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Around Town: Thursday Club founder describes 'wilds of La Cañada'

March 09, 2011|By Anita Brenner

La Cañada Thursday Club member Joani Bartoli Porto mentioned that she is researching the Club’s origins. She said that her friend, John Knight, had given her the “book.”

What book? I asked.

Joani showed me a copy of Mrs. Knight’s 1927 autobiography titled “Meanderings of 83 Years.”

The autobiography, published in 1927, was written 15 years after Mrs. Knight founded the La Cañada Thursday Club.

Elizabeth Knight’s voice is fresh and compelling. The book is dedicated to her grandchildren and in it, sheexplains how she and her husband, Jesse Knight, left Missouri to head west in a covered wagon with their children.

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The Knights initially settled in Pasadena. In 1886, she writes, Los Angeles was just a town and Pasadena a mere village with no paved streets or cement walks, only one dry goods store and two grocery stores.

Times were tough. “There was great excitement in real estate activity at that time, though it didn’t last long till it came to an awful crash. Everything was so flat that there was nothing selling and many were out of work.”

The Knights sold some of their land. “We felt the pressure of hard times as we had never before,” she explains.

Her husband’s solution? Ranching in the wilds of La Cañada!

Elizabeth initially refused. She told her husband, “No, Mr. Knight, I was brought up in a backward country and I don’t want to bring up my boys in any undeveloped country place.”

But, she wrote, “He prevailed on getting me out on a ranch in La Cañada, which was then almost a wilderness.”

The Knights purchased a 100-acre tract, part of what known then as the Haskell ranch.

“We moved to La Cañada in 1887 and found nothing much but sage brush…Digging out grease roots for fuel seemed to be the main industry for a livelihood at that time.”

The Knights began growing oranges and lemons, and they eventuallyorganized the California Fruit Growers Association. The years passed and the Lanterman Corporation sunk wells. With water, the valley (and the economy) began to blossom.

There were other benefits, she writes. “We were surrounded with the great outdoors with all its beauties of nature.”

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