Orange County, California


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Orange County
1866 to 1888


San Gabriel River floods deposit channel-choking silt that closes off the first Anaheim Landing at Alamitos Bay. The landing is moved to Bolsa Chica near the present day Seal Beach Naval Base. Chinese laborers arrive in Anaheim. A stagecoach stop is established in what would become the city of Tustin.


Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana is partitioned among the Yorba and Peralta heirs and creditors. Among those acquiring portions of the rancho are Columbus Tustin, Nelson Stafford and John Fritsch who purchase 1,359 acres for $2,000. Tustin establishes a city there named for him.


William H. Spurgeon and Ward Bradford purchase 74 acres from Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana at $8 per acres. Spurgeon then subdivides his portion (33 acres) in the east and establishes Santa Ana. Anaheim is the second largest town in Los Angeles County (population 800) and the largest in the OC area. Residents complain of neglect from the county seat in Los Angeles. Anaheim declares itself a city although it is not officially incorporated until 1878. The first Protestant congregation in OC forms as Spurgeon Methodist Church in Santa Ana, named for its most prominent layman and benefactor. The congregation meets in homes until 1876. OC farmer and land developer David Hewes donates the famed golden spike that linked the transcontinental railroads at Promontory Point.


George W. Barter begins publishing OCís first newspaper, the Anaheim Gazette. Dr. William N. Hardin of Anaheim introduces oranges to Orange County when he extracts seeds from a barrel of rotten Tahitian oranges. Joel Congdon introduces walnuts to Orange County in San Juan Capistrano. Presbyterian minister Lemuel P. Webber purchases 6,500 acres from debt-laden Abel Stearns and establishes Westminster as a religious temperance colony. Max Von Strobel of Anaheim lobbies for a bill in the state assembly that creates a new County of Anaheim separate from Los Angeles County. San Francisco interests support the bill in order to hobble growing competition from Los Angeles. Los Angeles, however, lobbies hard against the bill and it dies in state senate committee. After defeat of the bill, Strobel launches a new newspaper The Peopleís Advocate to further promote the creation of a new county. The paper folds two years later. Settlers begin to populate the Garden Grove area. Captain S.S. Dunnells lands his stern-wheeler Vaquero at the sand spit-clogged San Joaquin slough that Mrs. B.G. Perkins suggests is named "New Port." Santa Ana's first school opens in a private home at Fifth and Main. The teacher is Mrs. Annie Cozad.


After a local hotel burns, the first organized group of firefighters in OC forms a volunteer company in Anaheim. The first proposal of the name "Orange County" is made for a new county separated from Los Angeles County. There are of yet no commercial orange trees in OC.


Los Angeles attorneys Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell establish the town of Richland (future Orange).


Semi-Tropic Water Company is founded by William "Uncle Billy" Spurgeon. Spurgeon hopes to extend the Chapman ditch to Santa Ana. Another attempt to push through a bill to create a new "Orange County" is again defeated in committee. OC now boasts 7,000 residents excluding railroad workers. Patterson Bowers of Orange obtains Navel orange seeds from the U.S. Agriculture Department in Washington DC, creating the "Washington Navel." The name Orange first appears in OC when the new post office for the town of Richland is named the Orange Post Office. The name Richland had already been adopted by a town in Northern California.


Alonzo G. Cook establishes the village of Garden Grove. Lewis Moulton arrives in OC and takes a job as a sheepherder for the Irvine Ranch. Moulton purchases Rancho Niguel from Don Juan Avila and Moulton and his partner Jean Piedra Daguerre establish the Moulton Ranch to raise sheep and cattle. The McFadden brothers acquire a ship landing in Newport Bay, establishing Newport. A posse dispatched by the Los Angeles County Sheriff captures the notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez in Rancho La Brea.


