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The Saddleback Canyons of Orange County

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Orange Count Real Estate
Silverado Canyon, CA
Trabuco, CA

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The Saddleback Canyons of Orange County
by Amy Richards

A miraculous thing happened to me when I was 18 months old, my parents, Frank and Lucille Fitzpatrick, moved to Silverado Canyon, which could have also been named "Kid Heaven" or "A Lizard Chasers Paradise." The Canyons were located at one of the most remote spots in Orange County and people thought that anyone who wanted to live way out there must be addled!

Boy, I wanted to live out there. I'd visited my Aunt Patty who'd lived there most of her married life and she was raising my five cousins there. The creek ran all year and it was loaded with native trout. I wasn't too interested in the trout, I could never catch any big ones with my little hands, but the frogs, pollywogs and salamanders were fair game. We had a dam in the creek and it was deep enough to float a fair sized galvanized laundry tub with me in it along with my faithful kitten "Pinkey Baby Blue Eyes."

I spent my childhood wading or playing in the creek, climbing up into the branches of the huge live oaks trees that dotted our property, riding our burro and hiking the hill behind our house. Many times I hiked all the way over into Williams Canyon. There was a spring there that my dad had deemed safe to drink and we'd carry a little collapsible tin cup with us and rest in the shade and drink that cool spring water. There were a couple of white horses that had escaped from someone and they were great fuel for my imagination! Sometimes I'd get lucky and catch a glimpse of them, 'Wild Horses' and I'd dream of capturing them and how I would ride!

My granddad, John Henry Fitzpatrick, was raised here too and he would share his memories with me of his youth in these beautiful canyons. His mother was married to one of the Bohimes who owned a ranch in Modjeska Canyon. My granddad walked from Modjeska to Silverado to attend school, most of the years, occasionally the school came over to Modjeska. The school was one room, built on skids, and they dragged it to which ever canyon had the most children, the others would walk over from wherever they lived. My granddad told me that most years he was the only boy, and the youngest child attending the school. For many years there was just he and six sisters, of the Ohlsbach family that attended. One hot spring day the kids found a deep hole of water in the creek,along their way home, and they started skinny dipping in that pool. My granddad said it was great fun until someone spotted them and, "Nosed it all over the canyons that I was swimming naked with the girls! That was the end of that!"

My mother told me a few years back that for seventy consecutive years there had been a blood relative of mine either attending or working at the Silverado school. That ended when our daughter, Molly had the audacity to live outside the Canyons and not send her daughter Becky to the school! Oh well! My Mother will be ninety-five in two weeks.

Never having been able to catch the '"wild horses', I always told everyone that when I grew up, I was going to marry a blond haired, blue eyed, six foot tall cowboy and raise horses! When I grew up - I did! I had the good sense to marry a young cowboy who had been raised in Modjeska Canyon. His parents, Ann and Isaac Richards had a home in Long Beach and a home in Modjeska. Rusty Richards is his name and he loves the canyons just as I do. When he was a little boy he loved to visit the Howells, they had a great park -like property on Modjeska Canyon Road, they called it "My Old Kentucky Home." The Howells had an open door policy and anyone venturing into the Canyon was made welcome. They had a small menagerie of animals, they sold sodas and candy and had lots of company. The first time Rusty ever heard a live guitar being played was in their living room, Malley Roundtree was playing and singing and he told Rusty that he thought he would make a fine singer and he would teach him to play if his folks would get him a guitar. Well they did,and he did and Rusty grew up to join "The Sons of the Pioneers," he was a member of that famous group for a period of time spanning 21 years. Rusty is a terrific songwriter as well, and he loves to raise and train horses. You can check out his web page at We raised our children in Modjeska on The Modjeska Ranch, and they swam in the creek, climbed the trees and hiked the hills, only they rode horses instead of a burro. They also learned to love music and all are gifted singers. Three of them sing and play professionally, our daughter, Jenny Richards Woodward sings at Tannin's (Formerly Tre Vigne ) on Wed. evenings and Cedar Creek on Saturday evenings, both on Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano. Jenny teaches voice, guitar and piano, writes beautiful songs and hosts "Cabin Concerts" held in her living room in Modjeska Canyon, the very same room at the Howells where the music all began. Our son, Jason Richards and his band, "Silverado" were nominated for best non-touring band by the Academy of Country Music, and Jason performs with and without his band at private parties. He also writes many original songs and lives in Modjeska Canyon. His daughter, Amanda is professionally on her way in music, and all of his other children. Annie, April and Logan are into music too. Our daughter, Amy Jo Ellis is also a prolific writer of songs and performs at the Orange County Fair, private parties and many seminars and churches. Amy and her family live in Silverado Canyon. All of Amy's children sing, write and or play. Autumn Ellis is a gifted singer and is attending college in Newport Beach, Melody is in Culinary Arts school in San Francisco. Tenor helps on Amy's recordings. Our daughter, Molly Babb and her husband Dale live in Rancho Santa Margarita and are raising another singer,songwriter Becky Sanders. Dale too, is in Real Estate.

