A 101-year-old eucalyptus log cabin near collapse, on a hill just east of Fallbrook, is connected to several notable people, the history of eucalyptus trees in California, and the history of the judicial courts in Fallbrook.

Built in 1920 by Rollin L. Blacklidge on his sixty-acre lemon ranch, it may be the only home in San Diego County built entirely of eucalyptus.  The home he constructed was described in a local newspaper as “… an artistic bungalow, extremely beautiful and inviting in its appearance of old-fashioned rusticity, the site commanding a view of the sea, the mountains and all the other glories of Fallbrook.”[1]

Rollin Blacklidge was a surveyor and civil engineer who became the first president of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce in 1920, [2] the same year he cleared a eucalyptus grove on his property and built his unique cabin.  Today’s Gumtree Lane crosses Blacklidge’s historic ranch.

The eucalyptus gum tree is native to Australia. It became widespread in California during the 2nd half of the 19th century.  Tall and straight, the trees were thought important to railroad building.  The Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads imported the tree and planted millions of acres of eucalyptus to be used as railroad ties, or as fuel to burn in the engine broilers.  Investors planted millions more acres of trees to be used for home heating and also for the supposed medicinal benefits of eucalyptus.

Unfortunately for the investors, the railroads discovered that eucalyptus poles had a tendency to rot and that the wood cracked or split when driving a spike through them, making them useless as railroad ties.   Also, railway locomotives converted to oil soon after the year 1900, eliminating the need to burn wood. [3]

The Blacklidge cabin would eventually come to be known as Judge Smelser’s cabin.  Blacklidge’s daughter Mary was a young widow.  She met and married Harry Smelser, a widower about the same age as herself.  Harry, a bookkeeper for the Union Oil Co in Fallbrook, had lost his wife in the 1918 flu pandemic.

Harry Smelser had arrived in Fallbrook in 1909 with his parents and brother William.  The next year, Harry’s father founded the Commercial Bank in Fallbrook.  The Commercial Bank took a leading role in lifting Fallbrook out of the prolonged economic depression of the 1890s.  Harry served on the board of directors of the bank.  After his father’s death in 1918, Harry briefly became president of the bank until he sold his interest to his older brother William.  Harry Smelser was elected to the school board.  He served as a trustee on the high school board that hired James E. Potter as school principal in 1921. [4]  

Harry and Mary lived with her parents in the log cabin.  Mary would later inherit her father’s cabin.  Harry owned and operated an appliance and furniture business on the NW corner of Main and Ivy St.

The Fallbrook Judicial Township, which no longer exists, was created in April 1931 by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. [5]   A judicial township court was a Class B court.  It handled all civil and criminal cases within its jurisdiction.   The Fallbrook Judicial Township comprised the voting precincts of Fallbrook, De Luz, Vallecitos (Rainbow), and Pala.  Having a judicial township allowed Fallbrook to elect its own Justice of the Peace and one constable.

Harry Smelser became Judge Smelser when he was elected Justice of the Peace in the 1938 election.  He continued as the Fallbrook judge for 20 years until 1958.  In that time, Judge Smelser heard over 4,000 cases.  He was proud that very few of his verdicts were appealed.  Someone once asked Smelser if he gave calendars as presents.  The judge replied, “Come to my courtroom.  I can give you 30 days, 6 months, or a year.”

The log cabin was the scene of many weddings.  Judge Smelser enjoyed marrying people. He gave couples the choice of having the wedding in his office at the El Real Hotel on Main, or at his log cabin home.  When the groom asked “How much does it cost?” the judge put him on the spot with “What is she worth to you?” If the guy was a Marine, the Judge handed the fee over to the bride with a grin. “Here is your first wedding present.”

All of the county judicial courts were eliminated in 1976 when they were consolidated into the Superior Court system.[6]  Harry Smelser and his wife Mary lived at the cabin for the rest of their lives.  The judge died in 1962. Mary Blacklidge Smelser was still there in her last year of 1981.[7]

Tom Frew,


    1) Fallbrook Eucalyptus Log Cabin by Betty Johnston in North County Times April 5, 1999, using Fallbrook Historical Society files.

    2) Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce History by Fallbrook Historical Society, May 5, 2020.

    3) San Diego’s Eucalyptus Bubble by Leland G. Stanford, Journal of San Diego History, Fall 1970.  This article discusses the false assumptions and large investments in the eucalyptus tree in Southern California.

    4) Fallbrook Enterprise May 23, 1947, Vic Westfall is quoted

    5) Fallbrook Enterprise, Dec 2, 1932.

    6) Fallbrook in Review, vol.5 page 52, Judge Victor Frank Wojcik by Carolyn Wojick Schroeder.  Judge Wojick was the last Fallbrook judge.

    7) Fallbrook Enterprise, Dec 31, 1981.