The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1983, Volume 29, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Colony Olivenhain By Richard Bumann. Published by the author, 1981. IIlustrations. Index. Maps. 108 pages. $16.00.

Reviewed by Marje Howard-Jones, author of Seekers of The Spring: A History of Carlsbad.

For sixty-seven German immigrants walking through the low slanting light of November 1884, the trek from Encinitas to Rancho Las Encinitas was the last leg of a very long journey. The vanguard of a new community, they had responded to the lure of establishing a colony of two hundred families where “any honest work would pay off.” Their dreams of shared prosperity based on shared decisions and equal labor lasted only a few years but their efforts became the foundation of a small, tightly-knit farming community that only recently has evolved into another pocket of north San Diego suburbia.

As a grandson of one of the original members of “Colony Olivenhain,” Richard Bumann is a relative or life-long friend of his subject’s founding families. From handsome gold-stamped binding to photos and other print memorabilia, his book is like an extended family album. Letters and minutes of the colony’s organizing meetings in a Denver, Colorado bar are translated from their original German language. They are reproduced amid descriptions of negotiations and transactions that eventually led to the discrediting of the colony’s leaders and the departure of all but seven colony families. Accounts of the community’s subsequent growth are accented by copies of such quaint items as merchants’ receipts and advertisements and the handwritten “work schedule” of Miss Kate Schiller, the 1907-08 school mistress who meticulously planned her class day in five and ten minute segments.

Bumann’s focus on farm life in the isolated and seemingly arid valley is a descriptive museum of agricultural methods and implements. The first-hand accounts of those whose lives depended on the success of planting and harvesting lend depth to photos of work in the fields and the specific devices that were used to improve production.

Other elements of community life are not overlooked. Shops and services, from blacksmith and grocer to teacher and doctor, take their places amidst such traditional small-town institutions as the school, meeting hall and cemetery. Readers who long have cherished the Olivenhain Town Hall as a venerable county landmark may not be aware of its purely local fame as the home of the Olivenhain Owl Club, a social organization initiated by teenagers just after the turn of the century. From Virginia reels to waltzes and swing, Owl Club festivities reflected dance trends of the times until soon after World War II, when its brand of home-grown fun finally went out of style. At the other end of the spectrum is Bumann’s account of the simple, un-landscaped cemetery where all necessary burial arrangements traditionally have been carried out by Olivenhain’s pioneer families and their descendants.

Bumann’s personal connection with the people and events of his local history has not encumbered him with a need to glorify successes or gloss over failures. He shares the treasures of family and community lore with affectionate care, enhancing their value to the reader.