William and Barbara Ernst were the first of seven generations to settle in the Geneseo area east of Paso Robles, California and farm grapes and make award-winning wines. William and his twin brother John, worked with the UC Experiment Station of the South Coast Range to determine the crops that would be successful in this area based on variety, soil, rainfall and climate in the area from Geneseo to Creston. William provided valuable research and data on each farmer in the area from 1885 to 1902, preserving valuable wine history.
Contributions to San Luis Obispo County Wine History
The Ernst family is one of the earliest families from Illinois to settle in the German Lutheran Community east of Paso Robles. Their farms and vineyards were located in Creston, but the area became known as the Geneseo School District after the town in Illinois where the Ernst brothers, William and John, identical twins, settled when they emigrated from Germany.
William and John, identical twins, were major grain farmers in the region. William farmed barley, wheat, and oats with a single plough and mule. John Ernst petitioned to the San Luis Obispo County to have a school district set up for the children of the families in the area. His proposal was accepted, and he was asked to give the name to the district. He chose the name of the town he had emigrated from in Illinois, called Geneseo as the name of the School District.
The Ernst brothers including William, John, and Martin, helped build the Geneseo community buildings including the schoolhouse, the German Lutheran Church, and the Community Hall. Martin Ernst moved to San Luis Obispo County from Geneseo, Illinois in 1885. He lived in the Creston area, farmed, and later moved to San Jose.
John and William planted vineyards in the Geneseo District. William planted his vines in 1885. John moved to the area a year after William. John planted his first vines in 1886. The Wine History Project has not yet determined the source of the vines. We have ruled out Southern California as the Anaheim Blight was destroying the vineyards there in this time period.
Additional vineyards were planted by both brothers between 1889 and 1903. By 1900 William with his wife Barbara had planted 25 grape varieties in their vineyard. Many of these vines would have come from the nursery stock at the Agricultural Experiment Sub-Station established in 1889.
William and Barbara Ernst grew grapes to make champagne among other varietals. They are the first to make champagne in North County. They won first prize for their Champagne at the California State Fair.
John and William Ernst supported the Agricultural Experiment Sub-Station, which was built, planted and monitored by the University of California in an area near the Salinas River, east of Paso Robles from 1889 to 1902. John and William participated in the research by providing data on their own orchards and vineyards to the research scientists monitoring soils and crops; both brothers also offered both their labor and financial support for the Experiment Station.
John and William Ernst’s participation in the Experiment Station enabled them to determine that vineyards would farm more successfully than orchards on their property. They each reduced their acreage devoted to orchards and increased their acreage of vineyards. William assisted the researchers in preparing their final report by collecting data on all orchards and vineyards farmed in the Geneseo area.
The Ernst brothers, William and John, made high-quality wines according to articles in the local press and considered equal in quality to the best French and German vintages according to competent winemakers in Europe. In 1899 the Ernst Brothers received orders for wine from France and other European countries, the first winemakers in the area to do so. They sold wine to the local trade in Paso Robles and shipped their wines to other areas in the state.
They continued making wines, marketing their wines directly to consumers and participating in local fairs and competitions for medals until Prohibition legislated the sale and transportation of wine illegal. Paso Robles, the town, passed legislation to become dry in 1912; this legislation was specific to Paso Robles. San Luis Obispo County became dry when Federal Legislation took effect in January 1920.
In 1900 the local press reported, “William Ernst will make about 1500 gallons of wine this year. John Ernst will make about the same and Martin Ernst, 700 gallons. They do not make cheap wines.”
The Ernst Story begins in Alsace Loraine, France
Barbara Amelia Mathis Ernst writes in her memoirs about visiting her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Gasser, with her own mother, Magdalena, at her home in Gerstheim near Strasbourg in Alsace Loraine which was then part of France. She describes the trip, walking to the train station in the nearest city, Selestad, and taking the train to Erstein, near the home where her mother lived when she was young. Barbara stayed overnight with her grandmother. Barbara’s mother stayed with an uncle who was the Burgermeister of the village he lived in. He lived in a beautiful house with teaspoons of gold. Her grandmother loved to knit and several times a year Barbara and her family would receive parcels filled with knitted items, sometimes with gold sewed in the lining. Elizabeth Gasser passed away in 1865.
In the same year, Barbara remembers visiting beautiful castles in Alsace Loraine; one particular trip was with her schoolteacher in 1865 to visit the ruins and catacombs of Konigsburg.
