Celery fields near Westminster, ca 1900 (Courtesy the First American Corporation).

Celery fields near Westminster, ca 1900 (Courtesy the First American Corporation).


By E.E. Keech

Of the many rich and lovely regions of California, Orange County is one of the most productive and inviting. It is the child of the ocean, the mountains and the clouds; for not only were its soil and features formed by these elements of Nature, but its present climate and productions are also largely determined by them and their sisters, the winds and sunshine.

From the picturesque rocks, dashing spray and shining sands of the shore of the great Pacific, the “valley” unrolls itself like a great scroll, thickly written with the characters of an advanced civilization, until it rises and culminates in the rugged bluff and beautiful cañons of the Coast Range Mountains.

All the varieties of California scenery, soil and production are brought within the range of this little gem of a county, stretching thirty miles along the coast and twenty miles back to the crest of the mountains. At the lower end, the mountains lead out into long mesas and rolling hills continuing to the sea. These mesas produce some of the finest wheat grown in the State, and the hills furnish pasturage for large herds of cattle and sheep. Trabuco and San Juan creeks flow from the mountains down through this region joining at the little Spanish village of San Juan Capistrano (St. John beheaded) where are located the remains of the “Old Mission.” Here the Spanish Padres cheerfully spent their lives in the effort to lift the Indians to a higher plane of living, by teaching them to work and to pray. By their labor the Mission was constructed; and extensive fields planted and flocks raised. Whatever may have been the merit of this system of benevolent tutelage, it is certain that the Indian was made a constructive and productive factor, and the Mission prospered until an earthquake destroyed a large part of the main building and killed many of the Indians gathered for worship. The images of the saints and instruments of worship are still retained in a temporary chapel, while matins and vespers are regularly rung upon the ancient bells by a dark-eyed Senorita.

The waters of the creeks have been diverted upon the rich bottom lands, and large orchards of English walnuts and oranges furnish a scene of beauty to the traveler and a source of wealth to the owner.

Turning up the coast, one encounters some of the wildest, most rugged and picturesque scenery found between San Francisco and the Mexican line, well shown in the rocks and bluffs around Laguna. Newport Beach marks the terminus of the rocks and the beginning of the level plain. Here is a large wharf at which the coasting steamers regularly stop, giving cheap freight rates to the county and interior towns. Newport Bay furnishes safe boating facilities; and during the summer is dotted with row and sail boats carrying happy parties, of “picnickers” to and from Rocky Point to hunt shells, or to the clam beds for a bake.” In the winter, the bay and marshes are frequented by multitudes of ducks and geese, The branch line of railroad connecting Newport Beach with the county seat runs four trains each way daily during the summer, and many business men spend their nights with their families at the beach and their days “in town” at the desk or counter.

Up the coast still farther are Pacific City, Bolsa Chica and Anaheim Landing. The first is a new resort, pleasantly situated on a sightly mesa over a pebbly beach, and promises ample grounds and plenty of water to lot owners. The second is the game preserve of a club of wealthy men residing in Los Angeles and Pasadena. The third is a camping place much frequented by residents of Anaheim, and has excellent boating, bathing, hunting and fishing facilities.

But it is the great plain, the heart of the county, sometimes called the Santa Ana Valley (because the river of that name flows directly through its center from the mountains to the sea) that makes Orange County remarkable. This plain may be divided into two portions, or belts; one of dry, irrigated orchard lands lying along the foot of the mountains and reaching down half way to the sea, the other of damp lands extending the remaining distance to the ocean, and forming the “Artesian Belt.” The dry belt is abundantly watered by two immense irrigating systems which divert the waters of the Santa Ana in the gorge where it breaks through the Coast Range, and distribute them upon twenty-four thousand acres of the most productive orchard and vineyard lands in California. The water companies are owned and managed at cost by the owners of the land; and for the greater portion, the cost of maintaining seventy-five miles of ditches and supplying water for a year has not exceeded a dollar and a half per acre, while the crop frequently sells for more than a hundred dollars per acre. The irrigated lands are mostly planted to walnuts, oranges, lemons, apricots, peaches, prunes, guavas and grapes, and are worth from $100 to $500 per acre.

The artesian belt is watered by natural artesian springs that have forced their way up through the soil, or by artesian wells that have been bored through to the water-bearing strata below. The constant flow of water from these springs through ages past has maintained large swamps of bulrushes, which, falling and accumulating, have produced immense beds of peat, and caused the famous “Peat Lands” of Orange County, and the equally famous celery grown upon them and shipped to Kansas City and Chicago. Good celery lands are worth from $100 to $450 per acre, and the crop sells for $100 and more per acre. The artesian belt produces not only celery, but also alfalfa, corn, potatoes, pumpkins, sugar beets and apples, of fine quality and in large quantities. Dairying and raising hogs and cattle are also extensively followed.

In the midst of this great, rich plain or valley of the Santa Ana, was founded in 1858 “The Mother Colony” of Anaheim by a company of Germans from San Francisco. The colony was established for the purpose of growing grapes and other purposes, and was located on the warm sandy soil opposite the mouth of the Santa Ana cañon and about three miles from the river, from which water was taken for irrigation. The industrious, prudent and substantial German settlers made the colony a success from the start. Anaheim became justly famous for the character, wealth and hospitality of her inhabitants, as well as the quality of her vintage.

Madame Modjeska, the great actress, whose lovely home is now in the Santiago canon, of this county, with other Polish refugees (including Henryk Sienkiewicz, the author of Quo Vadis) was attracted to this vineclad “home of Anna” and after trying in vain to live upon the art, philosophy and fruit produced by cooperation with her compatriots, went to San Francisco, studied English, and conquered two continents by her sweetness and power. But the Germans stayed, and Anaheim has grown to become a city of two thousand inhabitants, has built a town hall, high school building, water works and electric lighting system, and is surrounded by groves of oranges, walnuts, peaches, prunes and other fruits. Though the oldest city in the county, it seems to be renewing its youth and entering upon a yet wider career of activity and progress.

