In late 1905, when Ahrens lived in New York City, he was approached by an old Roycroft friend, author George Wharton James, about doing the illustrations for a book James intended to write on the old California missions. Ahrens took the commission. His divorce from Emily Carroll was not yet finalized, but he convinced Madonna to accompany him on the journey, promising to marry her as soon as he was free. He did so in October of 1906, one month before the birth of their son, Laird.
Ahrens was the main photographer on the trip, so few photos include him. Madonna is usually in the background, and appears noticeably more pregnant as they progress further north, ending their journey near San Francisco. They settled for the winter in a bungalow on Mt. Tamalpais, just outside the town of Corte Madera.
I have not personally travelled to any of the California missions other than the one in Santa Barbara, though modern day photos are readily available on the internet. For the purposes of this journal, I am merely including historical photos to show what it would have been like to travel by covered wagon along the California coast in 1906. As you will see, much of the area was still very remote, and Ahrens took a big risk making this journey. Had he fallen ill, it would have been difficult to find a doctor. The California climate was considered beneficial to consumptives, though, and he was in his best health ever that summer. Madonna strongly urged him to remain there, but he longed for Canada. They left California in July of 1907, and soon settled in Meadowvale, Ontario, where their daughter, Penelope was born.
Carl Ahrens in Santa Barbara. Spring 1906.
Carl Ahrens at Mission San Antonio in the summer of 1906.
Carl Ahrens cooking supper. Ahrens was quite progressive in his views on gender roles for the time. He appointed himself camp cook and handed over the checkbook to Madonna, who remained in charge of the finaces throughout their marriage.
Carl Ahrens with his son Laird. Laird was the oldest child of Carl and Madonna Ahrens, born in November of 1906 in Corte Madera, California.
Carmel Mission in 1906.
The "chuck end" of the Ahrens wagon. Carl and Madonna travelled over 500 miles in this covered wagon between June and October of 1906.