Looking west on Fourth Street from Main Street in downtown Santa Ana, circa 1900 (Courtesy Bob Bothamley).

Looking west on Fourth Street from Main Street in downtown Santa Ana, circa 1900 (Courtesy Bob Bothamley).

The Birth of Santa Ana

In 1868, the old Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana was broken up and divided between the heirs of the Yorba and Peralta families and other men who had purchased an interest in the tract. The partition touched off a surge of development in the area which saw several new towns founded, including Orange, Tustin, and Santa Ana.

One of the new settlers lured down from Central California was William H. Spurgeon. He was looking for spot to found his own town. On October 23, 1869 he climbed a sycamore tree to look over a thick growth of mustard at a possible location. (The original tree is long gone, but its replacement, and a historical plaque, can be found along Fifth Street, just west of Sycamore Street.)

Four days later, Spurgeon and a partner, Ward Bradford, purchased 74 acres of the old rancho. Bradford was just along for the investment, and sold out less than six months later, but Spurgeon had bigger dreams. He a combination home and store and opened for business in December 1869. He called his new town Santa Ana. In July 1870 he got approval for a post office (and the appointment as postmaster).

This was a little confusing as there was already a little community known as Santa Ana a short ways to the north. But Spurgeon’s new town won out, and the existing community became known as Old Santa Ana, then Burruel Point, and finally Olive.

Spurgeon had a townsite surveyed in 1870 and filed it with the county on December 13th. The original Santa Ana townsite ran from First to Seventh Street, between Broadway and Spurgeon.

Spurgeon (the old timers called him “Uncle Billy”) was a true town father. He helped bring the first railroad to town in the 1870s, and helped make Santa Ana both an incorporated city and the county seat of Orange County in the 1880s. In fact, for more than four decades he devoted himself to building up Santa Ana – in business, in banking, in transportation, in water – all the things a town needs to grow. His single-minded determination is part of what quickly made Santa Ana the leading town in the area.

Santa Ana had other advantages as well. Spurgeon had picked out a central location, with good soil and access to water (both by wells and irrigation ditches). He found partners and fellow investors to build up the town. But most of all, he had the desire to build a community. Santa Ana became a big city in part because William H. Spurgeon believed it could become a big city, and he shared that belief with others.

If Spurgeon were to climb that sycamore tree today, he’d only see a few things he’d recognize (like the clock tower on the Spurgeon Building he built in 1913). Instead, he’d see a city grown beyond his wildest dreams. Santa Ana remains one of the largest cities in Orange County, with a busy downtown, dozens of neighborhoods, and modern skyscrapers beyond. It has more than lived up to Uncle Billy’s dreams.