Happy May 1. And here’s hoping we’ll see you today between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Heritage Hill Historical Park’s annual Rancho Days Fiesta.
What will be happening at the Fiesta? Well, in addition to music, food and crafts, the accent will be on the legacy of Orange County’s Native American tribes and Mexican ranchos, with mid-19th-century dancing, reenactors and hands-on activities such as basket-weaving and making adobe bricks.
Many of the activities will take place in or near original to the site. But you’ll also be able to visit the park’s three other historic buildings: (1890), St. George’s Episcopal Mission (1891) and the Harvey Bennett Ranch House (1908).
I’ve visited all four buildings on at least five docent-led occasions. Typically, the Bennett house is the last building we visit, and each time I’ve noted that at least one or two of my fellow tour members mention how it brings back memories of their own childhoods. This seems to be especially true for those of us who had relatives living in Orange County prior to World War II.
I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into the Bennett house. Immediately I was reminded of visiting my Grandmother Dollard at her “house on the hill”—not in El Toro, but in El Modena, now part of the city of Orange. Like the Bennett family, my maternal grandparents made their living growing citrus, beginning soon after the turn of the century and continuing well into the 1950s. I still remember the seemingly endless orange groves, as well as the large pepper trees shading the unpaved road up to the house and nearby barn.
By the time I was a second-grader, my grandmother had moved to a small house in what is now known as Old Towne Orange to be closer to us and her doctors. She did, however, bring along most of her furnishings (some of which I eventually inherited) and at the Bennett house I’ve noticed similar furniture and décor—deeply comforting, and quite nostalgic.
You might feel the same way when you first enter. Docent-guided tours of the house and three other buildings are normally available Wednesdays through Sundays and typically last about an hour. Today, however, you’ll have the opportunity to browse all four buildings at your leisure while docents stand by, ready to answer questions.
The Bennett Ranch House was originally situated at Second Street and Cherry Avenue, then relocated to Heritage Hill in 1978, two years after the relocation of the school and church. A few years later, in May 1981, the park opened. Improvements and additional restorations to the house continued until September 1985, whereupon the park was rededicated.
We’ll be learning more about the Bennett family in a future installment of El Toro & More. But, at this point, I don’t want to make either one of us late for the fiesta! So I’ll simply mention that Heritage Hill Historical Park is at 25151 Serrano Road, adjacent the Ralph’s shopping center on Lake Forest Drive. For further information, call 949-923-2230 or 949-923-2232.