our first new Model-T Ford. Now we could go to San Diego and Chula Vista to visit our grandparents instead of traveling by train. In l921 the rain flooded and covered our 25 acres with trees, branches and shrubs. We lost all our crop that year.

Again the rains came in 1927 – another flood – covering Dad’s bottom land for the 3rd time. The raging river washed out the Lakeside Bridge. Bill Kuhner and others wired bailing wire together long enough to reach across the river. Herman Duncan (whom I later married) was about 17 years old. He tied the wire around his waist and swim to the other side so they could stretch a rope with a basket to haul mail, milk, supplies, and even kids from school that had been stranded on the wrong side of the river.

The folks later bought the Levi Ranch which adjoined their property. It grew from 25 acres to 200 acres, and from 14 cows to 125 Holsteins.

Mother truly had a ‘green thumb’ and her beautiful flower bedecked yard became a natural wedding chapel. Norma and Paul Weber were the first to be married there, to be followed by untold numbers, both in the family and out.

Glen died at the age of 39 in 1954; Volois in 1966; Mother passed away in 1969 at the age of 83; Dad on March 8, 1980 at the age of 96.

Norma and Paul Weber reside in Campo. Leonard and Gerry are still ranching, but in Enterprise, Oregon. Ronald lives in Lakeside.

I live in Elmira, Oregon near my children.