Orange County History

Orange County History


Human settlement in the Orange County geographic region spans as far back as 7,500 BC and was inhabited by two tribes: the Acjachemen (Juaneño) people in the southern part of the county, and the Tongva (Gabrielino) people in the north. These Native Americans thrived on abundant natural resources, which negated any significant development of agriculture. After the arrival of Spanish missionaries in 1769, populations of native peoples drastically declined due to the introduction of disease, conflict and cultural assimilation into the Catholic Church.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the only Mission in Orange County and was founded by Father JunĂ­pero Serra in 1776. After Mexico won its independence from Spain (1821), the new country was unable to maintain the California missions, which were secularized in 1834. The Padres and most Native Americans abandoned the missions which were left in disrepair. By 1846, almost all of Orange County was partitioned to Mexican settlers to establish rancheros. Trading ships traveled along the coast of California to collect cattle hides and tallow for manufactured products from the United States and other countries.

In 1848, the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but the fighting stopped in California a year earlier with the Treaty of Cahuenga. The Gold Rush of 1849 hit California with a wave of new settlers and miners, which boosted the local economy, but came at the price of robbery, murder, and the struggle of defending land ownership. Orange County was at the heart of the “wild west,” where the cultural shift in combination with droughts, floods, diseases and American courts drove many rancheros to ruin. Ranchos under names of Grijalva, Yorba, and Peralta gave way to American names like Stearns, Bixby, and Irvine. California officially became a state in1850, and sheep ranching began to replace cattle during the Civil War (1861-1865).

The first American town established in Orange County was Anaheim (1859), founded by German immigrants who were living in San Francisco. Their intent was to start a new community based on viticulture on a portion of Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana. After Anaheim was established, the towns of Santa Ana, Tustin, Orange, Westminster, and Garden Grove came to follow. Agriculture was the region’s economic base until the 1950’s, and major crops consisted of grapes for wine and raisins, wheat, barley, and corn. In the 1870’s the first orchards of walnuts, apricots and oranges were planted.

Southern Pacific Railroad held a monopoly in Southern California until 1885 when Santa Fe entered the market via the Cajon Pass. This competition drove down ticket prices, setting off a real estate boom throughout the region, which triggered new and existing towns to grow rapidly. On August 1, 1889 the County of Orange was officially formed, breaking away from Los Angeles County with Santa Ana as the county seat. The name Orange was chosen mainly to boast the Mediterranean climate of the area and attract real estate, despite the fact there were few orange orchards established at that time. Orange crops flourished only after the grape industry was decimated by blight.

The development of Orange County was also propelled by the oil industry. The first successful oil well was drilled in 1890, which lead to oil fields in La Habra, Olinda, and Brea Canyon. Major oil strikes occurred on Placentia and Huntington Beach. Many local oil wells continue pumping today.

During World War II, Orange County was the seat for several military bases, and later served as a home for many post-war veterans. After the war, the region’s population exploded, where single family residential housing dominated the landscape and new cities were incorporated every year. Disneyland opened in 1955, putting Orange County on the map for international tourism. In addition to the booming tourism industry, manufacturing, services, and aerospace corporations also boosted the region into a higher economic margin that was able to support more jobs, hospitals, restaurants, and businesses. In 1963, the population surpassed one million people.

Today, Orange County is home to more than 3.1 million people and contains 34 incorporated cities.





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