The Life and Death of E.W. Scripps

The Life and Death of E.W. Scripps

Edward Willis Scripps was born on June 18, 1854 near Rushville, Illinois to James Mogg Scripps from London and Julia Adeline Osborne from New York. E.W. was the youngest of five children born to James and Julia. James had seven additional children from two previous marriages.

EW Scripps Ranch Miramar Ranch 1910

The First Scripps Ranch Family

E.W. Scripps’ older half-sister, Ellen Browning Scripps, acted as E.W. Scripps’ surrogate mother, protector and was the only one from whom he would take advice. “E.W. Scripps was also the most disagreeable and unlikable member of the family. His irascible nature generated nicknames like Turkey Egg as a boy, to Damned Old Crank and Contrary Old Bastard as an adult.”

E.W. Scripps married Nackie Holtsinger, a shy reverend’s daughter, in October 1885. E.W. and Nackie had six children: James George Osborn Scripps, John Paul Holtsinger Scripps, Dorothy Blair Scripps, Edward Willis McLean Scripps, Robert Paine Scripps and Nackey Scripps.

Nackie Scripps poses with her children 1896 in early Scripps Ranch real estate

From Midwest to West Coast

In 1890, E.W. Scripps made his first visit to the west coast to visit his ailing sister, Ellen Browning Scripps. On November 22, 1890, E.W. Scripps arrived in San Diego after taking a four-day steamship trip to San Diego and shortly thereafter rode out to a mesa.

On December 2, 1890, he purchased 400 acres of land for $5,000 with an option to buy more, and built his Miramar Ranch. His ranch was named after the castle in Trieste, Italy that he and his sister, Ellen had seen on a trip to Europe.

Others described the area as “semi-arid mesa land, stony, treeless and bare, with no water, no roads, buildings or improvements.” In one of his later writings, E.W. Scripps stated that one of the things that made San Diego seem attractive to him was “that San Diego was off in the extreme corner of the United States — a busted, broken down boom town. It was perhaps more difficult of access than any other spot in the United States.”

E.W. Scripps’ ranch was 14 long miles — a day’s journey by horse and buggy — from San Diego.

Miramar Ranch Scripps Ranch 1910

Creating Miramar Ranch

Originally, the name of E.W. Scripps’ ranch was going to be Dolly Blair Ranch, a tribute to his grandmother, who claimed some historical prominence in that her forebears were “the Blairs who settled in Williamstown, Massachusetts during the colonization.”

However, the name Miramar Ranch meaning view of the sea won out.

The climate appealed to E.W. Scripps because it reminded him of North Africa, the only place he had ever been free from the colds that had plagued him in earlier years.

One reason for purchasing the ranch was to provide E.W. Scripps’ brother, Fred, with the job of establishing the ranch. Fred had needed financial help to achieve his goal of developing a lemon orchard. E.W. Scripps and his sister, Ellen Browning Scripps, agreed that life in the barren inland valleys of San Diego and the hard work of establishing a ranch would help Fred grow up.

Miramar Ranch shortly after completion 1906

While Miramar was being built, E.W. Scripps and his family lived in a Victorian house he had bought for his wife in Downtown San Diego. The three-story home was historically known as the Britt-Scripps Townhouse, with Judge Britt being the first owner. E.W. Scripps spent eight years supervising construction of Miramar.

Let There Be Water

Water was the first critical concern for the ranch. Fred Scripps’ 100-acre lemon orchard had been a failure because of the drought. E.W. Scripps realized that he would have to collect and store all of the available rain and stream runoff if he wanted to have water year-round, so he built several ponds. One of the small canyons selected for a dam was in a large pasture north of present-day Scripps Ranch.

In February 1891, a 300-foot long, 70-foot wide, 20-feet deep dam was completed on the adjoining land of Gordon Surr under an agreement with Mr. Surr.  

Dr. Alonzo De Jessup, who later became a San Diego jeweler and optometrist, helped build the earthen dam. He recalled being paid 75 cents per day to drive a team of horses pulling a small earth-scraper. The scraper did the same job that today’s bulldozer does, but much more slowly.

Another dam was built on Carroll Creek, which ran along where Pomerado Road is today.

The Surr Dam failed within three years of its construction and was rebuilt in 1897 “on the most practical spot nearest the old dam.” The rebuilt Surr Dam was in use and retained a small lake of water until Miramar Reservoir was erected.

Surr Dam Scripps Ranch used for real estate needs

Miramar Ranch Construction

By 1897, through continual additions of property to the ranch, E.W. Scripps ended up owning 2,110 acres. E.W. Scripps was told that he was helping the poor homesteaders in the area who could not make a go of it because of a lack of water. Some homesteaders needed money to move away, so E.W. Scripps bought the nearly worthless land and hired people who wanted to stay to clear land and build.

