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Carriage Barn and Nimock family members, c. 1890

Volume 9

His Story Got Buried with Him: Eli Hawkins, a Santa Fe Springs Founding Father

His grave marker in the Little Lake Cemetery is handsome. It reads: Eli W. Hawkins Died June 3, 1883 aged 50 years 6 ms. 12 ds. Even though he made a remarkable contribution to the founding of Santa Fe Springs, Eli Hawkins’ story is mostly lost. His legacy is the estate he built, now known as Heritage Park.

Local legend says he was born in Missouri, but the census of 1880 lists his birthplace as California. The accuracy of the census that year is suspicious, as it lists his age as “56,” three years before his death at age 50. What is true is that he purchased 74 acres of land from John E. Fulton, health spa proprietor, in 1877 for $8,500 in gold coins. The 74 acres grew into 304 acres by 1881. The unusual buildings he constructed for his ranch give us a better insight into Eli Hawkins than the 1880 census data.

Probably very worldly, very rich, very well-educated or some combination of the three, Hawkins set out to build an extraordinary-looking estate. His home would have a richly furnished grand house, a formal garden with statuary and an English-style greenhouse (known as a plant conservatory). Both the garden and greenhouse would embody the look and style popular with wealthy Englishmen of his day.

Two ordinary ranch buildings of the time, a barn and a tank house, would flank the house and garden. Barns and tank houses were normally built as no frills structures. However, Hawkins made the decision to transform two utilitarian structures into magnificent buildings that were meant to dazzle the eye. They did. A barn could be a simple enclosure built for about $200 at the time. A wind driven water pump with tank could also be a very cheaply built structure. Hawkins spent $5,000 on his barn and another $5,000 on his tank house. The grand style of architecture he used was known as Carpenter Gothic. Like the name implies, these buildings look like ornate, wooden churches. A one-room schoolhouse named Little Lake School was built around the same time in the same style.

Hawkins seems to have achieved the desired affect. An article in the Los Angeles Times named the property “the show place of the county.” Reports of tourists visiting the lovely estate abound. Not only are the buildings beautiful, but the Hawkins ranch also featured concrete fountains, the first palm trees in the county and running water in the ranch house. Despite the success of the estate, tragedy seemed to follow the Hawkins family. His wife Mary died before her 30th birthday in 1880. An infant daughter, Alice, died in 1877. Both are buried near Eli in the same cemetery. The 1880 census lists Eli as a widower with three children: Edward, Eva and Eli, Jr. In the three years prior to his own death, the widower Hawkins remarried. His second wife, Susie Hawkins, who came in possession of the property, sold it to Martha Nimocks in 1886 for $16,000. The orphaned Hawkins children, who were minors at the time of their father’s death, had a guardian, A.M. McWilliams. Superior Court records indicate that a dispute between the legal guardian and second wife took place over the dispersal of the estate. And that is all we know about the great Eli Hawkins. Not even a photograph of him remains.

With so much information missing, how did the City rebuild the Hawkins ranch buildings? The credit belongs to Nadine Hathaway and a mysterious stranger who dropped off a diary at the Hathaway Ranch in the 1960s.

Local Resident Saves Historic Property From Development

The Hathaways are an old Santa Fe Springs family who stayed put in their Florence Avenue ranch after the oil boom. As the sole survivors of old Santa Fe Springs, they wisely collected historic photographs of the town. For decades, old-timers would donate their photographs of the area for safekeeping. In 1965, the Hathaway family received a treasure, a photographic diary of the Hawkins estate, which was assembled during the 1890s when Martha Nimocks owned the estate. These photographs were used to rebuild the tank house, the carriage barn and the gardens as they looked in Martha’s time. Without this photographic evidence, Heritage Park would have become another concrete industrial park.

Postscript:

In 1918, his son, Eli, Jr. turns up in a bizarre story in the Los Angeles Times. Apparently, he married in 1897 in Oakland, and not long after left his bride to seek his fortune in the Klondike. He didn’t return for nine years. During that time he was declared dead, and his wife remarried. Upon hearing that Hawkins was still alive, husband number two had their marriage annulled, against his wife’s loud protests. The courts annulled the marriage anyway, and Eli got his wife back. 

When you drive through the Telegraph Rd. and Norwalk Blvd. intersection today, it is hard to visualize the beautiful estates that once circled the hot springs resort, Fulton Wells. In addition to the Hawkins estate, the Materns built a mansion surrounded by acres of orchards on the north side of Telegraph Road. A bronze plaque has been placed at the site. Around 1870, a third estate known as Sunnyside was built by the Sanford family, somewhere west of the Matern property. Lastly, the Bell Ranch estate, where the Heritage Springs food court is now located, would become the birthplace of Santa Fe Springs’ enormous oil strike.