A BRIEF HISTORY OF ORANGE COUNTY
The first people to live in Orange County came here thousands of years ago. They lived by hunting and fishing and gathering the plants and seeds. When the first Spanish explorers arrived, they found two native groups here. They called the Acjachemen people in the southern part of the county the Juaneño, and the Tongva people to the north the Gabrielino. In 1769, Spain sent Catholic mission aries and Spanish soldiers to colonize California. Don Gaspar de Portolá led the first overland expedition through Orange County that summer. In 1771, Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Gabriel in what is now Los Angeles County. Five years later, on November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded. The two missions laid claim to much of what would become Orange County, grazing cattle, horses, and sheep here until the 1830s. In 1784, Manuel Nieto, a retired Spanish soldier, was granted grazing rights
between the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers. Around 1800, Juan Pablo Grijalva began running cattle south and east of the Santa Ana River; in 1810 his son-in-law, José Antonio Yorba,
and his grandson, Juan Pablo Peralta, received a formal concession to the land that became known as the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Mexico broke away from Spain in 1821, and the
Mexican government secularized the California missions in 1834. More and more settlers were granted grazing lands. By 1846, almost all of Orange County was part of one rancho or another.
Trading vessels from the United States and other countries sailed up and down the California coast, collecting cattle hides a nd tallow in return for manufactured goods. With the end of the Mexican War in 1848, California was ceded to the United States by Mexico. When California became a state in 1850, what is now Orange County was a part of Los Angeles County. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought thousands of new settlers to California, and gave the rancheros a new market for their cattle, sold to feed hard-working miners. The local economy soared. But a
series of droughts, floods, and diseases, and the costs of defending the ownership of their lands in the American courts eventually drove many of the rancheros to ruin. Some of the old ranchos were sold to new American owners with names like Stearns, Bixby and Irvine, and sheep ranching began replacing cattle during the Civil War. Other ranchos were broken up and sold off in pieces to settlers and developers. Communities Form Anaheim was the first American town founded in what is now Orange County. In 1857, a group of German immigrants living in San Francisco bought a portion of the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana to start a new community, built on winemaking. After the initial development was complete, the first colonists moved to Anaheim in 1859. In 1868, vast areas on either side of the Santa Ana River were placed on the market, and the towns of Santa Ana, Tustin, Orange, Westminster, and Garden Grove were soon founded. Farming became the backbone of the local economy. Wine and raisin grapes, wheat, barley, and corn were all successful. In the 1870s, new irrigation systems were built, which allowed more trees crops to be planted, including walnuts, apricots , and the first few orange groves. In 1870, the first commercial vessel entered Newport Bay, which soon became a regular shipping point. The Southern Pacific built the first railroad in the area, extending its tracks south from Los Angeles to Anaheim in 1875. A County is Born
The Southern Pacific railroad held a monopoly in Southern California until 1885, when the Santa Fe pushed its tracks over the Cajon Pass. Competition brought a burst of advertising, and a sharp drop in ticket prices, setting off a great real estate boom throughout the region. New towns and subdivisions sprang up by the dozens as tourists and settlers poured into Southern California, and existing communities grew rapidly. But in less than two years, the boom had collapsed, and with it, many of the new towns. Carlton, San Juan-by-the-Sea, St. James, and other “paper towns” faded away. Others, like Fullerton, Buena Park, and El Toro survived. The burst of economic growth and local pride in 1886-88 led to the creation of the County of
Orange in 1889. As early as 1870, local residents tried to break away from Los Angeles and form their own county, but it was not until 1889 that the California Legislature passed a bill to allow a vote on county division. Originally, the proposed county line was drawn at the San Gabriel River, but the line was moved south to Coyote Creek to help gain support in Sacramento. This angered Anaheim and some of the other northern communities, that had hoped to be near the center of the new county, and they voted against the measure. But the rest of the area voted overwhelm ing for division. Santa Ana was selected as the county seat, and the County of Orange was officially formed on August 1, 1889. Wealth from the Soil Until the 1950s, agriculture remained the most important part of Orange County’s economy. As other crops disappeared, citrus became more and more popular . The grape industry never recovered from a devastating blight in 1886-87. Apricots had all but disappeared by 1920. Growers began planting celery, sugar beets, walnuts, and lima bean s in the 1890s. Cattle still grazed on the vast
ranches in the southern end of the county, while dairy farms grew up in the north. But it was citrus that came to dominate the area. By the 1930s, Or ange County was producing a sixth of the nation’s Valencia orange crop. The oil industry also played a key role in the development of Orange County. The first successful wells were drilled locally in the 1890s along the northern edge of the county. Oil fields were soon developed in La Habra, Brea Canyon, and Olinda. Major strikes in Placentia (1919) and Huntington Beach (1920) started an oil boom that swept the county. While agriculture has all but disappeared, many local oil wells are still pumping today. Transportation Much of Orange County’s growth in the first half of the 20th
Century was fueled by new forms of transportation. Between 1904 and 1910, the Pacific Electric Railway built three main lines to serve Orange County with its “big red cars.” The coast line spurred development from Seal Beach to Corona del Mar. The Santa Ana line prompted the founding of Cypress and Stanton. And the La Habra line ran all the way down to Yorba Linda.
