Friday, August 01, 2014

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County!

Created by County Surveyor S. H. Finley in Aug. 1889, this was the first official map of Orange County. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)
One hundred and twenty five years ago today, on Aug. 1, 1889, the southern portion of Los Angeles County broke away to become Orange County. This is our quasquicentennial -- an event marked by County government this afternoon with a small ceremony and birthday cupcakes at the Orange County Fair.

On the day Orange County separated, we had about 15,000 residents, three incorporated cities, and no paved roads. Our growth was slow and steady, reaching only 34,000 by 1910. But in the following decade, our population nearly doubled. In the roaring '20s, it doubled again, to 120,000.

Prior to WWII, Orange County was centered on agriculture. Many crops would do well and bring prosperity, taking advantage of our ideal climate and soil, until a disease would wipe them out and force us to find something new, beginning the cycle again. Along the way, we had enormous success with grapes, apricots, walnuts, celery, sugar beets, chili peppers, avocados, strawberries, beans, lemons, and, of course, the once-ubiquitous Valencia orange.

The manpower behind all that bounty was provided by a diverse population, including Americans, Mexicans, Germans, English, Japanese, Chinese, Basques, Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish Californios.

Our first half-century brought the Pacific Electric Railway, colleges, new cities,  highways, parks, floods, earthquakes, multiple oil booms, an airport, Knott's Berry Farm, and the aviation innovations of Glen Martin and others. Those decades saw the growth and development of our schools districts, churches, civic organizations, water management and other infrastructure.

With the Depression and the war, growth slowed, and it took more than two decades to double our population again. World War II brought us military bases, most notably at El Toro, Tustin, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Costa Mesa.

Things went bananas in the postwar boom, and the population more than tripled between 1950 and 1960, reaching 700,000 - a number which was more than doubled just a decade later. A combination of the "quick decline" disease, new tax structures that crippled agriculture, and demand for more housing brought an end to the age of orange groves and changed our landscape forever. The massive growth and development never stopped.

The last half of the 20th Century brought us Angels, Rams, Ducks, and Mickey Mouse. We became the home of megachurches, freeways, universities, modern venues for the arts, major tourism and aerospace industries, planned communities, a brush with municipal bankruptcy, and waves of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Today we have 34 incorporated cities and a population of 3.1 million - a more than 22,000% increase since our founding. Orange County also has a cohesive sense of place, identity and community that our older sibling, Los Angeles, never will. Whether we're from San Clemente or La Habra, we're Orange Countians first, and we're proud of our home. We have done well with our independence.

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County! You don't look a day over 100!


Unknown said...

Wow I came upon your blog, really good! I am trying to start something in Los Angeles and work my way to Orange County! Any suggestions to a great unheard of landmark

Anonymous said...

Excellent 1889 OC map. Is it available to view (and zoom in) online?
Bob G

Chris Jepsen said...

The map is downloadable from the Library of Congress at