The adobe east wing of the mansion was completed in 1898. The house mirrored E.W. Scripps’ fond memories of his Algerian days. He used North African architecture in building three sides of a square around a paved courtyard, with a fountain in the center and turreted rooms on three corners.

Miramar was originally intended as a winter home for E.W. Scripps’ Illinois family, but E.W. Scripps made Miramar his permanent home and seldom left it between 1900 and 1917.

Fantastic Features of Miramar Ranch

Miramar Ranch was a predominantly one-story home consisting of 47 rooms. All 17 bedrooms had fireplaces. There were 13 bathrooms and a living room measuring 2,000 square feet, with a 16-foot ceiling.

Corridor facing main courtyard at Miramar Ranch, 1890s

The home was one story except for one corner, which had a second story suite, called the Tower Room. The mansion had many rooms so that each child could have a suite with a bedroom, sitting room, and a bath. E.W. Scripps also provided rooms for his poorer relatives who might come to visit.

Dining room at Miramar Ranch, early 1890s

E.W. Scripps’ bathroom, named the Throne Room, contained dentist and barber chairs. It was said to be the most lavish bathroom in San Diego County, and perhaps the state. Hand-laid Italian tile covered the floor and walls. E.W. Scripps is rumored to have come up with the idea for United Press International (UPI) while sitting in the dentist chair.

EW Scripps throne room bathroom Miramar Ranch

The fountain installed in the courtyard was purchased at the St. Louis Exposition at a cost of $250. E.W. Scripps said he would “have to rebuild the whole damn ranch to match it.”

The courtyard fountain purchased at the St. Louis Exhibition for Miramar Scripps Ranch

E.W. Scripps commissioned sculptor Arthur Putnam to create large bronze figures representing the human history of California. A larger-than-life Padre, Indian and Plowman were created for the property.

The Plowman bronze sculpture by Arthur Putnam at Miramar Ranch

The ranch later boasted an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a stable of thoroughbred horses, an aviary for daughter Nackey and a garden filled with unusual plants from all over the world.

Nackey Scripps Meanley as a young girl in corridor at Miramar Ranch 1907


E.W. Scripps built roads to places he needed to go. One road went from Miramar to Ellen’s La Jolla home across the present site of MCAS Miramar; another from La Jolla to San Diego; one from La Jolla to Del Mar through Torrey Pines Park Canyon; and from Miramar north to Escondido and south to San Diego.

These roads were the basis for the present freeway system comprising of Interstate 5, Interstate 8, Interstate 15 and Routes 163 and 395. E.W. Scripps was appointed chief road commissioner by San Diego County.  

Making Miramar Ranch Thrive

During the early days of development of the ranch, E.W. Scripps built three boarding houses: one for the teamster help, another for the gardeners who pruned the citrus groves and tended the gardens, and another for the household staff, including chauffeurs, kitchen and housekeeping staff.

Some 50 workers were employed to keep the ranch and grounds in order. Two houseboys, a chef and helper, a waiter, and four maids were employed in the house. In addition, two chauffeurs were on the staff to drive Mr. and Mrs. Scripps and their customary large number of guests. A total of 61 persons were on staff.

Miramar Ranch Landscaping

E.W. Scripps engaged Kate Sessions, San Diego’s leading horticulturist, to help him landscape the estate. Great boxes of exotic plants began arriving, including eucalyptus trees, several thousand pine trees (including the native and rare Torrey Pine) pineapple plants, orange and olive trees, and a large collection of cacti.

Kate Sessions helped to landscape Scripps Miramar Ranch 1910

Chauncy Jerabek

Scripps hired 20-year-old Chauncy Irgens “Jerry” Jerabek as head gardener and instructed him to raise the trees already on the ranch and plant 20,000 more eucalyptus trees. Jerabek and six workers planted the trees. Pickles and Cucumber, two of E.W. Scripps’ daughter Nackey’s many dogs, were with Jerry most of the time.  Miss Kate Sessions had written a letter of recommendation to E. W. Scripps for Jerabek, and he was hired within the week.

Young Chauncy Jerabek as head Miramar Ranch Scripps Ranch gardener

More than 300 varieties of eucalyptus were planted, for the purpose of selling them to the railroad for ties. Unfortunately, the wood was too brittle and split when a nail was hammered in. E.W. Scripps opted to continue cultivating them for their beauty.