About 1870, some landholders on the other side of the river, stimulated and encouraged by the example and success of Anaheim, began the subdivision of their large tracts and the sale of them in small parcels to settlers who planted them to grapes, oranges, apricots, prunes, peaches and other fruits. The Santa Ana River was again tapped above where Anaheim had taken out the water, and large ditches extended to the neighborhoods of Olive, McPherson and Tustin, and to the sites of the present cities of Orange and Santa Ana which were founded about that time.

The last four form almost a square, with Orange at the northwest, McPherson at the northeast, Tustin at the southeast and Santa Ana at the southwest corner, and three miles apart. The level, graveled road joining these points is an ideal one for bicycling, has been named “the Kite” by local wheelmen, and is always used by them in their annual free-for-all handicapped road race. It is also a very popular and pleasant drive for carriages and automobiles, since the richest fruit farms and finest residences in the valley lie along its route. Orange is a lovely little city of fourteen hundred inhabitants, is the headquarters of the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company, does a very large business in packing and shipping oranges, lemons and other fruit; and prides itself on entertaining and encouraging all kinds of business — except saloons, of which it has none. It is an ideal place for a home, and is much sought on that account.

Santa Ana, the metropolis and county seat, contains six thousand or nearly one-third of the population of Orange county. By a wise foresight it was located in the center of the valley, on the border between the dry orchard lands reaching away up to the foothills, and the wet artesian belt stretching down to the sea. The trade of both regions has naturally come and crossed there. The city has built and maintained its own complete water system, furnishing abundance of pure artesian water to its inhabitants at cost; constructed and put into operation a complete system of separate sewerage, and maintains two public parks and an electric system of street lighting that covers not only the business and residence portions of the city, but also the principal thoroughfares leading to it. So extensive and well managed are its business houses that almost any article sold in the Los Angeles market can be bought as cheap (and in many cases even cheaper) at the county seat than in the “City of Angels.”

The last municipality to be founded in the county was the town of Fullerton. When the Santa Fe" railroad built through the county in the “boom days” of '87, Fullerton was laid out about two miles north of Anaheim, and in immediate contact with the Placentia orange and walnut lands. The quantity and quality of the fruit produced here is not excelled anywhere, and it is a curious fact that for several years past a higher price has been paid for oranges from Placentia orchards than from any other point in California. Backed by such a district, Fullerton was sure to grow; and it did, until it now numbers some thousand inhabitants and puts on quite city airs. The discovery of oil in the hills back of the town has also assisted in its progress and importance; for the “Fullerton Field” has but one superior in California.

There are no other cities or towns in Orange county, but there are several villages and localities well deserving of mention. Among these are Westminster, a center of the dairy business, lying about ten miles west of Santa Ana in the artesian belt, and between the “Peatlands” and the Alamitos beet sugar factory. Tustin, on the “Kite,” rivals Placentia in the richness of its soils and quality and quantity of its products. No finer orchards nor more beautiful drives and homes are found than may be seen at Tustin; and only the lack of prepared views and of time to prepare others has prevented the proper presentation of those charms in this article.

El Modena and Villa Park are two other towns located in the valley next the foothills, on either side of the mouth of Santiago Canon, and deriving their irrigating water from Santiago Creek, which they divide equally between them. They are especially celebrated for their apricots and other deciduous fruits, as well as oranges and citrus fruits.

When Dana visited the coast in the thirties, as entertainingly described in his Two Years Before the Mast, the commerce of Orange County was in hides, tumbled over the bluffs at Capistrano and other points and carried round the Horn by sailing vessels. Later, small coasting schooners came into Newport Bay, and finally a steamer was built, named Newport, and made regular visits every two weeks, when the tide was high, to bring lumber and supplies and carry to market the grain and other products of the ranches.

But now the Southern Pacific has a main line direct from Los Angeles to Anaheim and Santa Ana, with branches to Alamitos, to Villa Park, El Modena and Tustin, and to Newport Beach, Pacific Beach and the “Peatlands.” The Santa Fe also has a direct line from Los Angeles to Fullerton, Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, El Toro and Capistrano, and from there on to San Diego. It also connects at Orange with the Riverside and San Bernardino line, forming a part of the “Kite-Shaped Track.”

A motor line meets all trains at Santa Ana, and makes six regular trips to Orange each day. It is now operated by the Pacific Electric Railway Company, and will soon be a part of a direct line from Los Angeles to Santa Ana.

Already these cities are but an hour’s ride apart, and quite a number carry on business in Los Angeles and reside in Orange County. Means of communication are as ample as those for transportation. Santa Ana, with its six thousand population, has free city delivery of mails, and the rest of the county has free rural delivery. A complete telephone system covers the county, with large local exchanges at Fullerton, Orange and Santa Ana. It has a splendid system of graded and high schools, and its towns have hotels, opera houses, halls, hanks and other business institutions supply all needs.

The climate of the county is that of Los Angeles and San Diego, between which it lies. A tropical sun, during the winter months, when rain is falling, makes it like May-time in the East; and in summer the constant breeze blowing from the Pacific, as a great reservoir of coolness, tempers the heat of the overhead sun and brings the dreamy haze of the Eastern “Indian summer.”

And this is Orange County, the youngest daughter of the “imperial” county of Los Angeles, from which she was cut off in 1889. Possessed of every advantage of soil, climate, position and condition, with a contented, prosperous and happy people, she is destined to become one of the brightest spots in the beautiful field of delightful Southern California.

(Out West, April 1903)