In the 1910s and 1920s, new highways led the way to new communities. California’s first state highway in 1914-15 crossed Orange County from San Juan Capistrano to La Habra. Several small communities later developed along Beach and Manchester boulevards, and the completion of the Coast Highway in 1926 brought new growth to places like Laguna Beach and Dana Point. Freeway construction began in the 1950s with the opening of the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway, and continued almost unabated into the 1970s. Beginning in the 1990s, to ll roads were built to meet the needs of growing communities. Modern Development During World War II, a number of important military bases were established in Orange County, including the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, the Los Alamitos Naval Weapons Station, and the Santa Ana Army Air Base. At the end of the war, many veterans decided to settle in Southern California, and the region began to grow at an unprecedented rate. By the mid-1950s, Orange County’s farms were being replaced by tract housing faster than any other community in the United Stat
es. Existing cities began annexing territory in every direction, and new cities incorporated almost every year . Between 1953 and 1962, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, La Palma, Garden Grove, Cypress, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, San Juan Capistrano, and Villa Park all voted to incorporate. In 1963, the county population topped one million.
Tourism, manufacturing, and the service industry began to do minate the local economy. The opening of Disneyland in 1955 made Orange County an international tourist destination. beginning in the late 1950s, aerospace firms and light industry began expanding here, and the increasing population meant more and more jobs at hospitals, restaurants, and stores. South Orange County began to grow in the 1960s, with master planned communities such as Irvine, Mission Viejo, and Laguna Niguel. Aliso Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Ladera Ranch, and others followed in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, Orange County is home to more than three million residents, with 34 incorporated cities.
How Orange County Got Its Name
An address delivered March 11, 1974 on the occasion of the county’s 85th anniversary, in Dept. 1, Superior Court, old Orange County courthouse, the Hon. Franklin G. West presiding.
Your Honor, members of the jury, ladies and gentlemen. Despite a host of local histories written about Orange County, none has ever come to grips with its name. In consequence, two popular but unfounded theories still persist. One is
that Orange County was named for its most promising crop; the other that it was named to honor the town of Orange, which supposedly commemorates Orange County, Virginia, which in turn honors the European House of Orange. Neither of these suggestions coincides with the facts. The truth is, the name which this county has borne since 1889 is a hand-me-down, initially suggested in 1871, four years before our first valencias went in the ground, two years before the village of Richland was renamed Orange, and only six months after the first orange seeds were even planted here. In 1871 oranges were merely ‘a promise,’ not our most promising crop. The first attempt to create a separate county out of the lower third of Los Angeles was a bill introduced in the Legislature of 1869-70 for the proposed ‘County of Anaheim.’ Its most enthusiastic promoter was that town’s first mayor, Major Max von Strobel. Needless to say, Anaheim was not lightly suggested as the intended capital. Arguments favoring division included the great distance our citizens had to travel to the old county seat, the $6 stage coach fare, taxation without representation, and the fact that the only roll of fire hose in the county was kept in L.A. Strobel’s bill passed the Assembly. The night before the Senate voted, Mr. Strobel threw a champagne supper. Regrettably, he himself did not recover from it until after the vote was taken. The bill died, and, after starting a short-lived division newspaper, so did Mr. Strobel. Late in 1871 a new attempt by an Anaheim committee gave rise to the name ‘Orange County.’ this name was introduced on January 6, 1872, at a division
meeting held at Gallatin. Now non-existent, the settlement of Gallatin was soon absorbed by the town of Downey. With some variation, all five division attempts prior to ’89 included everything in Los Angeles County south of the San Gabriel River. Our most promising products at the time included sheep, corn, grapes, and hogs. However, those words lack a certain charm as a name for a county. While Anaheim could boast of a few experimental orange trees at this point, most were still in the pot stage. Nevertheless, to encourage immigration, the area was ‘boomed’ by real estate promoters as a semi-tropical paradise – a place where anything could grow, and nearly everything was tried. The name