Jerabek lived in a cottage near what is now Hendrix Pond and close to the Ellen Scripps Davis Horse Ranch. Jerabek’s home served as the Miramar Post Office for a brief time, with Jerabek being the Postmaster. The Post Office for much of this time was in the General Store in Vasey Ville, which was located west of what is now I-15 on the northeast corner of Miramar Air Station.

Jerabek decorated the Scripps gymnasium every Halloween when dances would be held and where he met his wife, Hulda Schultz, a teacher. Mrs. Jerabek operated out of a one-room wooden schoolhouse in the center of what was called Vasey Ville and ultimately became Mira Mesa. At the time, it was the only structure in the area and she drove a horse and buggy to school.

Chauncy Jerabek cottage near Hendrix Pond Scripps Ranch Miramar Ranch

Mr. Jerabek recalled in a 1978 letter “when [his] wife taught school in Miramar, the building that housed the school was out in the center of what Mira Mesa is today. At that time, it was the only structure throughout that area. She drove a horse and buggy, some kids rode on ponies, but most walked and thought nothing of it. The outside of this wooden building was pockmarked with holes. Everything would be peaceful inside then all of the sudden the teacher and the kids would hear rack tack! tack! An old woodpecker or yellow hammer would be making another hole getting ready to move to a new subdivision.”

Jerabek may also have been responsible for planting the eucalyptus trees in Balboa Park in time for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition held in Balboa Park. Other sources provide that Jerabek started working at Balboa Park in 1918. 

Scripps Ranch Fights The San Diego Drought

During a period of drought in San Diego, the City more or less entered into a contract with a well-known rainmaker, Charles Hatfield, to bring rain. In particular, the city was interested in enough rainfall to fill up the lake behind its new Morena Dam.

Hatfield went to work and the rain did fall. It began raining on January 5, with large rains again on January 10, 1916, and a real torrent on January 18. The backcountry was severely flooded and some city streets were flooded as well.

Charles Hatfield Rainmaker Scripps Miramar Ranch

While the floods outraged most citizens of the city, Charles Hatfield saw them as a sign of his success and presented a bill for his services to the City Council. The Council denied there was a contract and refused to pay. A lawsuit ensued until the courts dropped it in 1938 after finding that the rains were an “act of God” and not Charles Hatfield.

In the general vicinity, only E.W. Scripps had a telephone in 1916 and he warned Sorrento Valley about the flood.

E.W. Scripps had built seven dams on the ranch at Miramar: Surr Dam, the present Miramar Reservoir; Evans Dam, located southwest of the water filtration plant; and North, A, B, C and Soledad Dams, which went out in the winter of 1916 and washed out a mile of the Santa Fe Railroad Tracks in Sorrento Valley.

E.W. Scripps & World War I

In 1917, America’s entry into World War I prompted E.W. Scripps to move to Washington, D.C. where he supervised the editorial coverage of the war.  Camp Kearny was established by the Army on 12,721 acres of land on a mesa north of San Diego.

Image result for camp kearny 1917

This area included part of the 2,130-acre Miramar Ranch, which had originally been established by E.W. Scripps. Camp Kearny was largely abandoned after the war but was retained by the government for use as a military and civilian airfield.

In the midst of the war, E.W. Scripps suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He retired from business. He recuperated as a semi-invalid on a rented 60-foot yacht. He ultimately sailed along the Atlantic Coast, through the Panama Canal, and back to San Diego. The death of his son Jim in 1921 brought E.W. Scripps out of retirement with one final job: to protect and unify his empire. 

Buried At Sea

in 1923, E.W. Scripps started a journey around the world on a 180-foot seagoing yacht, the Ohio. He traveled with family, a full-time nurse, a male secretary and female researchers of scientific journals. His marriage with Nackie was no longer on an even keel and they had become incompatible. E.W. Scripps gave up his beloved oasis, Miramar, and adopted the sea as his sanctuary.

E. W. Scripps yacht, The Ohio, at sea, 1922

E.W. Scripps’ yacht, the Ohio, was anchored off Monrovia, Liberia in 1926. After an evening with dinner guests when E.W. Scripps had drinks and smoked his usual large Havana cigars, he became ill and died of apoplexy within twenty minutes, at the age of 72. This was the age he had remarked to his sister Ellen Browning was the normal age for a Scripps to die.

EW Scripps caricature from Scripps Ranch Miramar Ranch

His will had specified that West Chester, Ohio was to be his burial place. However, his crew followed his sealed orders and buried E.W. Scripps at sea from the Ohio.

E.W. Scripps’ heirs took over Miramar Ranch, with families living in suites in separate wings and making many improvements.