Southern Pacific Railroad extends a line to the outskirts of Anaheim. The railroad refuses to bring the rail into town until a fee is paid. Many banks are closed due to an economic recession. Richard H. Gilman plants OCís first commercial orange grove on the Semi-Tropic Fruit Ranch (future Cal State University Fullerton).


Another effort is made to form a new county called "Santa Ana County" with Anaheim as the county seat. Infighting among towns competing for designation as county seat, however, divides support for the bill that is again defeated by Los Angeles legislators. The local sheep industry is decimated by a drought. Madame Helena Modjeska, the famous Polish stage actress and grand dame of European theatre, arrives in OC with her husband to make a new home in the Anaheim Colony. They try their hand at farming but abandon that pursuit, admitting that they were unprepared for its tedium and hardship. They return to the stage in San Francisco and achieve success in American theatre. They return to OC in 1888. Several thousand people come together in Gospel Swamp to celebrate Independence Day. James Irvine buys out his partners for sole ownership of Rancho San Joaquin for $150,000. His holdings amount to 120,000 acres, making him one of the largest private landowners in the nation at the time. Some newspapers called for the breakup of the property arguing that it is too large for a single owner. OCís first amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, opens in Anaheim. The venue was patterned after a German beer garden and featured a dance pavilion, bowling alley, shooting gallery and croquet lawn. Garden Grove is founded. The first bank in Anaheim opens. George Hinde founds the "Societas Fraterna" (derogatively called "Placentia Grass Eaters") as a religious spiritualist commune practicing vegetarianism and, despite accusations of practicing "free love," engage in sex solely for procreation. "Smudge pots" or orchard heaters are first used to control frost in citrus orchards. Henryk Sienkiewicz writes the first short stories written about OC: A Comedy of Errors and Orso: An American Hercules (about a traveling circus that visits Anaheim). Both stories are actually first published in Poland. The Irvine Mansion is built. The oldest Protestant church in OC, Spurgeon Methodist Church (formed 1869), moves into a permanent church building in Santa Ana.


Santa Ana pays the Southern Pacific Railroad a fee to open a station there. Hundreds of treasure hunters dig into the cliffs of Dana Point after reports circulated that a pirate had buried gold there. Only a silver crucifix was found.


Coal is discovered in Black Star Canyon. Anaheim, with a population of 881, becomes the first community in OC to incorporate as a city. A fire sweeps through Black Star and Harding Canyon. U.S. Deputy Marshal Jonathan Dunlap discovers oxidized silver ore lying on the ground in Silverado Canyon (originally Canon de la Madera or Timber Canyon) in the Santa Ana Mountains while tracking a fugitive. He stakes a claim to the Silverado/Blue Light Mine. Silver mining leads to the founding of the boomtown Silverado. The first painting is made in Laguna.


George Hinde and members of his "Societas Fraterna are placed on trial for the starvation of an infant. They are acquitted but continue to be ostracized and viewed with suspicion. Benjamin Dreyfus is reputed to be the largest grape grower in the Anaheim Colony. It is reported that he cultivates 70,000 vines that produce 87,000 gallons of wine and 15,000 gallons of brandy. James and Robert McFadden build McFadden's Landing inside Newport Harbor, near the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge. Silverado is declared a township. The oldest Protestant church in OC, Spurgeon Methodist Church (formed 1869), incorporates as Santa Ana Methodist Church.


Anaheim is incorporated as a city. It attains a reputation as a health resort. The mining town of Carbondale booms in Silverado Canyon. A.B. Clark of Orange becomes the first to wrap oranges in tissue paper. The Anaheim Water Company brings a lawsuit against Semi-Tropic Water Company to prevent that company from diverting water from the Santa Ana River to land on the south side of the river. Anaheim Water Company loses case. The Southern Pacific Railroad opens a depot in Orange.


Snow falls in OC. A compromise is made to push through yet another bill to create the new "County of Santa Ana" with Anaheim as the proposed county seat for two years and then a reevaluation thereafter. The bill is essentially defeated after languishing without a legislative vote.