Barbara’s mother, Magdalena von Laufenburger, was the youngest in her family and only 14 when her father passed away in 1839. Magdalena was born on March 18, 1825. Her older brother, Michel von Laufenburger, left Germany in 1849 to seek gold in California. She received letters from him telling the words “Who will give me a loaf of bread for a pot of gold.” He later settled in Petaluma, California with his son Michel. His son Michel visited Barbara Amelia Ernst in Chicago, but Barbara never met her Uncle Michel. He passed away on September 4, 1914, shortly before Barbara had arranged to meet him at the great Pan American Fair in San Francisco (1915).
Magdalena married John Mathis on May 27, 1846, in Muttushpoltz, a village near John’s home in Alsace Loraine. John Mathis’s parents, his two sisters and their husbands left Europe for the United States in 1851 and settled near Chicago, Illinois. They worked as farmers at Longrove near Chicago. John Mathis and Magdalena took over the big estate where John’s family had lived for many years. They raised their family and farmed the land. Barbara Amelia was born in 1853.
Barbara mentions in her memoir that there was an arbor in front of the house with grapes growing on it and the children would often reach for the fruit. She describes her schooling and the walk to school lined with forests, brooks and vineyards. Barbara attended school and catechism until the move to the United States when she was about 12 years old. She continued her schooling in Illinois which was unusual; educational opportunities for young women were extremely limited at the time.
John and Magdalena Mathis left Alsace Loraine because of the worry about war brewing between German and France over the territory. On May 14, 1868, they packed their trunks and prepared to leave the dear old home their family had occupied for more than a century. They made the right decision for their extended family. Napoleon declared war and Alsace was lost in the battle.
John, Magdalena, and their children traveled to Strasbourg, Paris, and Havre. They were able to book passage for the United States on an English ship named the William Penn. The trip was 17 days; they arrived in New York and spent a few days there before going on to Chicago. It is likely they traveled by train; they were greeted by friends and family. John Mathis and his younger brother Emile decided to settle in Geneseo, Illinois, located near Yorktown, Illinois. This is the town where the Ernst family had already settled.
In 2004 the Geneseo schoolhouse, built in 1886, was donated to the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles by the family of the late Linden Chandler. The schoolhouse was moved from the Creston area to the museum grounds. Visit the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum.
The Ernst Story in the United States
In 1875 Barbara Amelia Mathis married William Ernst. They built a nice home in Geneseo, Illinois, and moved in when their first child, Millie Pauline, was born on Jan 9, 1881. William Ernst planted a grove of pine trees at his home that he had raised from seeds. Barbara states that her husband’s health, “failed right along.” They lived in the home for ten years and then decided to “go west.”
William Ernst went to California in the fall of 1884. He had read about California, and he decided to make the trip to see it for himself. He had also seen an ad in the local Geneseo newspaper which said that 3000 acres or more would be sold in San Luis Obispo County; this land was divided into parcels of land located near the huge Mexican land grant east of the Hot Springs known as Rancho Huerhuero. The announcement targeted German Lutherans asking them to join their brethren to set up a community in San Luis Obispo County. There would be a good chance for a German Lutheran Congregation to start their own place of worship if the new settlers were in favor of it. The announcement was signed by Charles Pepmiller.
William traveled to San Luis Obispo County to see the area and determined that the land and the opportunity was worth the investment. He was introduced to the area by Charles Pepmiller who showed him available parcels of land. William purchased 80 acres for farming grain, planting orchards and vineyards, and building a home site on a hill north of what is now Creston Road.
There were three other families already living in the neighborhood that would later become known as the Geneseo District: the Pepmillers, the Hirts, and Ed Gruenhagen who operated a little general store in the community of Creston. Ed made weekly trips to the City of San Luis Obispo to buy supplies and collect the mail for everyone in the area. Ed must have driven his wagon on the Old Stagecoach Road down the Cuesta Grade, perhaps staying in one of the hotels owned by the Bean Brothers along the way. The trip would have taken 1 to 2 days each way.
William Ernst returned to Illinois and shared his experiences with his brothers and friends in Illinois. The three brothers, John, William, and Martin, decided to sell their properties in Geneseo, Illinois, most of their equipment, animals, and personal possessions and move to San Luis Obispo County. William planned to move to California almost immediately in 1884. John and Martin stayed in Geneseo, Illinois, to conduct the sales and complete the family transactions as soon as they could. Cindy Steinbeck, a local descendent and winery owner, has found information on the family’s sale of goods in Geneseo, Illinois.
