The Early Years of Pasadena

The winter of 1873 was one of the worst on record for the Midwest; particularly in Indiana. The opening of the transcontinental railroad led to a surge in travel westward, particularly into California. In addition, the economic recession in 1873 pushed many emigrants westward in the hopes of finding new employment opportunities.

These events led a group of Indianapolis residents, also lured by emigration notices extolling the warm climate of California, to meet and propose a settlement of Hoosiers among the orange groves of southern California. This group acquired a number of investors for a settlement and dispatched a committee to select a suitable area for the emigrant investors. The “California Colony of Indiana” came into being in September 1873. Years later, after a dispute with the U.S. Postal Service, the Colony would be re-named the city of Pasadena, California.

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… Nature had effaced nearly all of the early trace of human occupancy and civilized life by 1873, when the “California Colony of Indiana” sent out from Indianapolis a committee to select the most favorable spot for locating a settlement, and especially for the culture of oranges and other fruits of the clime.

Stereoscopic views of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties and vicinity. ca. 1880

Stereoscopic views of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties and vicinity. ca. 1880

Pasadena, signifying the Crown of the Valley, is in many respects the handsomest, finest improved of any of the many beautiful California cities. Without going into the tedious, perplexing task of describing what was or what might have been the condition of nature or perhaps civilized life in this section hundreds and thousands of years ago, as some writers have been in the habit of doing, the writer of this chapter on one of the beauty spots of Los Angeles County will start closer at home, as the saying is, and undertake to give the more practical and important facts concerning the settlement … has been in evidence hereabouts.

After a careful survey of numerous locations in several counties in the state, the association purchased the interest of Dr. J. S. Griffin, consisting of about 4,000 acres of the Rancho San Pasqual. One of the incorporators, B. S. Eaton, was already residing in the vicinity and materially aided the newcomers from Indiana, especially in the construction of the water system, by which pure mountain water was conducted from the near-by mountains and distributed over every homestead that was to be occupied. It was to Dr. Elliott that the colony from the Hoosier State was indebted for the pleasing name—Pasadena , an Algonquin word brought to our language. The local historian, in writing on this subject, states that Thomas Croft, at a critical moment in the negotiations for the purchase laid down the required amount, and was for a brief period owner and monarch of all he surveyed of that fair domain destined to soon become a great and highly attractive city. John H. Baker and D. M. Berry, the “Caleb and Joshua” of the California Colony of Indiana , were present on the bright winter morning on January 27, 1874, when the twenty-seven incorporators met for the selection of the individual homesteads. Each of the twenty-seven stockholders in the colony fortunately received just the kind of a tract of land he desired, as to soil and location, so diversified was the topography of the country. The 1,000 feet of elevation above Los Angeles made drainage perfect, while the distance of eight to ten miles of Los Angeles city was about the proper distance to live from the bustle and noise of commercial life. The original purchase also included mountain lands upon the slopes of the Sierra Madre, and fine timber, including mammoth live oaks in a 400 acre grove, made a natural park exactly suited for picnics, camp-meetings and general holiday gatherings.

The first settlement was made in 1877 by the Indiana Colony including twenty-seven stock-holders.

Source: History of Los Angeles County– Volume I, John Steven McGroarty, Editor. The American Historical Society, 1923. – Chapter XXXIV: The City of Pasadena, p. 405.

Top image: Artist unknown-booklet published 1886 – Artwork from advertising booklet titled Pasadena, Illustrated and Described, written by Theodore P. Lukens. December 31, 1885. Public Domain.

Middle image: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916 — Photographer – Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / California. / Stereoscopic views of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties and vicinity. ca. 1880. Public Domain.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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