Which brings us back to me, my name is Amy Richards, I am a real estate broker, and I do specialize in the Canyons. I will celebrate 30 years in Real Estate next March, 2004. All that Halloween tricker-treating as a kid paid off as I got to know all the canyon houses and hidden homes.

There are streets here that have just one home on them and other homes that are addressed on a street that in all reality doesn't even exist! Oh, well, that's the canyons!

Lots of history here, Silverado was a boom town in the late 1800's, a silver mining shooting star! Brief but flashy for a time! There were five stage coaches that came to Silverado Canyon each day, three out of Los Angeles and two out of Anaheim. There were several hotels, cafes, numerous bars and I think the brothels outnumbered everything else. Some of the little cabins in Silverado started life as a miner's shack. After the Silver petered out there was a brief renewed interest in the area for possible coal mining, but that too was disappointing. Carbondale got its name, but not much else happened. Silverado Canyon also had a hey-day as a spa with Hollywood Celebrities frequenting the area, that too dried up. Commercial use now is two markets, The Shadybrook Market and Canyon Market and two cafes, The Silverado Café, and the new Silver Creek Inn all are enjoyable places to get a cold drink and a bite to eat.

When I was a child we knew the different sections of Silverado Canyon as: Carbondale, Hough Tract, Cabin Land, Shady Brook, and Mine Tract. All the homes had names, like Pair-O-dice, Dew-Drop-Inn, Hummingbird Cabin, Honeymoon Cottage, Simpatico, etc. That tradition has pretty much died out, but I found it charming. The Aloha House in Modjeska and Hodge Podge Lodge in Silverado still continue the tradition.

Modjeska Canyon was always a sleepy little place, and it still is, although it did sport a hotel at one time and a restaurant called "The Sweden Inn." Most famous for its Modjeska Home, called Arden Forest by the famous Shakespearean actress Madam Helena Modjeska, the home was recently featured on California's Gold, by Hewell Howser. Guided Tours can be arranged, but are by appointment only with a waiting list, I am told. However, it is worth the wait! The only commercial business now is the Modjeska Market, a great place to get a cold drink and a sandwich.

Trabuco Canyon was named for a lost musket by one of Portola's men. Trabuco benefits by one of the County's nicest Regional parks, Donated by the O'Neil family and appropriately named O'Neil Park. There is camping, hiking, biking and horseback riding down the beautiful and shady Arroyo. The area also features a great steak house, The Oaks on Trabuco Oaks, and Mexican food at Senior Licos in Rose Canyon. Also a Trabuco Country Store for lotto and drinks and snacks, and of course, everybody's favorite, the infamous biker bar at Cook's Corner. (Rusty remembers when Mr. Cook stood behind that bar and a huge rattlesnake skin decorated the wall.)

All of the Canyons are nestled into the National Forest and we truly are in the Shadows of Saddleback Mountain. It has been my great pleasure to share the area with many new people as they have found their way into the Canyons. Helping them to purchase land ranches and homes, as they moved here with their families. The canyons are not only a great place to live, they're also a great place to learn. We have two wonderful elementary schools in our area. Silverado School has received the distinguished School Award and Trabuco Elementary is a 'Toured' school. All of the Canyons have old fashioned Community Spirit and neighborliness that has disappeared from many places - but is its alive and well here! Although we are country living, we are no longer remote, now we are 10-15 minutes from the 241 Toll-way. Please visit my website:

© Copyright 2002 Amy Richards. No unauthorized duplication without written consent.




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