The Pittenger House, built in 1895 on the country farm of the Reverend William Pittenger, may well be the crown jewel of the Fallbrook Heritage Center. The product of considerable restoration under the direction of the Fallbrook Historical Society and made possible through the generous donations and diligence of many people dedicated to preserving this historic treasure, The Pittenger House is rich with Fallbrook history.
The property was originally part of the Rancho Santa Margarita Mexican Land Grant, owned by Pio Pico. In 1848, according to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ending the Mexican-American War, it transferred to the United States government pending completion of land surveys and verification of borders. As a result of the surveys, this strip of land was opened up to homesteading, and title to 80 acres was granted to Millard Neff in 1883. In 1885, Millard sold his homestead, and in 1890, the Reverend William Pittenger bought 20 acres and built his farmhouse on the property in 1895.
William Pittenger was a decorated Civil War hero, having received one of the very first Congressional Medals of Honor for his 1862 participation in a secret Union army band called “Andrew’s Raiders”. Their mission was to infiltrate enemy territory, commandeer a confederate train, and to destroy transportation and communication links between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Pittenger wrote his personal account of this failed mission, originally published as Daring and Suffering and later as The Great Locomotive Chase, from which two different movie versions were produced, including a Walt Disney version featuring actor Fess Parker.
Apart from being a bona fide war hero, the Reverend Pittenger also became a prominent citizen of Fallbrook. As minister of the Fallbrook Methodist-Episcopal Church from 1893 to 1896, and then again from 1898 to 1899, Reverend Pittenger also had a house in town, while his daughter and her husband managed the ranch. Additionally, he was an instrumental organizer of the Fallbrook High School District, and president of the local school board. Reverend Pittenger died in 1904, but his wife, Winnie, continued to live in Fallbrook through the 1920s, and in 1910, she sold the ranch and moved permanently to her residence in town near the church.
Between 1910 and 1918, the property changed hands several times, until, in 1918, B.C. Davies, a Los Angeles doctor, purchased the ranch, including the farm house, where Dr. Davies reportedly conducted his medical practice in an enclosed area on the north porch. Dr. Davies also became a prominent citizen of Fallbrook, serving on the Board of the Fallbrook Irrigation District, and organizing the first Rotary Club in Fallbrook. Dr. and Mrs. Davies held the property until 1945, when it passed to family heirs, Edward & Phyllis Block and Doris C. Mundhenk, who then sold it in 1946 to John and Marion Griffin. In 1981, the Griffin heirs sold 2 ½ acres, including the farm house, to the Fallbrook Historical Society, who used it to store historic artifacts until the new museum was built in 1993.
Today, the Pittenger house is a veritable showcase, meticulously furnished to reflect the early twentieth century period. Full of vintage furnishings, such as the wood-burning stove and icebox in the kitchen, a Crown pump organ and Edison wind-up phonograph in the living room, and a bedroom adorned with an old rope-bed, chamber pot and wash basin, along with many, many other artifacts, the historic Pittenger House remains a genuine treasure of the Fallbrook Heritage Center.
Please stop by The Fallbrook Heritage Center any Thursday or Sunday from 1 – 4 pm for a personal tour of the Pittenger House.