Robert Daley was born in London, England, in 1845. He came to America when he was only 10 to live with his sister in San Francisco. Somehow, his parents allowed him to journey at sea — by himself — all the way across the Atlantic, then down around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and back all the way up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. After living with his sister in San Francisco for 13 years he must have grown restless and wanted to set out on his own. When he was only 23 he set off by himself to southern California, which he liked.
In 1868 he “discovered” the valley where the current ranch house stands. No one was living there, and he must have decided that this would be the place to settle down and establish a new future. He built himself a log cabin, which was located on the east side of Ranch House Road near the little pond. He did not own the land, because it had not been surveyed and therefore was not able to be homesteaded. So Robert Daley squatted on the land. This made him an immigrant with undocumented possession of this land! Within seven years he was able to legally obtain the first chunk of land here, and over time, his original 160 acres would become over 3,000 acres. By 1875 he had built a much nicer house, located north and west of the current ranch house. Soon he married Rebecca Breedlove from Valley Center. She was only 17 and he was 37!
They had four children, two daughters and two sons. One daughter died in infancy. One of the sons, George Daley, went to school in Escondido through the sixth grade. The other boy, Howard Daley, made it through the 8th grade. Despite their lack of formal schooling, they were smart, and both ended up becoming millionaires! In sum, Robert Daley was an immigrant to America, who squats on undocumented land, marries an American, works hard to build a ranch and dairy, and raises a family in his adopted homeland. This seems to be a common success story of many immigrants to the United States.
They planted fruit trees for the family use. A persimmon tree and a couple apple trees are still alive among the oaks lining the east side of the road near the ranch house. By the 1890s the Daley ranch became a dairy, called a creamery, which produced butter, taken by horse drawn stage to San Diego and LA. The dairy became especially profitable because of a machine called a separator, which handled 600 pounds of milk per hour, and the growing of alfalfa for feed. They built ponds and an elaborate irrigation system in the flat, long valley north of the ranch house. They called it the Fern Valley Dairy.
In 1909 George Daley moved to San Diego to start a road building business. In 1916 brother Howard left Daley Ranch and joined him. They leased the ranch to a Frenchman named Juaso, who went out of business because of a huge flood that year which destroyed much of his personal property. In that same sad year, Robert Daley passed away at age 71. But the brothers were very smart businessmen, and they continued to buy land and grow their construction business. They did not sell Daley Ranch, but rather continued to lease it to other ranchers until the early 1980s. They bought four other large tracts of land around the county, including Rancho Bernardo and Jamul. The Daley Corporation became the largest construction firm in the county. George died in 1957. Howard, even though wealthy, wanted to retire in the same sort of rural environment that he was born and raised, and so he moved back to the east county (Jamul) Daley Ranch where he spent the last ten years of his life, dying in 1962. Howard’s sons took over the Daley Corporation.
The ranch house that we see today was built in 1925 as a summer cottage for the family. Up until the 1980s the Daley family would invite friends to the ranch house for a weekend summer getaway. Guests and family would often hunt bear or deer on the ranch, then have a big barbeque. The house’s two bedrooms, bathroom and small kitchen allowed folks to spend a night or two comfortably. The great room boasts single wall tongue and groove redwood walls, which are original, as is the hardwood floor. The original light fixtures were made by Escondido blacksmiths, and still hang from the tall ceiling. The large front room was for parties and dances. The small balcony was built for two musicians, usually a fiddler and a guitar player. The beautiful, huge stone fireplace covers the south wall of the great room. It is made of granite stones, which were once used as a ship’s ballast. The stones were then used as a road foundation in San Diego, but were later dug up during a street construction project by the Daley Corporation and used to build the fireplace and chimney. A huge bearskin hung from one wall, from a bear that had been shot on the ranch. Some TV shows were filmed in the ranch house, including “Renegade” with Lorenzo Llamos.
The small ranch house on east side of road is older, but extensively altered and deteriorated. The first barn was built in 1870s, but the current one dates from late 1800s. The barn was also used in the filming of Renegade episodes. The foreman’s quarters were still in use in 1983. Other farm utility buildings still stand, and the Friends of Daley Ranch is working to preserve them.
The Daley Corporation was a savvy and profitable enterprise. The ranch was not generating much revenue, so in the early 1980s the Daleys worked with Mobil Oil to build a huge housing development on the 3000 acre ranch. Plans called for over 3000 homes, including condominiums, a convenience store, and even a golf course. All of the surrounding hills would have roads and houses built. The pro-growth Escondido city council of the early and mid 1980s were enthusiastic supporters of this development. The land was annexed to the City and the plans were approved. It looked like Daley Ranch would become a gated enclave of the wealthy, an extension of civilization with cement and fences, from the flat valley of Escondido to the pristine hills and valleys of the ranch. But then the economy faltered and the plans were put on hold. By the 1990s enough people wanted this land to be protected rather than paved. A new slow growth city council was elected. Their first move was to reduce the scope of the planned development to 1750 houses.
But then in 1997, using a creative financing plan involving sewer hook up “futures” and under the leadership of Councilman Jerry Harmon, the council voted 3-2 to buy the land for $21 million. It was designated as a conservation mitigation bank, to be preserved in perpetuity. Enough citizens had come together to fight for this land to be an open space for wild plants and animals, as well as for people to enjoy. Since 1997 the City of Escondido has employed rangers to look after the land and to assist the many recreational users. In the same year, the Friends of Daley Ranch was formed to help make sure that Daley Ranch would always be a prime habitat for wildlife, and to promote recreation that is compatible with the natural environment.