William and Barbara Ernst prepared to sell their home and possessions in Geneseo, Illinois, and travel by train with their four children to Los Angeles, California. Barbara and William traveled by train to Los Angeles in December 1884 and stayed in Los Angeles for one week. They booked passage by boat on the Santa Rosa from Los Angeles to Port Hanford in Avila. Upon landing, they loaded all their possession and the children onto the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast train and traveled to San Luis Obispo to spend the night at the Laurie House. The next morning, they took the stage to Beans Station at the northern end of the Cuesta Grade; Mr. Charles Pepmiller met them there with his team and wagon and drove them on the Rocky Canyon Road to the Pepmiller home. They arrived on Christmas Eve at the Pepmiller home and celebrated a Christmas mass in Creston the next day with new friends. The Ernst family stayed with the Pepmillers until their home was built on the 80 acres up on the hill. William began to plant his crops and prepare for spring planting. Grain was the crop that seemed to thrive on the hillsides.
Late in 1885, John and Martin Ernst and their families arrived with their in-laws, the Holzingers. Each family purchased land and arranged to build their own homes. John Ernst purchased the Pepmiller Ranch; the Pepmiller family moved to a new location nearby. More families of German Lutheran faith began to arrive in the following years. Farmers in the area planned to dry farm; wheat and cattle had been the main source of income over the last century. With the new population came new ideas of diverse crops such as fruit orchards and vineyards. Land developers promoted these ideas and publications such as the Pacific Rural Press stated, “Since the subdivision of the large land grants in this vicinity a new era had dawned, and the region is destined to spring into prominence as a fruit-growing district within a few years.”
The Hatch Act of 1887 was passed by the United States Congress to provide funding to establish and operated Experiment Stations for research and practical applications in agriculture in specific areas of the Country. California established the main Experiment Station established in Berkley at the University of California in the Agriculture Department. Three Substations were established, one in the South Coast Range near Paso Robles. The Paso Robles Substation was seen as a long term project which would plant orchards and vines to determine what crops would be best suited to the area. Although the project was federally funded, local farmers were expected to donate the land, and help build a well, buildings and to help plant and maintain the orchards, vineyard, and fields.One of the geological features of the area is the “broken chain of valleys, high plains, and passes that form a line of separation between the western and eastern sides. Along this succession of narrow gateways and broader levels, the Missions of Soledad, San Antonio, San Miguel, and San Luis Obispo were founded and great Spanish ranches came into existence; the railroad of today [meaning 1902] follows this route from Salinas to Lompoc.” This quote is from the report published in June 1902 by the University Press at Berkeley, page five. The researcher summarizes his observations of orchards, made in Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties over 25 years, as possessing fertile land, many small communities, and growing resources. He noted that the farmers have learned the limitations of the soils and their climates. They have learned that they can produce crops with less rainfall than they had previously expected. The land which originally was used for grains and cattle had been diversified. Houses have been built and the towns of Creston, Cholame and Shandon have been founded on old cattle-ranges.
The Ernst brothers were enthusiastic about the project as were other farmers. One farmer donated the use of a 20-acre parcel of land shaped like a parallelogram with sides of 495 feet and 1719 feet at a site on the road now known as Experimental Station, three-quarters of a mile east of Paso Robles. Local farmers raised the money to build the Station House and the wind-powered pump at the Experiment Station. The site was located at an elevation of eighty feet above the Salinas River. Today we refer to the Paso Robles Substation as the third of four designated in California. The Wine History Project notes that the articles of the time refer to it as the Tract of the Southern Coast Range Station, Upper Salinas Valley.
The UC Agricultural Experiment Station opened in 1889. On the southwest corner of the road, the station house and the well were located near the entrance gate adjacent to the nursery and small cultures. Two vineyards and one large field of cultures were laid out from south to north. In the spring of 1889, about 400 varieties of deciduous fruits were planted: 70 varieties of peaches and nectarines, 70 varieties of plums and prunes, 65 varieties of pears, 90 varieties of apples, 20 varieties of apricots, 7 varieties of quince, 14 varieties of walnuts, pecans and filberts, 10 varieties of almonds and 38 varieties of cherries were planted on the east side of the tract. Figs, Japanese persimmons, olives, and mulberries were also planted. The vineyards were planted with all the varieties of table and wine grapes and produced good fruit between 1890 and 1894 until the roots reached the hardpan. At the end of 1894 the research concluded that if the farming was done with care, apples, pears, some plum varieties such as the Japanese, peaches, nectarines, olives, mulberries, and grapes would succeed in the area.
