History of Orange

  1. Early Days
  2. Boom Times and Incorporation
  3. World War II - Modern Era

First Inhabitants


Originally, the area we now call Orange was inhabited by Native Americans called Gabrielios by the Spaniards.


First Landholder


The first landholder in this area was Juan Pablo Grijalva, a retired Spanish soldier who had marched through California with one of the early expeditions from Mexico. In 1801, he was given permission by the Spanish colonial government to ranch "the place of the Arroyo de Santiago."

His land ran from the Santa Ana River and the foothills above Villa Park to the sea at Newport Beach. Grijalva lived in San Diego, but he built an adobe ranch house on what is now Hoyt Hill. (A historical plaque marks the spot at the corner of Hewes and Santiago Canyon Road.)

After Grijalva's death, the rancho was taken over by his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba, and grandson, Juan Pablo Peralta. It came to be known as the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Both Yorba and Peralta had nine children, and their children and grandchildren moved to various parts of the enormous rancho. New acreage was added to the property until the family holdings extended from Riverside to the ocean.

California Ceded to the United States


In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California to the United States. The boundaries of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana were validated in 1857 and the Yorba and Peralta families continued to live there.

Rancho Lands Divided


In the early 1860s, one member of the extended family - Leonardo Cota - borrowed money from Abel Stearns, the largest landowner in Southern California. He put up his share of the rancho as collateral. When Cota defaulted in 1866, Stearns filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court to demand a partition of the land, so that Stearns could claim Cota's section.

It took two years to sort out the complicated relationships among the families and to determine how much land each one owned. The rancho was divided into 1,000 units parceled out to the heirs and to the claimants in the lawsuit.

Chapman and Glassell


Two Los Angeles lawyers involved in the lawsuit were Alfred Beck Chapman and Andrew Glassell, who took some of their fees in land. They had already started buying other sections of the rancho as early as 1864. By 1870, they owned about 5,400 acres in what is now downtown Orange.

It seemed like a good location for a town; the nearby Santa Ana River provided water, the soil was rich and a stage road ran nearby. Chapman hired a surveyor to divide the land into tracts of 40, 80 and 120 acres. He called the area Richland and began selling the lots.

Early City Development


Although Chapman later liked to call himself the "father of Orange," the development of the city was actually guided by Captain William T. Glassell, Andrew Glassell's brother. He laid out the downtown area, bounded by Maple, Grand, Almond, and Lemon streets, with Chapman and Glassell streets meeting in a central "Public Plaza." Captain Glassell's home and office, on the west side of the Plaza Square, was the first building in Richland.

The captain also supervised the construction of the A.B. Chapman Canal from the river to provide irrigation for the farm sites. (Part of the canal's path may be traced along Canal Street, behind the Mall of Orange.) He was a good salesman, and by the end of 1871, there were a dozen houses in and around Richland.

First School


The first school was opened on March 26, 1872, meeting at first in a private home. By August a one-room schoolhouse was opened at the corner of Sycamore and Lemon. The year 1873 saw the opening of the first local store (Fisher Brothers, on the north side of the Plaza), the first civic organization (the Orange Grange), and the first church congregation (the Methodist Episcopal).

Becoming Orange


In 1873, Richland's application for a post office was refused because there was already a Richland in Sacramento County. In order to have a recorded map of the town and to open a post office, they were required to change their name. The story goes that Mr. Chapman, Mr. Glassell and two other men played a game of poker and whoever won the game would get to rename the town. It was not recorded who actually won the game, but in January of 1875 Richland was renamed Orange.

Farming Community


The town of Orange began as a farming community, although it took several years of trial and error for the settlers to discover the most successful crops. The first crops were grains such as:
  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Wheat
Many of the farmers then planted grape vines, primarily for raisins. Grapes were a major product until the 1886 blight that killed thousands of vines in Orange and surrounding communities. The settlers also tried growing tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples and guavas, but without much success.

In 1873, the farmers began planting orange groves.