adobe Bancroft house and surrounding grounds have a long history,
mostly due to the presence of a nearby spring. This water source
attracted people thousands of years ago to use the area. These people,
the Indians presently known as Kumeyaay, left evidence of their
encampments in the vicinity. The location name was transcribed by
the Spanish as "Meti" or "Neti" and later changed
to "San Jorge" in 1775 by the Spanish padres. The spring
became known as "El aguaje de San Jorge" (Anglicized into
"St. George's spring"). By the late 1830s the Indians
had been removed from the area and herds of cattle and sheep grazed
in the valley.
In May of 1863, Judge Augustus S. Ensworth, of
San Diego, filed claim to 160 acres of land that included the spring.
He built a two room adobe on the property, the first house erected
by a white man in the eastern part of San Diego County. The wood
used for beams and doorways was salvaged from the ship Clarissa
Andrews, which had gone aground in San Diego Harbor.
Just before Ensworth's death, the ranch was sold
to Rufus King Porter of San Pedro for $400. Capt. Porter, his wife
Sophia, and daughter Rufina moved to the property on July 31, 1865.
Rufus King Porter was the son of Rufus Porter, the founder of the
Scientific American magazine, and he led a very colorful life holding
numerous jobs and taking on various enterprises. He became well
known for his columns about daily life, that appeared in several
In 1866, at the urging of his daughter, Rufus
renamed the area Spring Valley. In 1872, after the discovery by
a scientist of a European snail (Helix aspersa) living on a nearby
small mountain, Rufus named the prominent peak Mt. Helix. When,
in 1885, the U.S. Post Office Department disallowed the use of two
words for a post office name, Rufus submitted the name Helix and
became the first postmaster in Spring Valley; the Helix Post Office
operated out of his home.
In this same year, Hubert Howe Bancroft came to
the area in search of a place to retire. He bought the Porter's
ranch and also acquired neighboring ranches, accumulating around
500 acres. He called his property "Helix Farms." Over
the next ten years, Bancroft hired workers to develop Helix Farms,
planting orchards and building structures to run a ranch. A wide
variety of trees and shrubs were planted including guavas, palms,
olives, citrus, almonds, raspberries, blackberries, and currants.
The adobe was too small to suit his family's needs when they visited
the property in the summer months, so a house, known as "Cactus
Cottage," was built on top of a nearby (cactus-covered) hill
in 1889. Masons also constructed a "rock house" near the
spring, where the children were taught. By the early 1900s, Helix
Farms had become one of the largest olive ranches in southern California
(many of the original olive trees can still be found in the surrounding
area). Bancroft's son Griffing managed the farm since Hubert lived
in San Francisco much of the time. Bancroft died in 1918 and after
several years, his heirs sold the property. Much of it was subdivided
into La Mesa Country Estates.
The adobe and 3.5 acres of land were purchased
by the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1940. A wooden annex
was built on the north side of the adobe and the building was used
as a community meeting place. The Chamber was instrumental in getting
the adobe designated California State Historic Landmark No. 626
in 1958, and it became known as the Bancroft Ranch House. By 1962,
the deteriorating condition of the adobe required major restoration.
Volunteers worked to reinforce it by bracing the walls, adding more
support beams to the porch, filling in the cellar, and laying a
On March, 24, 1963 - just short of one hundred
years after being built - the adobe was opened as a museum .