orange has a Mediterranean flavor about it, so for that reason it was selected to suggest our climate. Indicating the newness of citrus here, in 1872 the Anaheim Gazette carried the statement that “Orange and lemons begin to bear at nine years from seed, and at fifteen (at present prices) are yielding a profit of $2,000 per acre.” That prospect was still 13 years off, however, and the grove cited was William Wolkskill’s old one in L.A. – not the potted plants in Anaheim. As for the hamlet of Orange, still called Richland, late in 1871 it had precisely four houses – scarcely a place of much consequence. This initial ‘Orange County’ proposal was introduced in the legislature, but never reached a vote. The next attempt to form the county was also under the name of ‘Orange,’ in the session of 1873-74. A petition was circulated claiming a population south of the San Gabriel River of “not less than 7,000 (not counting Chinamen),” and that its citizens paid one third of the taxes and got nothing in return. That’s just what the petition got, too. In 1875 the chief tub-thumper for the ‘County of Orange’ was Judge W.C. Wiseman, who issued an election paper called The Broadaxe
. Wiseman’s favorite term for political enemies was spelled B-A-S-T-A-R-D-S, a pleasantry he wrote out in capital letters. But once again our State Legislators turned a deaf ear – no doubt having been called much worse. By 1876 the idea of an ‘Orange County’ was so thoroughly repugnant in Sacramento that a fresh suggestion was made to change it to the ‘County of Santa Ana.’ That got no where either. In fact, the name carried considerable stigma. One Westminster gentleman pointed out: “ . . . the name would have been a terrible incubus to our prosperity,” and went on to cite the various pronunciations of the name Santa Ana, Santy Ann, Santy Annie, and so forth. He also drew attention to the closeness of the word Santanna and Satana, concluding, “There may be a certain propriety in making a satanic division of the county of Los Angeles, but when we try again, suppose we leave the saints in peace.” Responding to that, a citizen from the still-neglected village of Orange brightly suggested, “We propose the name of Orange ” – which he did largely on the grounds that it was easier to spell. As a side note, the people of Santa Ana opposed the ‘County of Santa Ana’ bill, anyway. It would have made Anaheim the county seat. Our last failure was in 1881. As the name Santa Ana withered, so the name ‘Orange’ revived, this time with some justification. Though grapes were now our most profitable industry, sheep and hogs were in hot pursuit. Interestingly, the man who prepared the ’81 bill often stood in this very courtroom. His name was Victor Montgomery, long considered the dean of Orange County lawyers. On the advantages of separating from Los Angeles, Montgomery noted that he had resided in Anaheim for five years and had observed that “This end of the county furnished comparatively few of the criminals, yet has to pay for feeding all the others.” As to the name, he remarked, “If county division could be secured, the name of the new county, ‘ORANGE,’ emblazoned upon the map of our state, would in my opinion, have more effect in drawing the tide of emigrants to this section than all the pamphlets, agents and other endeavors which have hitherto proved so futile.” Montgomery’s bill succeeded no better than the rest, but eight years later it became the outline and explanation for naming the county on its sixth and
final try. The only significant change was a last minute foreshortening of the county’s length from 60 miles to 42 miles by Assemblyman E.E. Edwards, of Santa Ana, to knock out Anaheim’s bid as the logical spot for the county seat.
A plebiscite held on June 4, 1889, created the County of Orange; an election on July 17 established Santa Ana as its county seat; official county business began August 1. By 1889, after a devastating blight wiped out the grape industry, oranges had indeed become our most promising crop, even if they were not responsible per se for the county’s naming. J.M. Guinn, who lived through all the division attempts, summed up the matter nicely: “The organizers of Orange County chose that name for the sordid purpose of real estate. They argued that Eastern people would be attracted by the name, and would rush to that county to buy orange ranches, forgetful, or perhaps ignorant, of the fact that there were more than a hundred other places in the United States named Orange.” On that subject, Prof. Guinn may be permitted a few sour grapes. He was from Anaheim. He also overlooked what is perhaps the most distinctive feature of all
about the name orange . There isn’t another single word in the entire English language that rimes with it! Try in some time. Your Honor, that concludes my testimony.