Excerpts from the History of Los Angeles County, 1880
The first substantial history of what is now Orange County was published in 1880 by the Thompson & West Company of Oakland, who published a number of county histories up and down the state in the late 19th century. Their business model was straight forward and successful. Salesmen solicited subscriptions local residents, who paid varying amounts to be listed or profiled in the finished book. Enough general history was then added for everyone else. The illustrations were also sold by subscription.
The text is a mix of excerpts from local newspapers, old timer recollections, government documents, and quotes from other sources. All are interesting (if not always perfectly accurate) and some have not survived in any other form. The illustrations are all original lithographs, sketched on the scene and re-drawn by Thompson & West’s artists. While the perspective is sometimes a little odd, the images are fairly accurate and include some interesting details.
Thompson & West always visited the local newspapers to study their old files and drum up a little publicity. The Anaheim Gazette carried several articles about the Los Angeles County history in 1880:
Illustrated History of Los Angeles County
(January 24, 1880)
“Messrs. Thompson & West, well-known publishers and printers, are making extensive preparations to print an Illustrated History of Los Angeles county, and to that end have canvassers in the field to secure subscriptions to insure the issuance of the work, and to obtain data from which to compile a reliable history of the locality. There is no authentic, connected history extant of Los Angeles county, and it will be the purpose of these gentlemen to have our history compiled from the earliest known period and thus preserved for future time. The work is to be illustrated by fine lithographic views of the most attractive features of the county, and Los Angeles is rich in such material drawn from nature. Messrs. Thompson & West have issued works of the kind they propose to issue for us, for several counties in the State, and they are really superb, in convenient form, beautifully printed and embellished. Much of the history of the county is in the minds of men, and they are rapidly passing away; it is time to get it in form to be preserved. We are pleased to learn that the solicitors are meeting with great success.”
A series of brief “plugs” follow in the next column:
“In the Illustrated History of Los Angeles County published by Thompson & West will appear a complete political record, giving the result of the various votes to date – also a roster, giving the names of the various officers who have held offices for both county and city from the first to the present…. The History of Los Angeles County will be an interesting and valuable work when completed…. Thompson & West employ skillful artists and first-class writers for their county histories…. Thompson & West are the pioneers of county history publication.”
Our County History
(February 28, 1880)
“Mention was made of this work some time since. We are pleased to learn from the gentlemen connected with the enterprise that the work is meeting with general favor and that perhaps within one year from this time we shall have an Illustrated History of Los Angeles County that will be a credit to the county, to the parties issuing it and to our citizens. We have examined some work done by Messrs. Thompson & West for other counties and pronounce it fine. There are at present three gentlemen connected with this work sojourning in Anaheim. Mr. D.J. Stewart is calling on some of our citizens arranging for illustrations of their homes. Mr. P. Hoyt is making the pencil drawings from which they are lithographed, while Mr. J.A. Wilson is interviewing our old residents and business men for items of history. The work will be highly interesting and of great value to the reading portion of our people. These gentlemen inform us that they are getting along nicely and meeting with generous patronage. Illustrations of the private residences of Messrs. Theo. Reiser, H. Kroeger, A. Langenberger, A. Bittner and Dr. Ferguson in Anaheim have already been arranged for, and Messrs. E.B. Foster and J.W. Landell are noticed among the farm places. There should be many more.”
“J. Albert Wilson, the historian engaged by Thompson & West to write the history of this county for their forthcoming illustrated work, has been in Anaheim during the week gathering facts and data. He came here with the expectation of getting through with his work in a day or two, but he finds this place a richer field for a historian than any other part of the county. The history of Anaheim alone would find a large sized volume.”
(December 11, 1880)
“Messrs. Thompson & West have been delivering their Illustrated History of Los Angeles County to subscribers in this vicinity during the week. It is a handsomely printed and bound book and a hasty glance through the contents gives the impression that as a history it will be found to possess great value. Accompanying the book is a map of Los Angeles county, which is given gratuitously to subscribers.”
Here are excerpts of the Orange County related material. I have made the text searchable (as best as OCR can make it)
The full volume has been posted online by the good people at Archive.org.