William and John Ernst were involved in this project. They raised money and worked with other community members to build and layout the various gardens of orchards and vineyards. During the first four years, 1889 to 1894, the trees in the orchards did well in the granite, sandy soil with sufficient rainfall. The roots had not yet grown deep enough to reach the “hardpan.” Fruit appeared in the early 1890s and the almonds made excellent growth while the other nut trees failed.
From 1885 to 1900, the annual rainfall ranged from 4.75 inches to almost 18 inches. The winter and spring frosts were severe and the winds harsh. The orchards and vineyards were severely stressed.
During 1897-98 winter, rainfall was 4.75 inches and badly distributed. It was one of the worst years on record. Many varieties were abandoned including olives. Three-fourths of the vineyards were removed because of the lack of producing grapes due to the hardpan soil. The vines had become stunted and were susceptible to damage from frosts. The fruit yield per vine declined after 1896 to two to three pounds per vine. No vine produced more than five to ten pounds of fruit.
In 1898 the researchers determined that 360 trees of the original 455 planted between 1889 and 1897 should be removed due to poor soil conditions and climate. The remaining trees, less than one hundred, continued to be farmed and studied. The researchers decided to visit individual farms in the area to determine their success with orchards and vineyards in a variety of soil types and climates. Some were successful and others were not. Many farmers had begun to remove their orchards or report that existing orchards showed no profit.
The orchards of Geneseo settlement were commented on in the 1902 report on pages 31, 32, and 33. The conclusion was that the farmers in the Geneseo area were dependent on grain and cattle for their livelihood and were successful with growing grapes and producing good quality wines.
More details were observed: the settlement of German farmers had arrived around 1885 and had no cooperative features but did have much social and religious unity. A number of farmers had emigrated from Geneseo, Illinois. The Geneseo farmers planted a small number of vineyards and orchards between 1886 and 1890. Each experienced droughts and frosts which hindered their orchards and vineyards; therefore they reduced their acreage of orchards materially but maintained their vineyards.
To quote the report: William Ernst planted five acres of orchards and seven acres of grapes; he removed three acres of orchards and concentrated on growing many varieties of grapes. John Ernst planted ten acres of orchards and nine acres of grapes on the rich bottomland of the Huerhuero River; he removed the orchards. John reported that he planted his ten acres of prunes and ten acres of vineyards but that the prune trees did not pay expenses. John decided to focus on vineyards and making good quality wines. His vineyard included varieties of Mataro, Carignane, Burger, Rose of Peru as well as other varieties. The vineyards are profitable, and he is successful in making wines for the local market in Paso Robles. There is an increasing demand for wines there.
Martin Ernst planted six acres of orchards and ten acres of vines in 1886; he removed four acres of orchard. Martin continued to farm in the Creston area but decided to move to San Jose soon after 1900.
Gerd Klintworth planted two acres of orchards and six acres of vines; he added four acres of vines. Charles Pepmiller planted seven acres of orchards and three acres of vines; he removed four acres of orchard. Jacob Timkin planted ten acres of orchard and four acres of vines; he removed seven acres of orchards.
Three farmers, M. Holzinger, George Boneker and Fred Hirt planted a total of thirty-three acres of orchards and vineyards and kept all in production as did the pastor of the German Lutheran congregation, Mr. Klaus, who planted two acres of the church property, an orchard, and a vineyard.
William Ernst continued to provide a summary of data on the orchards and vineyards of the Geneseo farmers to the Substation researchers. William had monitored the crops and their success during the years the Substation was functioning. William that the farmers originally felt encouraged with the “first-class fruit country.” In 1890 a profit of four dollars was made from each bearing peach tree. The cherries also produced good fruit in 1890 and 1891 and made a good profit. Prizes were won at county fairs for peaches, cherries, Japanese plums, pears and grapes grown in the Geneseo district, according to William Ernst. He noted that they won over the competition of the Arroyo Grande Valley which was considered one of the most famous valleys of San Luis Obispo County. However as time went on, the Geneseo farmers, who were farming better soil than that at the Substation, saw their orchards fail in the dry season and moved toward removing the orchards and adding vineyards in the mid-1890s. William also noted that the local market proved worthless because, “in good seasons everyone has fruit and in poor ones, there is nothing to sell.” The railroads were too far away and too expensive to ship fruit to other markets. The dried fruits could be sold but because harvests were so erratic, no one wanted to invest in plants that could provide this product. He stated that the entire Geneseo community felt that deciduous fruit trees were not profitable in their area. Gerd Klintworth was the only farmer who had success. However, they were all convinced that the market for grapes was quite hopeful. There was a market for wines for home use and for sale in the San Luis Obispo County. The grapes are high in sugar content and the vines produce a good yield every year.
