J.P. Dargitz Goes to California

By Christopher Zoukis

In 1896, J.P. could no longer resist the siren call of California, which was believed to be a land flowing “with milk and honey” and vast opportunity.  California was a place where men of vision and ability could make a name for themselves – and a fortune, too.  J.P moved to California, where he put all his talents to work.  He taught school, practiced medicine and preached the Gospel.  Eventually he became the pastor of a small church in Lakeport, California.  J.P.’s church was affiliated with the Church of Christ.  Image courtesy www.sjvgeology.org

Seeing an opportunity, J.P decided to seize it with both hands.  It was 1904, and the Church of Christ was establishing colonies in parts of the United States.  These colonies were religious communities, where like-minded believers could live and work and play, all while keeping the sinful ways of the rest of humanity at arm’s length.  They could live in the world yet not be a part of the world. 

J.P. Dargitz bought 800 acres of land near Acampo, which was located in the San Joaquin Valley.  He set about farming his land, planting fruit and almond trees.  At the same time, the Bank of Stockton hired J.P. to sell 1000 acres of land.  At one time, the land had been owned by California State Senator Benjamin Langford.  Now, though, the bank owned it.  And the bank wanted to sell it at a profit.  J.P. Dargitz informed the bank that he would be willing to act as their agent.  The bank accepted and an agreement was signed.

J.P. Dargitz began advertising the land in a magazine published by the Church of Christ.  According to the advertisement, the land was available exclusively to members of the denomination.  No outsiders would be allowed to purchase any of the property.  The land was divided into 10-acre parcels.  The asking price for each parcel was $1200 to $1500, depending on location.  Eager to be part of an exclusive religious community, church members from the Eastern U.S. bought up the parcels.  When the settlers arrived, they immediately established the Colony Church of Christ.  And J.P. Dargitz was the pastor.

Things were going well.  Everyone was happy.  The bank was happy because they were making money.  J.P. was happy because he was making a liberal commission from each parcel sold.  The settlers were happy because they were participating in a new Garden of Eden, one where God was worshipped in a self-contained environment. 

Then the serpent slithered into Paradise.  It was 1909.  The colonists, who were members of Colony Church of Christ, learned that J.P. Dargitz had misrepresented land values.  In other words, they had overpaid.  J.P. had inflated the prices for each parcel, pocketing the surplus.  Charges were brought against J.P. Dargitz, who denied the accusations.  Both sides lawyered up and the Dargitz case came to trial.  During the trial, emotions ran wild, resulting in a loud hullabaloo accompanied by much fingerpointing.  In the end, Dargitz agreed to pay back a sum of $20,000, but admitted to no wrongdoing.  He also agreed to step down as the pastor of the Colony Church of Christ.

Back on his 800-acre farm, J.P. Dargitz supervised the fall harvest of almonds.  He was already aware of the marketing predicament plaguing the almond industry.  Quite bluntly, every effort to promote and establish a statewide organization had failed.  If the small local associations didn’t combine their efforts under one umbrella, the whole almond industry in California was in peril.