W.T. Glassell, ca 1875 (Courtesy the Orange Public Library and History Center).

W.T. Glassell, ca 1875 (Courtesy the Orange Public Library and History Center).


Under the Patronage of Glassell & Chapman

  Located about five miles southeast of Anaheim, across the Santa Ana River, on the surveyed line of the San Diego and Los Angeles Railroad, at the proposed junction of the San Bernardino branch.

   First – It possesses all the advantages of a healthy, elevated position, above the level of sand beds, alkali flats and Gospel Swamps.

   Second – It rejoices under the life-giving influences of the A.B. Chapman canal, which, to the honor of Knox & Rumble, has proved a success.

   Third – It can control ample water power to keep in motion all the mills we shall require.

   Fourth – It has a climate and variety of soil peculiarly adapted to fruits and the profitable branches of agriculture, unsurpassed in the world.

  This settlement is in its infancy, but already vineyards, orchards and nurseries have been planted and the happy farmer feels confident of success.

  The frosts of April did no damage here. Wheat, rye, barley and oats are looking splendid. After harvest stubble fields will be planted in corn, potatoes, etc. Land around, for the accommodation of all, has been divided into ten, twenty and forty acre lots, with roads reserved for convenience. The prosperity of the settlers being thus insured, a town plot in the midst has been laid out; an ample reservoir constructed, and several thousand feet of iron water pipe laid beneath the streets, and convenient hydrants to supply water for domestic use. A limited number of building lots are to be put in market at low rates, and a few will be given away for business purposes. From this position, one year ago, hardly a house could be seen; now the evidences of life and industry are all around. Between thirty and forty children are attending school and a handsome building for that purpose is being erected. No pains have been taken to bring this place into premature notice. The projectors have been confident that in due time such combination of resources would not fail to attract the attention of intelligent and enterprising men from every direction.                                                                      

W.T. GLASSELL, May 10, 1872

Richland, Los Angeles County, California

Southern Californian, May 18, 1872

Capt. W.T. Glassell - The Real "Father" of Orange

Alfred Beck Chapman sometimes declared, “I am the father of Orange.” But if Chapman was the father, William T. Glassell was the midwife. Chapman may have owned the land, but it was Glassell who was on the scene, surveying, building, farming, and boosting.

Though born in Virginia in 1831, Glassell joined the U.S. Navy as a teenager in 1848, and later attended the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1861, after nearly two years in the Pacific, he returned to find the nation split in Civil War. Ordered to take a loyalty oath to the Union, he refused, and was thrown into prison. After eight months, he was exchanged for a Union prisoner of war, and handed over to the Confederate forces. “Being actually placed in the ranks of the Confederate States,” he later wrote in 1877, “I should think even Mr. President Hayes would now acknowledge that it was my right, if not my duty, to act the part of a belligerent.” He was soon commissioned a Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy.

The Union’s new ironclad ships were proving a formidable challenge to the Confederates. Lt. Glassell began working on developing one of the new “torpedo boats” (an ancestor of the modern submarine) to attack the ironclads blockading Charleston Harbor. His boat was the David (a Biblical reference, no doubt), a 50-foot long, steam-powered metal tube that ran almost completely underwater.

With an explosive charge attached to a long pole on the bow, Glassell and his crew set off to attack the Union's New Ironsides on the night of October 5, 1863. They slipped through the Union defenses, and set off a tremendous explosion that severely damaged the New Ironsides. But the David was almost swamped, and as Glassell and another man tried to escape, he was captured by Union forces and sent back to prison.

While he was still a prisoner of war, Glassell was promoted to captain. He was again exchanged for a Union prisoner, and took command of a gunboat on the James River in Virginia until the end of the war.

Broken in health, Capt. Glassell came to California in 1866, where his brother Andrew was practicing law with his boyhood friend, Alfred Chapman. Andrew Glassell had also refused to take a loyalty oath at the start of the war, and had been disbarred. He ran a ranch and sawmill in Santa Cruz County until the end of the hostilities, when he was again admitted to the bar. William Glassell’s first job in California was running his brother’s Santa Cruz ranch.

In 1870, Alfred Chapman began subdividing his lands in the Santa Ana Valley. He hired Capt. Glassell as his tract agent. By December, 1870, he had built his home on the Chapman Tract in what is now the heart of downtown Orange. In 1871, he laid out a townsite there that was originally known as Richland, but was soon renamed Orange.

Over the next three years, Capt. Glassell had a hand in almost every important project in town. He surveyed larger farm lots surrounding the townsite, supervised the construction of the first irrigation ditch to the site, and handled sales and advertising for the new town. He was also a partner in one of the first orange groves in the area.

But Capt. Glassell’s health was failing. Tuberculosis (probably contracted during one of his stays in a Union prison camp) was eating away at his lungs. He spent much of the spring of 1874 in Los Angeles, trying to regain his health.

“It has only been during the absence of the Captain that the good effect of his presence and enterprise in promoting the growth of ... Orange ... has been felt,” a local newspaper noted that June. “and it will be with much silent though heartfelt gladness that his return will be hailed by his many friends.”

Capt. Glassell made it back that summer, but he was forced to leave Orange for good in the early part of 1875. He died in Los Angeles on January 28, 1879. Had he lived longer, he might be better remembered in Orange, for no one did more toward building up the community during its formative years.

A remarkable insight to Capt. Glassell’s personality can be found in his Civil War letters -- now part of the local history collection at the Orange Public Library. He writes with such charm and good humor that it is difficult to remember sometimes that almost all of the letters were written from behind prison walls.

[For more on Capt. Glassell’s Civil War days, see R. Thomas Campbell’s Hunters of the Night. Confederate Torpedo Boats in the War Between the States, Burd Street Press, 2000.]