Soil, climate, and rainfall were important for all farmers. They learned to make adjustments in their farming, adding grain crops and cattle to increase the profitability of their lands. The local farmers were disillusioned with the Substation, funding decreased and it closed in 1902.
William and John Ernst were both producing 1500 gallons of wine in 1900. Martin was producing about 750 gallons. They worked together to sell wine directly to the consumers in their area and Paso Robles. Barbara and William Ernst had planted at least 25 varieties of grapes by 1900. They won awards for their champagne at California fairs. John had planted at least 15 varieties by 1900.
The San Luis Obispo Tribune Review of 1900 reported that the Ernst Brothers have a notable vineyard on 30 acres three miles north of Creston in the Geneseo District. The wine grapes listed are Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignane, Burger, Mission, Semillon and Riesling. The table grapes are Black Morocco, Malvoise, Rose of Peru, Black Hamburg, Muscat, Flame Tokay and White Assyrian. The vines started to mature in the third year of planting which would have been in 1888 and 1889. The yield ranges from 3½ to 4½ tons per acre. It described the wines made by William and John Ernst as very high quality equal to the best French and German vintages according to competent winemakers in Europe. The Ernst Brothers received orders from those countries in 1899. The Ernst Bros. make a profit of $126 an acre. They sell to the local trade in Paso Robles and ship much of their wine elsewhere.
If you are interested in the story told with “great force, skill and truthfulness,” please read the works of novelist Horace Anneslev Vachell (1861-1955). This is a recommendation by the researcher at the Substation. The three Vachell Brothers owned land near Arroyo Grande, in Creston, and the former Frank McCoppin Ranch in San Luis Obispo. Horace’s novel, The Profession of Life (1899), tells the farmer’s story during this period. He uses Chumville as the name for the town of Creston.
William Ernst and his wife Barbara continued to grow quality grapes and make wines that praised for their quality and their varieties. William and John worked together to exhibit and sell their wines locally. The Ernst children worked on the farm, married and established their own careers and families.
William and Barbara built a two story home with a wine cellar on their property. Will’s mother lived with them and kept a tight rein on the household according to her grandson Eugene Ernst. She is remembered for preparing a bountiful feast at Thanksgiving and keeping the keys to the winecellar in her pocket at all times.
Will Ernst pursued a career in music in New York and Los Angeles. Frank Ernst married Rosette Paulus; they purchased a ranch in 1921 and farmed with their five children, including Hazel who married Harold Ernst Steinbeck in 1934.
The family starting with William and Barbara Ernst is the first of seven generations, including Howie and Beverly Steinbeck and their daughter Cindy, of farmers, grape growers, and winemakers of seven generations in the Geneseo area. They are celebrating 135 years in 2020. Read more in the legend Howard Steinbeck and the Steinbeck Family.
William Albert Ernst (1876-1951) – Musician
William Ernst known as Will Ernst was famous for his musical talent; Will was a musician who played multiple instruments including the saxophone, the clarinet, and the piano. He founded the Creston Band in San Luis Obispo County in 1894, which included 12 members of talented family and friends. Will played in a number of local bands which he organized including the Paso Robles Band and the San Luis Obispo Theater Band. Will was a composer who produced a wide variety of musical works, and the founder of the Ernst School of Music and Saxophone Conservatory in New York City. Will played his music for family and friends in the historic ranch house on Union Road, where Cindy Steinbeck currently resides.
The Creston Band was formed by Will Ernst in 1894. In the professional photo taken in Paso Robles by William T. Arnold, the members in the first row are Joseph Fleig, Robert Paulus, Frank Ernst, Henry Paulus, Ralph Ernst and drummer, Alvin Holzinger. In the back row, Will Ernst is shown with a clarinet, Charley Gruenhagen, Ed Holzinger, and Martin Ernst with their coronets, Mat Claus and Albert Holzinger with horns. All are dressed in suits and ties and are wearing identical hats with the band logo. The band was very popular and played all throughout the County at celebrations, in parades, the San Luis Obispo Theater and in many establishments.
