EUGENE P. FOSTER
In Ventura county there are many monuments to the generosity and public spirit of the late Eugene P. Foster, who was one of its foremost citizens and a financier of high standing. He was a native of Illinois and a son of Isaac Giles and Roxanna (Cheney) Foster. The grandfather, Rev. Isaac Foster, was born in New Hartford, Connecticut, September 5, 1790, and during the War of 1812 served under General Wolfe in Canada. He was an ardent advocate of the cause of temperance, and a strong abolitionist. For several years he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Leyden, New York. In 1837 he accepted a commission from the Presbyterian board of home missions and went to Illinois, taking charge of a mission three miles south of Chicago. Later he gave up his commission, and in 1849 made the overland journey to the gold fields of California, returning to his home in Plainfield by water. In 1852 he crossed the continent, bringing his family to San Jose, California, where he was elected judge of the mayor’s court, over which he ably presided. Subsequently he removed to San Francisco, where he passed away at the age of seventy-eight years, and was laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery at San Jose. He was the father of two sons, Isaac Giles and Vincent.
Isaac Giles Foster was born in the Empire state in 1820 and attended an academy at Lowville, New York, in preparation for a legal career. When a young man he studied civil engineering and surveyed a route from New York to Niagara Falls, continuing it through Indian Territory to prepare the way for road building. He went with his parents to Illinois and in 1848 married Roxanna Cheney. In 1849 he crossed the continent with his father and brother Vincent, returning to Illinois by way of the Isthmus of Panama. In 1853 he again traveled overland to the Pacific coast, bringing his family to California, and followed mining and ranching until 1868, when he retired from business in favor of his sons.
As a lad Eugene P. Foster came to California, riding in one of the old-time prairie schooners drawn by oxen, and his education was acquired in the public schools of this state. Coming to Ventura county as a young man, he made a fortune in sheep but lost it during the dry years of the ‘70s. He then worked for the water company in Ventura, later becoming part owner of a tract of one hundred acres, which was planted to apricots. Afterward he sold some of the land and with the proceeds purchased stock in the Bank of Ventura, subsequently becoming its president. For many years he remained at the head of the institution, wisely administering its affairs, and was considered one of the ablest bankers in the state of California.
In 1874 Mr. Foster was married to Miss Orpha Woods, a daughter of Ira and Orpha (Daggett) Woods and of the children born to them, four are now living: Miss Orpha Foster, who has charge of the home place; Mrs. Grace Percy, of Los Angeles; Mrs. Edith Mercer and Mrs. Ida Baker, residents of Ventura.
Mr. Foster belonged to the Masonic fraternity and was a member of Al Malaikah Shrine at Los Angeles and of the Order of the Eastern Star. Resolute, persevering and industrious, he made his own way in the world and in his career manifested that noble characteristic so rare among men of affluence—the accumulation of wealth, nor for himself alone, but to make others happy during and after his life. He was a public benefactor, beloved by the citizens of Ventura county, whose welfare and happiness were matters close to his heart.
Probably the outstanding event in the history of the county library is the gift to the city of San Buenaventura of the building and grounds to be used for a city hall and library. The city library, besides being a branch of the county library is an independent library. When Mr. and Mrs. Foster gave to the city of San Buenaventura a building and grounds to be used for a library and city hall, it was arranged that the county library should be housed in the same building. The attractiveness of the building is enhanced by a beautiful garden, in the center of which is a fountain. The stones of this fountain Mr. Foster laid and plastered with his own hands. To him is due the credit for the plan of this beautiful setting. He wisely chose the site of the old Shepherd Gardens, famous among all lovers of petunias and cactus.
Mr. and Mrs. Foster have attached their name forever to the wonderful park system of the county. The movement in that direction began in 1904. For many years there had been a sort of agreed resting place for picnic parties and travelers under the great oaks on the Creek road to Ojai, at a point a little this side of the town site of what was then known as Nordhoff. The place, by common consent, had become known early as “Camp Comfort,” and few parties passed through it without lingering for a little in the cool shade beside the clear running San Antonio creek. It was in 1904 that Mr. Foster took up with the board of supervisors his idea of creating a public park at that spot. The tract comprised twenty and seventy-three hundredths acres of wild land, and after negotiations the county purchased it and set it aside for a park. Thus Camp Comfort was perpetuated. A more important movement along the same line was to follow.
Mr. and Mrs. Foster had become possessed of sixty-five acres of land lying along the banks of the Ventura river and Coyote creek, which there break out of the high hills at the gateway to Casitas Pass. This land was dedicated to public use as a park, perpetually, with the designation of “Eugene C. Foster Memorial Park.” The name was in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Foster’s only son, who had been called prematurely to his long rest. To this gift of the Fosters was added thirty-five acres from G. W. Chrisman of the Ventura Power Company, and forty acres from the Southern Pacific grand lands adjoining. The whole forms Foster Park, entered through a great stone gateway over a bridge crossing the Ventura river.
A few years later Mr. and Mrs. Foster made a second liberal donation of land to the people of the county, turning over to the supervisors sixty-five acres in the tract known as “Seaside Park,” lying along the ocean shore in the western part of the city of Ventura and embracing both sides of the main mouth of the San Buenaventura river. This land, a mere tidal salt marsh in the early years, had once been reclaimed sufficiently to have a mile race track constructed upon it and a sort of grandstand. It was the idea of Mr. and Mrs. Foster, as expressed in the terms of the deed of gift, to make the Seaside Park a playground for the people of the county, especially the young people. Every sort of recreation was to be provided for, and there was to be an auto camp in the grove it was meant to create along the river bank. In 1926 Mr. and Mrs. Foster purchased an additional fourteen acres of land adjoining Seaside Park on the east and donated this to the park, thereby increasing its beach frontage. Dennison Park at Santa Paula were also acquired by the county through the efforts of Mr. Foster.
In 1914, still under the guidance of Mr. Foster, the board of supervisors inaugurated a new departure in the creation of a board of forestry, one of those purposes was to line the state highway and the new county roads with trees, thus adding greatly to the beauty of the scenic drives. Mr. Foster was made chairman of the board, which was the first county board of forestry. He also donated land for the site of a school and for the hospital at San Buenaventura which bears his name. He passed away February 12, 1932, and would have been eighty-four years of age had he lived until the 4th of April. A resident of Ventura county for more than six decades, he left an indelible impress upon its history. He combined with a keen intellect, forcefulness and indomitable purpose, modesty, kindliness, geniality and gentleness—a rare combination, found only in the largest and finest natures. His influence for good survives and the memory of his beautiful character lives to inspire future generations.
Transcribed by Joyce Rugeroni.
Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 107-111, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 Joyce Rugeroni.