T H E   S T O R Y   OF   C E R R I T O S
Back to Introduction and Table of Contents | To Chapter 5: 1900-1950 -Artesia Grows and Becomes a Dairy Center
Farmers Replace Ranchers

The cattle ranching era was ended. Farmers would be next to change the land. During their rampages, the rivers had scoured real mouths where they met the ocean, so most of the marshes had drained and most of the “forests” and thickets had disappeared. Water lay just below the surface of the land, and shallow wells brought it up for use. As they flowed without pumps, they were called artesian wells. There was ample water for irrigation and the soil was very fertile, so a wide variety of crops were planted.

Farmers first planted familiar crops like corn and wheat. Then vineyards were planted for table grapes and wines. It was found that almost anything would grow in this climate with irrigation, so lemons, olives, flax, tobacco, “Peruvian grass” which we call alfalfa, cotton, and even mulberry trees to feed silk worms. Eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia and planted in groves that would be harvested for lumber. This experiment didn't work, but the eucalyptus was useful in wind breaks for the most profitable crop, oranges.

The Flint and Bixby Company bought the Ranchos Los Alamitos and Los Cerritos and other ranches with a partner named Irvine and herded sheep on an enormous scale. Wool was a very profitable product until imported wool from Australia caused the market to fall.

Compton and Tustin were new towns founded in 1867, and when the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Los Angeles with Anaheim around 1873, stations at Downey and Norwalk were the centers for two more new towns. The little farmhouse that Gilbert Sproul built in 1870 has been moved to Norwalk City Park and furnished so that visitors can see how families lived then. Sproul had bought 457 acres of farmland from the Robinson Trust in 1868 for $11 per acre.

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The Artesia Company

In 1869, Daniel Gridley bought 1600 acres of the former Rancho Los Coyotes from the Robinson Trust. He began development of his own farm and perhaps also had interest in opening the region to settlement, for in 1874 he sold 550 acres to the Artesia Company.

This company, whose members were C.E. White, Milton Thomas, and Mr. Denman and Mr. Town, was evidently a branch of the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Cooperative, one of several organizations that were formed to advertise and sell property. An additional 2400 acres were purchased from other parties and the entire parcel was surveyed.

In order to attract families, the company built an impressive two-story wooden schoolhouse for $5000 on six acres dedicated for education at the southwest corner of Main Street and Orange Street (now Pioneer Blvd. and 183rd). The Artesia School District is one of the oldest in Los Angeles County. The schoolhouse had a large classroom on each floor and with its belltower and flagpole was the tallest building in the area. It could be seen across the flat floodplain from as far as Anaheim, and was for many years the landmark and community center for the surrounding area.

A three-day auction in February 1875 launched the big sales campaign. Prospective buyers rode free excursion trains to Norwalk (which then consisted of the train station, a hotel, and a saloon) and were driven in wagons three miles to the new community. The name “Artesia” had been chosen to emphasize the free-flowing wells that would be located on every farm.

Nearly all the land was sold by the end of the year and by the next spring some fifty farms had been established. Most of the farmers grew corn and wheat. Hogs and a few beef cattle were raised for sale.

Unfortunately, a serious drought in 1876-1877 damaged the newly planted fields and orchards and financially ruined many of the new farmers. At the same time, a major Los Angeles bank failed, and the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Cooperative was forced to go out of business.

Its two most important settlements, Artesia and Pomona, stagnated. Pomona recovered with the founding of a second development company and a branch of the Santa Fe Railroad and had a population of 3500 by the time it incorporated in 1887. Artesia almost died. The development companies did not own the land outright and ownership reverted to Mr. Gridley and the other original settlers. This included the schoolhouse, but the few Artesians who remained collected an assessment and bought the building from Mr. Gridley. After all, there were forty-four children to be educated and Artesia school was the only one south of Gallatin (now Downey).

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Daniel Gridley's Account

A History of Los Angeles County published in 1880 quotes at length from an account by Daniel Gridley in which he writes of the school and its then one hundred pupils. He lists Methodist, Christian and Baptist church congregations which all met in the schoolhouse. A Masonic lodge and Farmers' Club had also been organized. Gridley describes ten flourishing ten-acre farms and enthusiastically goes on with lists of crops ranging from sugar cane to tobacco, castor beans, and pumpkins. His own 350 acre farm had five artesian wells flowing. Vacant lands were pastures for sheep in herds of 1000 to 5000. Families could even support themselves by cutting and selling as firewood the willows which grew wild in the river bottom.

Obviously, Daniel Gridley had become Artesia's major “booster.” He also mentions that the community is “principally populated with New Englanders.” Robinson, Freeman, Hay, Smith, and Thompson were names of some of the earliest families.