It is impressive to note that music has played an important part of life in San Luis Obispo County over the last 135 years. Many winegrowers and producers played in bands, and symphonies including Ignace Paderewski, Bill York of York Winery, and Max Goldman of York Mountain Winery. The tradition of holding concerts on a regular basis at wineries started with Stanley Hoffman of HMR Winery who hosted the Mozart Festival in the 1970s, quickly followed by Tom Martin of Martin Brothers Winery. The Goldman family held concerts to benefit local radio station KCBX . The tradition continues in the county with the annual Paderewski Festival holding concerts at the Cass Winery and Halter Ranch Winery, Festival Mozaic holding concerts in many winery venues, and Castoro Cellars offering monthly concerts for the public. One of the well-known orchestras is known as Symphonies in the Vines.
Like many creative people, Will was considered to be an odd duck of sorts. Music was his passion, so he left Creston and moved to New York City to pursue his career. Will moved to New York City after 1900 and founded the Ernst School of Music and Saxophone Conservatory. He became a noted composer and is remembered for Transcontinental March for Piano, published by Almay Publishing Company at 231 West 52nd Street in New York City and Henrietta, a saxophone solo with piano accompaniment.
He was married multiple times. The wife most remembered and beloved was Marguerite, also known as Ruby, who worked with Will at the Ernst School of Music and Saxophone Conservatory in New York City. Ruby Ernst was also a well-known composer. California’s most beautiful waltz ballad, Where the Golden Poppies Bloom, with lyrics by Otto V. Barlow, and music by Ruby Ernst, was published by Otto V. Barlow in San Margarita, California. Ruby also composed the following pieces for the Ernst Saxophone Conservatory Series: Two Little Dutch Kids, a saxophone solo; Illonka, a Hungarian rhapsody; Ann-Nita, a sparkling waltz portraying fire, dash and vivacity of a Spanish Senorita; Temperamental, two short solos; Modern Dance Orchestra Studies and That’s All, a jazz composition. The Ann-Nita composition features a photograph of Ruby Ernst and her Six Saxophone Shebas on the cover. The Conservatory was located in New York City at 150 West 77th Street. Copies of these compositions were returned to Cindy Steinbeck’s aunt by a person who noticed them in a trash can in the building. The copyright is 1928. In December 1932 Ruby was still receiving royalties of $8.78 from the Irving Berlin Standard Music Corporation.
Ruby composed many songs that were published by major publishing houses and received royalties until her death in San Luis Obispo County in 1933 where she relocated after a bitter divorce from Will. Recently Cindy Steinbeck’s son Ryan and daughter Stacy performed Henrietta, one of Ruby’s compositions.
1805: John Jacob Ernst is born on July 22 in Baden, Germany.
1808: Catharina Zimmerman, later the wife of John Jacob Ernst and the mother of William and John Ernst is born.
1820: John Mathis is born on June 20 to Madeleine Marie Urban (maiden name) and John Mathis.
1824: Magdelena von Laufenburger is born in Gerstheim near Strasbourg, in the Alsace Loraine, France on March 18. Her parents are Phillip von Laufenburger and Elisabeth Gasser von Laufenburger. She is the youngest of ten children: Michel, Phillip, George, Clyte, Dorothea, Mary, Salome, Elisabeth, and Magdalena.
1839: Phillip von Laufenburger, Magdalena’s father, dies.
1846: Magdalena von Laufenburger and John Mathis are married on May 27 at Muttusholtz, a village near the Mathis family home. They are the parents of Barbara Mathis Ernst who married William Ernst.
1847: The first of Magdalena and John’s children, named Magdalena after her mother, is born on May 28.
1849: Michel von Laufenburger, Magdalena von Laufenburger Mathis’s oldest brother, leaves for California to seek gold. He later settles in Petaluma, California. They corresponded throughout their lifetimes.
1849: William and Johan Ernst (twins) are born on August 2 in Baden, Germany to parents John Jacob Ernst and Catharina Zimmerman Ernst. John Jacob Ernst and his wife Catharina were born in Baden, Germany. They had seven children, all born in Baden between 1836 and 1849. The family emigrated to Edford, Illinois sometime before 1875 which is the date William married Barbara.
1850: California becomes a State.
1851: John and Madeleine Mathis, with his two sisters and their husbands, leave Europe, emigrate to the United States, and settle near Chicago, Illinois. John and Madeleine’s son John and his wife Magdalena move into the family estate in Alsace, France.
