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The Tongval, the Juaneno and Luiseno tribes were the native people of this land before the arrival of the Europeans. The Tongva, later know as the the Gabrielino Native Americans, migrated into the Southern California region about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. There were about 5,000 Native Americans that lived from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, all the way down to the shores of Laguna Beach, and as far inland into Temecula. They set up villages and settlements where (and when) food and water were easily obtainable, including here, around the area we know today as the City of Orange. As late as 1870, a Native American Camp was still thriving where Glassell Street crosses the Santiago Creek, near the Garden Grove Freeway.

The lives of the California natives were reshaped by the mission fathers led by Father Junipero Serra and the expedition of Gaspar de Portola. The mission road known as the El Camino Real passed not too far from where the Plaza sits today. The area of Olive was considered for a mission settlement, but resident natives resisted. The proposed mission was later established in the San Gabriel Valley in 1771, where it sits today. San Juan Capistrano Mission was founded in 1776. 

In 1801, Juan Pablo Grijalva, a soldier who came to Alta California with the De Anza expedition in 1775, petitioned for “Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana” in 1801 after retiring from service. He received concession documents in 1802. The Grijalva adobe ranch hose was built overlooking the Santiago Creek, on what is known as Hoyt Hill, at the current intersection of Hewes and Santiago Canyon Road. Juan died in 1806 with the land and grants passing to his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba and his grandson, Juan Pablo Peralta. A proper land grant was filed and on July 1, 1810, the land was granted to Jose and Juan and was renamed Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. These families officially owned 79,00 acres of land between them and were able to ride from today’s Riverside County line, to the Newport Beach coast, without leaving their family’s property.

The 79,000 acre rancho was ultimately divided amongst the remaining Yorba and Peralta family members, including Bernardo Yorba, Jose Antonio’s son. In the early 1860’s, Leonardo Cota, Bernardo Yorba’s son-in-law, borrowed money from Abel Stearns, the largest landowner in Southern California at that time. The load defaulted and Cota put up his interest of the Rancho. Leonardo hired Andrew Glassell and Alfred Beck Chapman as his attorneys for they specialized in property law. For their services, Glassell and Chapman took land for partial payment.

Together Glassell and Chapman combined their land and hired Frank Lecouvereur to survey their tract in 1870. Their tract was portioned into 40, 80 and 160 acres. They saved 18 lots within their surveyed tract for what they envisioned being a center for a town. This town, known as Richland, had been laid out and staked on the Santa Ana Ranch in close proximity to an existing stagecoach line to the city of Los Angeles. The soil in which their town was laid was able to used for a diversity of crops with readily available water from the nearby river and creek.

In 1873 Richland got a new name. The name of “Richland” was already given to a city near Sacramento and the Post Office of California requested a change of name from the Richland in the south. The 3.1 square mile, city of Orange, the new name to the “Richland of the South”, was incorporated on April 6, 1888, within the County of Los Angeles. The city boundaries stretched from Batavia Street in the west, to the Santiago Creek in the east, and from La Veta Avenue in the south, to Collins Avenue in the north. Orange County was incorporated in 1889, with Santa Ana beating out both Anaheim and Orange for the county seat.

The center of the original town site became known as the Plaza, which has become the symbol of the community. Today, the Plaza and the original one square mile town site contain many homes and buildings dating to the early days of the city and the site is registered on the National Historic Register. 

For more history, information and further details about the city of Orange, may we suggest enjoying a morning or afternoon with our volunteer docents through Old Towne Orange along our Historical Walking Tour.