Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pioneer William D. Lamb

Plans are underway to develop the sites of the defunct Lamb, Arevalos, and Wardlow Elementary Schools in Huntington Beach. The city wants to turn some of the surrounding green space at each site into parks. In all three cases, this is a formality, as locals have been using the land as defacto parks for generations. Some want to see the parks retain the names of the schools. Others want to see new names for the “new” parks. It seems like it might be helpful if more people knew the local historical significance of the  Lamb, Arevalos and Wardlow families. Let's start with William Lamb, for whom the school was named…

William D. Lamb began with very little, but through hard work and determination he became a major rancher and leading citizen in the pioneer days of Orange County. 

William Lamb was born to Anson and Caroline Bartholomew Lamb in Onondaga County, New York on July 1, 1849. His mother died when he was four and he was sent to live with his uncle near Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went to work at an early age, which left no time for a formal education.

At the age of 11, William left Michigan and moved to Chicago, and then to Iowa. There, he worked on grading crews – first as a water carrier and later driving a team of horses. Eventually, he found better wages making bricks in a Mormon town near Omaha.

When William was 14, his father came “up from the south” to meet him, and the two crossed the plains in a freight wagon train to Salt Lake City. Once in Utah, William took a job running a threshing machine and took it upon himself to learn the basics of reading and writing. Soon he and his father went into the lumber and saw-mill business together – a venture which proved quite profitable.
At age 19, William married Elizabeth Holt, the daughter of a Mormon preacher from England. Because of their religious differences, neither family attended the civil ceremony. In 1869, their first daughter, Mary, was born. Later that year, the young family loaded their possessions in a covered wagon and made the arduous journey to California, arriving in October.

Once in the Golden State, William took a job chopping and hauling wood at what later became Lucky Baldwin’s ranch in Arcadia. His work sometimes took him to other parts of Southern California, and it was at this point that he first saw the Santa Ana Valley and decided he wanted to own land there someday.

But for the time being, the Lambs were still living out of their covered wagon. They tried to better their lot by farming in El Monte, but the same drought that famously decimated the Ranchos’ cattle also killed the Lamb’s corn crops.

The family next moved to a canyon near Azuza (once called Lamb’s Canyon), but that proved unsatisfactory as well.

In 1875, they bought a squatter’s claim of 160 acres in Gospel Swamp – about four miles from what would become Huntington Beach. William was one of the men who helped clear Gospel Swamp and develop it into a rich farming area. He initially raised hogs and corn but later became one of the first sugar beet growers of the county. (Orange County's sugar beet industry would eventually grow large enough to support five large sugar factories.)

In 1879, the Lambs and a bunch of their neighbors were thrown off the land after a federal court determined that the land was not legally theirs.

Undeterred, Lamb bought 160 acres in the Newhope area (on today’s Santa Ana/Fountain Valley border) for cultivation, followed by 200 acres near Garden Grove for raising cattle (branded with a simple "L"). In 1892 he added another 720 acres of the Rancho Las Bolsas to his holdings. His land within today’s Huntington Beach included the entire section from Magnolia Ave. to Brookhurst St. between Adams Ave. and Garfield, as well as land east of Brookhurst between Yorktown Ave. and Garfield.

William Lamb was employed as the general custodian of the enormous ranch of Colonel Northam of the Stearns Rancho Co. Lamb employed fourteen men to do much of the work. Lamb also served as manager of the Rancho Los Coyotes and as special manager for Rancho Las Bolsas and Bolsa Chica. This took in a large portion of western Orange County. Initially, Lamb leased out this ranch land for the grazing of livestock, but he later also leased it for cultivation. Meanwhile, on his own land, Lamb raised grain, beets, and “every product except fruit.”

Even after his time working for Northam ended, Lamb continued to be one of the most significant figures in the western part of the county. He was involved in many local civic matters, including fights over taxation pertaining to the area’s earliest flood control districts. His ranch was well known, the street we now know as Magnolia Ave. was called Lamb Road, and there was even a “Lambs’” stop on the Pacific Electric Railway’s Talbert line at the corner of Bushard and Garfield.
Modern photo showing portion of Lamb School yard to be saved as a park.
Around 1905, William fell ill and soon Elizabeth assumed the management of the family ranch. All their land was put in her name in 1909. 

William D. Lamb died of pneumonia at his home on March 13, 1911 and was buried in the old Santa Ana Cemetery. His obituary in the Santa Ana Register called him “one of the substantial farmers of the West section." Another characterized him as "a pioneer of the lowlands section," and yet another called him a "wealthy Orange County land owner." He left two daughters and three sons: Mrs. Mary Levingood, Mrs. Laura Harper, Walter D. Lamb, Hugo Lamb, and Earl D. Lamb.

Elizabeth fell seriously ill in 1916 and spent two months at San Juan Hot Springs for her health. She recovered and continued to manage the ranch, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Gregory Harper. She finally left the ranch and moved to a house at 521 S. Broadway, in Santa Ana in October 1925. She died there at age 85 on August 27, 1935 and her death was mourned on the front page of the Register. She was survived by five of her children, eleven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The Lambs’ name once appeared on a large ranch, a major road, a railway stop, a canyon, and a school. Today, all that remains is a fraction of an old school yard unofficially called “Lamb Park.” And even that may not last for much longer. 

The fact that “most folks don’t know local history” is too often used as “proof” that such history is unimportant and unworthy of consideration or preservation. (“If nobody remembers it, then it can’t be important!”) But as the teachers at Lamb, Arevalos or Wardlow schools would have told you, ignorance is a curable condition. And the cure is for all of us to be curious and to read, research, uncover and share the history in our own backyards.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Wow, thank you for telling this incredible history about an area I find myself in daily. Your ability to convey history with a sense of story is incredible. Keep on keeping on!!!

Chris Jepsen said...

Thanks, "Unknown." I'll do my best!