A New Opportunity to Learn About The Cook and View The Newly Restored Cook’s Bedroom at Rancho Los Alamitos

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Lydia Shinkle, the Rancho's Cook, with her niece, Janie Mae Wilkie, at Rancho Los Alamitos' duckpond, c. 1922

Lydia Shinkle, the Rancho’s Cook, with her niece, Janie Mae Wilkie, at Rancho Los Alamitos’ duckpond, c. 1922

There is always something new to see at the historic Rancho Los Alamitos. Now is a good time to take a docent-led tour of the ranch house with its meticulously restored interior. The most recent restoration is that of the Cook’s Bedroom which has never before been open to the public. Today it is the only place and the first time that one can see how the help lived and better understand their integral role at the ranch. The Cook’s role was so important to the smooth running of the ranch that she was the second highest paid employee outside of the Ranch Foreman. The Cook’s Bedroom was occupied for more than 22 years by Lydia Shinkle who prepared six meals each day for the unmarried ranch hands and the Bixby family using a wood-burning stove.

With the restoration of the Cook’s Bedroom complete, it is time to meet Lydia Shinkle (1876-1960) – the remarkable woman who lived in the Cook’s Bedroom. Lydia was born in the “wild west” in what was then called “Indian Territory” but is now Oklahoma. Her father, Berryman Whelchel, had nineteen children, seven by his first wife and twelve by his second wife, Lydia’s mother. Lydia was the fifth child born to her mother. Lydia grew up in Oklahoma and Kansas.

As a young girl, living in Kansas, Lydia was kidnapped by outlaws and taken to their hideout in the Cookson Hills in Indian Territory. Two of her brothers went after her and snuck up on the hideout in the dark, killing four of the outlaws and retrieving their sister “unharmed.” According to the family, the “law” never became involved in the incident one way or the other.

Lydia was married when she was only 15 years old to a man named George Stevens. However, when the marriage “didn’t work out,” she married Joe Shinkle on May 12, 1897 in Independence, Kansas. She had just turned 21 the month before. After marrying, the couple moved to Arkansas where Joe went to work as a mining engineer for Lydia’s brother, Bill, at the Montreal Smokeless Coal Company.

The coal mine closed in 1907, so at the age of 31, Lydia headed to California with Joe and they made a home in Long Beach. Joe made his living as a lobster fisherman. One of Lydia’s nieces recalled Joe fishing for shellfish at the foot Cherry Avenue and filling the family’s bathtub with shrimp and lobster. Lydia and Joe never had children. Joe died in December of 1919 when Lydia was only 43.

At about the time of Joe’s death, Lydia met Florence Bixby when both women were doing volunteer work for the war effort (World War I). They were of a similar age and held similar values. The now single Lydia needed employment and Rancho Los Alamitos needed a cook. The two women immediately liked each other and Florence Bixby asked Lydia to come and cook at the ranch. Lydia became the ranch’s first female cook. The previous cooks had been Chinese and Japanese men. Lydia began work in October of 1920. She was one of the Ranch’s most valued employees, earning $100 a month – about the same amount as the ranch foreman! (Lydia started at $90/month.  By the time she retired, she was making $100/month. The foreman was making anywhere between $100/month and $120/month at this time. It is interesting to note that Bert Bell, the bookkeeper, was making between $45 and $50/month and Elizabeth “Sister” Bixby was earning between $25 and $50/month.) She worked five days a week with Sundays and Thursdays being her days off.

Restoration of the Cook’s Bedroom


The restoration of the Cook’s Bedroom in the ranch house at Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens was successfully completed at the end of March, 2016. The restoration which also included adjacent areas of the historic house was generously funded by the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association, the Evelyn M. Bauer Foundation and the Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation. The original 1920s linoleum floors were uncovered and refurbished. The original early 1930s wallpaper was meticulously reproduced and hung. Woodwork was prepped and painted in historically accurate colors. Furnishings in the Cook’s Bedroom are accurate right down to framed prints hanging on the walls and family photographs on the dresser. A period-appropriate two-piece toilet with a wall-mounted tank was even installed in the cook’s bathroom.

About Rancho Los Alamitos
Rancho Los Alamitos is a place for all time: listed on the National Register of Historic Places twice—as the sacred Tongva village of Povuu’ngna and also for its adobe core ranch house c.1800, four acres of lush historic gardens and historic barnyard dating from the early-mid 20th century. In June 2012, RLA opened a new Rancho Center including a permanent exhibition, film and related program facilities that connect 21st century audiences with the powerful story of California, its landscape and its inhabitants throughout time. The restored historic Barns Area recalls the great ranching heritage of Southern California.

Rancho Los Alamitos is open to the public free of charge, Wednesday through Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. with school tours and cultural workshops scheduled for weekday mornings. The site is owned by the City of Long Beach. It is operated through the leadership and vision of Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation as a public/private cooperative venture under the auspices of the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Marine.

For more information, please call the Rancho office at 562.431.3541 or visit rancholosalamitos.org.

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