Monday, July 27, 2009

Anaheim Union Water Co. field trip, Yorba Linda

On Saturday, a group of local historians went snooping around Santa Ana Canyon in Yorba Linda for signs of the Anaheim Union Water Co. canal, which dates back to the 1850s. (For background on the AUWCO, click here and scroll down a little.) Fires burned away a lot of brush earlier this year, exposing many relics of earlier eras.
Our group gathered in front of the Susanna Bixby-Bryant Ranch House & Museum (1911), which we used as "base camp." The photo above shows the group at the museum, gathered around Carl Nelson, former Director of Public Works for the County of Orange and member of the History and Heritage Committee of the American Society of Engineers. The expedition included (from left to right) O.C. Historical Commissioner Pamela Harrell, author and Anaheim Planning Commissioner Steve Faessel, Anaheim Heritage Services Manager Jane Newell, the aforementioned Carl Nelson, O.C. Historical Commissioner Don Dobmeier, OC Parks Ranger Ron Nadeau, and "Cemetery Angels" Melanie Goss and Ann Nepsa. Susan Faessel and were both taking photos and missed being in the shot.
We carpooled out to the far eastern end of River Bend Dr., went through a small gate and continued east on foot, parallelling the railroad tracks. Almost immediately, we found a hole where the tops of the covered portion of the canal had caved in. Eventually, we found several others as well. The photo above shows Steve headfirst into one of the larger holes. (He was in full Tom Sawyer's Island mode.) Below is a photo of another such hole, uncovered in the fire.
The hike started out quite easily, but became slightly trickier as the trail disappeared. Yes, the fire burned out a lot of brush, but it's growing back quickly in places.
The photo below shows the site of the zanjero's home. There were a number of big burned trees around the site. Note the open ditch running along the base of the bluff.
If you trek out this way, I'd recommend closed shoes, long pants, and a bit of care in avoiding snakes and poison oak. Luckily, I think we all managed to avoid anything worse than a few burrs and a little sunburn. This was especially impressive in Ann's case, since she made the hike in flip-flops!
The images above and below show an interesting concrete structure along the canal. Nobody knew quite what to call it, but it reminded me of a complicated weir box on steroids. Perhaps someone out there will know what purpose it served. Water pipes come out of the bluff above and seem to empty into a small ditch cut *around* the box. The inside of the box isn't terribly deep, and it seems more than a few people have taken shelter in it from time to time. Corrugated metal sheets were placed over the top for shade or privacy.

I'll probably post more photos and commentary from this field trip sometime in the next few days. (We saw a number of other interesting things as well.) Meanwhile, if you'd like a sneak peak, click on over to the AUWCO set on my Flickr site.
My thanks to everyone involved in this short expedition. It's amazing how many bits of history can still be found in the parts of O.C. that haven't been completely covered with tract housing and strip malls.

3 comments: said...

Cool field trip! Looking forward to your future posts on this Saturday excursion!

Doug said...

Wonderful field trip. Should have had you out there with a GPS unit, a photo scale and historical archaeology fields/site form. Glad you documented with photos. What a day it must have been.
May I suggest two reference materials:"History of the Anaheim Union Water Company Cajon Canal"1989 by Roger Hatheway & Tom Zimmerman, with contributions by Jim Sleeper, on file US Army Corps of Eng. Los Angeles District and "Water Conveyance Systems in California" 2000, JRP Hist. Consulting Services, Davis, Ca. & Caltrans, Sacramento, Ca.
The second ref. states " In the first years (1857-1860) of the colony's (Anaheim Colony) establishment, the resident manager installed seven miles of main ditch, 25 miles of laterals, and 450 miles of subsidiary ditches to serve the 1,165 acres within the colony's boundaries, and arranged for planting of vineyards and orchards." No backhoes or earth movers back then.

Doug said...

For fun check checkout The Santa Ana Register, Friday evening, October 2, 1908. There is an article by Henri F. Gardner, entitled "Irrigation in the Lower Santa Ana River Valley; Past, Present and Future". In this article there is a great map of the subject area, showing the location of irrigation features, i.e. canals, pumping plants, irrigation gates, etc.
This might be available on micro film?