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The Booming 1880s
The 1880's must have been an exciting time in Southern California. Easterners flocked here as tourists and many decided to stay. Invalids arrived to convalesce in the sunshine and “take the waters” at healing centers like Dr. Fulton's Hot Springs north of Norwalk. When the Santa Fe railroad arrived in 1876 and bought out Dr. Fulton, the name became Santa Fe Springs.

The arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad meant the end of the monopoly that the Southern Pacific had enjoyed. At first about $100.00 would buy a ticket from Kansas City to Los Angeles. A rate war was waged between the two railroad lines and for a few days in March of 1887, the fare fell to one dollar.

Land was available as the great ranches had been subdivided, and there were plenty of fast talking realtors to sell it. Lots that had been worth a dollar an acre were worth a hundred dollars, as they might be sold three times in one day. New tracts were opened with circuses and bands for entertainment and all the free bar-be-que one could eat. Everyone was speculating and by December, over one hundred million dollars in paper profits had been made - a sum nearly equal to the amount in gold that the Sierras had yielded in 1849.

The profits that might be made with a modest orange grove were pointed out to eager buyers. According to one story, someone even tied oranges to Joshua trees in the desert in order to make a sale.

Many new towns were born, and quite a few remain, including Fullerton, Azusa, Buena Park, Glendale, Hollywood and Van Nuys. The city of Los Angeles which had a population of 5,728 in 1870 and 11,183 in 1880 could count 50,350 permanent residents when the boom ended in 1890. It ended with a crash and a brief depression, but newcomers continued to come west to make new homes.

The depression eventually ended and Artesia began to grow a little. The Methodists built a tall-steepled church in 1881 on the corner across from the schoolhouse. “Doc” Wilson operated a store and was the first postmaster. James Hay had a blacksmith shop.

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The Romance of Ramona
The emphasis in Southern California was on an “Anglo-American” culture. Adobe houses were looked down upon by people who preferred clapboard dwellings just like they had back in Iowa. A committee even renamed the downtown Los Angeles streets with English sounding names and probably would have liked to rename Los Angeles.

During the 1890's the influence of a popular novel began to be felt. Helen Hunt Jackson was deeply concerned with the plight of the California Indians. Culturally deprived, thousands had died of diseases introduced by the Spanish colonists, and many had been literally hunted down and killed by American settlers. They were the impoverished outcasts of the community. From the vast numbers of natives who had inhabited California before the Cabrillo expedition of 1602, only ten to sixteen thousand individuals remained. Mrs. Jackson's book Ramona, published in 1882, was written to dramatize the tragedy of the Indians, but what caught the imagination of the public was the romance of the “old Spanish days.” The romantic but unrealistic ideal is still popular. Santa Barbara celebrates an annual fiesta, and every kid with a television set knows about Zorro.

Preservationists organized to restore the old mission buildings that had dissolved after their roof tiles had been stolen. A highly romanticized “mission” style of architecture and furniture became popular for everything from homes and hotels to railroad stations. The Sonoran forefathers from Mexico were depicted as high born, blue blooded Spanish Castilians - after all, Mexico had been an enemy and we had fought them in a war. Ramona's story was performed in a pageant in Hemet. In San Diego one could even visit the chapel where she married the Indian Allesandro - no matter that both were totally fictitious.

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Commerce & Petroleum

The boom was over, but the area continued to grow in population and commercial importance. The Army Corps of Engineers enlarged and improved the Los Angeles harbor, and it became an especially important port after the building of the Panama Canal increased shipping.

Oil had been discovered in a Los Angeles neighborhood in 1892, and when petroleum products were found to be important fuels for the railroads and the new automobiles in the early years of the twentieth century,more fields were developed. The Pioneer Oil Company field was located in Santa Fe Springs at the north end of Pioneer Boulevard and possibly gave it its name. In 1921 a fabulous oil field on Signal Hill, located on what had been the old Rancho Los Alamitos, was producing 268,000 barrels of oil a day.

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Sugar Beets
The popular crop for much of the area was sugar beets from the 1890's until after 1910. A former senator from Montana built a mill to process sugar beets and called the town that he built to house the workers “Los Alamitos.” Thousands of tons of sugar beets were hauled there for processing and to other mills in the Santa Ana area. Orange County had been divided from Los Angeles County in 1889, with the Coyote Creek as the western boundary. For a time, Orange County was the biggest beet sugar production area in the United States.

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Artesia 1890
By 1890 there were enough children in the Artesia area so that a wing of two more classrooms was added to the school building.

A few families prospered, particularly the Framptons, who were listed on almost every board and organization in the community and were involved with most of the businesses. Their family farm was a showplace east and south of the present Pioneer Blvd. and South Street. They planted avenues of palm trees that eventually grew to great height and were community landmarks until they were removed in the 1970's with the widening of Cerritos' main streets.

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