The Trabuco and Holy Jim Cabins website is a privately funded and operated venture designed to promote the local canyon and share the history of the cabins. The site is developed and maintained by a current resident.
The cabins are located within the Orange County portion of the Cleveland National Forest. Cabins are privately owned and the U.S. Forest Service issues special recreational use permits that allow owners to lease the land for 20 year increments. President Theodore Roosevelt's love of nature influenced Congress to enact the Term Permit Act of 1915 which allowed the public to own cabins on land leased to them by the U.S. Government.According to local O.C. historian and former cabin owner Jim Sleeper, the area was first populated in the 1870's by beekeepers. One especially cantankerous beekeeper, James T. Smith, became known for his foul mouth and by many nicknames -- "Cussin' Jim", "Lying Jim" and "Greasy Jim." His friends began calling him "Salvation" Smith to irritate him and it was from that nickname that "Holy Jim" Canyon was named by area map makers. Smith's cabin (located on the way to the waterfall), his apiaries and fig groves were destroyed by fire in 1908. Some of the fig trees grew back and can be found throughout the canyon to this day.
Most of the cabins were originally built in the mid 1920's-1930's to satisfy the desire Americans had to escape to the great outdoors after WWI. The Forest Service plowed the road to make it accessible and cabins were soon constructed on leased Forest Service land. Due to the Great Depression, materials were not readily available, so cabins were constructed out of whatever materials could be had. One cabin was initially constructed with a roof made from metal license plates.
In the 1970's the canyon and adjacent camping grounds became a popular hangout for area "flower-children" and free-spirits. As more flocked to the area, the cabins fell victim to vandalism. Eventually, the cabin owners felt the need to encourage the troublemakers to leave by flooding their camp with water from the Holy Jim Volunteer fire truck. Eventually, the Forest Service closed the campground and peace returned to the canyon.
The cabins and their colorful history are an important part of Orange County's past. Many of the original cabins were lost to floods, fire or disrepair over the years and others have been rebuilt to modern code. There are 48 cabins left (from ~100 total) including the fire barn. Of these, some are still in their original historic condition. Each cabin is self-sufficient and is "off the grid." Many have solar power for electrical needs and use propane for cooking. Many of the cabins are passed down from generation to generation.
Today cabin owners must comply with the rules set by the Forest Service when making any changes to their cabin. Care is taken to ensure each cabin's design and color scheme fits in with the surrounding scenery.
While the average hiker to the Holy Jim and Trabuco canyons may think they are alone on the roads, cabin owners are always present and watching for suspicious behavor. Over the years, residents have honed an effective word-of-mouth communication system and have been instrumental in alerting authorities.
Visiting this unique enclave of cabins feels like a journey back to simpler times. There are very few areas of Orange County where you can experience such a sense of peace. For this reason, the cabins must be preserved.
October 24, 2009
The first and last time the Holy Jim Volunteer
Fire Department was host to three engines.
Since this date, Gertrude (left) has been donated to the
California Fire Museum and Engine 1 (middle)
was sold. Read Gertrude's Story.