The first successful OC oil drilling at the junction of Tanner Canyon and Brea Canyon hits oil at 100 to 300 feet below the surface. Early rancher Juan (John) Forster dies. The three-story Olive Milling Company flour and feed mill is built by Thomas Dillin and sons in Olive.


The population of Carbondale declines to where the post office is finally closed. OCís first shipment of citrus heads to Des Moines, Iowa.


Bostonian Dwight Whiting purchases most the Rancho Canada de Los Alisos and develops it as an English village named Aliso City (later El Toro/Lake Forest). Following a terrible flood, OC is hit by one of its worst storms ever. OC grapevines begin dying from a mysterious blight. The blight continues for several more years, wiping out millions of grapevines and completely destroying OCís grape industry by 1888.


Citrus farmers form the Orange Growersí Protective Union of Southern California.


James Irvine begins a 120-acre agricultural experiment on Irvine Ranch in "dry farming" to find a crop that requires minimal amounts of moisture and water. He later dies in San Francisco, leaving his holdings in trust until his son reaches age 25. The first OC land auction is held in Santa Ana. Santa Ana, with a population of 2,000, incorporates as OCís second city. The Santa Ana Valley Mid-Winter Fruit and Flower Festival is held. James Irvine dies in San Francisco. The Womenís Christian Temperance Union forms in Santa Ana. Dr Willella Howe-Waffle, OCís first woman physician, begins practicing medicine out of her Santa home. Quakers establish the community of El Modena.


Aliso City (future Lake Forest) is established by a group of settlers who bought some of the areaís ranchland and mapped out their own town. James A. Whitaker establishes Buena Park near the Santa Fe Railroad line between Los Angeles and Orange. Edward and George Amerige, H. Gaylord Wilshire, George Fullerton and the Pacific Land and Improvement Company establish Fullerton. Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads engage in a fare war lowering the price of a round trip between Southern California and Kansas City to $1. Speculative towns and hotels spring up to meet the demand of a rapidly growing population only to later disappear. The Santa Fe Railroad opens a station in Orange. The first Capistrano Bay tract, San Juan by-the-Sea (later named Serra), opens.


The land speculation boom collapses. The OC grape industry, after having suffered from blight since 1884, is pretty much dead. The culprit behind the blight is later identified as a virus carried by a leafhopper. After being away from OC for more than a decade, famous actress Madame Helena Modjeska returns to purchase a ranch in Santiago Canyon. She retires there in 1905. Orange, with a population of 600, incorporates as a city. The McFadden brothers build a wharf in Newport linked by railroad to Santa Ana. Upstart Santa Ana now has three times the population of Anaheim. OC has three incorporated cities: Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange and a population of 13,000. Proponents of creating a new county manage to convince the state legislature that Los Angeles is neglecting the south county (OC). There is far less investment in roads and bridges in the south county than nearby to Los Angeles (the only bridge over the Santa Ana River was a railroad bridge). County representation and sheriff protection is inadequate in the south county. Santa Ana pushes for creation of a new county bounding at Coyote Creek in the north. Anaheim, seeing itself as the central county seat, pushes for the boundary to be at the San Gabriel River. When state legislators agree to set the boundary at Coyote Creek, furious Anaheim promoters turn into opponents of the new county. After a long dispute with the Irvines, Southern Pacific Railroad attempts to lay track through the ranch without permission during a weekend when courts were closed. The track-laying crew halted their work after being confronted by a party of armed Irvine Ranch hands (the "tracks-to-nowhere" remained in place until 1910). The late James Irvineís son quickly worked a deal for $4,500 with Southern Pacificís archrival, Santa Fe Railroad, to lay track through the ranch. The Santa Fe Railroad subsequently completes their tracks through OC. A stagecoach line begins operating between Laguna and El Toro. The OC real estate boom begins to fizzle.



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