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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is named after John Pfeiffer and his wife Florence who lived in a cabin along the north bank of the Big Sur River beginning in 1884. He was the son of Michael Pfeiffer and Barbara Laquet who immigrated from France and were amongst the first European settlers in the area. Many features in Big Sur are named for the descendants of the Pfeiffer family.
John and Florence quickly settled into their wildlife paradise and into their own habits. John was a devoted, although untrained, botanist who loved to study the local plants, coastal weather patterns, and habits of the wide variety of birds and animals. An avid beekeeper, John’s buzzing buddies produced sixteen tons of premium honey in a year. This was not enough to make a living on so the Pfeiffers made ends meet by farming, ranching, and logging.
The Pfeiffer home was well known to travelers of the road, and Florence’s cooking was taken advantage of by many looking for some old-fashioned ranch hospitality. Although John was a generous host and graciously invited people to stay for days at a time, it didn’t occur to him to charge for the food or lodgings. After all, it was Florence that dealt with the majority of the chores: cooking, cleaning, washing the dishes, making the beds, laundry and hauling the water.
While John was content to take care of the cattle and hunt and fish with their guests, it was Florence who ran the homestead. The Pfeiffer’s reputation for hospitality spread and as the number of guests increased and their stay lengthened, Florence’s patience got shorter.
One day, according to Florence’s memoirs, a man whom Mr. Pfeiffer really disliked had stopped at the house to stay all night. He had four of his friends with him and a string of five pack animals. They had their supper, bed, and breakfast. The next morning his friends left on the stage without even a thank you. Upon his departure, the packer began to strike one of his mules with a stick, beating the animal relentlessly.
Finally seeing enough, Florence took a bold and brave move and confronted the man. It was unusual for women of that era to speak up to a man, much less a guest, but Florence would not tolerate his actions any longer. She addressed him sternly and told him her mind and forbade him from beating the animal any further. As the man stood there, a mixture of astonishment and confusion, sudden inspiration took hold of Florence. “From now on,” she said, “I expect to charge you so much for each horse, so much for each bed, and so much for each meal every time you stop here.”
And without another word, in 1908 the Pfeiffer Ranch Resort was born. Florence’s homestyle cooking and rustic accommodations brought in families attracted to the natural beauty of the lodge’s surroundings and the couple’s down-home spirit. John died in 1941 at the age of 79 while Florence continued on until she passed at age 85. Today, Big Sur Lodge sits on that very spot, dedicated to the same hospitality and open-armed welcome so cherished by the original owners.
In 1930, John Pfeiffer had the opportunity to sell his land to a Los Angeles developer for $210,000. The developer wanted to build a subdivision on the land. Instead, Pfeiffer sold 700 acres to the state of California in 1933 and they named the new state park after John and Florence in their honor. Big Sur Lodge has been keeping up the tradition of old-fashioned hospitality, excellent service, and appreciation of their guests. Some things in life just aren’t meant to change.