1853: Barbara Amelia Mathis is born to Magdalena and John Mathis on June 21, in Alsace, France.
1865: Elisabeth Gasser, the grandmother of Barbara Amelia Mathis, dies in Gerstheim, Alsace, France.
1868: John and Magdalena Mathis decide to leave Alsace over the fear of an invasion of Alsace Loraine by the Germans; they packed their trunks and made plans to emigrate to the United States with their ten children, including Barbara Amelia Mathis. They travel by wagon to the train station to Selestadt, take trains to Strasbourg, Paris, and finally Havre. They book passage on an English Ship called the William Penn for the seventeen-day voyage to New York City. From New York City, they travel for five days by train to Chicago. They settle in Geneseo, Illinois, near Magdalena’s sister Elisabeth.
1870: Sometime between 1870 and 1880, William Ernst’s mother, Catharina, dies in Elford, Illinois, and Johan (John) Ernst, (twin brother of William) marries Ernestine Mathis, sister of Barbara Amelia Ernst in Geneseo, Illinois.
1875: William Ernst marries Barbara Amelia Mathis in 1875 in Geneseo, Illinois.
1881: William and Barbara Mathis Ernst move into their new home in Illinois. William plants trees from seeds and cares for his gardens. His health gradually continues to decline.
1883: William Ernst visits California. The Wine History Project has no information on where he traveled. After the trip, he continues to follow the news about California.
1883: By 1883 the following children were born to William and Barbara Mathis Ernst in Illinois: William Albert (Will) (1876-1951), Albert Fred (1878-1880), Mildred Pauline (1881-1934), Ralph Emerson (1882-1955), Frank Jacob (1883-1948).
1884: William Ernst sees a small announcement in his hometown Geneseo, Illinois newspaper stating that three thousand acres of land were to be sold in San Luis Obispo County near Rancho Huerhuero, a 15,685-acre Mexican land grant of one square league to Jose Mariano Bonilla. The grant encompassed the area now known as Creston, and it would be a good chance for buyers who would be interested in starting a German Lutheran congregation. The ad was signed by Charles Pepmiller. William corresponds with Mr. Pepmiller and makes arrangements for a trip to San Luis Obispo County. Some of the settlers were known to William; they had originally lived in Illinois.
1884: William travels to San Luis Obispo County in the fall, meets with Mr. Charles Pepmiller and purchases 80 acres; he chooses a site for a new home up on the hill above what is now known as the intersection of Creston and Geneseo Roads and arranges for construction to start. The land developers who were selling the land were advertising the area as promising the planting of various orchards. People coming to the area from Southern California, Geneseo, Illinois, and as far away as Denmark were very enthusiastic about planting new orchards.
1884: William and Barbara Mathis prepare to sell their home and possessions in Geneseo and travel by train to Los Angeles, by boat on the Santa Rosa to Port Hanford in Avila. They load all their possession and the children onto the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast train and traveled to San Luis Obispo to spend the night at the Laurie House. The next morning, they take the stage to Beans Station at the northern end of the Cuesta Grade, Mr. Charles Pepmiller mets them there with a team and wagon and drives them on the Rocky Canyon Road to the Pepmiller home. They arrived on Christmas Eve at the Pepmiller home and stay with them until their home was built on the 80 acres up on the hill.
1884: On Christmas Day the family visits Paster Hoernekes’ home with the Pepmiller family for Christmas services with a decorated Christmas tree.
1885: In February William and Barbara move into their new home with their children on the hill in Creston. There were three families living in the neighborhood at the time, the Pepmillers, the Hirts, and Ed Gruenhagens at Creston.
1885: A year after William and Barbara move to the area, the following families arrive: John Ernst and his family Minnie, Katie, Laura, Bertha, and Lillie; Martin Ernst and his family Annie, Martin, Ed and Walther; and the Martin Holtzinger’s family, Edward, Albert, Amelia and Alvin. Martin Holzinger was John’s brother in law.
John Ernst bought the Pepmiller property on the hill and Martin Ernst purchased land on which he plans to build a home. He lives with John Ernst until the home was ready for occupancy. The Holtzingers also purchase land and live with William until their new home was ready. All the properties are up on a hill north of Creston Road near the home of William and Barbara Ernst.
1886: John Ernst and other neighbors travel by wagon to San Luis Obispo to organize a school district. The proposal they make for a district named Geneseo, after the hometown that all three Ernst brothers had lived in Illinois, is granted by San Luis Obispo County.
