In the early 1800s, travelers looked for a wooden cross on a hill to know they weren’t far from El Rancho Simi. Over 200 years later, the cross on Mt. McCoy remains one of Simi Valley’s best known historical landmarks.
Placed on the mountaintop by Spanish priests in the early 19th century, the cross directed people traveling between the Ventura and San Fernando missions to the El Rancho Simi Adobe, another historic landmark. The adobe was built shortly after 1800 by landowner Santiago Pico, reports Pat Havens, Simi Valley’s historian. Here, the travelers could sleep in the courtyard or replenish their water supply. The Simi Adobe still exists at Strathearn Historical Park.
Near the end of the 19th Century, a shepherd is believed to have replaced the cross with one made of stone, Havens said. The mountain got its name in 1898, when C.B. McCoy, a salesman for the Simi Land & Water Co., settled on 5,000 acres in the area.
The stone cross remained on the mountain until a Simi Valley Sunday school teacher decided it should be replaced with a wooden cross like the one documented on a handwritten surveyor’s map dated 1858 and 1859. Members of the Runkle Family wrote in letters that the cross was on Mt. McCoy when they arrived in the valley in 1904.
R.E. Harrington conceived the idea of having his Sunday school class erect a cross on the top of Mt. McCoy to replace an old one that had fallen some time before and was shown on an old map made from surveys taken in 1858. He wrote to the Old Mission in Santa Barbara to see if they had any record of the old fallen cross but they didn’t. They did say however that there was a record of a short cut between the San Fernando Mission and the Ventura mission via “Santa Susana y Simi” and that it was quite likely that the old cross was erected by one of the mission Fathers passing through the Simi Valley on this short cut.
The Cross was built and erected in 1921 by Mr. Harrington’s Sunday school class of about a dozen twelve year old boys. Mr. Harrington hauled the planks up the mountain on a bean sled pulled by his team of horses. The cross was built on the ground out of 2x12x20 foot planks nailed together on the edges. This made the cross hollow. Placed inside the cross was a metal box containing many decision cards signed by Sunday school members. The hardest part was digging the hole in the rocks and raising the cross.
Mrs. C.B. McCoy gave permission to erect the cross. She wrote, “I am glad to give the Simi Church permission to erect a cross on the hill top in the lower end of the valley, and I hope they may have a grand Easter Service there.” The first Easter service was held on Mt. McCoy in 1921. The attendance at the first service was exceptionally large, considering there was no road or trail up the mountain. All the people had to climb up the steep mountain through the brush, which was often wet with dew or fog in the early morning. A few years after the cross was erected the Strathearn brothers built the present road to the cross.
About 10 years later the Simi Valley-Moorpark Lions Club took over the Easter Service, and in 1941, they erected the 12-foot-high concrete cross and installed lights on it. An electric generator run by a small gasoline engine was used to light the bulbs. For decades, they were lit every evening for a week prior to the Easter sunrise service.
The Easter services, complete with a choir, soloist and piano accompaniment, attracted several hundred worshipers each year until 1967 or 1968. Due to difficult access to the site a lack of parking, and the rapidly growing population of the valley, the service was relocated to local churches the following year.
Continuing the tradition started by the Lions club; between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the Rotary Club of Simi Valley illuminates the cross each night. Members often bring their children and families to spend the night on the mountaintop, keeping watch over the generator used to light the cross. In 2020, due to weather, and restrictions in place relating to COVID19 it was not possible to light the cross.
Mt. McCoy is property of the Simi Valley Historical Society and is designated Ventura County Landmark No. 106.