Unique living history farm in Julian educates and entertains
Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures is a little-known jewel to be discovered in Julian. Located on the highway going into the mountain town, the place has become popular mostly by word of mouth, but its owners Doreen and Jesse Cross want to get their place on the map for fun things to do at their unique living history farm.
This family owned business has a focus on hands-on education. It was named after Jesse Cross’s family name.
“And we just so happen to be right in an area that’s chock-full of early California history,” Doreen said.
When people come to visit Fort Cross, they can expect a visit to the petting zoo of rabbits, chickens and ducks. The family pet goat named Bear is available for hugs. Guests should remember to keep whatever they have in their hands out of reach, though, because Bear has an immense curiosity typical of goats. He eats almost anything, too.
For people of all ages, an array of activities are available not seen anywhere else, such as vase painting and candle-dipping. Meagan Conner, who visited there recently during the Lilac Festival, was amazed at how quickly she had to move the string from the hot wax to the cold water. After about five minutes of constant dipping, she had a candle, albeit oddly shaped and thin.
“Back when people did not have electricity, they depended on candles for everything. The kids were set to work making them, hundreds at a time.
But in that era when people had little to their name, they played just as hard as they worked. They sang, played bluegrass music and attended contra dances
“We teach every child who comes here to pay a visit how to play a musical instrument, like this one,” Jesse said, picking up an old-fashioned washboard and a metal whisk.
“Or how about this?” he said, picking up two metal spoons taped together. He held the spoons in one hand and tapped it between his other hand and his leg.
Conner tapped out a rhythm on the washboard with the metal whisk while Jesse and his helper Joe played “She’s Coming around the Mountain.”
Jesse and Doreen teach people basic contra dance moves. “People who come here with their friends or kids from a group on a field trip out here get a kick out of this contra dancing. It’s a real work out,” he said.
Sometimes the living-history experience at Fort Cross also includes archery, a survival skills workshop, gardening, scavenger hunts, and making pottery on an old time potter’s wheel.
“We mix it up a bit. There are different educational tours to choose from for private groups,” said Doreen.
The farm also offers some volunteer days when people can come help clear the old Christmas tree farm to build a Native Californian village.
Jesse had already had some experience with hands-on living history experience beginning in 2000 at his family’s property, Riley’s Farm in San Bernardino. Since then, it had been in existence in one form or another at different places. Then about a year and a half ago, Jesse and Doreen and her daughter Noelani settled at the new location in Julian.
“It’s a place where people of all ages can be in the outdoors, away from the city, and learn what it was like in a more simple time, while having a lot of fun in the process,” said Doreen.
With the nearly five acres of lilacs growing at the farm—planted in the 1940s by original property owner Woody Barnes—visitors can also dabble a bit as an agritourist.
The kids really seem to enjoy digging in the dirt and being able to get a little—or a lot!—messy,” Doreen said.
Fort Cross hosts mostly school field trips. But they also work with Scout Troops, children and youth groups from churches as well as private events such as birthday parties and family reunions.
“Doing, in my opinion, is the best way to learn, and it helps ADD people like me to stay sane. So we try to make all our activities hands-on. Instead of watching, you are doing the cider pressing, gardening, or poop shoveling. We do try to give some info in between activities, but not lecture too much,” Jesse said.
Fort Cross is special to Doreen, she said, because she was first introduced to it when her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop came out for Jesse’s “Native Experience” tour.
“I fell in love with being in nature,” Doreen said. She also ended up falling in love with Jesse, and they got married a few years later.
“We’re coming up on our two year wedding anniversary in April and I can’t imagine my life being any different,” Doreen said.
Jesse said he never realized when he married Doreen how much she genuinely loved people. “Her enthusiasm is infectious,” he said.
Conner picked up on that enthusiasm on her visit. “I came away with a happy memory of a beautiful farm, full of cuddly animals, fragrant flowers, shady woods and bluegrass music,” Conner said.
For more information on this farm and its future events, go to www.fortcross.com or call 951-847-1904.