1886: An empty building is moved to the land on Geneseo Road just north of Creston Road to serve as a schoolhouse. A schoolteacher is hired, and she boards with John Ernst and his family.
1886: In May John Ernst’s daughter Lillie dies. She is the first person buried in the graveyard which had recently been donated to the community by the landowner, Thomas Ambrose.
1886: Frida Rosa Ernst (1886-1966) is born in San Luis Obispo County to William and Barbara Ernst.
1887: The Hatch Act is passed by the U.S. Congress to provide funding to establish and operate Experiment Stations. The purpose of the Stations is to provide practical and scholarly research in the fields where crops, orchards, and vineyards are planted to determine the most suitable crops for the area. Today we refer to the Paso Robles Substation as the third of four designated in California. The WHP notes that the articles of the time refer to it as the Tract of the Southern Coast Range Station, Upper Salinas Valley.
1887-1889: Funds are raised by the local community to build the station house, drill the well and layout the orchards, vineyards and field cultures. A local farmer provides a 20-acre tract of land for the project. Local farmers in nearby communities plant crops. All crops are to be dry-farmed.
1889: The UC Agricultural Experiment Station was opened in Paso Robles. On the southwest corner of the road, the station house and the well are located near the entrance gate adjacent to the nursery and small cultures. Two vineyards with table and wine grapes and one large field of cultures are laid out from south to north. Orchards with over 400 varieties of deciduous fruits and nuts were planted at the Substation; peaches, plums, pears, apples, apricots, nectarines, almonds, and cherries were planted on the east side of the tract.
1893: Elmer R. Ernst (1893-1923) is born in San Luis Obispo County to William and Barbara Ernst.
1893-94: Winter season produced drought conditions in the region. The total rainfall was 5.70 inches at the Substation between October 1893 and July 1, 1894. Dry winds and severe frosts occurred in the spring. Some of the orchards at the Substation began to fail.
1895-1896: Rainfall increases to 13.14 inches, but the spring was windy and the frosts severe. The orchards and vineyards continued to struggle at the Substation.
1896-97: Rainfall is almost 18 inches. It was an excellent year for farming at the Substation.
1897-98: Rainfall is 4.75 inches and badly distributed. It was one of the worst years on record. Many varieties were abandoned including olives. Three-fourths of the vineyards were removed because of the lack of producing grapes due to the hardpan soil. The vines had become stunted and were susceptible to frosts. The fruit yield per vine declined after 1896 to two to three pounds per vine. No vine produced more than five to ten pounds of fruit.
1898: 360 trees of the original 455 planted between 1889 and 1897 are removed due to poor soil conditions and climate. The remaining trees, less than one hundred, continued to be farmed and studied. Individual farms in the area were visited to determine their success in a variety of soil types and climates. Some were successful and others were not. Many farmers had begun to remove their orchards or report that existing orchards showed no profit. The orchards of Geneseo settlement were commented on in the 1902 report on pages 31, 32, and 33. The conclusion is that the farmers in the Geneseo area are dependent on grain and cattle for their livelihood and are successful with growing grapes and producing good quality wines.
1898: The German Lutheran Church was built with the congregations donating money for the lumber and building materials and appointing one person to be in charge of the construction. All members donated their time and work without pay. Pastor Claus, from Salem, Oregon, builds the altar and the pulpit as well as works on the construction of the building. The church bell is donated by Mrs. Caroline Ernst. In time the congregation is able to save and purchase an organ, carpet and communion set.
1900: William Ernst and his brother John continue to produce good quality wines and to win awards at county fairs.The Products of the Vintage of the Ernest Brothers were on display in 1900 at a local fair according to the newspaper article on display at the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles. The article states: “No finer display in the fair can be found than that shown by the Ernst Brothers of Creston.” In their display are to be found: Claret, Malaga, White Zinfandel, Champagne, Port, Sherry, Sparkling Tokay, Wine of the Mission Grape.
1910: William Ernst dies in San Luis Obispo County on August 4.
1933: Ruby Ernst dies in San Luis Obispo County.
1947: Barbara Mathis Ernst dies on May 9 in Paso Robles, California.
1948: Frank Jacob Ernst, son of William and Barbara Ernst, dies on August 20 in Paso Robles, California. He is Howard ( Howie) Steinbeck’s uncle.
1951: William Albert (Will) Ernst, son of William and Barbara Ernst, dies on January 11, 1951, in Los Angeles.