Nestled in the middle of a block of industrial buildings in Santa Fe Springs is a time capsule of ranching and oil life from the yearly twentieth century. The Hathaway Ranch & Oil Museum is 5 acres of historic buildings and artifacts from the Hathaway family’s work in cattle ranching, water, and oil drilling. Artifacts at the ranch track the shift from steam to gas power thanks to the technologically forward thinking patriarch, Jesse Elwood Hathaway, who had a steam powered machine shop which perfectly positioned him to meet the needs of local oil operations when oil was discovered in the area in 1921.
Jesse Hathaway married his wife, Lola McCarric in 1902 and bought and settled onto 40 acres in Santa Fe Springs. Jesse was already an accomplished mechanic, designing and installing some of the first water systems in California. Now, with his own land, he settled into farming and raising cattle. Yet, with a talent for the technical, me managed to mechanize the cattle feeding process setting a new standard for cattle raising. He built a large steam powered machine shop with individual machines run off of flat belts from an overhead line shaft.
In 1921, Santa Fe Springs was transformed into a boom town when Union-Bell well became a 2,500-barrel gusher. In the hay day of the 1920s, the oil field could produces as much as 345,000 barrels as day. Though production slowed over time, by 1938 the field had produced more than 440,000,000 barrels of oil.
For a family with experience in (water) drilling and owning one of the only machine shops around, the Hathaways were ideally positioned to participate in the boom. Jesse had three sons: Elwood (1908), Richard (1910), and Julian (1912). They were all worked the farm and shared their father’s alacrity with mechanics. Starting in 1921, Eight wells were drilled on the Hathaway ranch. The presence of oil rigs and constant bustle was a clear inspiration for the boys. In 1928, Julian had built a fully operational 9ft steam powered model derrick, which could drill holes 100 ft deep. Even today, the yard has several towering models of oil derricks that the boys built.
In 1929, Jesse Hathaway and his sons were in a partnership with Oscar R. Howard, who had drilled the initial well on the Hathaway ranch. This matured into the Hathaway (Oil) Company in 1932, headed by Jesse and run by his three sons.
During the company’s heyday—from 1932 up through the late 1980s, the Hathaway Company was very active and considered to be the largest independent oil company in California.
The company flourished and spread to Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. Yet, as the Hathaway sons grew older, the company, too, wound down. The company was finally dissolved in 2004 after the death of Julian.
Yet, five acres of the original ranch remain in testament to the family and the heyday of the Santa Fe Springs oil boom. Richard’s daughter, Nadine Hathaway has preserved the ranch that she grew up on and opens the grounds as a private museum.
Hathaway ranch is a study of unrealized potential. Where other museums have replicas, Hathaway ranch has original, turn of the century machinery lying about a large, rambling yard. Gas pumps, mobile derricks, and even a relocated service station stand in the back yard, among chickens, goats, and bees. This is not the air-conditioned, manicured, and placarded type of a museum. Rather, visitors are chaperoned through the compound by tour guides. While the signage and site lists the museum as open between 11AM and 4PM, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, the museum is run by volunteers, and it can help to confirm that it will be opening on time for your intended day.
Related Oil Leases
- Hathaway LLC started by Chad Hathaway, a 4th generation of Hathaways in the oil business
- Los Angeles County, California
1Alden, Sharyn. “California’s Black Bonanza.” Well Servicing Magazine.
My grandmother,Nadine Hathaway was not Richard’s daughter, she was his wife.
Otherwise – thanks for a nice article about a place I grew up in and love.
I worked at the Hathaway estate in the 1990s, doing a variety of jobs, including restoring an old pump assemblage and repainting some of the structures. Dick and Nadine were fantastic, highly intelligent people who built something wonderful out of their own hard work and vision. I am very happy to have had a part, albeit a small one, in the development of the Hathaway Ranch and Oil Museum.
— David J. Fretz