Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A walk in Fountain Valley and some history

Fountain Valley used to be a marsh, that was known as Gospel Swamp.  It was a place where cattle grazed and itinerant preachers set up tents on small islands.  In 1870, there was a severe drought, which turned the marsh, which was fed by the Santa Ana River into rich farmland that were blessed with natural springs and artesian wells.  Abel Stearns, who was a Massachusetts investor, sold off large chunks of the farmland to wheat, sugar beet, barley and lima bean farmers.

By the late 1890's, the area had a blacksmith shop, a school, a general store and a post office.  James T. Talbert formed a drainage district in 1903 that channeled the Santa Ana River and land values jumped from $10 to $500 an acre.

At the beginning of the 1900's, the population was 20,000 and by 1920, there were 61,000 area residents, and two small villages were forming.  During the 1930's, large farms gave way to truck farming, mostly by Japanese-American farmers in the community that was known as Talbert.

The 1950's brought freeways and talk of incorporation to fend off possible annexation to the cities of Santa Ana or Garden Grove.  Supporters of an independent city favored a return to what they considered the town's original name of Fountain Valley after the old school.  In June, 1957, 160 voters supported incorporation and Fountain Valley became Orange County's 21st city.  The first City Council was made up primarily of farmers that pledged to keep the new city a farming community.  The San Diego Freeway or I-405 sliced Fountain Valley in half and drove up land values and brought in housing developers.

One of the historical sites that I saw on my walk was Courreges Ranch, which was the home of Roch Courreges, who was a Basque sheep rancher who came to the area in 1878 from San Francisco.  In 1896, he purchased 80 acres of land.  He founded First National Bank of Huntington Beach, the Smeltzer Telephone Co. and the Farmer's Cannery.  The water-tank house that was built in 1898 and the main house that was built in 1912 are still standing and according to the sign are still lived in by the Courreges family, but are not open to the public.

My walk was about 4.5 miles and it took me from the corner of Ellis and Brookhurst, north on Brookhurst to Talbert, where I turned left and went to Newcomb and then turned south, back to Ellis and back to the corner of Ellis and Brookhurst.